Rhetorically Roughing It

Mark Twain was not a genius. In fact, his biography is marred by the types of blemishes indicative of a first-rate fool: low education, low income, high unemployment, frequent vagrancy, recurrent profligate business ventures, et cetera—indeed, everything we monitor for today on our little credit-risk charts when we are deciding who gets to live or die. How is it, then, that we praise this penniless backwater yokel as The Grandfather of American Literature? Mark Twain is a master of the memorable line, a champion of leaving us in awe at a turn of phrase. He undoubtedly possesses the roguish slant required of a good writer of the Picaresque, but being a disreputable swashbuckler alone does not propel one to become one of the finest Wits literature has ever known. The disappointing secret is that Mark Twain practiced, a lot. More specifically, this past master of the quip diligently practiced the figures of rhetoric. Like all great writers before him (Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dickens, et cetera) who make us contemporary hacks want to close up shop just by glancing at the page, Twain mercilessly enforced on himself the conscientious employment of what the Ancient Greeks invented and developed for the sole purpose of persuasion and delight. Twain’s bravura of Western Frontier hilarity, Roughing It, is a scintillating showcase of wit, and, by investigating Twain’s frequent use of the figures of rhetoric therein, one may ascertain that the ability to dazzle is not divinely endowed to the chosen few, but rather may be learnt by anyone, even foolhardy hicks.

Twain used a great many clever modes of narrative and literary devices, as well as upwards of thirty figures of rhetoric in Roughing It. In truth, the book is essentially an elite-level exercise in these scholarly disciplines (as well as of plain old lying), hence it would be impossible to chronicle every occurrence. Therefore, I shall focus on a few instances of particularly pithy and mellifluous forms of rhetoric, beginning with everyone’s favorite: Alliteration.

Alliteration is everyone’s favorite rhetorical form for two reasons: it pleases the ear and makes the author seem more clever than he really is. Consider Twain’s depiction of the aftermath of eleven Mormon wives demanding a valuable love-trinket from their husband: “Eleven promised breastpins purchased peace once more.” In this case, in addition to having a lovely rhythm, the four ps were placed punctiliously. Alliteration should be used with the utmost judiciousness, lest one begins to sound foolish; when used with extreme care, however, it is a most mellifluous piece of rhetoric. It is best used to audibly mimic the writerly action or idea one wants to develop: the soft sibilance of the flooded freshets. Hear the water?

Shall we move on? Rhetorical Questions are a surprisingly powerful form of rhetoric on account of not providing room for an answer. And we tend to like answers. Moreover, rhetorical questions often signal something important to which we should likely lend a cellphoneless ear. Reflect upon Twain’s usage of rhetorical questioning as he critiques Adam Smith’s magnum opus, the Mormon Bible, and its depiction of certain past followers ascending to heaven: “and they were in number about two thousand and five hundred souls; and they did consist of men, women, and children.” To which, Twain posits: “And what else would they be likely to consist of?” But how is one to answer a question like that?

An especially favorite form amongst humorous Wits is the Transferred Epithet. It is indeed a favorite due to its inherently eloquent absurdity. The form is, according to Mark Forsyth in his book The Elements of Eloquence, “when an adjective is applied to the wrong noun.” The effect is usually a species of pleasant confusion. Cogitate on Twain’s eating of “a hasty breakfast.” The last I checked (but we do live in progressive times) morning meals have not the ability to move, let alone with the relative consistency to be judged by their speed. Of course, the line referred to Twain’s eating a breakfast hastily, but I am certain Twain did not mean this book to be used as a soporific, and so he used a transferred epithet instead of boring his readers to sleep.

Evidence of humans enjoying symmetry is everywhere. We find it incredibly pleasing to look upon, even use it to decide both our paramours and lifelong mates. It is only logical, then, that we might find some private stimulation when it is found in print.

Parallelism, known to sterner people as Isocolon, is, simply put, a sentence devised of alike parts, a construction grammatically alike or symmetrical in form, or, according to Mark Forsyth, “two clauses that are grammatically parallel, two clauses that are structurally the same.”

Our senses are constantly assailed by many an unattractive sentence shaped like the following: We enjoy drinking, fighting, and some sex. 

