THE $30,000 BEQUEST and Other Stories by Mark Twain

the hands, it was the Verb that lacked stability, it was the Verb that

had no permanent opinion about anything, it was the Verb that was always

dodging the issue and putting out the light and making all the trouble.

Further examination, further inquiry, further reflection,

confirmed this judgment, and established beyond peradventure the

fact that the Verb was the storm-center. This discovery made plain

the right and wise course to pursue in order to acquire certainty

and exactness in understanding the statements which the newspaper

was daily endeavoring to convey to me: I must catch a Verb and

tame it. I must find out its ways, I must spot its eccentricities,

I must penetrate its disguises, I must intelligently foresee and

forecast at least the commoner of the dodges it was likely to try

upon a stranger in given circumstances, I must get in on its main

shifts and head them off, I must learn its game and play the limit.

I had noticed, in other foreign languages, that verbs are bred

in families, and that the members of each family have certain features

or resemblances that are common to that family and distinguish it

from the other families–the other kin, the cousins and what not.

I had noticed that this family-mark is not usually the nose or the hair,

so to speak, but the tail–the Termination–and that these tails

are quite definitely differentiated; insomuch that an expert can

tell a Pluperfect from a Subjunctive by its tail as easily and as

certainly as a cowboy can tell a cow from a horse by the like process,

the result of observation and culture. I should explain that I

am speaking of legitimate verbs, those verbs which in the slang

of the grammar are called Regular. There are other–I am not meaning

to conceal this; others called Irregulars, born out of wedlock,

of unknown and uninteresting parentage, and naturally destitute

of family resemblances, as regards to all features, tails included.

But of these pathetic outcasts I have nothing to say. I do not

approve of them, I do not encourage them; I am prudishly delicate

and sensitive, and I do not allow them to be used in my presence.

But, as I have said, I decided to catch one of the others and break

it into harness. One is enough. Once familiar with its assortment

of tails, you are immune; after that, no regular verb can conceal

its specialty from you and make you think it is working the past

or the future or the conditional or the unconditional when it is

engaged in some other line of business–its tail will give it away.

I found out all these things by myself, without a teacher.

I selected the verb AMARE, TO LOVE. Not for any personal reason,

for I am indifferent about verbs; I care no more for one verb than

for another, and have little or no respect for any of them; but in

foreign languages you always begin with that one. Why, I don’t know.

It is merely habit, I suppose; the first teacher chose it,

Adam was satisfied, and there hasn’t been a successor since with

originality enough to start a fresh one. For they ARE a pretty

limited lot, you will admit that? Originality is not in their line;

they can’t think up anything new, anything to freshen up the old

moss-grown dullness of the language lesson and put life and “go”

into it, and charm and grace and picturesqueness.

I knew I must look after those details myself; therefore I thought

them out and wrote them down, and set for the FACCHINO and explained

them to him, and said he must arrange a proper plant, and get together

a good stock company among the CONTADINI, and design the costumes,

and distribute the parts; and drill the troupe, and be ready in three

days to begin on this Verb in a shipshape and workman-like manner.

I told him to put each grand division of it under a foreman,

and each subdivision under a subordinate of the rank of sergeant

or corporal or something like that, and to have a different uniform

for each squad, so that I could tell a Pluperfect from a Compound

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Categories: Twain, Mark