y partner Alberto is a doctor and as a result most of our friends are also doctors. We also like to entertain. Many evenings I’m the only person at the dinner table who is not a doctor.
Doctors love talking shop over meals. This was a problem until I learned and adopted a technique that helps me sail through even the most intense medical conversations. I think of it as a kind of meditation. When I get the cue phrase, “You’ll never guess who I ran into in the department the other day…” I paste an understanding smile on my face and let my mind drift towards my “happy place” — usually the pages of the new IKEA catalogue.
As the dinner conversation flows from old colleagues, to departmental politics, and on to the medical association, I mentally flip through the pages of the catalogue, admiring the beautifully decorated rooms and joyous Swedish looking families, relaxing and sharing quality-time on their new sofa or pullout bed. Off in the distance I hear, “emergency room, new hospital policy, budget restraints.”
One evening, while a mini-medical conference bubbled up around dinner table, I was floating through the “better living spaces” — until I was abruptly interrupted by a change in the conversation. A key element of my meditation is mental discipline, which allows me a quick way out of my happy place at the slightest mention of any topic that is not medically related.
“The thing that irritates me about English is all the irregular words…” said someone at the table. At which point my partner turned to me and innocently asked, “Hey, what’s the plural of moose?”
Wait a second! I thought. I’m an English mother tongue speaker. I can answer this.
The human brain is awesome. Here is an organ that can process massive quantities of data at the speed of light. The brains work so fast that most of the time we’re unaware of the process. Just like the ring of a bell for Pavlov’s salivating dogs, my superb brain kicked into hyper-drive.
“Well, the plural of moose is…” I began with great authority.
But as I formed my poised sentence, my brain began processing a different inner conversation:
“If the plural of mouse is mice, then the plural of moose must be mouse. No, no, that’s not right, it’s meece, no, I mean mice. Shit! Let’s start over.
The plural of mouse is mice and the plural of goose is geese, so the plural of moose is meese. No, mice. Oh shit! I’m back at mouse again. Wait a minute, its moss. Oh, that’s just stupid.
I know, I know, it goes like this; be-was-been; go-went-gone; give-gave-given; know-knew-known; moose-moose-moosen. That can’t possibly be right, it’s not even a verb.
Let’s start with something easier: dog-dogs; cat-cats; cow-cows; moose-mooze. Yes, yes, there were three mooze in the forest. No!
Moose-mooze-moozen. No, no, no! Moose-mustard-moccasins? Stop it! What an idiot.
Wait a minute, it’s moose-mooses!”
And with a smile of complete confidence I announced to the dinner party, “Yes the plural of moose is, of course, mooses.”
A few of our guests took turns repeating the word, “mooses,” for verification and depending on the amount of wine each had consumed, some giggled quietly and one even laughed out loud. It was accepted around the table that the plural of moose was in fact “mooses,” after which the conversation moved away from the fascinating topic of English grammar to the new infectious disease protocol at the hospital.
Satisfied, I’d resolved this critical dilemma, I drifted back to my happy place. As I stared at the far wall of our apartment, I contemplated:
“I bet a “Billy” bookcase would look really good there. Wait a minute, there’s enough space for two.
Hey, I wonder what the plural of “Billy” is? Ah, who cares? It’s probably in Swedish.”