Somebody I know has a most irritating habit. He pretends to mishear things for comic effect. I say “comic effect” but the things he says are never funny. That’s why it’s an irritating habit. Here’s an example. We’re watching a football match on TV and an 18 year old comes on as a substitute. I say, “That’s kid’s only 18.” He says, “Eighty? Eighty? He looks pretty fit for an eighty year old.” You get the idea.
If this had only happened a handful of times it wouldn’t be a big deal, but it has happened many, many hundreds of times. I can’t remember a single occasion when it was funny. The cumulative effect of these hundreds of unfunny pretend misunderstandings has made it all deeply annoying.
Things came to a head last year when we were watching football one afternoon. Talk turned to the Rio Olympics, which had just finished. We were discussing our favourite moments. Mine included the Puerto Rican Monica Puig winning the women’s tennis final, the first time that Puerto Rico had ever won an Olympic gold. She defeated the German Angelique Kerber, who was ranked #1 in the world at the time, and had also lost the Wimbledon final earlier that summer. (Kerber lost to Venus Williams in the semi-final and Serena Williams in the final at Wimbledon that year.)
We enjoy our sport, this long-time friend and I, and have spent many hours discussing it. I said something along the lines of, “Did you see that Puerto Rican woman winning the tennis? She beat that German player, you know, the one who got to the Wimbledon final, Angelique Kerber.” To which he responded, “A gerbil? She beat a gerbil in the final?” I was instantly, and perhaps disproportionately, enraged, but that’s the trouble with cumulative effects. Last straw, camel’s back, that sort of thing. Through clenched teeth I replied, “Yes, that’s right, a gerbil.” No, that’s not quite right. What I said included a swearword, beginning with “f”, in between the words “a” and “gerbil”. I walked away, to watch a different sport in a different room, and waited for my rage to subside.
On a positive note, this has provided us with a catchphrase which my wife and I enjoyed using during this year’s Wimbledon tournament. Whenever Angelique Kerber was playing, or mentioned in the highlights, one or both of us would say, “A gerbil?” Kerber made it to the second week, to the Round of 16, where she lost to the eventual winner Garbiñe Muguruza, so we had over a week of saying it regularly. We haven’t tired of it yet. If my longstanding friend with the annoying habit ever pretends to mishear something in a way that is genuinely amusing I will report it here, but don’t expect it to happen anytime soon. There’s more chance of a gerbil getting to an Olympic tennis final.