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Something’s Rotten

July 28, 2008

 

On Sarcasm

 

Last week our friend from Denmark was making a point about how Danish is a much more difficult language to learn than Swedish.  I should probably mention that he’s fluent in, oh, 5 or 6 languages, his English is impeccable, and he’s got a great sense of humor.  So he’s telling us about a recent study that found while children in Sweden speak their first words around 9-12 months on average, it’s closer to 12-16 months in Denmark.  To which I replied, “Wow…I never knew the Danish were so stupid.”  A look of horror and consternation crossed his face, and it was several seconds before I could adequately convey that I was joking.  I mean, here’s a guy who speaks more languages than I ever will, whose Danish wife is a doctor… my limited experience with people from Denmark tells me they’re pretty darn smart, which, of course, is why I felt free to make the above-mentioned comment.  So what exactly happened?   

 

Like any good English major, I went straight to the best cultural source possible: Hamlet.  (You knew it had to come up.)  Turns out the Danish don’t do sarcasm!  Look at Polonius.  “Brevity is the soul of wit” from the longest-winded know-it-all in Shakespeare?  Right.  And then there’s Hamlet, who just takes himself way too seriously.  Oh, sure, someone’s going to comment that it’s all lost in translation, but I know better. 

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