How the Letter L Made Me Impotent

I practiced my new phrase in the bathroom at work, furrowing my brow and emoting sturdy facial expressions in the mirror. I alternated between singing the phrase and declaring it with grave conviction. It was a dedicated practice, done in the midst of my morning routine of coffee, lesson-planning and avoiding the German teachers.

I checked the phrase again: Zvládnul to – It has been managed

Eager to use the phrase, I completed a minor task and stomped over to my boss’s office, which houses all the heads of the language departments at the university. I set my chin, knuckled the table and announced to the room, “Ja to zvadnul.”

I had dropped the L.

Everyone in the room, including one of my beautiful students who was having a consultation with her French teacher, erupted into laughter. In my patented method of self-defense, I began sweating like John Goodman and shifting towards the door. They finally regained their composure enough to tell me through teary eyes and red faces that I had just announced, in round about, grammatically poor Czech (insult/injury), that I had just gone impotent.

I had been rendered impotent by an L. This hardly seemed fair.

My current handle on the Czech language balances precariously upon phrases such as “I will give me the another beer,” and “Where my mother lives, there is hot.” To assist in my unending quest to rise above the beginner (pub) level, my boss leaves a Czech phrase on a Post-it attached to my keyboard every morning. I have to use that phrase three times during the day, making it a (barely) working part of my vocabulary.

Czech is phonetic. So, how a word looks is how it’s pronounced. The word Dobry, is pronounced how it looks. For a student of Czech that is advantageous. One disadvantage, however, is that any minor deviation from the correct pronunciation and you say a non-word. Or worse, you say something which sounds similar but with a completely different meaning. Thus, my deflated erectile state.

I was enraged at the Czech language for harboring such word booby traps for innocent foreigners. It’s as though the language is lined with a million purposeful landmines that blow up in your face as you try to use them. I grumbled about this and other issues during my embarrassment-shuffle to the cafeteria for a shame-dog.

Furthermore, I thought, what if I had actually gone impotent? It’s not out of the realm of possibility for a man to be struck with a cruel, spontaneous and acute case of impotence. Just ask a Philadelphian named Teresa Jacobs who hasn’t spoken to me in eleven years. Suppose I had gone impotent and sought the support of my colleagues. They’d laughed at me. Explosively.

That’s the last time I go to them for help with my erectile dysfunction.

Then, on the wings of my mid-morning hot dog, I was pulled away from the stress of reality and into a land of meditation and reflection that can only come with dangerously low-grade pork.

My meditative revelation was that English is not exactly unarmed when it comes to linguistic booby traps. For example, in English, our prepositions are deadly. Consider that changing one preposition in the statement, “I get along with my grandmother,” is “I get off with my grandmother.” Change two prepositions and it’s, “I get off on my grandmother.” This, obviously, changes the tone of the statement. And perhaps the speaker’s mental stability.

Add the preposition ‘in’ among those statements and it worsens the predicament to an unmentionable degree.

After my shame dog, I celebrated with a victory dog, and then walked back to the office. I was stuffed with mystery meat, physically whole again and momentarily satisfied with English’s contributions to linguistic embarrassment.

Opening the door to my office, I saw another Post-it on my keyboard.

Three-hot-dog days are rare.

  1. #1 by Alissia on June 16, 2011 - 4:00 pm

    Funny, Damien! I had no idea you were such a good writer. I will follow.

  2. #2 by Dave on June 16, 2011 - 5:08 pm

    You’ve gotten a lot funnier than I remember. Must be all the alternating shame/victory tubular meats…

  3. #3 by Dan on June 16, 2011 - 5:57 pm

    Whew, I thought your were going to go with “in” my grandmother. Love the blog. Knowing first hand how many strange and embarrassing situations you get yourself into, I look forward to being amused.

  4. #4 by greg on June 16, 2011 - 6:47 pm


  5. #5 by Andrew on June 16, 2011 - 10:19 pm

    “In my patented method of self-defense, I began sweating like John Goodman and shifting towards the door.”

    Love it.

  6. #6 by Jenna on June 17, 2011 - 4:47 am

    I’m in.

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