Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Joy of Comparison

This evening our Czech class largely reviewed comparatives and superlatives, an area of grammar that everyone seemed to know quite well.
To further get these into our heads, we did numerous exercises. Some were of the fill-in-the-blank variety, while others involved a little imagination. It was, for example, my task to come up with some sentences comparing Bush and Putin.
While I like exercises that involve coming up with actual sentences, this one did not please me much. I have a low opinion of both leaders and have made no effort to keep track of many details about them.
Consequently, my comparisons indicated that:
I don't know whether Bush is worse than Putin;
I don't know whether Putin is taller than Bush (I have now been informed that Bush is the taller of the two, but can't say why I might care);
I don't know whether Bush gets up earlier than Putin;
I don't know whether Putin is better dressed than Bush.
Had it been a homework assignment, I might have researched which one is richer, older, uglier, or has more children. With recourse to the dictionary, I daresay I might have said that Bush is more incoherent than Putin, since I have never heard anyone complain that Putin can't speak his own language.
I felt mildly aggrieved that I had not drawn something easier like the Mercedes-Škoda comparison, the car-airplane comparison, or even the man-woman comparison, although I was relieved not to have the Mt Everest-Snežka comparison.
I was, incidentally, stunned to discover that not only did our teacher imagine we might know how tall Mt Everest is, but that members of the class were able to recite the exact number of meters! Why anyone except a mountaineer or topographer would need or want to know this is beyond my comprehension. I realize that some people expect one to know the approximate population of various cities, which is also entirely outside my area of expertise, but there is at least some use in knowing that. Personally, I'm content to say that Pittsburgh is smaller than New York but larger than a village. If I ever have a genuine need to know, I daresay I could look in an atlas and learn whether it has 50 thousand or 50 million inhabitants.
My next exercise in creative comparison was to state whether I preferred film or theater, and why. Again, I stared at my slip of paper in dismay. As a former student of theater and film, I don't know that it behooves me to express a preference for one or the other. There are certainly things one could come up with to say if given sufficient leisure. I could, for example, have said that I prefer theater because if the play is bad I can disrupt it by yelling "Boo!" and throwing fruit, and for that matter by running onto the stage and assaulting the actors. I could also have said that I prefer film because it is more socially acceptable to spend an entire movie locked in passionate embrace with one's companion, and to munch popcorn when not exchanging saliva with said companion. However, these were not really things I felt prepared to say in class on two minutes' notice. I indicated that while in actuality I did not care to state a preference, for the purpose of the exercise film is preferable because one can go at more times of day. This is, of course, a revoltingly bland response. But what can a person do?



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Blecch. "Spontaneous" essays are a drag. It reminds me of day camp as a child, "OK, we're all going to go have fun NOW!".
As part of an interview for a job in which we grade students' writing, I was required to write an essay about the importance of writing on the spot. Of course, it was easy to come up with reasons why proficient writing is important, but it probably sounded like one of those high school films about safe driving. zzzzz

March 16, 2007 2:40 PM  
Blogger Karla said...

We're not even dealing with essays here, this is "think for a couple of minutes and then tell the class what you came up with."

Don't remind of those driver-ed films. Ours were full of anthropomorphic dummies that were regularly crushed to show what happens to the human body in an accident.

March 16, 2007 10:12 PM  

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