This rather warm-blooded statement includes a successful first-person plural pronoun as its subject, an intransitive verb describing their feelings on the matter, and two spirited gerunds pertaining to how these ruffians find pleasure. Then, just at the climax of the series, a break in symmetry renders what was at first an exciting sentence flaccid: instead of a third gerund to complete the holy trinity, a grotesque adjective is placed before a common noun, thus rendering it, as Forsyth put it, a “formless heap.”

And Twain had the abovementioned formless heap on his mind when he describes a change in American Frontier currency: “…if one wanted a cigar, it was a quarter; if he wanted a chalk pipe, it was a quarter…”

But the figures of rhetoric need not be sold separately. Anaphora is when one begins each clause, sentence, or paragraph with the same word(s); epistrophe is when one finishes each clause, sentence, or paragraph with the same word(s). But don’t take my word(s) for it, instead take a second glance at that same line, and Twain’s aphoristic trifecta of Isocolon, Anaphora, and Epistrophe “…if one wanted a cigar, it was a quarter; if he wanted a chalk pipe, it was a quarter…”

Twain’s rhetorical muscle is fully flexed, however, when he is sporting his might with the figure of hyperbole. Indeed, he is at full horsepower whenever he lies, just as he does when his stallion is frightened by a heated bull: “[it] seemed to literally prostrate my horse’s reason… stand on his head for a quarter of a minute and shed tears.” Certainly, there is not a better bold-faced liar on the planet than Samuel Langhorne Clemens—play me the fool again, Samuel, we seem to say. Consider Twain’s delightful propaganda as regards the staggering width of the Humboldt River: “One of the pleasantest and most invigorating exercises one can contrive is to run and jump across the Humboldt River till he is overheated, and then drink it all dry.” I have never been to, seen, or even know where the Humboldt River is, but my suspicions lead me in the direction that this activity be exaggerated. 

Mark Twain is the best American humorist and Wit to date and stands as a shining example of what one can do when one is not afraid of a bit of practice. The forms of rhetoric are proven formulas against the perfunctory and the prosaic. Slave not after the Romantic notion of untutored artistic afflatus: this is a hoax—they all had Classical educations before they decided school was for fools. School should never be over. Twain voraciously read the Classics, enjoyed the Oxford Unabridged Dictionary as much as any novel, and diligently practiced rhetoric. Roughing It, one of the most sophisticated and awe-inspiring works of American fiction, was written by a former steamboat pilot and self-proclaimed tramp with a fifth-grade education.

The Distinction Dossier: A Numbers Game

Today marks the first uncovering of The Distinction Dossier, a collection of important distinctions present in the English language.

Distinctions in the English language are much like ambiguities, insofar as it is impossible to begin with the most fundamental instance whereon one could build a logical system of sequential meaning, which is to say that there are many.

Therefore, I have decided to record these distinctions somewhat based upon my finding them to be the most ubiquitously erroneous—but mostly as they interest me. And, as there are a number of words used in the English language that amount to a number of distinctions, I have decided today’s distinction to concern one of my favorite obsessions: counting. 


Number is one of those words that, after saying it or looking at it a few times, quickly begins to sound or read as nonsense. Additionally, number is used when referring to items that one can count; therefore, these things must be concrete, discrete, Enlightenment era kind of things: a number of pages, a number of contestants, a number of beagles. Another question often arises anent number’s verb agreement, which is singular when preceded by the definite article the and plural when preceded by the indefinite article a

Amount refers to quantities of something ultimately uncountable through cardinal numbers alone: an amount of water, an amount of chocolate pudding, an amount of sweat. It might be helpful for some to remember that, in this way, amount must be employed only when describing quantities that might take either a scientific unit—a liter’s amount of ethanol—or an amateur one: a bathtub’s amount of Pruno. Amount may also be used to describe abstract concepts: an amount of happiness, and amount of grief, an amount of success.


The distinction here again consists of things can and cannot be counted. There are fewer things whenever a number of items are reduced to another countable collection: three fewer pencils, six fewer cars, nine fewer flowers. There is less of something either whenever an amount is reduced to another amount that cannot be measured discretely or when what is being measured is abstract: less guilt about the situation, less love for my ex-wife, less Pruno in the bathtub. 


Use farther whenever you want to describe a physical distance that can be measured: that tree is farther away, the city is sixty miles farther, I ran farther than he did. Use further to describe abstract distances that cannot be measured: Nothing could be further from the truth; my mind has never been further from my work; I’m even further removed from the situation.

