One reason Unionists are so suspicious of every document emanating jointly from London and Dublin is because of the use of what they see as weasel terminology. The Protestant - and particularly the Presbyterian - tradition is one of plain speaking; the Catholic, one of extreme subtlety. The language of that master of ambiguity, John Hume, who indeed studied for a time for the priesthood, is known by his critics as "Humespeak". Put him together with the maestros of exegesis in Dublin, add a collection of first-class drafters from the Foreign and Northern Ireland Offices, and you are bound to end up with texts which Ulster Protestants consider Jesuitical.

The Anglo-Irish framework document uses the buzz term of the moment - "parity of esteem" - that Sinn Fein have been plugging relentlessly since the ceasefire. To Messrs Bruton and Major, this simply means giving both traditions equal respect. To suspicious Protestants, it means the eradication of God Save the Queen and all the flags and emblems that reassure them they are British.

In the Errol Flynn version of Robin Hood, where, in the absence of King Richard the Lionheart, bad brother John and his Norman pals oppressed the Saxons, the problem was quickly solved when Richard arrived home from the Crusades. He banished John, ennobled the loyal though Saxon Robin, and promised that "Henceforward Normans and Saxons alike will share the rank of Englishmen". Would that wrangles over nationhood were so easily solved today.

I'm not good on cars, but I know vaguely that they are called things like Avenger and Cavalier and Fiesta. In Puerto Rico, I saw one called Protg. Two questions. When did cars cease to be female? Is this one of a range of vehicles with names such as Disciple, Acolyte and Pupil - with, perhaps, top-of-the-range models Teacher, Mentor and Guru? If the car manufacturers haven't come up with these ideas yet, they may have them for a small fee.

In America I do research in a place unlike any other I've ever encountered. I've worked in dozens of libraries and archives over the years - from old/beautiful (Duke Humphrey's in Oxford), magnificent (British Library Reading Room), decayed (old Public Records Office), modern/dingy (London School of Economics) to functional/soulless (new Public Record Office at Kew). What makes the special collections section of Boston University Library different again is that it's amusing, for it is crammed with unexpected and often daft donations, many from Hollywood. Edward G Robinson's portrait glowers menacingly over the reception area, the young Claude Rains supervises my work, and artefacts within six feet of me include an Epstein bust of Pascal, a schoolroom-type desk used in the House of Representatives between 1873 and 1902, and - just above where I plug in my computer - a framed piece of cloth woven in the 1930s by Mahatma Gandhi. The director, who sits in front of a decollete Bette Davis and to the right of a uniformed Douglas Fairbanks Junior, tells me that probably his oddest objet is the fingernail of an ex-dbutante.

Back to terminology. Basil Dewing has followed up my recent speculations on Eurolabels by suggesting that journalists - probably wilfully - refuse to see that many who dislike Brussels socialism are none the less European-minded. He proposes adoption of the term "Bruxellosociophobiceurophiles".

There is worry among British diplomatic circles in the United States about the reported appointment of Sir John Kerr, our man at the EU, to replace Sir Robin Renwick in Washington. Although he is greatly respected and well-liked, they fear that as a heavy smoker, his life will be intolerable in a country where

anti-smoking has become the most widespread fundamentalist religion.

Sir David Gillmore, who until last year was Permanent Secretary of the Foreign Office, is a smoker, too. When he spent a sabbatical at Harvard five years ago, he found himself, as he put it, back where he had started: behind the bike sheds. After a few days he revolted and insisted on being allowed to smoke in his own room, where other lepers used to join him. It will be interesting to see if Kerr proves as tough and if his fabled negotiating skills win him the right to light up - and even inhale - at Mrs Clinton's table.

Now the common-cold finalists in reverse order. HJ Richards's contribution was outside the terms of the competition, but what the hell. "Voici l'Anglais avec son sangfroid habituel", he tells us, was once translated as "Here is the Englishman with his usual bloody cold". Roslyn Gibson is on the shortlist mainly because she managed to convey the crossness engendered by the condition: "This had better be a serious competition because I have just resurrected myself to write and I feel a Total Mucosity." She comes into the first category of those described in the Ogden Nash lines sent by Clive Exton: "Some girls with a snuffle/Their tempers are uffle/But when Isabel's snivelly/She's snivelly civilly/And when she is snuffly/She's perfectly luffly."

Her condition seems to have given runner-up Carol Doherty nightmares: "a cold is a torporous occupation of the host's body by muccoid man, a thing that resembles, in appearance and act, a sloth-like and soundlessly roaring John Selwyn Gummer."

I have no doubt whatever that every single entrant is nicer than the old fascist who has won the whiskey for Rosemary Pugh-Thomas, but I fear that in "Flu and Damnation", Ezra Pound definitely provided the wittiest and pithiest lines:

The rain ploppeth, the slop


The cold stoppeth

my circulation.

The stove wheezeth, my nose

not breezeth,

Oh Jheezeth!

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