The Banana Boat Came In

(if you are viewing this via email, the website has a recording of this poem and commentary; click the title above)

I and the other students in the Linguistics class shared two features: we all had four eyes and opposable thumbs. Other than that, we were very different. They were geniuses and I was but a clever monkey.

Most days the professor would pose a problem and all my classmates would raise their hands to offer correct solutions. “Excellent!” the prof would say to one, “Precisely!” he’d say to another.

Then I’d raise my hand and ask, “How did you know that?” They’d always answer, “I don’t know… I just KNOW.”

“Rats!” I sniffed in frustration. “Unattainable intelligence!”

Then one day, the banana boat came in. The assignment, or “cargo” wasn’t actually bananas; this was Linguistics, remember? Let’s just pretend they were bananas since I’ve forgotten what they were… and I’m a monkey, not a linguist.

We spent the next week—it may have been two—classifying bananas. My classmates applied their scientific method. “This banana is 13 centimeters in length and 100 grams in weight. It must be Musa paradisiaca.” And they’d be wrong! Banana after banana was miscategorized by my genius classmates.

Meanwhile, I applied the skill I learned in monkey elementary.* “That’s a Ripe Banana!” I’d say. The prof would begrudge my answer: “Technically, you are correct.” Banana after banana, I classified as “ripe” or “green” and then gobbled down the good ones. Meanwhile, my genius classmates went hungry for want of correct answers.

“How do you know which ones are ripe?” my classmates asked. Wiping my mouth and sniffing in triumph, I answered them, “I don’t know… I just NOSE.”

— Brad Hepp, July 10, 2023

*In one Linguistics class (probably Phonology), I did actually devise a little manual computer that yielded plausible, technically correct answers every time. The professor always furrowed his brow and acknowledged “Well, technically you are correct, although that is NOT the answer I was looking for….”

#linguistics #cleverversusintelligent #bananas #bananaboat #clevermonkey

(background image by Jason Dexter on Pixabay)

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