Sunday, May 24, 2015

Esperanto on the Hog Latin Principle

But what about the book?
The 1907 review of Esperanto in Twenty Lessons that appeared in the May 23, 1907 issue of Life says next to nothing about the book itself (it sold for fifty cents), or the author (C. S. Griffin, a name that expands out to Caroline Stearns Griffin). For that matter, Life’s book reviewer of time, J. B. Kerfoot, shares a name with a nineteenth-century clergyman and writer (probably a relative, but not father and son). However, it’s hard to believe that the Right Reverend J. B. Kerfoot would say such things about Esperanto (and he didn’t; he died in 1881, far to early to have reviewed C. S. Griffin’s Esperanto in Twenty Lessons).

Kerfoot makes the (inaccurate) statement that Esperanto was “assembled on the Hog Latin principle,” and then continues in insulting language that woulnd’t make it past an editor of popular magazine today. Life today would probably decline any future services of a reviewer who turned in anything like J. B. Kerfoot’s review of Esperanto in Twenty Lessons.

It’s a short item, the last of seven short reviews. It’s not the only pan among the reviews; he describes The World’s Warrant, by Norah Davis as “a case of the survival of the unfittest” (Davis wrote at least four novels; this was her second).
“Esperanto” is a universal language invented by Doctor Zamenhoff. It is assembled, on the Hog Latin principle from English, French, Spanish and Italian; looks like Dago and sounds like a table d’hote from a Singapore hotel. It differs from a dead language in never having been alive and is called universal because nobody speaks it. It has, however, tremendous possibilities and corner lots near the Tower of Babel have already doubled in value. Esperanto in Twenty Lessons, by C. S. Griffin, lets you in on the ground floor for fifty cents.

Wow! Did he even bother to take the time to read past the title page? It’s hard to take Kerfoot seriously as a reviewer, since all he did was spout a series of (ignorant) prejudices against Esperanto, to which he appended the name of the book that occasioned this. Hog Latin is the same thing as Pig Latin, that is, taking the initial sound of the word, moving it to the end and adding -ay at the end.

Caroline Griffin and John Kerfoot were both residents of New York City. Ms. Griffin was born in 1868 and worked as an editor at a publishing house. Mr. Kerfoot was born in 1865, and in 1900 worked as a secretary, but by 1910 was a critic at a magazine (that is, Life). She lived with her sister, and later her widowed mother.

Mr. Kerfoot was widowed by 1900 and was living with his brother in law (the 1900 Census uses the phrase “Bro in law,” which didn’t have the same connotation then as it might now), but it does bring to mind a current vulgarism: “bros before hos.” Mr. Kerfoot’s second wife was his former brother-in-law’s wife (there was a divorce before that happened). The New York Times gave the juicy details in 1920:
Mrs. Kerfoot divorced her first husband about six years ago, following a $50,000 alienation suit brought by Mr. Hunter against Mr. Kerfoot. Mr. Hunter lost the action against Mr. Kerfoot.

It was in 1895 that Mr. Kerfoot married a sister of Mr. Hunter, Miss Sarah F. Hunter, who died the following year. After her death he made his home with his brother-in-law, who in 1899, married Miss Annie Belleville Haight, daughter of the late Charles T. Haight, former prosecutor of Monmouth County, N. J. Mr. Kerfoot remained at the Hunter home until 1915 when Mr. Hunter filed suit against him for $50,000 for the alienation of his wife’s affections.
Ms. Griffin was single and only lived a half hour walk away from Mr. Kerfoot. Not that there could ever be a love match after he trashed the very subject of her 1907 book.
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