Between/Amongst (Among)

Whether as a preposition or an adverb, between is used when describing or comparing two things: between two elm trees, between Mike and Maria, between the times of X and Y. Although consisting of the same parts of speech, Amongst/among describes or compares three or more things: amongst the forest’s trees, amongst the throng, amongst the library’s tomes.

Words by the Decade

Yesterday was Shakespeare’s 457th birthday, which got me thinking about a few things. 

I don’t want to die. Like most people, I find Earth to lack a certain something, but I often refuse to give the next destination a proper shot. This helpful mental fodder eventually gave way to a tincture of gerascophobia, which begot an unwelcome dose of thanatophobia. But how many decades does one really have in pursuit such old-fashioned fun? What started as a healthy trifle of harmless Anglophilia logically progressed into a healthy death-based potion of etymological arithmomania.

Much as the objects of phobia, fondness, and obsession are denoted above, decade words are created by splicing a combining form and a suffix. In the case of decade words, the combining form denotes the cardinal number of each decade and the suffix, -arian, designates a person who is or does something (contrarian, librarian, Rastafarian, humanitarian, vegetarian). 

Decade words have been deemed too sophisticated for souls under forty. But the English language has you covered from there.

Quadragenarian: quadr(i) (four): those in their forties 

Quinquagenarian: Quinqu(e) (five): those in their fifties

Sexagenarian: Sex (six): those in their sixties

Septuagenarian: Sept(i) (seven): those in their seventies 

Octogenarian: Octo (eight): those in their eighties

Nonagenarian: Nona (nine): those in their nineties (not to be confused with the English word nonage: the period of immaturity or youth…perhaps this could be used for all ages under forty)

Centenarian: cent(i)=hundred(th): Ouch

Butt: It Ain’t Enough

Laughter is evoked through comedy, comedy through surprise, and surprise through the depiction of humorous juxtapositions. Kingsley Amis’s 1955 novel That Uncertain Feeling features John Lewis, a man whose adulterous escapade with Mrs. Elizabeth Gruffyd-Williams teaches him profound existential lessons on lust, love, and life. Butt: Amis knew, in order to get his readers smiling, this was not enough. Merely to describe how a penurious twenty-six-year-old married librarian with moth-eaten clothing, no money for groceries, and an indefatigable toddler at home might betray some interest in a wealthy, beautiful woman’s sudden and boisterous advances would be obvious. Amis wrote comedy, and comedy relies on surprise. Therefore, in the pursuit of great comedy, Amis chose to impose a source of humor upon Lewis’s 1st-person narration by juxtaposing the loose, slang-ridden recalcitrance of a Breezy narration style against the euphemistically formal understated narrative style, as well as scenes of literary solemnity against irreverent slapstick. 

John Lewis is a young, disgruntled proletarian with militant feelings towards the wealthy Bourgeoise; he is also a scholar of Welsh literature and something of a pedant; he could be construed as what some people refer to today as a broke-ass snob. Therefore, it only makes sense that Lewis’s language be so interestingly humorous, carrying with it both the Holden Caufield-esque eye-spitting of the Breezy narration style that bobbysoxers and undergraduates alike seem to champion and enjoy, and the wit-riddled irony of an understated, Dickensian-esque narration style favored by those with chronic dyspepsia. 

Strunk and White told us never to affect a “breezy manner,” as it is “often the work of an egocentric, the person who imagines that everything that comes to mind is of general interest and that uninhibited prose creates high spirits and carries the day.” A breezy manner is a kind of “alumni magazine” talk that chafes the more sensitive lexophiles amongst us. Consider three-hundred pages of the following: “Well, guys, here I am again dishing the dirt about your disorderly classmates, after pa$$ing a weekend in the Big Apple…” A difficult task, to be sure. 

Although Mr. Strunk and Mr. White have doubtlessly slugged this unbearable archetype of the lexical narcissist on the chin, the gentlemen did not malign the use of a breezy manner in judicious conjunction with a more formal, understated one. And it was this concoction Amis thought worthy of two hundred and fifty-four pages.

