Ted (merovingian) wrote,

Breaking the Ice

I found an English-to-Penguin dictionary this weekend while I was cleaning up old boxes, so I went to the zoo to try it out. Like most miracles, it was awkward, full of details that kept tripping me up, and beautiful enough to be worth all the headaches.

"You know that thing you humans do?" said the first penguin -- and I'm taking a few linguistic liberties translating her words into English but not too many, "The thing where you endure an annoying thing for a really long time because it's not quite annoying to justify the temporary pain and effort of fixing it? And you're longing for it to get bad enough that you can lash out and set things right? And once you do, you feel this sense of relief and freedom, but it's mixed with anger from whatever last thing was so bad that it actually got you past your own inertia?"

"The straw that broke the camel's back," I chipped in helpfully.

"What's a camel?" she asked, nonplussed.

"Nevermind," I said. (Fun fact! The penguin language has over five hundred words for 'nevermind') "Yes, I know that the we humans do." It took me a long time to get around to cleaning, for instance, and I could have been spending all that time talking to penguins instead.

"Okay, good, and do you know the other thing you do?" the penguin continued, "Where you know you're annoying another human, but you figure you can get away with it indefinitely as long as you don't cross that same threshold with them, so you try to stay just within those limits and only treat them right when you accidentally cross that limit?"

On another day I might have said something defensive, but I was still feeling proud about finishing cleaning, and excited about talking with a penguin, so I just smiled and said, "Sure, I know how that goes."

The penguin shook herself dry and waddled in place a little, "Well, quit it. Stop doing all of that. Whenever one of you does that stuff, it's impossible for us penguins to fly."

I wanted to bring up adaptive genetics or wingspan-to-mass ratios or something, but she splashed off before I could.
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