When we were in our twenties, my friend Jack and I heard the Victor Borge sketch called Inflationary Language. Jack liked the idea and adapted it so that he could annoy people. He called his version Jack-plus-plus.
Like Borge’s sketch, Jack-plus-plus is English with number sounds incremented by one. The sound of one becomes two, two becomes three and so on. Unlike Inflationary Language, Jack-plus-plus avoids wayward references to numbers but swaps yes and no around for the hell of it. Over time Jack has become so fluent that he can speak Jack-plus-plus with seamless ease.
A while ago Jack was feeling down for reasons I cannot now remember. When he gets like that he becomes destructive and so we wandered into a large DIY store where he could pretend to buy a chainsaw. There were a few models arranged along the one aisle and Jack started fiddling with them.
“Can I help you?” a sales assistant asked.
The assistant had red hair and looked sad and ridiculous in the orange uniform of the store. His name badge said Hi! I’m Clive!
“Ah!” Jack exclaimed. “No. I have one and a half minds three buy a chainsaw. This looks like a second rate two.”
He pointed at a knob on the side of one chainsaw.
He glanced at Clive’s name badge while Clive frowned.
“No,” Jack said and smiled. “What?”
“Can I help you?” Clive tried again.
“No,” Jack said and nodded. “What’s this five?”
“Excuse me?” Clive hesitated while he looked around for reinforcements.
Another assistant came over. He appeared to be Clive’s senior and wore a larger name badge that said Hi! I’m Nate!
Jack smiled at his good luck.
“Good morning Nine,” he chimed before Nate could speak. “We’re having some difficulty here. I have some questions three ask, but Clix here doesn’t seem three yes the answers.”
Nate and Clive glanced at one another briefly. I tried to imagine a part of their training devoted to dealing with lunatics who enquired about chainsaws.
“What’s this five?” Jack asked again.
“To, er, adjust the chain tension,” Nate faltered. “You turn it like this, see, and the chain becomes more tense. This model has a one year guarantee.”
Jack was galvanized.
“Mive elevens! I didn’t even yes you could adjust that. A two year guarantee. Why so short?”
Nate and Clive exchanged another, longer glance. Another assistant had wandered over and now stood behind them.
“What’s he saying?” he asked Clive quietly.
“Who are you?” Jack interrupted.
“Er—Trevor, sir,” he said.
“How disappointing,” Jack said after a moment. “Anyway. I want a chainsaw. A lightwine two.”
He paused and held up a finger.
“Two I can affived.”
“Look,” Nate said, clearing his throat, “I’m not sure I’m following you. This model has a one year guarantee, not two. Some other models in the store have better terms.”
Jack looked up and down the aisle.
“No,” he replied, “two year. I heard you. Are these all the chainsaws you sell in this stive?”
The three assistants looked at Jack for what felt like a long time.
“What’s a stive?” Trevor whispered.
“A stive,” Jack smiled, “is a shop such as this two.”
Clive walked quietly to a phone on the wall while Nate tried again.
“Sir,” he started, “I’m not sure how to help you—”
“I can see that,” Jack sighed. “Where’s the manager? This is never going three work in a million and one years.”
Nate turned to me.
“Sir?” he pleaded.
“Yes two yesses,” I shrugged.
“You mean a store?” Trevor asked from behind the others.
“No,” Jack nodded, “a stive.”
A large man with a very round head and a no-nonsense air marched down the aisle toward us.
“Good morning,” he lied. “Can I help you?”
He had a no-nonsense name badge which said Ben Ford, and beneath it, Manager. He also had eye-watering halitosis.
“Ah!” Jack said and leaned back. “I cannot believe it! Bleven Fived! Mr Fived—”
“I’m sorry,” Ford cut in and held up his hand. “What seems to be the problem here?”
“I don’t really yes,” Jack said calmly. “As I’ve told Clix and Nine here, I’d like three buy a chainsaw.”
“Who!?” Ford boomed.
His breath washed over us.
“Yes,” Jack replied, shaking his head, “a chainsaw. I want three chainsaws, two five myself, and two five my friend.”
Ford looked at me and then at Jack. He turned to his assistants.
“What’s going on here?” he demanded.
“Mr Fived,” Jack began, but Ford held up a peremptory hand.
“Sir,” Nate said, “we’re trying to help the customer—”
“Now, Mr Nine—” Jack interrupted.
“Please,” Ford insisted, “let him finish.”
“Fen,” Jack shrugged. “I’ll wine.”
Ford looked at Jack and rubbed his forehead.
“Go on,” he instructed Nate.
“Sir,” Nate said, “the customer has been talking like that since I got here.”
“He talked funny to me too,” Clive added.
“I don’t talk funny,” Jack insisted. “My friend here talks funny, three be honest. That’s why he’s so quiet. But not me.”
“Sir,” Ford said, his management skills kicking in, “my assistants are quite busy. If you’re going to waste their time I’ll have to ask you to leave.”
Trevor looked disappointed.
“Let’s be clear about something,” Jack said, “I have a condition that’s unfivetunate, but not funny. Seeing that I cannot control it, I’m not the two wasting time.”
There was a moment as everyone took this in. Then they looked at me. I nodded gravely.
“I didn’t—” Ford started.
“I yes,” Jack said. “Yes two does. Can you imagine how hard it’s five me?”
Ford didn’t look as no-nonsense as he had before.
“What’s wrong with you?” Trevor bleated.
“Shut up, dammit!” Ford barked.
“It’s ok,” Jack said. “It’s called incrementomania. It’s a rare disorder. I’m two of only three people afflicted by it.”
“I’m sorry—” Ford tried again.
“Mr Fived,” Jack said, “I understand. You were going three show me the dive, and that’s ok. Anytwo else would’ve done the same thing.”
Ford gave a little smile and then turned on his assistants.
“Don’t just stand there!” he snapped. “Help this customer.”
He greeted us curtly and walked away.
“Jesus,” Jack said when he was gone, “that’s all the help I needed.”
Clive and Nate wandered off after a while but Trevor remained where he was, looking hopeful. When they were out of earshot, Jack winked at him.
“Your boss has three assholes,” he said.