Richard Lederer là một nhà giáo ngôn ngữ nổi tiếng và giàu có, nhờ vào biệt tài nhìn ra những điều vô tình hóa ra nực cười trong tiếng Mỹ rồi viết về chúng trong ba cuốn sách duyên dáng mua vui cho thiên hạ, bán chạy như tôm tươi. Đó là các cuốn Anguished English (1987), Crazy English (1989), và Fractured English (1996).
Trong số những người ái mộ ông Lederer, một độc giả bên Canada viết: “Tôi để cuốn Anguished English trên bàn nhỏ đầu giường và đôi khi đọc vài trang trước khi tắt đèn đi ngủ. Nhiều phen, giữa đêm thinh lặng, tôi rú lên những trận cười, ồn ào đến độ tôi sợ đã làm phiền những người hàng xóm trong chung cư.”
Và sau khi đọc Fractured English, một nhà báo Mỹ tuyên bố: “Richard Lederer nên được coi là một quốc bảo. Chưa có ai khác biến tiếng Anh thành một nguồn vui vĩ đại như thế!”
Riêng người viết bài này còn nhớ đã cười sặc sụa chảy cả nước mắt nước mũi khi đọc đoạn văn vô tình trở thành hý lộng và tinh ma của một học sinh Mỹ viết về hai nhân vật chính trong đại tác phẩm Romeo and Juliet của William Shakespeare, do ông Lederer sưu tầm và ghi lại: “They tell each other how much they are in love in the baloney scene. After much fighting in the pubic square, Romeo’s last wish is to be laid by Juliet”! Cái ao ước cuối cùng của Romeo ấy vô tình trở thành một trường hợp “nghĩa đôi” (double entendre) ranh mãnh, với nghĩa hiền lành là được chôn cất cạnh Juliet và nghĩa tinh ma là chuyện mây mưa với nàng.
Qua cái nhìn của một nhà giáo ngôn ngữ méo mó nghề nghiệp như tôi, những điều nực cười đó thường xảy ra do các nguyên nhân chính yếu sau đây:
Hiện tượng “trông gà hóa cáo” hoặc “chữ tác đánh chữ tộ” khiến các cặp chữ như “balcony” và “baloney”, “excuse” và “execute” –và tệ hại hơn nữa là “public” và “pubic”– chẳng khác gì nhau về hình dạng.
Thói quen “đánh vần theo linh tính” (mà thuật ngữ giáo dục trang trọng mệnh danh là “invented spelling”) khiến “oxygen” thành “oxygin”, “Don Quixote” thành “Donkey Hote”, “Candide” thành “Candy”, “Stars and Stripes” thành “Tarzan Stripes”, và hết chỗ nói là khi “Capulet” thành “Copulate.”
Khuynh hướng sáng chế ra chữ mới như “administrate” thay cho “menstruate”, “conversate” thay cho “converse”, và ngộ thay khi “Continental Congress” được chế biến thành “Contented Congress.”
Kiến thức mập mờ, như khi có người viết “Hydrogin is gin and water” hoặc “Then there was the Victorian Age, when nice ladies were considered virgins.”
Sự để sai chỗ của các nhóm chữ bổ nghĩa trong câu (một lỗi nghiêm trọng trong văn viết, tiếng chuyên môn là “dangling modifiers”) — như nhóm chữ “Plunging 1,000 feet into the gorge” bị đặt nhầm vị trí trong câu viết “Plunging 1,000 feet into the gorge, we saw Yosemite Falls” — khiến người đọc không khỏi ái ngại cho số phận những người đi thăm thác nước lừng danh ấy!
Lối viết ngây ngô đến độ nực cười như trong câu “Handel was half German, half Italian, and half English. He was very large.”
Sự vô tình đặt hai ý tưởng không ăn nhằm gì với nhau, nhưng ngữ cảnh ấy lại sinh ra chuyện tếu như trong câu viết về thi hào Milton: “Then his wife died and he wrote Paradise Regained.”
Mời bạn đọc thưởng thức đôi chút hý lộng trong thế giới tiếng Mỹ viết lách “văng mạng” do Lederer sưu tầm trong ba cuốn sách nêu trên. Các tiểu đề bằng tiếng Việt do tôi đề nghị để tiện sắp xếp các đoạn văn trích dẫn.
Khi học trò định nghĩa chữ khó:
A virgin forest is a place where the hand of man has never set foot.
A passive verb is when the subject is the sufferer, as in “I am loved.”
Zanzibar is noted for its monkeys. The British governor lives there.
Cadavers are dead bodies that have donated themselves to science. This procedure is called gross anatomy.
Parallel lines never meet unless you bend one or both of them.
A circle is a figure with no corners and only one side.
Water is composed of two gins, Oxygin and Hydrogin. Oxygin is pure gin. Hydrogin is gin and water.
The difference between a king and a president is that a king is the son of his father, but a president isn’t.
Danh nhân, kiệt tác, lịch sử thế giới qua ngòi bút học trò:
The greatest writer of the Renaissance was William J. Shakespeare. Shakespeare was born in the year 1564, supposedly on his birthday. His father was Mr. Shakespeare, and his mother was Mrs. Shakespeare. He wrote during the era in which he lived. Actually, Shakespeare wasn’t written by Shakespeare but by another man named Shakespeare.
