I have been asked, believe it or not:
Sly talks to people, fine. He talks to dogs too? How?
I suppose I should take it as a compliment. I have reported his mastery of English so convincingly that my lack of similar detail with the canine tongue caused one editor to question that ability.
This is nuts, that I have to explain this,
but, okay, here we go:
Dogs have a quite sophisticated language, after thousands of years intimately involved with man. And, yes, Sly talks to dogs, enough to get by, anyway.
As a babe, he had been picked on by everyone, but dogs were the worst. Mastering dog was a survival skill. He realized that if he could keep a bully laughing he was more likely to escape a confrontation intact. His vocabulary is rudimentary, and his grammar is abysmal. Maybe that’s why the yip-yaps (in The Rogue Decamps) were so contemptuous of him. His dog is nowhere up to snuff. But the shock of being cussed out in your own tongue by a cat sends the baddest bad-ass canine into a collapse. Generally.
Frog? He had a dear froggie friend once, they were inseparable. We know that language is easier to pick up in the early years. His frog is more than decent. It’s going to come in handy down the road.
Pig? He grew up on a farm, and was beguiled by animated oinker conversation. Pigs, highly intelligent, are delightful kibutzers, as you’ll see if you stick around to meet Hislop.
Cow? Same deal, early exposure and the drive to keep at it. (Cow, very dependent on tone, is not an easy acquire.) On his farm, his job was to police the barn. He had a pretend pirate ship set up in there. He and his frog best friend spent their days stalking Spanish treasure ships, yelling avast, me hardy, while they kept an eye out for rodents. The cows so convulsed at the sight of him that, he on hand at milking time, they were unable to settle down to a drain. They sometimes knocked over milk pails from excessive merriment.
Rodents? As we’ve seen, he has that covered as well.
This is not magic here. He can’t talk to anything under the sun. With some critters, he communicates through body language. He arches his back. He gives them the raspberry. He cocks a shook,2 blows a fart, etcetera.
The business with Sha-Sha is trickier. No way does the guy speak monkey. He speaks English to her, and she seems to get him. But with Sha it’s all about the appearance of understanding, not understanding itself. She has a repertoire of knowing looks and cocked smiles that one might make anything of. Sly, for once in his life, is slow to catch on.
He thinks her sexily aloof. He’s captivated. He courts her with his verse. She is thrilled to receive the poetic tribute a court beauty deserves.
She has the pale face (white paint was applied by the fashionable female) and high forehead (the hairline shaved to achieve the admired height) that is the style. She is slender, and lithe. She has a sumptuous wardrobe. Her appearance well pleases her, but for one major flaw, unfortunately, front and center at all times. See below his graceful tribute to the feature she despises.
Ode To A Nose
by S. Boots
Where does your foremost fascination lie?
I tell you, mistress, not where you suppose.
You are magnificent of brow, and eye,
but I rejoice, above all, in your nose.
Abundance of the snout is no vile thing,
an aperture odd, no horrific flaw.
Cavernous nostrils suck the scents of Spring
more readily than dimple dents. What law
requires that a nose be slim, or pert,
to be admired, to be reckoned fine?
High handsome is less sensory-alert,
engrossed – the snot – in flaunting a divine profile.
The buttonholes, so meek, so sleek, so pink,
just darling, do not snort with the same greed
to savor life in all its sweet and stink,
as does your critter charmingly indeed.
A chiseled symmetry, it does not do
for a merry force of nature such as you.
Your thug has more exuberance than those
lady-like honkers. Celebrate your nose!
- Cock-a-shook is a maneuver Sly picked up on the streets of London. Rowdies, wishing to express displeasure, would poke a thumb up the nose and waggle the fingers. In Sly’s case, no digit fit into his nostril. He would gingerly insert a claw, and, as best he could, vibrate his other tootsies in solidarity with his band of street toughs.