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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

George Borrow (1803–1881)

A Lesson in Armenian

From “Lavengro”

“WILL you take another cup of tea?” said Belle.

I took another cup. We were again silent. “It is rather uncomfortable,” said I at last, “for people to sit together without having anything to say.”

“Were you thinking of your company?” said Belle.

“What company?” said I.

“The present company.”

“The present company! Oh, ah! I remember that I said one only feels uncomfortable in being silent with a companion, when one happens to be thinking of the companion. Well, I had been thinking of you the last two or three minutes, and had just come to the conclusion that, to prevent us both feeling occasionally uncomfortably toward each other, having nothing to say, it would be as well to have a standing subject on which to employ our tongues. Belle, I have determined to give you lessons in Armenian.”

“What is Armenian?”

“Did you ever hear of Ararat?”

“Yes, that was the place where the ark rested; I have heard the chaplain in the great house talk of it; besides, I have read of it in the Bible.”

“Well, Armenian is the speech of people of that place, and I should like to teach it you.”

“To prevent——”

“Aye, aye; to prevent our occasionally feeling uncomfortable together. Your acquiring it, besides, might prove of ulterior advantage to us both. For example, suppose you and I were in promiscuous company, at a court, for example, and you had something to communicate to me which you did not wish any one else to be acquainted with, how safely you might communicate it to me in Armenian.”

“Would not the language of the roads do as well?” said Belle.

“In some places it would,” said I, “but not at court, owing to its resemblance to thieves’ slang. There is Hebrew, again, which I was thinking of teaching you, till the idea of being presented at court made me abandon it, from the probability of our being understood, in the event of our speaking it, by at least half a dozen people in our vicinity. There is Latin, it is true, or Greek, which we might speak aloud at court with perfect confidence of safety. But upon the whole I should prefer teaching you Armenian, not because it would be a safer language to hold communication with at court, but because, not being very well grounded in it myself, I am apprehensive that its words and forms may escape from my recollection, unless I have sometimes occasion to call them forth.”

“I am afraid we shall have to part company before I have learnt it,” said Belle. “In the meantime, if I wish to say anything to you in private, somebody being by, shall I speak in the language of the roads?”

“If no roadster is nigh, you may,” said I, “and I will do my best to understand you. Belle, I will now give you a lesson in Armenian.”

“I suppose you mean no harm,” said Belle.

“Not in the least; I merely propose the thing to prevent our occasionally feeling uncomfortable together. Let us begin.”

“Stop till I have removed the tea-things,” said Belle; and, getting up, she removed them to her own encampment.

“I am ready,” said Belle, returning, and taking her former seat, “to join with you in anything which will serve to pass away the time agreeably, provided there is no harm in it.”

“Belle,” said I, “I have determined to commence the course of Armenian lessons by teaching you the numerals; but before I do that, it will be as well to tell you that the Armenian language is called Haik.”

“I am sure that word will hang upon my memory,” said Belle.

“Why hang upon it?”

“Because the old women in the great house used to call so the chimney-hook on which they hung the kettle; in like manner, on the hake of my memory I will hang your hake.”

“Good!” said I, “you will make an apt scholar. But, mind, that I did not say hake, but haik. The words are, however, very much alike; and, as you observe, upon your hake you may hang my haik. We will now proceed to the numerals.”

“What are numerals?” said Belle.

“Numbers. I will say the Haikan numbers up to ten. There, have you heard them?”


“Well, try and repeat them.”

“I only remember number one,” said Belle, “and that because it is me.”

“I will repeat them again,” said I, “and pay great attention. Now, try again.”

“Me, jergo, earache.”

“I neither said jergo nor earache. I said yergou and yerek. Belle, I am afraid I shall have some difficulty with you as a scholar.”