Tag Archives: language wars

My opponent folded after the first round!

I was ‘cautiously optimistic as I parked in the lot down near Hertzlia. Channel 2 TV’s studios are satisfyingly dis-organized, but in an good way.
Shira, a friend (ok, ‘spy’), works there in make-up caught my gaze on the way in, gave me a sly ‘thumbs-up‘ and mouthed ‘Vowels‘ With that I knew it might  end well.
‘The Language Games’ they call the show. Every two weeks a new ‘pair’ of tongues face off. Richness, expressive capabilities, adaptability to the modern era seem to have been the gist of the ‘secret’ questions on previous episodes which I watched in an effort to prepare. Having being assigned ‘English’ in a battle against ‘Hebrew’ I was betting on at least a TKO.
What I wasn’t ready for was the identity of my Opponent(!) Also a secret   ( a deliberate TV-biz strategy meant to foster drama, surprise, and authentic demeanor) I recognized her immediately. A truly worthy contender, a long-since Israeli-immigrant technical writer, fluent as expected from someone of her high-octane background in both the competing languages.
We shook hands, which oddly required two takes(?) Later on I guessed that the the director, who’d changed the camera angles between shots, was less than thrilled by the thinly-disguised look of pity on my face. Damn! Had I not lip-read the ‘Vowels’ clue from Shira, I coulda done a nice little ‘Pity me, a lamb to the slaughter’ shrug.
At any rate, enough suspence:

After the opening splash-clip (loud as hell on the monitors; Israelis love to turn everything up to ten(!), we were seated at two tables, split-screen, I assume. The ‘letter-turner girl, her outfit a perfect shade chosen to contrast with the drapes, handed us each a generous quantity of blank cards, and the ‘Talent’, (the announcer/moderator) gave us the First challenge:

“Here are two letters, roughly equivalent in both languages. You have 5 minutes to write all the words createable from them. Go!”

Ok, I had ‘F’ and ‘L’, my opponent had ‘Peh/Feh and ‘Lamed’. Sounds fair, no?
Um, not to me!
Note, the same Hebrew character serves for both ‘P’ and ‘F’ depending whether it has a fly-shit dot hiding in the middle. If English were that pathetic it’d be the difference between a ‘part’ and a ‘fart’.
I thought quickly; I could of course ‘pause the action’ (a classic ‘poison-pill’ move I’d used, only in emergencies, way back in the ’70s, when tape-splicing was a total bitch. You demonstratively pick your nose until the Director yells ‘Cut!!‘ If anyone’s curious.
And yet…. and yet we been told clearly that Vowels were Kosher. So I relaxed, almost smelling a walk-over.

Took me all of 20 seconds to legibly print the following list:
FAIL
FALL
FEEL
FELL
FILE
FILL
FOAL
FULL
FUEL
FOUL
FOIL

Note, anyone never actually having been on a game show can be forgiven for the voyeur’s bravado of assuming he’ll remember the capital of Montana under pressure. Cameras churning, stage-hands handing, count-down musics blaring:    in reality you’ll torture yourself for generations, watching the sad clip, the roar of the grease-paint screaming ‘Boise? Bozeman?? Byzantia???

My job finished, I allowed myself to eye the other ‘boxer in the ring’.
She looked glum… Big-time glum. I felt a sympathy, inadvisable in conflict, for her gruesome Fate.

Two cards. ‘That all she wrote’, as they say.
After the commercial break, the judges compared our entries:
Hers were, in toto;
‘P(i)L’ (pronounced ‘peel’ it’s the generic name for an elephant
And… ‘F(u)L (‘Fool’: a lima bean.
Yup. ‘Meager/Meagre does come to mind…

The Moderator walked over to shake my hand, while yada-yada-ing the script-tease for the next round “coming right up, after this!”

But Susan had had quite enough! One of the surest ways to declare ‘end-of-interview’ is the thud in the Audio engineer’s cans when the ‘victim’ ‘drops’ the lapel stick-on mic on the desk.
A hint of a tear in her left eye told me that the studio all-purpose shmooze-team, already approaching her position with consolation in their body language, might not convince her to recant.
I listened discretely to their entreaties… and her remonstrations. And by the time she swiped her hand across her throat and switched to the Spanish ‘No Mas!’ familair to boxing fans, I knew I’d likely be fighting ‘Road 2’ traffic the wrong direction back home after ‘an early dismissal.’

Epilogue: The show, to my disappointment or relief (choose one) was never aired. It may still be in the vaults (or the Cloud) as we speak under the Heading ‘Vowels: don’t leave home without ’em!’
And I did manage to contact her a week later by phone. A sigh of relief hearing her up-beat ‘bounce-back-from defeat’ take on the incident.

“Next time you’l wear the fucking Dead Sea Scroll-down trunks, and I’ll be da Vowel-Goddess! Float like a butterfly; sting like a bee! I’m the Greatest”
In English at least, I couldn’t even start to argue with her point. Not that I’m working on a rematch. although losing to a sweetheart like her does have a certain charm.

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