I have adopted Ignaz Moscheles as an ‘honorary Englishman’ so I found this short anecdote rather amusing. Of course it is not side-splittingly funny in today’s terms but is a little bit of gentle humour. It is worth recording.
One of the most popular of the classical virtuosi was Ignaz Moscheles, whose seventy-six years of life was ended in 1870. A friend of Beethoven, a teacher of Mendelssohn, a great player, teacher, and composer, he exercised a most beneficial influence in the musical world with his strong personality. For twenty years or more, Moscheles made his home in England. A remark of his made at a dinner table soon after his arrival there illustrates the difficulty which foreigners have in conquering the English language.
One evening, when the cloth had been removed and the hostess had asked him what fruit he preferred, he hastily referred to the knowledge of English he had secured by a study of the dictionary, and politely answered that he wished to be helped to ‘some sneers.’
This answer produced a burst of laughter on the part of the guests, who could not contain their merriment at the dilemma in which the musician's ignorance of the language had placed him. Moscheles hastened to explain. It seemed that on searching for English sentences he had learned that the idiom ‘not to care a fig’ was synonymous with the verb ‘to sneer,’ and so supposed that in asking for a ‘sneer’ he had the right word for fig...