Papa Yoda

Yoda´s PlaylistThe old man sitting across from me is preparing to tell a joke. He is muttering to himself, then looking up words in the dictionary. He then brutalizes the pronunciation as he jots it onto a piece of paper in front of him.

When he has all the words he needs, he goes through the list and whispers to himself, organizing the plot and characters of his joke. When he says something like, “yes, yes…,” I know he’s about ready. So I prepare myself by ordering two shots of our favorite drink – Becherovka.

I first met Papa Honza, as we all call him, at my first mountain English course seven years ago. He had been studying English for three years at that point, having taken it up as a hobby. We were unlikely compadres, but soon found friendship in a shared passion for Becherovka, story-telling and jokes.

As he comes to the end of his routine I stare at the little man in wonder. Papa Honza is a renowned art-historian and essentially a 79-year old human version of Yoda. The basis of this comparison resides on several levels. For one, he resembles Yoda. He is roughly the same height and shape as Yoda. His ears stick out under the stems of his glasses and his eyebrows exhibit minds of their own by springing rebelliously against his glasses. Second, he is a wise, sage-like man. And third, everything he says in English comes out backwards.

“Tak,” he says, and we have the shot. He coughs, fixes his glasses and begins. “There exists one man, when began him one project. Always ever go it well. Before.”

The waitress comes over to clear the glasses and, sensing a long joke, I order two more.

“Good idea, that one it.”

Papa Honza’s style of speaking is not Yoda’s directly backward style, but rather English with Czech word order, which has one groping for Yoda’s straightforward manner. For example:

Yoda: “Her find must you.”

Papa Honza: “Her must to you find, for examplisher.”

The root of this linguistic peculiarity is explicable when considering that Papa Honza spoke only Czech and German for 70 years before introducing English to his repertoire. Another explanation, and the one I prefer, is that when an intellect as vast as Papa Honza’s meets new language rules, language simply combusts.

With all of Papa Honza’s linguistic oddities one must not forget that the man is a highly regarded academic. He has written books on art history and taught at Usti University for thirty years. When we chat, the frustration of having so much to say, so much useful advice and so much information all being constipated by language, is clear. Still, he takes it all in stride, with the patience of a man who witnessed a world war, communism and Karel Gott. We laugh a lot and sip at Becherovka as we inch through our stories and jokes. My evening chats with him are my favorite part of the English course.

As we continue our chat, a young woman comes into the pub and approaches our table. She is a student on the course; young and curvy and beautiful.

“Papa Honza,” she says, “I have to leave today and wanted to say goodbye.”

He stands and she hugs him; he smiles in a Cheshire manner over her shoulder. “Why do they give me nuts when I have no teeth?” He asks.

It’s the only thing I’ve ever heard him say forward.

  1. #1 by pavla skvarova on July 8, 2012 - 4:10 pm

    Great post, Honza told me about it. I´m touched and proud of my grandfather 🙂 Thak you very much. Bye

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