Words: swaff, n.

THE DIVERSIONS prompted by Francis Wheen and Julian Barnes's commentary upon the John Walsh/ Steve Martin "irk" controversy have delayed mention of Martin's casual remark that "in every industry, there's a swaff of people who you would call `well-read' . . . and there's the mass of people who aren't." One boggles that LA should echo to a word last used in 1688.

It is a variant of swathe, itself a word whose Old English origins do not fully explain the way in which it means both a section of mown grass and a wrapping-up in cloth. It could make for a disquisition similar to those in Martin's Picasso play - scandalously overlooked by London, as are the equally witty conceits which animate the work of David Ives.

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