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"Not a gostak! The gostak. The gostak is—the distimmer of the doshes—see! He distims 'em, see?"
"Yes, yes. But what is distimming? How do you distim?"
"No, no! Only the gostak can distim. The gostak distims the doshes. See?"
"Ah, I see!" I exclaimed. Indeed, I pride myself on my quick wit. "What are doshes? Why, they are the stuff distimmed by the gostak. Very simple!"
"Good for you" John slapped my back in huge enthusiasm. "I think it wonderful for you to understand us so well, after being here only a short time. You are very patriotic."
I gritted my teeth tightly, to keep myself from speaking.
"Professor Vibens, what's a gostak?" I asked in the solitude of his office an hour later.
He looked pained.
He leaned back in his chair and looked me over elaborately, and waited some time before answering.
"Hush!" he finally whispered. "A scientific man may think what he pleases; but if he says too much, people in general may misjudge him. As a matter of fact, a good many scientific men are taking this so-called patriotism seriously. But a mathematician cannot use words loosely; it has become second nature with him to inquire closely into the meaning of every term he uses."
"Well, doesn't that jargon mean anything at all?" I was beginning to be puzzled in earnest.
"To me, it does not. But it seems to mean a great deal to the public in general. It's making people do things, is it not?"
I stood a while in stupefied silence. That an entire great nation should become fired up over a meaningless piece of nonsense! Yet, the astonishing thing was that I had to admit that there was plenty of precedent for it in the history of my own z-dimensional world. A nation exterminating itself in civil wars to decide which of two profligate royal families should be privileged to waste the people's substance from the throne; a hundred thousand crusaders marching to death for an idea that to me means nothing; a meaningless, untrue advertising slogan that sells millions of dollars' worth of cigarettes to a nation to the latter's own detriment—haven't we seen it over and over again?"
"There's a public lecture on this stuff tonight at the First Church of The Salvation," Professor Vibens suggested.
"I'll be there," I said. "I want to look into the thing."
That afternoon there was another flurry of "extras" over the street; people gathered in knots and gesticulated with open newspapers.
"War! Let 'em have it!" I heard men shout.
"Is our national honor a rag to be muddied and trampled on?" the editorial asked.
As far as I could gather from reading the papers, there was a group of nations across an ocean that was not taking the gostak seriously. A ship