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Brush Up Your Standard

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“And what’s wrong with this sentence, Doctor?” Garak indicated the paragraph displayed on the PADD, upon which Doctor Bashir had left a series of squiggles, marks, and comments. The sentence in question was circled and designated with a single red question mark.

“Oh, that sentence. I...just wasn’t sure what you meant.”

“Wasn’t it clear? I thought I was using the phrasal verb correctly.”

“Mm. I don’t think you are, Garak. What exactly are you trying to say here?”

“That we have a friendly relationship with each other.”

Understanding flooded the young man’s face. “Oh! I see. You meant ‘get on with’. ‘I get on with Doctor Bashir.’” He gestured to the PADD. “You don’t need this word.”

“Thank you, Doctor.” Garak crossed out the word with his finger.

“Garak, you should know that what you wrote has a very...particular meaning. At least in colloquial Standard.” The doctor looked earnestly at Garak, then diverted his eyes back to the screen.

“Oh? Is the meaning changed so radically by the addition of a simple pronoun? I fear I’ll never master Standard, Doctor.”

“I guess I never realised how difficult it is to learn the nuances until we started our language exchange.”

“Indeed. Standard is a disorderly and Byzantine language with more exceptions than rules. Not at all like the simple elegance of Kardasi.”

“I’ll concede that Kardasi is elegant, but it’s not simple at all. It’s just rule upon rule. Every time I think I’ve understood something, you introduce another rule that completely inverts what I’ve just learnt.”

“Hmmmm. Well, at least there are rules. The only way to learn Standard seems to be through instinct.”

“Come on, Garak, there is at least a framework of rules, and you managed to pick up on them very quickly.”

“Why, thank you, Doctor.” Garak inclined his head. “Now, could you please explain the difference between ‘I get on with Doctor Bashir’ and ‘I get it on with Doctor Bashir’?” Garak smiled expectantly.

Bashir’s neck darkened as he explained. Garak allowed himself to look abashed.

“Oh my. How embarrassing for both of us.”

“It’s fine, Garak. It’s not as if I haven’t made embarrassing mistakes in Kardasi. Remember when I suggested we visit a brothel?”

Garak chuckled. The Kardasi words for brothel and for a certain type of restaurant were quite similar, and it seemed Federation Standard speakers had trouble distinguishing between the two consonant sounds that differentiated them.

“Yes, Doctor. I admit I was a little surprised when you asked me if I’d ever been to a Klingon brothel, and if I’d like to accompany you. Your pronunciation has improved considerably since then.”

“Thank you, Garak. It really had to!”

“Now, if you don’t mind, I ought to practice this phrasal verb a little. So that I don’t make any more embarrassing mistakes.”

“Of course. Anything you want.”

“Now, I understand that I can say ‘I get on with Doctor Bashir’ if I wish to express that we have a friendly relationship.”

The doctor nodded. “That’s right.”

“And if I wish to express the opposite, I suppose I could say ‘I get off with Doctor Bashir’? Not that it’s true, my dear.” Garak smiled reassuringly and patted the doctor’s hand across the table. “Just an example.”

The doctor flushed again. He knitted his brow.

“Garak, are you having me on?”

“Having you on?” Garak looked thoughtful for a moment. “Ah, a phrasal verb meaning to make you believe something untrue as a joke. No, Doctor, of course not.”

“Are you sure?”

“Of course, Doctor! But obviously I’ve said something wrong again. I do apologise for saying that I get off with you. I assure you I’m quite fond of you. Perhaps I should have used Dukat in my example.”

“Actually, Garak, that would have been even worse.” The doctor looked pained.

“Doctor, I seem unable to open my mouth without offending you this afternoon. Perhaps we’d better call it the day.”

“‘Call it a day’,” the doctor corrected. “And no, it’s fine. I’m sorry, Garak. Maybe I overreacted. It’s just that,” he lowered his voice and looked around the replimat, “‘get off with’ isn’t the opposite of ‘get on with’.”

“Isn’t it? I thought ‘off’ was the opposite of ‘on’?”

“I guess sometimes. But in this case ‘get off with somebody’ means the same as ‘get it on’.”

“No!” Garak’s eyeridges shot up. “Well! I am quite chagrined. I hope you can forgive me. Of course I don’t think of you that way.”

“Of course, Garak. Nor Dukat, I suppose.”

“Can you imagine, Doctor? Thank goodness I have you to help me. What if I had said that in front of the wrong person?”

“It would have been an innocent mistake, Garak,” said the doctor smoothly, “wouldn’t it?”

“Naturally, Doctor.”

The doctor leaned forward in his chair.

“Garak, I don’t think you’d make that mistake in front of anyone else.”

“You don’t? I’m flattered at your confidence in my abilities, Doctor.”

“No, I don’t. Your Standard is better than that. You wouldn’t make a simple mistake like assuming ‘get off with’ is the opposite of ‘get on with’.”

“I assure you, I would and did.”

“Ha! Garak, you’ve been hitting on me this entire conversation.”

“‘Hitting on you’? My dear doctor, I’m afraid I’m not familiar...”

“Oh, I think you are, my dear tailor.” Bashir reached across the table and placed his hand lightly over Garak’s so that they were barely touching. “I’m on to you. Why didn’t you just tell me you were interested?”

“Doctor, really. I have never purposely tried to rile you up.” Garak’s face was as wide-eyed and innocent as can be. “But you do take on such a charming colour whenever I manage to.”

“Is that so?” Obligingly, Doctor Bashir’s face darkened a little. But he leaned even closer to Garak and lowered his voice. “I’ve heard Cardassian scales can change colour too. In the right circumstances.”

“Oh? Please fill me in, Doctor. What circumstances are those?” Under the doctor’s hand, Garak raised one of his knuckles so that it caressed the human’s warm palm.

“It’s another phrasal verb, actually. You might be familiar with ‘turn on’?”

“Of course. That’s beginner Standard. ‘Please turn on the light’, ‘do you mind turning on the view screen’,” he recited, imitating the drawling Lunar accent of the holographic language programme that he and Bashir had often laughed about.

“Oh, very good, Garak. You really are an apt pupil. But there is another meaning.”

“You don’t say. I’d be curious to find out what that is.” Garak had turned his hand over underneath Bashir’s and was caressing the smooth skin with his thumb.

“I think you’ll learn it better if I show you.” Under the table, the doctor nudged Garak’s foot with his own. “Do you want to go to my quarters for the rest of the lesson?”

“Doctor, you are a very conscientious teacher.” Garak’s foot nudged back. “How could I pass up an offer like that? I really do need to stop messing around, buckle down, and brush up my Standard.”

“Yes, you clearly need more instruction,” Bashir purred, standing up. “Though we could mess around a bit, I think. It might help.”

“My dear,” said Garak, pushing back his chair, “I believe I’ll take you up on your offer. It really is delightful when two people get it on so well together, isn’t it?”