I was reading The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame – it’s a children’s story, I know, but it’s a classic, too, and I’ve never read it, so there – when I came across a paragraph that just left me speechless. It’s towards the end of the book, after Toad has escaped from prison and been rescued from the river by his friends, who tell him that his ancestral home, Toad Hall, has been taken over by weasels and stoats. Here’s the part I’m talking about:
The Toad, having finished his breakfast, picked up a stout stick and swung it vigorously, belabouring imaginary animals. "I'll learn 'em to steal my house!" he cried. "I'll learn 'em, I'll learn 'em!" "Don't say 'learn 'em,' Toad," said the Rat, greatly shocked. "It's not good English." "What are you always nagging at Toad for?" inquired the Badger, rather peevishly. "What's the matter with his English? It's the same what I use myself, and if it's good enough for me, it ought to be good enough for you!" "I'm very sorry," said the Rat humbly. "Only I think it ought to be 'teach 'em,' not 'learn 'em.'" "But we don't want to teach 'em," replied the Badger. "We want to learn 'em -- learn 'em, learn 'em! And what's more, we're going to do it, too!"
Where I live, in Southern Germany, it is very common to hear people say “Ich lerne dir das” instead of “Ich bringe dir das bei” or “Ich lehre dich das” (which is fairly high-brow and probably never actually spoken although the more correct version) – exactly the same phrase Toad and Badger use, which is incorrect in English, too, apparently!
Who would have thunk… 😉