Mark Twain’s “The Trials of Simon Erickson”

He could not think of the turnip without emotion; he could not speak of it calmly; he could not contemplate it without exaltation; he could not eat it without shedding tears.

mark-twain

For whatever reason, a turnip is a very funny vegetable. It’s not the first time that they show up in a story by Mark Twain. In “The Trials of Simon Erickson”, another story within a story, Simon Erickson attempts to help a young man in Michigan who is obsessed with turnips – specifically getting turnips to grow on a vine. The young man is so obsessed that his health starts to deteriorate.

The trials, as well as the humor, ensue when Erickson corresponds with an apparent turnip expert; however, the response he gets is in less than perfect handwriting. He interprets and misinterprets the writing to the point that he mistakes the verbage as offensive. According to Erickson, who is potentially telling this story years later, this minor misunderstanding starts wars in Italy.

While today, letter writing and handwriting seem to be a thing of the past, I’m sure Twain could get lots of humor out of text abbreviations and auto correction.

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