When the young Winston Churchill first went away to school, his mother rather vaguely took him there in the middle of the term. As her grand car disappeared down the drive, the headmaster took Churchill into his office, gave him a Latin Primer and told him to study the first page, then left the room. Page one, in the time-honoured way of such primers, dealt with a declension of the substantive feminine noun: Mensa (table): nominative, vocative, accusative, genitive, dative and ablative: (a table, o table, table, of a table, to a table and by/with/from a table). The young boy studied this in silence and, on the master’s return, he was sitting looking slightly bemused at this new information. The headmaster asked:
– Well, young man, any problems?
– No sir, I don’t think so sir, but I am rather puzzled by the vocative case …
– Well the vocative is used when one addresses the object directly, for example «o table» … but you still don’t look convinced.
– No I understand, sir; it’s just that in our house, we don’t generally speak to our furniture.