Just before leaving so abruptly, I published here a letter from a photographic studio in Paris, offering its services to Jerry Poppink, a local publicist, who had sent it on to me because he thought it was amusing.
I did too--amusing as an example of the difficulties of English for anyone trying to write it from a French-English dictionary, as its author, one L. Hunziker, evidently had.
I did not mean to make fun of either L. or M. Hunziker. I admired M. Hunziker's daring in skating out on the thin ice of an exasperating language, when he might easily have had the letter written for him.
I said his prose was "inimitable--M. Hunziker has led us down such unexplored pathways of syntax, and plucked such charming malapropisms from the thickets, that we wonder how he did it." I added, "You should see my French."
But M. Hunziker's dignity was injured, and he has expressed his disfavor in a letter to my editor and one to me. I do not have room to quote them in full, alas, but I am obliged to quote enough to do justice to Hunziker's sense of trespass and outrage.
The letter to the editor was brief:
"Concerning the newspaper's clippings dated----we feel allowed to send you the included answer, hoping you'll be comprehensive enough for inserting it in your next item. Given that since such items injured us, we think your duty is let us reply Jack Smith's jokes.
"It seems also fair play to remind you that you have been infringing the legal ways and international rules about copyright, taking upon yourself to publish twice our letter, and making fun with it.
"In hopes you'll agree with our request, understanding our complaint, we send you our best regards."
Leaving out the irrelevances, the complaint from Hunziker and his colleague, D. Bourg, went like this:
"Lots of mail pouring for your readers, with newspaper's clippings included. . . . For us, reading such 'funnies' gave us hell of good time. . . . But we've been at least surprised the way you rudely picture us, to make fun with those 'French businessmen,' especially slandering Laurent Hunziker, who signed our note.
"We are stunned by such a put down! Does our broken English allow you to show us up, we Frenchies, as wild creatures? That's the reason we are endeavoring to write a better English, rather say an idiomatic American, just in jest!
"Please, do you consider the fact, for alien people, not to speak fluent English as an unforgiveable sin? Isn't it deserving to try to express oneself, even clumsily, in a foreign language?
"All the more, you're fine ones to criticize our errors. You who find funny to have your items riddled with French idioms and indulge in the luxury to make two big spelling mistakes within seven words!
"We are daily sending all over the world that same letter Mister Jerry Poppink was so elated to receive, and we do manage to get it translated into German, Spanish and even Nippon and Thai. No marvel. Nothing could be less hard. . . .
"Let us tell you it sounds amazing that you both, Jerry Poppink and Jack Smith, you Americans from the 'happy few,' so 'in' and 'with it' could have been baffled about the meaning of our note, whereas so many of your readers, at once, got the hang of it.
"In spite of such a prejudice, let us grant you for having entertained Californian's crowds. . . . Thanks again! You freely peddled our B & H Studio. You are actually a super 'ad-man.'
"Kidding aside, since it occurs to you both coming to Paris some day--it's worth a trip, expecially as it seems that you don't know our city quite well. Please don't miss to look up us and give us a call 321 83 07--we'll be very glad to have a drink together."
That is enough to give you the tone and intent of the letter. And enough to show that M. Hunziker's English is quite good enough to express his anger toward me.
Alas, that is one of the reasons, I suspect, that the world has always been so warlike. One of the first and easiest things we learn about any new language is its forms of abuse.
As for making fun of M. Hunziker and his colleague, I have never intentionally used this space to make fun of anyone but the pompous, the larcenous and the cruel. And, of course, occasionally, the pedantic.
As you may remember, my publishing of M. Hunziker's letter brought tons of mail ridiculing not M. Hunziker but me and Jerry Poppink for our ignorance of French and our lack of imagination in being unable to interpret the letter.
As for M. Hunziker's complaint that in publishing his work I violated the international rules of copyright, I hardly think that such protection applies to an open letter that is broadcast to prospective customers in several countries.
Besides, M. Hunziker compromises his case when he thanks me for having "peddled" his studio and calls me a "super ad-man."
Speaking of my own ignorance, M. Hunziker must have enjoyed my quoting Maurice Zolotow's expression of almost unspeakable contempt for my failure to interpret the letter, in view of my French connections.
In mock horror he wrote: "Quelle horreur! Quelle Scandale! Quelle honte!"
Which, in my ignorance, I said must mean, "What a horror! What a scandal! What a disgrace!"
At least 50 people have written to tell me that Zolotow was guilty of an unforgiveable solecism himself in writing " Quelle scandale," as if scandale were feminine.
Quel scandale , Zolotow!