Monday, May 2, 2011

Val, Maester, it ban op to yu

(Let's call this Edgar Guest in quasi-Norwegian. This is a sample of dialect poetry from The Norsk Nightingale by William F. Kirk. Wildly popular in its day, which was 100 years ago - no doubt read aloud from the podium - and now, merely weird).


Ay s'pose yu tenk life ban hard game.
Ay guess yu lak to qvit, perhaps.
Ay hear yu say, "It ban a shame
To see so many lucky chaps."
Yu say, "Dese guys ban mostly yaps:
Ay vish ay had some money, tu,
And not get all dese gude hard raps."
Val, Maester, it ban op to yu.
Sometimes ay s'pose yu vork long hours,
And ant get wery fancy pay;
Den yu can't buying stacks of flowers
And feed yure girl in gude café,
And drenk yin rickies and frappé.
Oh, yes! dis mak yu purty blue.
Yu lak to have more fun, yu say?
Val, Maester, it ban op to yu.
Dis vorld ant got much room to spare
For men vich make dis hard-luck cry,—
'Bout von square foot vile dey ban har,
And six feet after dey skol die.
Time "fugit,"—high-school vord for "fly";
And purty sune yure chance ban tru.
So, ef yu lak to stack chips high,
Val, Maester, it ban op to yu.

The Lumberyack (as recited by the Shmenge Brothers)


"Roll out!" yell cookee
"It ban morning," say he,
"It ban daylight in svamps, all yu guys!"
So out of varm bunk
Ve skol falling kerplunk,
And rubbing lak blazes our eyes.
Breakfast, den hustle; dinner, den yump!
Lumberyack faller ban yolly big chump.
"Eat qvick!" say the cook.
"Oder fallers skol look
For chance to get grub yust lak yu!"
So under our yeans
Ve pack planty beans,
And Yim dandy buckvheat cakes, tu.
Den out on the skidvay, vorking lak mule.
Lumberyack faller ban yolly big fule.
"Vatch out!" foreman say.
Den tree fall yure vay,
And missing yure head 'bout an inch.
Ef timber ban green,
Ve skol rub kerosene
On places var coss cut skol pinch.
Sawing and chopping, freeze and den sveat.
Lumberyack faller ban yackass, yu bet.
Ven long com the spring,
Ve drenk and we sing;
And calling town faller gude frend,
He help us to blow
Our whole venter's dough,
But ant got no panga to lend.
Drenk and headache, headache and drenk.
Lumberyack faller ban sucker, ay tenk.

Sprinkle my head

The other day a line from a poem came into my head, something about "peanut shells". It rattled around in there until I realized it came from some sort of sonnet. Something about - prunes?

I was sure I must have imagined it, but finally thought of an old (old) book of mine called An Almanac of Words at Play by Willard R. Espy. And there it was, the Sonnet on Stewed Prunes, (14 November), written in some sort of Scandinavian dialect.

The chances of finding it on the 'net were nil, so I was astonished when I found not only the sonnet, but about a thousand other dialect verses in a collection called The Norsk Nightingale by William F. Kirk. (This was one of those books from the Gutenberg Project, a great site which offers thousands of downloadable/public-domain books for free. Take one, please.)

I promise I'll get to the prune sonnet! I know you are in an agony of waiting (prunes will do that to you). But one other entry (The Russian-English Phrasebook, 10 December) caught my memory. You won't find this on the net anywhere, but it's classic and reminds me of the twisted phrasebook, English as She is Spoke.

This is one thing I can't cut 'n' paste, so I'll just have to get busy and transcribe it the old-fashioned way. By hand.

"Time has described The Russian-English Phrasebook as a vade mecum for Soviet visitors to the United States. Time adds that the respect in which it is held does not say much for the level of communication between one country and the other.

At a restaurant, the Russian tourist is instructed to say, 'Please give me curds, sower cream, fried chicks, pulled bread and one jellyfish.' At the doctor's, he complains of 'a poisoning, a noseache, an eyepain or quinsy'. He asks, one assumes with trepidation, 'Must I undress?'

At Saks Fifth Avenue he looks for a 'ladies' worsted-nylon swimming pants'. If he is a she, she asks the stylist at a beauty salon to 'make me a hair-dress', 'sprinkle my head,' or 'frizzle my hair'. If he is a businessman, he demands sternly, 'Whose invention is this? When was this invention patented? This is a Soviet invention.'

The lost chord


Ay ant lak pie-plant pie so wery vell;
Ven ay skol eat ice-cream my yaws du ache;
Ay ant much stuck on dis har yohnnie-cake
Or crackers yust so dry sum peanut shell.
And ven ay eat dried apples ay skol svell
Until ay tenk my belt skol nearly break;
And dis har breakfast food ay tenk ban fake:
Yim Dumps ban boosting it so it skol sell.
But ay tal yu ef yu vant someteng fine
Someteng so sveet lak wery sveetest honey
Vith yuice dat taste about lak nice port vine
Only it ant cost hardly any money--
Ef yu vant someteng yust lak anyel fude
Yu try stewed prunes. By yiminy! dey ban gude.