Wednesday 4 July 2007

A critical letter

It is amazing how much difference one small letter can make. Just ask anyone who was awarded an MBE in last month’s Birthday Honours, when they felt that they really deserved an OBE, CBE, KBE or DBE.

I had a similar, letter-based disappointment a few weeks ago, when I attended a fund-raising bash for North East Conservatives. (I always do my utmost to avoid crowds.) Although the guest of honour was Theresa May, the organisers had somehow missed the opportunity to bill it as “The Nasty Party”, which would have raised a cheap laugh, albeit probably only from me. Nevertheless, I was soon having a lovely time, basking in the warm glow that comes when someone says that my Journal columns are “all most amusing”. Unfortunately this was followed by a clarification: my apparent admirer had actually said “almost amusing”. It ruined my evening, I can tell you. Almost as much as ending up wearing a plateful of canapĂ©s spoilt his. I do hope the stains came out of the carpet.

Sometimes misunderstandings can arise from a simple difference of punctuation. A prime example of this occurred during a recent country walk, when my attractive young companion said something that I interpreted as a question (“Fancy a shag in the bushes?”) but was in fact an ornithological observation (“Fancy! A shag in the bushes!”) inspired by the unusual sight of a distinctive, black seabird so far inland. Fortunately she seemed to accept my story that a wasp had crawled up my leg, when I was invited to explain my bizarre trouser-related behaviour.

In the light of the RSPB’s recent installation of software that automatically excises the word “cock” from any postings on their website, to avoid causing offence, I should perhaps take this opportunity to point out that the shag has now been officially renamed “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Cormorant”. Urgent action on tits is in hand.

All businesses should be aware that those PC email filters may indeed reduce the amount of time their employees spend gawping at pornography, but they can also pose a real threat to the efficiency of their operations. An unusually important and urgent email from me to a client was once delayed for 48 hours because I had inadvertently misspelt “doing” as “dong”. Which takes me back, rather neatly if I say so myself, to the very point I made at the outset.

Keith Hann MA is almost certainly an anagram of something rather offensive.

Originally written for The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne, but deemed unsuitable for publication.

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