Romeo and Juliet are an example of a heroic couplet. This story presents a one on one situation between a man and a woman. Romeo and Juliet belonged to the families of the Montages and Copulates. They tell each other how much they are in love in the baloney scene. After much fighting in the pubic square, Romeo’s last wish is to be laid by Juliet.
Writing at the same time as Shakespeare was Miguel Cervantes. He wrote “Donkey Hote.” The next great author was John Hamilton. Milton wrote “Paradise Lost.” Then his wife died and he wrote “Paradise Regained.”
Delegates from the original 13 states formed the Contented Congress. Thomas Jefferson, a Virgin, and Benjamin Franklin were two singers of the Declaration of Independence. Franklin had gone to Boston carrying all his clothes in his pocket and a loaf of bread under each arm. He invented electricity by rubbing two cats backwards and declared, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Franklin died in 1790 and is still dead.
Meanwhile in Europe, the enlightenment was a reasonable time. Voltaire invented electricity and also wrote a book called “Candy.” Gravity was invented by Isaac Walton. It is chiefly noticeable in the autumn, when the apples are falling off the trees.
Johann Bach wrote a great many musical compositions and had a large number of children. In between, he practiced on an old spinster which he kept up in his attic. Bach died from 1750 to the present. Bach was the most famous composer in the world, and so was Handel. Handel was half German, half Italian, and half English. He was very large. Beethoven wrote music even though he was deaf. He was so deaf he wrote loud music. He took long walks in the forest even when everyone was calling for him. Beethoven expired in 1827 and later died for this.
The Mayflower Compact was a small ship that brought Columbus to America. Columbus knelt down, thanked God, and put the American flag in the ground. Tarzan is a short name for the American flag. Its full name is Tarzan Stripes.
Benjamin Franklin got married and discovered electricity. When he went to the French court, he did not dress. They respected him.
Từ những đơn xin phép của phụ huynh cho con em vắng mặt:
My son is under the doctor’s care and should not take P.E. today. Please execute him.
Please excuse Mary for being absent. She was sick and I had her shot.
Please excuse Gloria from Jim today. She is administrating.
Carlos was absent yesterday because he was playing football. He was hurt in the growing part.
Trên những tờ khai về tai nạn xe cộ:
An invisible car came out of nowhere, struck my car and vanished.
The gentleman behind me struck me on the backside. He then went to rest in a bush with just his rear end showing.
As I approached the intersection, a stop sign suddenly appeared where no stop sign had ever appeared before. I was unable to stop in time to avoid the accident.
The pedestrian had no idea which direction to run, so I ran over him.
I had been driving for about 40 years, when I fell asleep at the wheel and had an accident.
Từ những trang rao vặt:
A superb and inexpensive restaurant. Fine food expertly served by waitresses in appetizing forms.
Dinner Special – Turkey $2.35; Chicken or Beef $2.25; Children $2.00.
For sale: Antique desk suitable for lady with thick legs and large drawers.
Wanted: Unmarried girls to pick fresh fruit and produce at night.
Used cars: Why go elsewhere to be cheated? Come here first!
Wanted: Man to take care of cow that does not smoke or drink.
Từ những hồ sơ xin trợ cấp xã hội:
I am very much annoyed to find you have branded my son illiterate. This is a dirty lie as I was married a week before he was born.
Mrs. Jones has not had any clothes for a year and has been visited regularly by the clergy.
I am forwarding my marriage certificate and six children I have on half a sheet of paper.
I want my money as quick as I can get it. I’ve been in bed with the doctor for two weeks and he doesn’t do me any good. If things don’t improve, I will have to send for another doctor.
Từ các hồ sơ bệnh nhân:
Patient’s wife hit him over the head with an ironing board, which now has six stitches in it.
For his impotence, we will discontinue the meds and let his wife handle him.
Sinuses run in the family.
The patient is a 65-year-old woman who fell, and this fall was complicated by a truck rolling over her.
She fell this morning while she was trying to get out of the commode.
When she fainted, her eyes rolled around the room.
She is to refrain from sexual intercourse until I see her in the office.
The patient is a Catholic nun currently in between missionaries.
Tin tức trên báo chí:
Some sources said shortly after his death Mao Tse Tung had expressed a wish that his body be cremated.
Mr. and Mrs. Garth Robinson request the honor of your presents at the marriage of their daughter Holly to Mr. James Stockman.
American Catholic theologians will have to wait and see the exact wording of a French document permitting the use of condoms before engaging in theological debate.
Last week Toronto policemen buried one of their own – a 22-year-old constable shot with his own revolver in a solemn display of police solidarity rarely seen in Canada.
Columbia, Tennessee, which calls itself the largest outdoor mule market in the world, held a mule parade yesterday headed by the Governor.
The attorney general’s office said yesterday that an autopsy performed on the headless body of a man found in Mason failed to determine the cause of death.
Weight Watchers will meet Tuesday at 7 pm at the First Presbyterian Church. Please use the large double door at the side entrance.
Our paper carried the notice last week that Mr. Oscar Hoffnagle is a defective on the police force. This was a typographical error. Mr. Hoffnagle is, of course, a detective on the police farce.
Lederer, R. (1987). Anguished English. Charleston, SC: Wyrick and Company.
Lederer, R. (1989). Crazy English. New York: Pocket Books.
Lederer, R. (1996). Fractured English. New York: Pocket Books.