We begin with the breezy whenever Lewis abbreviates linoleum floor as “Lino,” whilst further describing the floors of the library by stating that “the place was starting to empty, thank God.” An onslaught of informality: the library becomes an ambiguous pejorative noun, the imperfect past tense is employed, and the idea is punctuated by thanking the main Judeo-Christian deity for Lewis’s triumph of Sloth. This narration, however, is juxtaposed but only a few sentences later with a creative euphemism as regards Lewis’s inspection of a young woman’s lower musculature: “Distraction was at hand: a female student from the local University College crossed my path some yards ahead and my glance dropped involuntarily to her legs” (10). Although better understatements have occurred in literature, this usage is attractively subtle in the way it follows Lewis’s cocksure breeziness with the formal admission that his eyes were not voluntarily under his control, that, in some way, he suffers tyranny. This continues throughout the novel: a man experiencing valid emotion and crying is “turn(ing) liquid eyes on [Lewis],” which is followed by lengthy, elaborate similes and metaphors anent the uncertain feeling of following another man’s wife’s offering her body up to his discretion: “We moved together towards the entrance-hall. I felt I was swinging in an absurdly unnatural way, like a schoolboy on stage for the first time in his life. Did I always swing my arms as if I were carrying a pair of empty buckets? Surely not. And what did I suppose I was going to say next?” Humorous language, Amis knew, is only half the battle; therefore, he also knew that, to write a humorous novel, one must also depict humorous scenes.

It is funny to watch other people suffer. The Germans, which recent history would suggest to be particularly fond of this notion, have a word for it called Schadenfreude, which most literally translates to disappointment-joy. A similar logic applies to Amis’s juxtaposition of a solemn, unironic narrative against humorous relief. This heightens the humor, as a narrative saturated in only the sugary treacle of the cutely ironic becomes cloying and indeed a real bellyache to read. This release from solemnity to comedy produces a kind of joy in the reader, suggesting that even the dark times are never without something to smile about. 

Consider the case of Lewis’s suspicions that his wife and a failed playwright named Probert are having an affair: “I looked around for Jean. Probert was talking hard to her, with Elizabeth listening rather attentively. She caught my glance and mouthed some phrase at me, pointing to Probert. No thanks, I thought; whatever it is, no thanks. I smiled and waved to her, then hurried out.” Now consider the sentence immediately thereafter: “it was wonderful in the lavatory.” His wife’s flirting with an unattractive literary imposter turns into supreme bathroom bliss.

Further consider Lewis’s leading of his mistress down a poorly lit alleyway, in which “[he] stumble(s) on something soft, a bundle of washing or corpse, and warned her about it,” whereupon Mrs. Davies, a nettlesome neighbor, calls into the darkness, inquiring into whether it might be her husband or son walking that same alley. Lewis continues the narrative: “ignoring this, I began climbing the stairs…” Examples of this quick shift from the solemn to the humorous may be gleaned from about every single page in the novel. 

Yet, this formula, and it is indeed a kind of formula, somehow never gets old, never flags, never tires. This is due to its contrivance of truly surprising juxtapositions; if it is truly surprising and truly a juxtaposition, by definition, it will work every single time. Recall the last time someone said to you that they just did not feel like laughing that day. That person was a fool. Laughter is not a choice. It is a visceral reaction, a reaction caused by surprise, and surprise is enough.

Shakespeare’s German

I have yesterday both Shakespeare’s Hamlet and the German Language studied. And, in doing so, I have betwixt Shakespeare’s English and contemporary German a few similarities noticed. 

Perfect Tense Sentence Construction:

Your typical contemporary English sentence is constructed with its subject in the first position, its auxiliary/helping verb in the second position, and its past participial in the position thereafter.

Typical contemporary English: I have walked from city to city.

Typical contemporary German: Ich bin von Stadt zu Stadt gelaufen.

Not exactly bedfellows.

Notice, however, The Bard’s choice in sentence construction here:

“Hamlet, thou hast thy father much offended.”

 Hamlet, du hast deinen Vater sehr verärgert.

Not, Hamlet you have offended my father very much?

The Bard prefers here the Teutonic. Oh, heavy deed is right. And siehst you not this second-person singular conjugation of “hast?” Shakespearian English’s 2nd and 3rd-person singular and plural verb conjugations (of either present or past tense) of “to be,” “to have,” and “to do” whisper of contemporary German linage:

Shakespearian English (wast, hast/hath, dost, doth)

Contemporary German (warst, hast/hat, tust, tut)

Unlike modern English, which just uses “you” for both the 2nd-person singular and plural pronoun, Shakespearian English accounts for the second-person plural pronoun with “ye.” German also makes this distinction with Ihr/Sie (honorific).

