Mark Twain was living in the hills north of Florence when he was complaining to a New York Times reporter about the Italian language, and describing his difficulties in learning to converse with the locals. “Why should there be fifty-seven ways of conjugating the verb, ‘to love’, and none of them convincing,” he asked. That was in the Spring of 1904.
Here’s some of the rest of the story, as reported in the Times:
One day Mark returned home to Settignano, where the family had a villa. To the horror of his wife, his beautiful white mane was cropped close to his head, after the manner of Italians in the Summer. When asked to account for this mutilation, he explained in his comic way what he had resorted to this as forlorn hope, a last desperate effort to learn the Italian language. He had, he said, slept for weeks in vain with an Italian dictionary under his pillow. Finally, it occured to him to watch the natives and see if he could catch any peculiarity of theirs that might account for their capacity to master the language. Then he noticed that their heads were all as smooth a billiard balls. Who knew whether the secret did not reside here? Perchance his heavy crop prevented the tongue from filtering through. So he went straight to a barber, with this result. However, this drastic measure does not seem to have proved sucessful, for he expresses himself as much as ever at sea with the tongue.
“I never got hold of an entire sentence” he said. “Just a word here and there that comes in handy, but they never stay with me more than a day.”
(Yes, of course, the picture is Photoshopped. And, no, Italian is not as difficult a language as Sam pretended that it was.)