The Little Translator 1:
The Little Translator was distraught. “My first big test, and I’m going to goof up”, he trembled. He gathered up his papers, stumbled out of the Waldorf, and looked at his watch. Almost six. He decided he would go and see Professor Brookesduddy at the University. “Yes, Brookesduddy will know what to do. Perhaps I can catch him at his late afternoon tutorial”, he thought, hope rising suddenly in his breast.
A Russian lecturer who had just arrived at Wordtown University was with one of the old hands from the German department, and both of them were watching through the upper glass section on the door to the lecture theatre. Professor Brookesduddy Ph.D (Oxon), MA, B.Lit., FRSL, FSRL, FLRS was in full swing:
“…. and so you will observe, dear students – ceteris paribus and a priori, naturally – that what we have here is a fine example of a disambiguating clitic in all its splendour. Now, quid pro quo and, indeed, pro tanto quid, ….”
“Professor Brookesduddy”, said the veteran lecturer to the other. “They can’t get rid of him, you know. He’s been here practically since the University was founded back in the seventeenth century, when the like of him had jobs for life and then some. He was offered early retirement about 20 years ago, and refused. So there he is every day talking about nothing, spouting Latin like he was down at the forum with Caesar and the boys, and none of the kids understand a word he says, although some of the swots pretend to. He even has three secretaries and a huge free house in town, plus he’s always off to some frigging conference or other, all expenses paid by the Vice-Chancellor, so if you were wondering why the pay’s so crap here, there’s one of the reasons. Every University has one of them, and this is ours.”
At half-past six, the Little Translator was still sweating noticeably as he trotted through the entrance gate to Wordtown University with its motto on the central arch, Verbum Vita Est. He made his way through the polyester and stainless steel corridors to the older, wooden part at the end, and knocked on the oak panels of Professor Brookesduddy’s study door.
“Enter, please do”, said a grand voice within.
The Little Translator walked in rather anxiously. There was Professor Brookesduddy sitting in his Queen Anne chair, scholarly, paternal as ever.
“Professor Brookesduddy”, he babbled, “I’ve got a translation test with a problem, a translation problem with a test, er, I mean a problem with a translation test. Perhaps you could help me out?”
“My dear boy, of course. Tell me, tell me, what is the problem, what is your gêne? I was just preparing a speech on the fables of Aesop, but it can wait,” said Brookesduddy, smoothing down his long white beard. “As, indeed, did the tortoise, and he won the day in the end, of course.”
“Beg your pardon?”, asked the Little Translator.
“Nothing, nothing, rien du tout, I was just thinking of Aesop. Tell, do tell, please.”
And so the Little Translator unfolded his woes as best he could.
Professor Brookesduddy sat back in his chair and put his fingertips together extremely slowly, as was his wont. He looked at the Little Translator over the top of his thick glasses and fingers.
“Ô rage, ô désespoir, ô vieillesse ennemie”, he murmured, staring at the ceiling.
“Sorry?” inquired the Little Translator, looking up at the ceiling for some obvious reference.
“Oh nothing, nothing, just a little Corneille. Corneille always springs to mind when problems come along. Let me see, you have a modus operandi for this project, I take it? You have a methodology for studying the factual parameters, the res, if you will?”
The Little Translator had never noticed it before with Professor Brookesduddy, but he was beginning to feel an ever so slight exasperation with all this Latin and French guff ...
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