February 2, 2016 | Pashto

Grammar Books for Protection?

In which an Arabic verb book may possibly have protected me from a crazy person.

Today in New York I got into a verbal altercation with a woman at a cafe who refused to move her belongings off an adjacent seat so that I could sit down. (There were no other seats.)

What Is Left of Winter Storm Jonas

Here’s what happened.

I asked her politely if the seat was free. She said yes but did not move her purse and a grocery bag off the chair.

I asked her, still politely, if she would mind moving her things.

She told me, “I’m leaving in three minutes.”

I told her, “I’m here now.” Nothing.

I said, “I’m moving your stuff.” Nothing.

I picked up her stuff and put it on the floor and she freaked out. I sat down while she was still freaking out and ignored her.

Soon afterwards I placed a book on Arabic verbs on the table between us — and she never said another word to me.

Comments (15)

@languagecrawler • Posted on Tue, February 02, 2016 - 5:58 pm EST

Ha! Too funny. I did a similar thing on an airplane once. I was unfortunately sitting in the middle seat and got into a verbal altercation with the man sitting next to me over the armrest - he shouted that I kept touching his arm. I shouted back that the armrests belong to the middle seat. After some loud back and forth discussion, I pulled out my tablet and proceeded to read an Arabic grammar book. Like your experience, he never said another word.

Vincent Oostelbos • Posted on Tue, February 02, 2016 - 6:46 pm EST

There can be no doubt—it must have been the Arabic verbs book. I should get me some of those at some point! Glad you got a seat in the end.

Hey, I’ve been wondering… did you keep to that study schedule you have in the right side bar on this website? How much of all those languages do you remember? Also, are you still doing Pashto or mostly Arabic currently? As for Arabic, do you find that having studied it (at least according to your study schedule) years ago helped you pick it up again more quickly this time?

Sorry for the sudden abundance(*) of questions. Just got to wondering.

*I wanted to write the word “sleugh” here as meaning approximately “abundance” or “excess”, but it turns out it doesn’t exist in English. An American friend of mine has never heard of it either and doesn’t know where I could have gotten it from. Do you know of any similar word that I may have gotten confused?

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Tue, February 02, 2016 - 7:28 pm EST

Vincent, I will answer more fully later, but I think you must mean “slew”! :) :) Sleugh is fantastic though!

Jose Luiz • Posted on Thu, February 04, 2016 - 11:58 pm EST

Three years ago, at Frankfurt airport, I was almost stripped-down while checking-in. After a delay of more than 20 minutes, I heard the cause: the presence of a menacing Russian book in a suitcase…

Liz Estrada • Posted on Fri, February 05, 2016 - 1:50 pm EST

Interesting. I wonder if a different language would have had the same impact or if Arabic trumps all these days.

James • Posted on Fri, February 05, 2016 - 9:11 pm EST

Many years ago I was standing with some other people at a bus stop, when some impudent young fellow came up and began badgering us and urging us to take one of his pamphlets containing some sort of anti-establishment rant. When my turn came, I replied in German and continued to do so until he left me alone.

So you see, there are many advantages to learning another language! ;)

Jose Luiz • Posted on Fri, February 12, 2016 - 6:18 pm EST

However, if here in Brazil I ventured pouring over an Arabic book in a public place, the reactions would be (a) of sheer admiration, or even awe (he’so smart, but let’s stay away from him, (b) of friendly curiosity (let’s see what the guy is up to), (c) of disdainful incredulity (he’s just showing off),(d) of uneasy indifference… But overall, zero hostility or dreadful retreat.

Jose Luiz • Posted on Sat, February 13, 2016 - 11:58 am EST

By the way, a GRIMOIRE was, in the Middle Ages, a do-it-yourself textbook which taught how to concoct talismans, amulets, how to spell charms & invoke angels, spirits & demons. The etimology: the French GRAMMAIRE, from Latin GRAMMATICA, meaning, of course, GRAMMAR…

Jose Luiz • Posted on Sat, February 13, 2016 - 2:04 pm EST

And yet, it must be pondered that GRIMMOIRE was, in the Middle Ages, a do-it-yourself textbook which taught how to concoct talismans &amulets;, and to cast spells & charms, and invoke spirits & demons. The etimilogy: French GRAMMAIRE, Latin GRAMMATICA and,of course, GRAMMAR.
They are beatiful, wondrous books, shockful of poweful signs & grimaces, highly protective of the cognoscenti and harmful unto the nonchalant layperson.

Joe • Posted on Sun, March 27, 2016 - 3:06 pm EST

What were the chances she started freaking out after you placed her stuff on the floor when she possibly would been ok if you moved it on the table instead?

Jose Luiz • Posted on Mon, June 20, 2016 - 12:37 pm EST


Ellen Jovin • Posted on Wed, June 22, 2016 - 5:49 pm EST

Hi, José Luiz! The grammar-grimoire link is scary and dramatic! How about the grammar-glamour one? :)

Jose Luiz • Posted on Thu, June 23, 2016 - 6:09 pm EST

Well, the glamour in grammar is equally recondite: available to the happy few.

Bonnie • Posted on Sat, June 25, 2016 - 9:42 pm EST

I found your blog a few months ago and have made my way through ALL the entries. I love your blog and your musings and experiences with so many languages! Are you still on Pashto/Arabic or have you moved on to another language? I understand that life often gets in the way of blogging, but I’m excited for more blog entries, whenever they come!

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Tue, July 05, 2016 - 1:18 pm EST

Bonnie, thank you so much for your kind words. You may have had something to do with my getting off my behind and writing again. ;) I will be back later to comment further! Vincent, same to you! Howdy!

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