Flash Fiction: Some Polyglots are Greater Than Others (604 words)

When Sadie’s phone rang at two in the afternoon, there was a ninety percent chance that approximately two hundred miles to the west, one time zone away, her little sister was sitting in a college cafeteria, too wrapped up in a conversation with her friends to remember that most of humanity spent forty-five minutes at lunch not two hours, and she had stumbled across a weird question that demanded a Phone-A-Friend. So when the clock in the hall chimed twice and Sadie’s cell phone started to jitter on the desk and sing last summer’s runaway hit, she was not surprised to pick it up and hear the garble of a dining hall.

“Hello, you,” Sadie said, smiling.

Her sister, Amy didn’t bother with a greeting. “Quick. You’re racing the internet. What’s the word for being able to speak thirteen languages?”

“Super-smarty-pants-ilingual.”

“And is that Latin or Greek?” Amy asked, laughing. “But for real: I told Dee that you would be faster than Google and she’s googling right now. What’s the word?”

Sadie paused just at the right time to hear Dee across the table saying, “Auto-complete is stupid. For some reason it filled in ‘being able to speak thirteen languages, but not in Canada‘. What have people been searching?”

Sadie and Amy laughed at the same time.

“I don’t think I need to hurry,” Sadie said.

“Oh, great,” Dee said. “Now it thinks I’m searching for speaking in tongues.”

Sadie snickered.

“I’m glad you heard all that too,” Amy told her. “Now are you stalling to be obnoxious or because you don’t know?”

“Polyglotism,” Sadie said.

“Bless you,” Amy responded.

“You asked. If you can speak four or more languages proficiently, you’re a polyglot. I could have said triskaidekalingual, but I thought you wanted a real word.”

“So you’re saying that I can put ‘polyglot’ on my resume and it will actually hold up?” Amy asked.

Sadie hesitated. “Sure. Until they notice you can’t speak a word of… anything.”

“Um, excuse me,” Amy said, pretending to be affronted. “I can say ‘hello’ in thirteen languages. I can ask where the bathroom is in thirteen languages. I can ask for directions in thirteen languages. I can say ‘I don’t know’ in thirteen languages. I can say ‘I’m a dangerous monkey’ in thirteen languages. I think you could call me proficient.”

“I’m a dangerous monkey?” Sadie asked. “How?”

“Well, it’s a simple construction,” Amy explained, starting to sound a little sheepish. “First person to be verb, adjective, noun. You get most of that on the first day of a language class.”

“So you’ve snuck into the first day of thirteen language classes to ask how to say ‘I’m a dangerous monkey’?” Sadie asked. “Never mind. I mean, that’s brilliant. But I meant, how do you say it? And go slow. I’m only mildly trilingual.” She picked up a pen off her desk and  drew a quick squiggle to make sure it had ink while Amy laughed then stuttered for a moment.

“Okay… Um. Ego simia periculosa sum. Yo soy un mono peligroso. Io sono una scimmia pericoloso. Je suis un singe dangereux.”

Sadie stopped her for a moment. “You have checked to make sure that none of these are offensive, right?”

“Not really,” Amy admitted.

“Okay, when I get arrested for shouting that last one off the top of the Eiffel Tower, I’ll just explain it was your fault. How do you say it’s ‘My dumb sister is to blame’? Never mind. Keep going. I love you.”

Amy almost cackled on the other end of the line. “Ich bin ein gefährlicher affe. Eimai mia epikindune maimou…”

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