Thursday, July 10, 2014

Esperanto in Bad Verse

Roy K. Moulton,
funny man
Roy K. Mouton clearly didn't think much of Esperanto, so much that he was moved to mock the language in a fairly long poem, printed in at the Daily Missoulian of Missoula, Montana on July 10, 1912. It wasn't just Esperanto; his column was fairly tongue-in-cheek. The first item in "On the Spur of the Moment" was on how to make money. Well, you can either counterfeit coin, or you can counterfeit bills. He does suggest that this be done in "a nice dark cellar, which has no windows in it."

Mr. Moulton was an American humorist who lived from 1874 (or perhaps 1876) to 1928. The only book-length works I can find attributed to him are The Blue Jeans of Hoppertown, A Good Friend of Mine, and I Held Her Hand, which were written between 1908 and 1911. After that, he seems to have stuck to the newspapers. He was born Michigan and was living there in 1910. By 1920, he had moved to New York (specifically Queens). He listed his profession as a writer.

But maybe not a poet. Here's the poem.

It's pretty middling' hard to see why anyone should want to
Speak that nerve jarring line of talk that's known as Esperanto.
It seems as though there's enough strange languages here now.
They shouldn't force another one upon us, you'll allow.
The oogle-google baby talk that's known to hammock spooners,
And is so very popular with all the infant crooners,
Is one that has been hard to learn, for it is of a style
That's never spoken twice alike and changes all the while.
The language of the souse is one of very weird creation,
And it cannot be understood without interpretation.
No student of philology can always guess it right,
So for the common herd to try seems to be foolish, quite.
The line talk the brakemen give keeps all the people guessing.
And it goes 'way past most of us, we do not mind confessing.
The college jargon is a thing that few can understand,
And there's a weird old line of gab in bleachers and grandstand
That makes this Esperanto stuff sound weak and pale and foolish
When fans get fussy in the ninth with talk that's really ghoulish.
It keeps a person busy just to try to get the hang
Of conversation pulled off in the latest brand of slang
Then come the foreign dialects, the French and Dutch and Russian
This Esperanto may be just what its friends claim, sublime,
But when it comes to learning it, we really haven't time.
The compositor seems to have dropped one of Mr. Moulton's lines, since the third line from the bottom doesn't get a rhyming line. Something was supposed to rhyme with "Russian." (On further research, I found this piece was earlier printed in the Times Dispatch of Richmond, Virginia, on May 15, 1912, where it also doesn't have a rhyme for "Russian.")

It did, however, show that in 1912 you would expect the average newspaper reader to know what Esperanto is.

Mr. Moulton would go on to make other jokes about Esperanto. Here's a couple knee-slappers from 1914:
Chicago has had an Esperanto banquet, but the cooking was done in French and English, so the function was not wholly a failure.
Anse Judson and wife are learning to talk Esperanto so they can discuss their affairs and the hired girl won't find out what they are talking about.
Oh, Mr. Moulton, you're killing me. Maybe he should have kept at the novels.
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