And think you not, that I another distinction in the first example forgotten have. 

In contemporary English, we use “have/had” as the auxiliary/helping verb for nearly all perfect-tense constructions. But, in our first example, the German switches from the verb “to have (haben)” to “to be (sein).” This is because the German language marks sentences with intransitive main verbs with the auxiliary verb “to have” and transitive main verbs with the auxiliary verb “to be.” Shakespearian English prefers this as well:

Contemporary English: The actors have come.

Shakespearian English “The actors are come…” 

Contemporary German: Die Schauspieler sind (are) gekommen (come).

Contemporary English: My hour has almost come (this still sounds a trifle archaic and might most likely be spoken as “my hour is almost here”).

Shakespearian English: “My hour is almost come.”

Contemporary German: Meine Stunde ist (is) fast gekommen (come). 

And then there is the use of pronominal adverbs, which, in contemporary English, are but mostly unfairly fettered away upon the faded parchment of legalese. 

But they’re alive and well in both Shakespearian English and contemporary German.

A pronominal adverb is a kind of adverb that exists in Germanic languages. It is formed by turning a preposition and a pronoun into a prepositional adverb and a locative adverb and then connecting them in reverse order.

Contemporary preference: in that; in here. Pronominal adverbs: therein; herein.

Your friend would ask “Where…”

Your German friend would ask “Wohin…” (whereto [to where] or wither)

Hamlet asks: “Wither wilt thou lead me?”

Like, As if

Thanks to the inadequacy of schoolteachers across the English-speaking lands, most people today believe the words like and as to be synonymous. And to pick up where these part-time restaurant staff left off, your contemporary English-speaker further honors this simple way of life by heaving as off the boat altogether, preferring like for essentially all applications.

Contrary to popular scripture, however, like and as have discrete usages. To know the difference between these comparative words and employ these grammatical distinctions accordingly is to serve three main functions: to sharpen your logic, variegate your prose, and alienate yourself from friends.

The key distinction when comparing like and as is that like, in this case, is a preposition—an element of speech that defines the relationship between words—and as is a conjunction—an element of speech that connects words to other ones. 

Therefore, like may be used only in direct comparison to a noun (phrase).

Noun to noun: 

Angry, deformed, and horseless, he looked like King Richard III.

Notice that there is no verb after like. For direct noun comparisons using like, there is never a verb, not even implied, omitted verbs.

Noun-phrase to noun-phrase: 

His angry gait, deformed spirits, and horseless demeanor made him look like Richard III pottering about after a rough day out at Bosworth. 

In this noun-phrase to noun-phrase example, the verb “pottering” exists after Richard III, yet the comparison is still directly noun to noun: gait, spirts, demeanor to Richard III.

As, on the other hand, also connects and compares verbs. 

Angry, deformed, and horseless, he paced as King Richard III did at the Battle of Bosworth Field.

Here, we’re still talking about our angry, deformed, horseless man, but we’re including, or creating a conjunction for, these two verbs, “paced” and “did.”

The same rules apply for similes, which typically use likeasas if, or as though

For the kingliest examples of similes in their proper forms, consider none further than the similes of Sir P.G. Wodehouse.

“There was a sound in the background like a distant sheep coughing gently on a mountainside”

Here, the like form is correctly comparing the two nouns “sound” and “sheep,” or the noun phrases “Sound in the background” and “a distant sheep coughing gently on a mountainside.”

“She looked as if she had been poured into her clothes and had forgotten to say ‘when.’”

Used just like asas if creates a comparison that includes verbs, which, in this case, suggests the image of an open-minded woman who hadn’t been keeping her eye on the gravy boat.

A List of Latin Lingo

I never reached great heights in middle-school Latin class. In fact, I distinctly recall, after achieving my latest D test-grade, whereon, for one verb conjugation question, I scrawled “slipknot,” and, from there—much to the delight of my classmates—growled the word in my best devil voice during said test, my teacher’s telling me to clean out the wastebaskets after class, during which he asked if I were soon prepared to take it up as a career. I remember leaving generally unimpressed. 

