- By David KennerDavid Kenner is the Middle East editor at Foreign Policy. He is based in Beirut, Lebanon, and has been with FP since 2009 (a long time, he knows). He worked for FP previously in Cairo, where he covered the early days of the Arab Spring, and before that in Washington. He has attended Georgetown University and the American University of Beirut and has reported from Libya, Egypt, Gaza, Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq.
WikiLeaks’ document dump of emails from Syrian government officials has so far been light on scandalous details about either the Assad family or the opposition. But today’s release did provide one unexpected revelation: Bashar al-Assad appears to be an avid student, and critic, of English. It’s not exactly George Orwell’s "Politics and the English Language," but the Syrian president forwarded the following Internet joke to his translator with the subject line "ENGLISH IS A STUPID LANGUAGE!"
Let’s face it. English is a stupid language.
There is no egg in the eggplant,
No ham in the hamburger
And neither pine nor apple in the pineapple.
English muffins were not invented in England.
We sometimes take English for granted,
But if we examine its paradoxes we find that
Quicksand takes you down slowly
Boxing rings are square
And a guinea pig is nighther from Guinea nor is it aa pig.
If writers write, how come fingers don’t fing?
If the plural of tooth is teeth
Shouldn’t the plural of phone booth be phone beeth?
If the teacher taught,
Why didn’t the preacher praught?
If a vegetarian eats vegetables
What the heck does a humanitarian eat?
Why do people recite at a play
Yet play at a recital?
Park on driveways,
And drive on parkways?
How can the weather be as hot as hell on one day,
And cold as hell on another?
You have to marvel at the unique lunacy
Of a language where a house can burn up as
It burns down.
And in which you fill IN a form
By filling it OUT.
And a bell is only heard once it GOES!
English was invented by people, not computers
And it reflects the creativity of the human race
(Which of course isn’t a race at all)
That is why when the stars are out they are visible
But when the lights are out they are invisible.
And why is it that when I wind up my watch, it starts,
But when I wind up this poem,
Assad also seems to have a fascination with American idioms (admittedly tricky devils). In another email to his translator, he includes a multiple-choice quiz with such questions as: "My friend likes hardcore trance music but it’s not (my preference)." A) my cup of tea B) a fine kettle of fish C) the icing on the cake D) the cream of the crop.
Assad appears to be a very good student — there are reportedly more than 800 emails between him and his translator in the WikiLeaks files.