Due to various complicated reasons, the most complicated of which was probably laziness on my part, and not much helped by the inherent difficulties of the conditional mood, I haven't had Czech lessons with Mrs. Jana for over a year now. (my very, very, very bad).
All that changed one rainy day a couple of weeks ago, when, propelled by one of my more feeble-minded and naïve New Year's resolutions, she relaunched herself and exploded smack-bang in the middle of my normally innocent weekly round of activities. Thunder would have probably rolled quite ominously, if I had not forgotten my words-for-discussing-the-weather in Czech and so pretended not to notice. Besides, I was mesmerised by her steely will (not steely wool - that's still in a cupboard under the sink for cleaning the oven) and savage glint in her eye.
The first lessons have concentrated on revision. They went a bit like this:
Mrs J.: (in Czech) "Today we are discussing nouns and adjectives. What are the 3 genders and how do they decline?"
Me: (in Czech) "Huh?"
Mrs. J.: (in Czech, but more slowly) "Today… we… talk… about… nouns… What… are… types… of… nouns?"
Draws three columns on a blank sheet of paper
Me: (in English, but with a fake Czech accent) "Ummm… Maskulin*? Feminin*? a Neutr-- Neutr-a-..."
Mrs. J. shakes head, ominously.
Me: "Neutraa--- uum??"
Mrs. J: "Good. Now, what are the endings of these nouns?"
Me: "Uhhh… Feminin* je (Czech for "he/she/it is") '-a'"
Bets firmly hedged at this point, on the grounds that many languages that have genders tend to consider words ending in '-a' to be feminine. Except those Italian Andreas, of course, on whose situation we shall briefly touch later, although probably not when their over-protective signifcant others and loved ones are looking.
Mrs. J.: "Good. Now, what are some other feminine endings?"
Me (weakly covering frantic thinking with awkward smile): "Ummm… -ka?"
Mrs. J.: "Yes. But this is like -a. What other endings?"
Me: "Wait! Wait! I know this! -kyně!" (It's pronounced -keenyeh. Or somehow like a reverse "quinoa", but less posh, and not so much of the Karen Blixens/Happy Valley set.)
Mrs. J.: "Good."
Birdsong. The sun comes out.
Me: (now on a roll) "And maskulin* je… without "-a" and without vowel! Je konsonant*"
Angel choirs (theologically speaking, neutrum, I believe) bellow with joy.
Mrs. J.: "Except for?"
Me: "Errr.. Honza?"
Mrs. J.: "Yes. Honza je logicky maskulin. Logically masculine**."
Delirious cheers and rapturous applause all 'round. Big bunches of flowers in gratitude to the angel chorus, with regard to whom I refuse to embroil myself in a debate vis-a-vis masculinity, logical or otherwise. That is clearly a job for those men with beards, tonsures and well-polished pins.
Mrs. J. (cont'd): "Also maskulin are some words that end with -ska." (She writes this down with some emphasis.) "And for neutrum?"
Me: "Words with -e… and -o."
Angels faint with delight.
Mrs. J.: "Good. And what about adjectives?"
sccrreeechh… angels exit, genderstruck
And so the lesson rolls on…
Mrs. J's verdict at the end of my ordeal by revision? "You have remembered a lot. This is good. But it is nothing to do with you, of course. It is only because of my teaching that you have remembered well."
She's right of course. Mrs. Jana is always right.
PS. Other Mrs. Janas are also available. But that is another story, for another time.
*Note. These are not real Czech words, but they are real Czech endings. Handle with Care. Do not attempt to use in the comfort of your own home without the assistance of a specialist.
**Other note. Still making these grammatical words up. But Honza is quietly confident that he is far more than logically masculine, although of course this is always a rather nice option to exercise on alternate Tuesdays in the Fitness Centrum whirlpool.
ETA: another few words.