I never became a garbageman, but I have been taking out the trash recently as regards some common contemporary Latin phrases. 

It should be noted that this is an ad hoc listing of Latin loan-phrases that endeavors not to go on ad infinitum, rather to cover specifically only some of the higher frequency contemporary phrases until the much more realistic ad nauseam

A fortiori: translated literally as “from the stronger.” This is used to refer to a preference for a stronger conclusion to an argument, for which a weaker conclusion previously prevailed.

A Posteriori: “from the latter.” Related to or derived by reasoning from known or observed facts. The Latin prefix “post” here refers to “after” observation, during which the gleaned data may be deduced.

A Priori: “from the former.” This is a posteriori’s antithesis. It is related to or derived by reasoning from self-evident propositions and theoretical deduction, or prior to empirical observation. 

But, should you really want a bona fide win in the debate, use Ad Hominem: “to the man.” This phrase denotes a marked denigration of an opponent’s character, rather than answer rationally the conundrum present or the issues raised. This is the favored contemporary model towards understanding.

To admit Mea culpa, “through my fault,” would be to admit personal fault or error, and thus to be somewhat honorable. Don’t expect to see as much of this as of the abovementioned. Here we also see the origins of the common English word culpability

An Alter Ego is a “second I,” which also a nice pun. This refers to a trusted friend, personal representative, or, as is today’s most common usage: the opposite side of a personality, which one assumes to be much like a trusted friend or personal representative. 

Caveat emptor means “buyer beware.” The onus is on the buyer. This also displays modern English’s caveat, which is often misused as “twist.”

There’s nothing to seize with Carpe diem, its literal translation being that of “pluck the day.” Enjoy the pleasures and opportunities the day brings without concern for the future, some day. Cliches completely prevent me from doing so, I retort pluckily. Don’t worry. I took care of this one for the public pro bono. You can get me later with a pint. Let’s call it a quid pro quo.

Not much for murdered bodies myself, I like using Corpus delicti or the “body of the crime” metaphorically. In either case, this phrase refers to the substantial groundwork of necessary facts required to prove that a crime has been committed. Any skilled linguists reading this whose modus operandi it is to report on the magnum opus of lesser beings, if you should not want to change your wayward modus vivendi, then consider this artifact as merely the Pons asinorum, literally “the asses’ bridge.” 

Most prospective employers require a curriculum vitae from their applicants. I’ve always found this a bit much to ask for: a “course of one’s life.” But it’s interesting how so many applicants get by with merely a short summary of one’s education, career experience, and relevant qualifications. It is, however, apparently a sine qua non, and done de jure.

Something can also be done de facto or “from that fact,” which means something akin to “there ain’t no name for it, but this is how it really goes.” Or ex post facto, meaning something done after the fact or in the aftermath of something, or “whoops.”

And here are a few of my least favorite things:

i.e.: “id est”; that is or namely 

e.g.: “exempli gratia”; for example 

q.v.: “quod vide”; which see

cf.: “conferatur”; confer; compare

etc.: “et cetera”; and so on

CV: “curriculum vitae”; boring paperwork 

I have a very special hatred in my heart for Latin abbreviations. This has less to do with their being Latin and more to do with their being abbreviations. But, since they are both, my prejudice knows no bounds. No one uses Latin correctly. And no one abbreviates correctly. Put the two together and you’ve something really quite special. 

This was either unhelpfully interesting or vice versa. But it was only pro temporeTempus Fugit, no?

Perfectly Reliable Nonsense

Indeed, the best way to tell the truth is by lying. It is cold in Death Valley. The right politician will solve your problems. Your phone is not listening to you. Humans, for good reason, love falsehood. Germans, however, have always computed humans strange for this very purpose, and therefrom attempted, on numerous separate instances, and without much success, to inform humans of The Truth. This is all due to the fact that they do not teach irony or satire in German schools, as it is illogical to do so and often leads to a terminal condition called Laughter. But the Germans, it is true, have been misrepresented. Written in 1900, Jerome K. Jerome’s short novel Three Men on the Bummel, through its earnest employment of the rhetorical form of Adynaton, commits a favorable depiction of the Teuton that finally does the Fatherland some much-deserved national justice, detailing the German amidst his favorite subjects of Law and Order. 

