Close encounters with pointless trivia

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The Independent Culture
ARE YOU sick of millennium polls? The kind that tell you who was the greatest composer of the last thousand years or what was the greatest song of the century? Well, that's too bad, because today I have another load of millennium awards to dish out, which have to be distributed before AD2000 starts.

Most misleading message in history

The piece of paper that Neville Chamberlain brought back from Hitler, thinking that it meant "Peace in our time", which should have taught us never to trust office memos again.

Most famous one-limbed sailor

A tie between Lord Nelson and Long John Silver.

The person to whom most witty lines have been attributed, even though they never said them in the first place

Male winner: Oscar Wilde.

Female winner: Dorothy Parker.

Most common lie of the late 20th century

"We can't come to the phone right now", which on telephone answering machines means: "We're right here but we're listening to the answering machine to see if it's someone we want to talk to before we pick the phone up."

Most widespread misleading written statement in modern times

"Yours sincerely".

Most persistent superstition in an age of rationality

The belief that a horse will go faster if it is backed with sufficient money.

The cliche most likely to be rendered superfluous by the coming age of electronic banking

"The cheque's in the post."

Most dubious honour of all time

"Man's best friend", awarded to dogs, even though dogs were never consulted and would probably ask for a hefty redefinition of the title.

Three late-20th-century developments in the application of time that even Albert Einstein, with all his work on relativity, never predicted

The expiry date on a credit card; the sell-by date on a bottle of milk; Blind Date.

Most frequent radio announcement of all time

"And now, Alistair Cooke's Letter from America..."

The most time-wasting invention of the last 100 years

Wrapping paper.

Commonest form of mass delusion in the 20th century

The regular, irrational urge that seizes large and otherwise apparently sane cities to apply to be host of the Olympic Games.

Best motto for life ever found on a matchbox

"Keep in a dry place and away from children."

Best example of a name of a character from a book that has passed into the everyday language, while the book and the character have become utterly forgotten


A 20th-century mystery that nobody wants explained but everyone wants to preserve as a 21st-century mystery

Crop circles.

Most pointless invention of the last 100 years

Telephone polls.

Best method of concealing the true price of an object in a shop from the potential customer

Dead heat between antique dealers' coded prices in antique shops and bar-codes in supermarkets.

Most idiotic statement by any politician anywhere at any period in history

"Either a thing is true or it isn't true," said by Ann Widdecombe on Desert Island Discs in 1999.

Most mysterious organisation of modern times, even more so than the Freemasons

The Gideons, because apart from the fact that they distribute the Holy Bible to hotel rooms, nobody knows anything about them - where they come from, what they do it for, how often they have to replace bibles (probably the least stolen item of all those on offer in hotel rooms) or how you join. Has any of us ever met someone who said casually: "Yes, I'm a member of the Gideons, and they do an excellent three-course lunch..."?

Well, then.

More off-the-beaten-track millennium awards tomorrow