Part I: Esperanto Grammar
Chapter 18. Interjections & Verbal Play
An interjection is a free-standing word expressing an emotion, such as awe, horror, or surprise. Words like “yikes!” and “wow!” are English interjections. Not surprisingly, (1) there are few precise equivalences between languages, and (2) interjections are often imported from a speaker's native language into Esperanto, especially if the speaker is caught by surprise. Here are a few relatively common Esperanto interjections:
- Ba! = Nonsense! Rubbish! (Used to dismiss and express disgust at something said by another.)
- Dio estas granda muŝo!? Ba! Kion vi scias pri Dio?
= God is a great fly!? Nonsense! What do you know about God?!
- Ĉu?! = What in the world?! Really?! (Expresses sudden surprise. Sometimes used by a listener to acknowledge surprised interest in facts being laid out by a speaker.)
- Ili decidis vendi la hundon! Ĉu?! Jes, sed ili ne sukcesis.
= They decided to sell the dog! Really? Yes, but they didn’t succeed!)
- Li diris al mi, ke la oranĝo kostus kvin egiptiajn pundojn; imagu! Ĉu vere?!
= He told me the orange would cost five Egyptian pounds; imagine! Is that so?!
- Sed tio vere estis tro alta prezo, ĉu ne?
= But that really was too high a price, wasn't it?
- Ha! = Ah! (Range of generally positive meanings depending upon intonation.)
- Ha! Mi havas la pikan ason!
= Ha! I have the ace of spades!
- Ha! Finfine mi scias, kial ŝi ne venis!
= Ha! At last I know why she didn’t come!
- Ha! Post la bankedo restis ankoraŭ iom da mono en la kaso!
= Great! After the banquet there was still some money left in the cash-box!
- He! = Hey! (Used to attract attention.)
- He! Vi faligis vian monujon!
= Hey! You dropped your wallet!
- Ho! = Oh! O! (Range of meanings depending upon intonation. Sometimes followed directly by a noun or noun phrase.)
- Ho kia fuŝo!
= Oh, what a mess!
- Ho mia kor’! Ne batu maltrankvile!z
= O my heart! Beat not in agitation.
- Nu … = Well … (Sound made while hesitating about saying what follows.)
- Ve! = Alas! Rats! (Not as stilted as English “alas”; may be used where American English uses various mild profanity. Often preceded by ho.)
- Ho ve! Mi perdis la vortaron!
= Oh rats! I lost the dictionary.
*-For more on Esperanto humor, see my 1988 article, “Esperanto: the international language of humor; or, What's funny about Esperanto?” Humor: International Journal of Humor Research 1(2): 143-157. Available on this web site (link).
Because language is a particularly salient issue for most Esperanto speakers, and therefore often surfaces as a topic of common interest, there is a good deal of self-consciousness in Esperanto speech, leading, of course, to verbal gaming.*
Some jokes involve extending the paradigms of Esperanto to create implausible but (often) theoretically possible forms:
- Vi kiomas? Ni trias.
= How many are you? We’re three.
- Vi kieis dum tiom da tempo? Subetaĝis mi.
= Where were you all this time? I was downstairs.
- Kies estas la libro? Johanes.
= Whose is the book? John’s.
- Kio jenas en mia poŝo? Ĉu melaso? Diable! Daĉjo!
= What’s this in my pocket? Molasses?! Damn! Davey!
Some of these forms even attain a kind of concise elegance:
- Eĉ pafote silentadus li.
= He would remain silent even if he were about to be shot.
Others are silly because of their deliberately unmanageable length:
- Li estas bibliotekistinidetaĉo.
= He is the brattish little son of a lady librarian.
A particularly common (if childish) game is the ridiculous over-extension of the prefix mal-. The creation of frivolous “opposites” has been invented over and over in the course of Esperanto history.
- Vi volas sendi dek elefantojn al Usono? Maljen problemo!
= You want to send ten elephants to the United States? No problem!
- Maliru malnek malfeku! Malprenu la maldian malelefanton malel la malhundo
= Come and eat! Leave the damned mouse to the cat.
Other jokes satirize individuals or organizations prominent in the Esperanto movement. They are funny or not depending upon how stuck-in-the-mud you are, but they fall beyond the scope of this book. The point is that jokes abound, and if something seems jarring, offensive, or even unintelligible, one possibility is that it is a well-intentioned joke. When nothing makes any sense at all, a vague smile is probably your best defense. (But then, you already knew that.)
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