The title works better if you imagine John Cleese dressed as a Roman Centurion giving a Latin grammar lesson to a Jewish rebel painting graffiti on a wall. Or you can skip the imagining bit and just watch this clip. My Latin 101 teacher showed this scene to our class halfway into the first semester, and I have never since heard anyone ask “How many” anything without flashing back to this sketch, no matter how irrelevant the connection may be.
The question came up with the cherries because John and I are moving. To make the trip as easy as possible, we’ve been systematically reducing our stuff with trips to Goodwill and our grocery stock with peculiar dinner choices. Our fridge has been emptied almost down to processed cheese food, condiments, and an assortment of strongly preserved fruits and vegetables…including a half-used jar of maraschino cherries that I must have bought for some specific recipe.
In my mania to empty the fridge as much as humanly possible, I suggested that we go out and buy a pint of ice cream, stir in the cherries, and eat the whole thing. While we have not yet carried through on this potentially fatal plan, the idea led to the following conversation:
Me: “I wonder…How many maraschino cherries it would take to kill a person?”
John: “I don’t think they’re particularly lethal.”
Me: “Anything is lethal in large enough quantities.”
John: (looking bemusedly at the small, half-empty jar) “True, I guess.”
Me: “Although, I guess the amount in that jar probably wouldn’t do anyone in.”
John: “I don’t know. If you stuck one up each nostril and then choked on one, or, I guess you could just choke on one. No…They’re probably too mushy to be choked on.”
Me: “I’m sure people have choked on stranger things.”
John: “Oh! I know! What if one got lodged in your brain?”
Me: (blank, incredulous stare) “How would anyone get a maraschino cherry lodged in their brain?”
John: “If you shot it at someone at a high enough velocity…”
Me: “I don’t know if there’s a velocity at which the cherry would become less mushy than your skull.”
John: “Well, maybe if you used the glass of the jar…”
Me: “Oh, well, if you’re going to include the glass in the equation! I think you generally need less glass to kill someone than maraschino cherries. It is slightly more dangerous.”
John: “No, I mean, what if the jar exploded and the glass drilled a hole into someone’s head, and a cherry got in, and the surgeons managed to removed all the glass, but they missed the cherry!”
Me: “Because it’s all red and squishy and it would blend in?”
John: “Exactly! And then it would rot and they would die of some horrible disease.”
What could I say to that? I suppose I could have pointed out that any uneaten maraschino cherries will probably be hanging out with the cockroaches and the Hoover Dam when civilization has long crumbled into dust, but it seemed like a moot point. Whether or not the cherry rots, it can’t be a good thing to have one rattling around in your brain pan.
So I think the answer to our question was ultimately “one.” It takes one maraschino to kill a person, if you’re clever about it.
And we’re taking these things to our new home…
Cerasi domum eunt? Cerasi abite!