Summary: In primate species, bearing one's teeth is a sign of aggression. For humans, smiling is a universal constant of joy. This can easily lead to some confusion for our favorite ape man.
This is probably way too long winded and in which I use the word "smile" way too much. It was just something that occured to me while I was rewatching Tarzan and my ex-linguistic-major brain couldn't help but hold onto the idea.
Also this little one shot takes place early on in Jane & Prof teaching Tarzan, so excuse some of the awkwardness of Jane having to explain vocab to him. I just felt like this would come up early on, and not later.
They were both laughing at something silly her father had done, when Tarzan suddenly stopped and stared at Jane's lips. She stopped laughing and her open-mouthed grin faded, puzzled by what could have suddenly made him look so lost.
"What's wrong Tarzan? You rather look like you suddenly got asked a difficult maths question."
His gaze moved up to her eyes, and the lost stare was replaced by a blank look. Mouth quirking up in what was quickly becoming a very common fond grin, she simplified. "You look confused. Everything alright?"
He grunted, acknowledging he understood her question, and replied, "Yes. I'm confused about" he floundered for a moment, then finished by wordlessly tracing an upwards crescent in the air with his finger. She thought on this a moment, and finally guessed, with no small amount of puzzlement, "smiling?"
It wasn't a word he had learned yet, and he regarded her questioningly. In example, she gave a wide smile, then traced it and said again, "Sm-eye-ling"
"Smiling" he copied, then he gave a sharp nod "Yes. Confused about...smiling." He sat
down, with his index finger curled under his chin, looking for all the world like if he just thought hard enough at this problem he would solve it. She felt a wave of fondness at his posture, so clearly picked up from her father and yet also so utterly Tarzan. But she was also confused by his confusion.
"Why?" she asked, hoping she could help him figure out whatever it was that was bothering him.
He looked back at her, and she had the sinking and somewhat ridiculous feeling that now he was confused why she was confused that he was confused. "Smiling...bad" he said simply.
"Huh?" she couldn't see where he had come up with that idea.
His face screwed up (adorably, she couldn't help but think) in concentration,as he attempted to explain his predicament in what English he knew, making vague hand gestures, "Smiling...not good at others" He glanced up at her to see if she had gotten his meaning, but she hadn't quite. She did have the vague impression of understanding, but gestured for him to go on. "Smiling makes others mad", he tried instead, looking pleased that he had remembered the word he had been searching for.
Finally Jane felt like she understood. She lightly slapped her face for how silly she was being,(as Tarzan looked on slightly concerned), she did know what this was about, she had just once again forgotten where Tarzan was coming from. "Of course! Gorillas and other primates 'smile' as a threatening display!" she tsked to herself and carried on, "It's really no wonder that you would be confused about such a thing."
"Threaten?" questioned Tarzan.
"Ah, it means...to make others afraid, and to tell them that you want to hurt them."
He nodded in understanding as this explanation fit perfectly into what he knew about the expression. Starting to trace circles in the dirt at his feet, he made a sound that Jane was certain was the gorilla equivalent of nervously clearing one's throat, and continued in a quieter tone, "Other gorillas always tell Tarzan not to do," he looked at her with what she could only uncomfortably call hope, as though she held the secret of some long-sought answer, "But I want to smile when I see Jane. And Jane smiles at Tarzan."
She was proving his observation right with the smile creeping up on her face, but it was bittersweet. Although he had said very little, she couldn't help but make certain...inferences. She could easily picture a little boy to whom smiling came naturally, yet living in a culture where it was a threat and a call for violence. No matter what way she imagined it working out, it certainly wouldn't go well for young Tarzan. "Come on" she said kindly, waving him towards the projection tent-turned-makeshift-schoolhouse. As he unsteadily settled into one of the chairs, she loaded the projector with as many slides of happy people as she could find.
"Well, Tarzan, you see" she said, flipping through the slides, "Humans, possibly even ALL humans, according to my father's linguist friends, smile when they're happy. It's a natural reaction to joy and to being with...people you care for".
"All humans?" he gasped, watching the continuing slides of joyful, toothy, wide smiles of happy people. She glanced at his expression through the corner of her eyes as she continued to change the slides. He looked happy, but also somewhat shellshocked, like she had turned his world upside down. She wished for a moment that she understood him better. She knew so little about how and what he actually thought, she hadn't even known until now that he had seen something as simple as smiling as a negative thing.
But when their eyes next met , he gave her a wide smile, and for that, she needed no translation.
So that was my little idea, hope you enjoyed. R&R, thanks for reading. I may see you next chapter, I have a few different ideas for Tarzan oneshots. Dunno, just got a lot of random inspiration the last time I watched Tarzan. *shrugs*