For most foreigners learning our language, the silent "e" is a strange concept. Words like "knife" "wise" and "pure" seem to antagonize their sense of logic and while we native speakers have grown accustomed to its annoying presence like a drunk relative we dismiss offhandedly, we take it's annoyance for granted. As a flower delivery specialist (I'm trying out this new title, I think it gives me an air of dignity) I work with a lot of people who've immigrated to our country and, on occasion, am asked about several of our linguistic anomalies. Another big one is the "gh" standing for "f". I try to explain to them that "sometimes it's just an 'f' sound" and am met with a look as if I just explained why my girlfriend was out until 2 in the morning with "an old friend". It's a look of half sympathy and half disrespect. As though to say: "Hey, it's your language, whatever makes you happy." But I've also noticed recently another, more hidden lexicon, that is far more universal and equally as silent: The Silent E-diot.
Let me give you an example. A few weeks ago, I was given a beautiful gift of a wrist watch. Despite the fact that no one wears them anymore, it's one of those anachronisms I can't seem to part with and it's really the only jewelry a man can wear without being labeled a hipster or metrosexual. When I received the watch I noticed it wasn't running, so I took it to a small watch repair shop in the East Village. I handed it proudly to the employee and asked him to change the battery. He told me it would be five minutes and I could wait if I liked. Ten seconds later he handed the watch back to me and told me it didn't need a battery to which I replied: "Oh, is it broken?" He looked at me, eyes narrowed as though he were being tested and responded: "No, it needs to be wound." What followed was a very distinct and very heavy pause hanging in the air unspoken and palpable. As though God were bleeping out an expletive on television. But what should have been very audible to the trained ear was the word "idiot".
It hit me like a lightning bolt. The look, the pause, the tightened lips as though holding back this word, and the furrowed brow as though to ask: "How do you feed yourself?" And then I recalled the many, many times this has occurred in my past; the women at the end of the first date for whom I asked to see again, the DMV employee whom I asked if a library card was a sufficient form of identification, and the Genius Bar employee when I asked if I could walk in for an appointment to see someone. The myriad occasions wherein I was subject to The Silent E-diot, and like anyone learning the capricious nature of our language, didn't quite understand it's illogical complexity.