Je suis /hoze/
Chesterton Wilburfors Gilchrist, Jr.
Chairman, Department of Lexicology and Glottometrics
Devonshire-upon-Glencullen University, Southampton
Once again I am compelled to relate the tale of graduate students who have displayed shocking behaviour in the pursuit of linguistic analysis. I have written previously of some students who left me flabbergasted after proposing an analysis of Spanish hola as an inflection of a back-formed infinitive holar, meaning “to be greeted”.
Now, one of those same students has completed his first foreign language requirement (Spanish) and has moved on, with the same arrogance and bravado, to his second (French). This time I did not actually overhear the outrageous exchange, but it was reported to me by an incensed French 101 TA.
Though I would normally keep any and all details about a student utterly confidential, it is crucial to the tale that this student’s name is José. This does not reveal as much as one might fear—of the 1,047 grad students in the Department of Lexicology and Glottometrics at Devonshire-upon-Glencullen University, fully 238 of them are named José. (For those with overactive onomastic obsessions, the four next most common names are Millicent (122), Beauregard (93), Jentry (92), and Maxton (84); more than half of the other 418 grad students have one-of-a-kind names like Mary, John, Robert, or Patricia, which are unusual and have not yet become traditional in Southampton. In contrast, fully half of the 638 undergrads in our program—who are on average 8.7 years younger than the grad students—are named Wilmur, Leander, Eudora, or Vilhelmina. Such are the vagaries of fashion in naming children—but I digress.)
José was given a trivial in-class task: to tell everyone his name. As any attentive student of the French language (as opposed to a native speaker) can tell you, the correct in-class response should have been Je m’appelle José (assuming one is named José, as so many are here in Southampton). As any attentive instructor of the French language can tell you, the most common among incorrect responses would be Je suis José.
It is unsurprising that José would make such a mistake (as doubtless countless other Josés have done before him)—what is noteworthy is this José’s antiauthoritarian response to being corrected by his TA. José claims that rather than making such a “rookie mistake,” he had in fact made a sesquiduplicitous play on words as prelude to answering correctly; namely, he claims to have said, Je suis hose-é.
The play on words, José went on to explain, includes:
- pretending to make the “rookie mistake” of using Je suis instead of Je m’appelle.
- inflecting the English root hose in French, giving hose-é, which is thus a nonce borrowing of English hosed into French.
- making the semi-Spanish (recall that he is not a native speaker, despite the ethnolinguistic origins of his name) José and Anglo-French hose-é pun.
- more or less correctly claiming a translation of “I am hosed”, assuming the aforementioned hose-é as a borrowing for hosed. (As best the grad students have been able to inform me, “I am hosed” means something along the lines of “I am in big trouble” in the student’s patois of the day.)
This is a more than somewhat audacious claim that José has made. As before, José’s willingness to stretch his credibility and others’ credulity in defense of his ad hoc analysis shows that he still must be watched thoughtfully and shepherded carefully through the wilds of academia.
The TA said she might have believed his claims if José had actually made the argument in passable French. I will admit I unfairly tend to side with José, based on his previous “work” with holar, and the classical strength, morphological cleverness, and general mischievousness of the neologism sesquiduplicitous.
I have never been so proud.