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English is a “Phunnny” language (or When I Fell in Love with English and Reading)

As a kid, I read a lot of books above my level of comprehension.
More to show off and show folks my “smartness” and give off that snooty “I am a well read boy” air1 than from any sense of love or learning.

I know better now (I hope, I do) :)

But two books from those days will always stay with me.

One was my father’s science textbook, which I no longer have or remember the title of. I used it for four years in high school to understand what I was learning. The book was my secret weapon :)
The language in that old textbook was far more engaging and lively than the teachers in class. And it was beautiful with all those black and white line drawings, and anecdotes of the folks who made those amazing discoveries. (Faraday and Tesla and Watts and Madam Curie). It actually was a textbook from before science became “Science”; when it was Natural Philosophy
Despite years of searching, I haven’t found it again.
The closest textbook of that style I could point you to, would be Thompson’s Calculus.

The other book was a tattered copy of The Complete Yes Minister.2 I thought then, that the book was the real deal, an actual tell all, with its newspaper clippings and copies of memos. It took me a couple more years to realise what satire was. And it was a line in there, a really obtuse, verbose line that took my young brain a couple of days to “get”, that made me realise that reading was a dialogue, that a good book was not something to be just “read”. A good book is friend telling you jokes, a prankster scaring you, a father figure consoling you, a friend giving you advice and in this case a master exposing that language in general (and English in particular) was not something to be scared of, but just tools of expression, toys to be played with and enjoyed, and tools that could be expertly wielded.

It was this line and the delight I got in deciphering it, that turned me into a lifelong bookworm. You can see Nigel Hawthorne’s brilliant rendition, here.

This is what he said. “The identity of this official whose alleged responsibility for this hypothetical oversight has been the subject of recent speculation is not shrouded in quite such impenetrable obscurity as certain previous disclosures may have led you to assume, and, in fact, not to put too fine a point on it, the individual in question was, it may surprise you to learn, the one to whom your present interlocutor is in the habit of identifying by means of the perpendicular pronoun.”

“I beg your pardon?’ I said.
There was an anguished pause.
‘It was I,’ he said.”

Like our grand old thespian says, “English is a very phunnny language.”


  1. Aah, vanity! :) 

  2. Yes, I read the book first and discovered the show much later.