Miles Kington: When a dictionary became a four-letter word

'You are suing this dictionary on the grounds that in the finals of the Northern Scrabble Contest you would have won £10,000 if it had listed one of your words'
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There is a most curious trial going on in the High Court today, in which a member of the public is suing the publishers of a dictionary. It is believed to be the first time a dictionary has been sued. The reason for this unprecedented action is that ... but perhaps an extract from the case would give you a better idea than I could. We join when the plaintiff, a Mr Tom Gallant, is taking the stand to be cross-examined.

Counsel: Your name is Tom Gallant?

Gallant: No.

Counsel: No?

Gallant: No.

Counsel: Then we have the wrong man. The case collapses.

Gallant : Not at all. I am known as Tom Gallant. But my name is Thomas Gallant. Therefore, you have the right man. Only the wrong name.

Counsel: Are we not straining at a gnat here? Is it not hair-splitting for you to say you are known as Tom but your name is Thomas?

Gallant: Not at all. I have to be a stickler for accuracy in my line of business.

Counsel: Do you not think the law is also a stickler for accuracy?

Gallant: Not at all. My experience of the law is that it is a world of half-truths, inferences, dark subtexts and louche hints left unstated.

Counsel: On the contrary, may I suggest to you that...?

Gallant: You see, there you go again. "May I suggest to you...?" In the law, it is natural to think in terms of these vague and formless statements. There is no other world of which this is so true, except perhaps modern poetry.

Judge: May I intervene here, Mr Battle...

Counsel: Of course, m'lud.

Judge :... If only to ask what on earth is going on?

Counsel: This is just a piece of preliminary fencing in which I seek to confuse the plaintiff so as to wear him down and make him more malleable when it comes to the serious cross-examining.

Judge : I see. I think I should warn you that Mr Gallant is ahead on points at the moment. Carry on!

Counsel: Thank you, m'lud. Now, Mr Gallant, you say that accuracy is paramount in your line of business. Could you tell the court what line that is?

Gallant: I am a professional Scrabble player.

Counsel: I had not realised that this was a genuine profession.

Gallant: Had you not?

Counsel: No.

Gallant: Well, may I suggest to you that if you got out and about a bit more, you would know things like that.

Judge: Forty-love.

Counsel: Are you a full-time Scrabble player?

Gallant: Certainly. There is much money to be made from the occasional top Scrabble tournament, but I also make a good living from the many unlicensed late-night Scrabble hells to be found in our major cities.

Counsel: Scrabble hells?

Gallant: When a new Scrabble player rides into town, he searches out the place where the scrabblers meet and soon finds himself in a game. After that, it's everyone for himself, up the stakes and the devil take the hindmost.

Counsel: Really?

Gallant: You're darn tootin'.

Counsel: Darn tootin'?

Gallant: Tootin. Six-letter word. American coinage. "Darn tootin'" means "damn right".

Counsel: Would you be allowed to use the word "tootin'" in a game of Scrabble?

Gallant: Why not? It occurs in the title of a Laurel and Hardy film made in 1928.

Counsel: Called what?

Gallant: You're Darn Tootin'.

Counsel: I see. And would you find the word in the dictionary?

Gallant: If it were a good dictionary. Not like Parson's Modern English Dictionary.

Counsel: Ah! Now this is the dictionary you are suing, I believe. On the grounds that in the grand finals of the Northern Scrabble Contest, you would have won £10,000 had one of your words been listed in the dictionary. Instead of which, you were disqualified.

Gallant: Correct.

Counsel: And that word was...?

More of this nail-biting encounter tomorrow.