Arnie claims X-rated email was in fact an 8 billion-to-1 coincidence

California Governor denies sending cryptic four-letter rebuke to rival

As an action hero, his catchphrases ranged from "hasta la vista" to "I'll be back". As a cigar-chomping legislator he branded "gutless" opponents "girlie men". Now Arnold Schwarzenegger has expanded his political lexicon into the time-honoured realm of bar-room vulgarity.

The California governor yesterday found himself attempting to play down the revelation that a blunt email he sent to one of San Francisco's Democratic Assemblymen contained what US news bulletins have somewhat prudishly described as an "X-rated rebuke".

At first sight, the message that Mr Schwarzenegger sent to Tom Ammiano, explaining why he'd vetoed a boring bill about financing the city's port, seems straightforward enough. It begins "for some time now", and concludes: "I believe it is unnecessary to sign this measure at this time." However, a vertical reading of the first left-hand letter in each of the seven lines of the main body of the email suggests that the former Kindergarten Cop actor, who is due to leave office next year, was passing on an altogether less statesmanlike message. It reads: "F-U-C-K-Y-O-U."

The Governor's press secretary, Aaron McLear, insisted yesterday that it was simply a "weird coincidence" that the email had acrostically spelled out an obscenity. He claimed that the sheer volume of the vetoes that Mr Schwarzenegger has been forced to pass in recent years meant "something like this was bound to happen".

In recent months, Mr McLear noted, the left-hand margin of the Governor's veto emails has spelled out such harmless words as "poet" and "soap". That's as may be. But the claim met with a healthy dose of scepticism: the words cited by McLear are four letters long, a length relatively likely to crop up at random. The mathematical probability of the seven-letter phrase "fuck you" doing the same is 26 to the power of seven – or about 8,031,810,176 – to one.

Mr Schwarzenegger certainly has "form" for tasteless political gestures. This year, he sent a bronze statue of a pair of bull's testicles to California's Democratic senate leader, urging him to have the cojones to take tough budget choices.

Adding to suspicions that Mr Schwarzenegger was merely trying to goad Mr Ammiano is the fact that the duo recently enjoyed a very public falling-out. Earlier this month, they crossed swords when the Republican governor decided to show up, unannounced, at a Democratic party fundraiser that was being held at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. Video footage of the event shows that Mr Ammiano began heckling about a string of budget cuts that had recently been passed in an effort to ease California's spiralling debt. He shouted "you lie!" before leaving the room hollering that Mr Schwarzenegger could "kiss my gay ass!"

Though Mr Schwarzenegger's obscenity caused much controversy on the airwaves, a spokesman for Mr Ammiano said that he was neither fazed nor offended by it. "Kudos to the governor for his creative use of coincidence," he said. "You certainly have to have a sense of humour in politics... We will call it even and start with a clean slate with the governor from here on out."

Acrostic abuse: Hidden messages

Arnold Schwarzenegger is not the first person to embed a crude message in an acrostic.

In 2001, a departing leader writer at the Daily Express, Stephen Pollard, coded an otherwise inoffensive editorial with a bracing rebuke to the newspaper's owner: the first letter of each sentence, when run together, read "Fuck you Desmond".

Like Arnie, he dubiously claimed coincidence. But if the fallout for the Governator looks likely to be limited, Pollard had to pay: the job offer he was leaving for, at The Times, was summarily withdrawn.

A century earlier, in 1900, the Irish poet Oliver St. John Gogarty wrote a poem welcoming soldiers back to Ireland after the Boer War for the conservative journal Irish Society. The poem, apparently an ode to their patriotism, contained a different commentary on the consequences of their return at the start of each line: "The whores will be busy."

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