Adynaton is extreme hyperbole. Extreme exaggeration tells more than the truth; it supplies an armature of theory, value, and meaning to that Straight, basic truth that otherwise would be without context, be without the Slant. And, although Jerome claims that “[he] wishes this book to be a strict record of fact, unmarred by exaggeration…,” by dedicating the entirety of his book to the art of creative lying, he seems to go against his word.

The beautiful disorder of nature is the only thing untrammeled by Man’s modern machines. Not so in Germany. Consider Jerome’s unbiased reports as regards his observations whilst in the Land of Order: “In Germany one breathes in love of order with the air, in Germany the babies beat time with their rattles, and the German bird has come to prefer the box and regard with contempt the few uncivilized outcasts who continue to build their nests in trees and hedges.” Further consider Jerome’s observations of the German’s recondite relation between nature and his amount of rest: “Your German likes nature…He plants seven rose trees on the north side and seven on the south, and if they do not grow up all the same size and shape, it worries him so that he cannot sleep nights.” This continues with his knowledge of how the German prefers his trail-hike: “He likes his walk through the wood—to the restaurant. But the pathway must not be too steep, it must have a brick gutter running down one side of it to drain it, and every twenty yards or so it must have its seat on which he can rest and mop his brow.” And, on this uninhibited route to adventure, “There will be a seat every fifty yards, a police notice every hundred, and a restaurant every half-mile.” Whereupon, if, whilst auf dem wandern, the German encounters inclement weather, “unable to regulate…so unruly a thing as the solar system, he ignores it.” Moreover, “If, in addition, he can find a police notice posted on a tree forbidding him to do something or other, that gives him an extra sense of comfort and security,” as the only thing the German respects more than Order is Law. 

As Jerome elucidates for the general readership, the German’s a Lawful kind “…whose only ambition appears to be to pay his taxes, and do what he is told to do…He is willing, nay, anxious, to be controlled and regulated in all things.” The apotheosis of law to the German is the policeman. And that is no exaggeration: “The policeman is to him a religion.” This deification begins from the very first for the German, as “It is the hope of every well-meaning German boy and girl to please the police…(a) German child that has been patted on the head by a policeman is not fit to live with; its self-importance is unbearable.” And, as the German Junge grows into a young man, it is implicitly understood that “The German citizen is a soldier, and the policeman is his officer. The policeman directs him where in the street to walk, and how fast to walk. At the end of each bridge stands a policeman to tell the German how to cross it.” But, unlike other countries, wherein this draconian nightmare would incite talk of individual liberty and murmurs of revolution, “in Germany you take no responsibility upon yourself whatever. Everything is done for you, and done well… It is the the duty of the German policeman to look after you…and he takes good care of you…there is no denying this.” Many nations possess meaningful mottos pithily explicating that same nation’s longstanding cultural history. Jerome informs us of Germany’s: “‘you get yourself born,’ says the German government to the German citizen, ‘we do the rest’.” According to Jerome’s further dispassionate accounts on the matter, the German’s dedication to Law is not merely confined to matters of life:

“I do not know if it be so, but from what I have observed of the German character I should not be surprised to hear that when a man in Germany is condemned to death he is given a piece of rope, and told to go and hang himself…and I can see that German criminal taking that piece of rope home with him, reading up carefully the police instructions, and proceeding to carry them out in his own back kitchen.”

And, even after that law-abiding German carries out upon himself the ultimate sentence, Jerome suggests that the lawful deeds of die deutsche Polizei are never quite over:

“The Germans are a good people…I am positive that the vast majority of them go to heaven… [that the] the soul of a single individual German has [however] the sufficient initiative to fly up by itself and knock on St. Peter’s door, I cannot believe. My own opinion is that they are taken there in small companies, and passed in under the charge of a dead policeman.”

I, for one, take this last description as a joke. Firstly, to assert that the Germans are a good people seems, to me, a premise of pure opinion, and the conclusion of the German’s entrance into heaven is just plain immeasurable. It would be impossible to know. But, even more of an affront to us Übermenschen is Jerome’s notion that Germans wandering in the afterlife still do not possess the proper autonomy to inquire about their evening’s accommodations. This is offensive, and the notion that they would need a dead policeman to do so, positively absurd.

Yours Truly fresh off teaching finishing school