A New Low

Photo by an0nym0n0us

So I sold my old car this weekend (not the one you see at the top of this post). With 185,000 miles, it was still in fairly good shape, but it had developed several small problems... the windshield wipers waved erratically, some of the dashboard lights were out, and so on. I had had the feeling for some time that any time when I was driving down the road all four wheels might pop off simultaneously like you see in the movies.

Among these problems was a slipping belt. This is not hard or expensive to fix--15 minutes with a wrench--but it makes the most awful noise, like the engine is about to tear itself apart. I didn't take the time to fix it because I knew I would be selling the car anyway. Friends who rode with my would hide their faces out of shame when the screeching started up.

Last week, I reached a new low. I was driving down a suburban street, when the screeching started up. No one was around, except a solitary dog trotting down the sidewalk. And even the dog stopped short and stared, clearly thinking "What is wrong with that car?"

Why learn languages?

Interesting perspective from Kató Lomb, Hungarian polyglot 1909-2003. Her book Polyglot: How I learn languages includes interesting anecdotes such as surreptiously studying Russian in WWII bomb shelter and running a tourist hospitality office that was mistaken for a bordello:

We should learn languages because language is the only thing worth knowing even poorly.

If someone knows how to play the violin only a little, he will find that the painful minutes he causes are not in proportion to the possible joy he gains from his playing. The amateur chemist spares himself ridicule only as long as he doesn’t aspire for professional laurels. The man somewhat skilled in medicine will not go far, and if he tries to trade on his knowledge without certification, he will be locked up as a quack doctor.

Solely in the world of languages is the amateur of value. Well-intentioned sentences full of mistakes can still build bridges between people. Asking in broken Italian which train we are supposed to board at the Venice railway station is far from useless. Indeed, it is better to do that than to remain uncertain and silent and end up back in Budapest rather than in Milan.