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153 pages, Hardcover
First published January 1, 2003
“I’ve never played,” said von Igelfeld.Warning: If “German professor of philology” does not prime your cheek muscles to laugh, you are in trouble with this book. Philology was largely developed in Germany and the obscurity of some of the papers written about the subject reached levels of absurdity unusual even for German academicians. Then there is the whole question of German snobbishness about titles, the kind you earn ("Herr Professor Doktor Doktor Schmidt") and the kind you inherit ("Herr von Igelfeld".) The book also assumes that you understand what is innately hilarious about the subjunctive tense.
“Nor I,” said Unterholzer. “Chess, yes. Tennis no.”
“But that’s no reason not to play,” von Igelfeld added quickly. “Tennis, like any activity, can be mastered if one knows the principles behind it. In that respect it must be like language. The understanding of simple rules produces an understanding of a language. What could be simpler?”
– Portuguese Irregular Verbs, Alexander McCall Smith (2004)