Selected Minor Works: Quaeries

Justin E. H. Smith

For those travellers departing to Nova Zembla: Please confirm for us whether the snow there gives off its own light, or only reflects that of the moon with unusual intensity.

Hi-ho, to all those expert in the arcana of Finno-Ugric inflection: Won’t you kindly let us know how the vocative case is faring in Samoyed?

To the hardy citizens of Brasov (Kronstadt): We have heard reports of a bear that descended from the mountains right into the medieval city center, and savagely mauled an American woman hoping to take its picture.  Can you please tell us whether, firstly, the victim was targeted in view of her nationality, and, secondly, whether the Carpathian bear population has exploded in consequence of Nicolae Ceausescu’s bear-fertility policies, or some other reason?

We have received news of giant ‘flash-fossilized’ bones from the region of Fairbanks, Alaska.  From what terrible lizards did these bones come?  What great cataclysm made them hard like stone?  Might they be suitable for display in a scientific museum or a church-auxiliary building in Indiana, say, or Orange County?

AtadilIt is said that Slavs are struck deathly ill when a window is left open at one side of a room, a door at the other.  The cause is said to be a ‘skvozdnyak’, or ‘draft’.  Is this skvozdnyak a spiritual creature of some sort, or a demon?  What makes these people so feeble?  Why can they not appreciate a nice healthy breeze like the rest of us?

For those travellers to Sentinel Island in the fabled Nicobar Chain: Do not try to make nice using cocoa-nuts.  The natives will have your head, and baste it in the ‘milk’.

We have been informed that the Anatolians consider Mustafa Kemal Atatürk a national hero for having ‘heroically’ lopped the dot off of the letter ‘i’ in bending our Latin alphabet to fit his backward tongue.  We would like to know whether the Turks have any idea what the dot was doing there to begin with, and whether they intend any further violent deformation of our vowels, consonants, or punctuation marks.  If this much can be said without risking decapitation oneself, it might be pointed out that they too have not a few extra little marks above and below their letters, that two can play at this game, &c.

For those travelling to Muscovy: Is it true what we have heard, that the Great Ruler is also a Judo master, ready to take on any head-of-state who would challenge him?  Is it true that the sight of him shirtless sends fear into the hearts of neighboring dictators, and that periodic pec flexings on state-controlled television have been enough to re-consolidate this once mighty empire?

It is said that among the Papuans old women are not permitted to participate in the cooking of food for young warriors, as their dessicated, death-heavy bodies transmit impotence and hunting failure through the aliments they have prepared.  Post-menopausal women are required to maintain a distance of at least three arms’ lengths between prepared food and their vaginas.  Won’t some brave explorer ask these savages if they have not heard of “granny’s home cookin’”?  If the natives are keen, we would consider sending a few of our favorite dishes.

For those Cincinnati-bound: How comes it that a great Roman statesman lends his name to what has been called the ‘Sodom of the Ohio River’?  And why, of all possible meal combos, do the Cincinnatians put chili atop their spaghetti?

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