I don’t know if anyone younger than me and a few of my similarly well-aged readers remembers Victor Borge, the musical comedian; he had a routine called “Inflationary Language” in which he added one to numbers embedded in words, so that “once upon a time” becomes “twice upon a time,” “wonderful” becomes “twoderful,” and so on. (You can read a version of the routine here and see him performing it via YouTube here.) I just ran across a parallel game played in Russia a century ago in Teffi‘s memoir (in Russian) of Fyodor Sologub (whom I wrote about here). She writes (original Russian below the cut):
We [those gathered at one of Sologub’s literary evenings] decided to write a novel in the new style [this would have been after the 1905 revolution, when informality and popular language were all the rage]. It started like this:
“На улицу вышел человек в синих панталонах” [Na ulitsu vyshel chelovek v sinikh pantalonakh] (‘There came out onto the street a person in dark-blue pants’).
In the new style it was written like this:
“На у-роже ты-шел лоб-столетие в ре-них хам-купо-нах” [Na u-rozhe ty-shel lob-stoletie v re-nikh kham-kuponakh: here улицу [ulitsu] ‘street’ is analyzed as containing a form of лицо [litso] ‘face’ and thus the latter is replaced by the slang word рожа ‘mug’; вышел [vyshel] ‘went out’ is taken as containing вы [vy], the polite form of ‘you,’ which of course is replaced by the informal ты [ty]; человек [chelovek] ‘person’ is analyzed as чело ‘forehead’ (archaic) + век ‘age, century’ and replaced by the standard words for ‘forehead’ and ‘century,’ лоб [lob] and столетие [stoletie]; the си in синих [sinikh] ‘dark blue’ is taken as “si” of solfège (i.e., B) and replaced by “re” (i.e., D)—I confess I don’t understand the rationale for this; and панталонах [pantalonakh] ‘pants, trousers’ (at the time—now it refers to women’s undergarments) is taken as пан [pan] ‘gentleman’ + талон [talon] ‘coupon,’ which are replaced by хам [kham] ‘boor’ (reflecting the trendy new anti-bourgeois feeling) and купон [kupon] ‘coupon’ (newer word).]
The game was thoroughly stupid, but terribly captivating, and many of our circle of writers eagerly took part in this nonsense. And many serious and even gloomy people, like Sologub himself, at first shrugged their shoulders doubtfully, then, as if unwillingly, thought up a word or two, and off they went. They got into it.
Решили писать роман по новому ладу. Начало было такое:
“На улицу вышел человек в синих панталонах”.
По-новому писали так:
“На у-роже ты-шел лоб-столетие в ре-них хам-купо-нах”.
Игра была из рук вон глупая, но страшно завлекательная, и многие из нашего писательского кружка охотно разделывали эту чепуху. И многие серьезные и даже мрачные, как и сам Сологуб, сначала недоуменно пожимали плечами, потом, словно нехотя, придумывали слова два-три, а там и пошло. Втягивались.