I could tell Jack was bursting with something to confide in me, as we sat down at our usual lunch at our usual place. I wasn't wrong.
Jack said: "You know, when you were a kid, you had to hold up your hand when you wanted to go to the washroom? One finger for a pee; two for a poo."
I said "Jack, we seem to spend quite a bit of time discussing bodily functions at our lunches, perhaps we should ...."
"This is altogether different," Jack interrupted, "Well, maybe a little different. Actually, maybe not all that much."
"Let's have it." I said.
"OK," said Jack. "Back to kindergarten. The one- and two-finger signal was a code for two activities people don't talk about in polite society. Well, you know how grown-ups like to use what your mother would have called "bad words"? But you can't do that in polite company, without having to resort to Latin. Well, I've figured out a way so that they can. In English."
"How so?" I said.
"It's all done by code, my friend" said Jack, leaving me hanging with a pregnant pause.
I didn't have all day, so I said: "Please explain."
Jack eagerly took up the challenge: "I've sorted all the 'naughty words' by their initials -- A through Z. Then you count the letters in the word. Take a word like 'asshole' -- not a word you want to use at the governor-general's levee. So instead you say A-7, as in "I think George Bush is an A-7". Pretty soon everyone will know the code, and actual bad words in polite conversation will be a thing of the past."
I said "Jack, that's a terrific idea. It has Nobel Prize written all over it. Civilization as we know it will be saved!"
Jack said: "Don't laugh! The police have a code for all kind of situations -- everyone knows 10 - 4: over and out. So why shouldn't ordinary people have one to help them in their hour of conversational need."
I asked Jack "Any other A-words?"
"No," said Jack, "that's the only one I've come across."
"How about the B?" I asked.
"I have four on my list: "bonk" that's B-4, "bitch" that is B-5, and B-7, Hugh Grant's downfall, and B-11, an activity common in male prisons."
"How about C?" I asked.
"Well," said Jack, "there are at least five C-words. Some are easy, like C-3, although it isn't used very often. And then there are two C-10's and one C-11 referring to three activities your grandmother would not have known about. The real trouble is that there are two very common C-4's referring to male and female naughty bits. How are you going to keep them apart, so to speak. I don't want to have to go to C-3a and C-3b, for example. I'm still working on that one."
I said: "So you've got codes for D and E?"
"Yes," said Jack, "there is a D-5, named after a small town in Newfoundland -- or maybe the other way around -- and a D-8 and an E-8 and an E-11. Trouble is there are two D-4's."
I said "How about F?"
"No problem, lots of those. There is, of course, everyone's favourite F-4, and the related gerund F-7. But there's also an F-6 an F-8, an F-9 and an F-11."
"How about G, H and I?" I asked.
"Two G's, one H, and no I, but I haven't given up hope." said Jack.
"What about J?" I asked.
"I have three J's, but no K and no L yet. As for the M, there is an M-6, an item most people have never heard of and fewer still know what it means; there's an M-9, although it isn't used much anymore either, and an M-12, which is very popular nowadays, and a favourite expletive of Chris Rock and other comedians."
"And how about N and O, P and Q?" I asked.
"There's an N-10, and an obvious O-6. For P there is a P-4 (same as the kindergarten # 1), a P-5 and the associated P-11. For Q there is a Q-4, an anatomical reference, and a Q-5 for a sexual orientation.
"We're almost through the alphabet," I said, "what about R, S and T?"
"I haven't got an R; on the other hand I have an S-4 (same as the # 2 in kindergarten), an S-5 and an S-6. As for T, there is a T-3, an anatomical part, and T-4 for another anatomical part, both female. There isn't much after that ... U, V, W, X, Y and Z are a wasteland. On the other hand it cuts down the strain on your memory. Or maybe I can come up with some new words."
I said "But, Jack, how does your code handle compound phrases, like 'shit-for-brains'?"
"Easy," said Jack, "that's S-4-3-6."
I said "But what about effing and eff-off, both seven letters?"
"No problem," said Jack, "the one is F-7, the other F-4-3. See, it's simple."
I said "Jack, how in heaven's name do you come up with these things?"
Jack said: "Someone has to keep his mind on the larger issues of the day. That's my job."
I said: "Jack, with you at the controls, the world is in good hands."
Jack said: "F-4-3, buddy. Now let's go get something to eat."
Sjef Frenken is a renaissance man: thinker, writer, translator and composer of much music. A main interest, he has many, is setting to music the poetry, written for children, during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Nimble of mind, Sjef is a youthful retiree and a great-grandfather. Mostly he's a content man, which facilitates his relentless multi-media creativity.
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