Nicholas Lezard: Read between the lines, Arnie

The point about a concealed stunt is for as many people as possible to see it

Share
Related Topics

Arnold Schwarzenegger, we learn, has joined the ranks of those who have used the initial letters of a document to spell out a very rude phrase – a reply to a Democratic assemblyman who had heckled him received a veto whose initial letters on the left-hand margin spelled out "Fuck you".

Risky though this procedure is – often people fail to notice the message – it does have honourable precedents. Newspapers, are, of course, the best forum for this kind of thing; the whole point about such concealed stunts is that they should be seen by as many people as possible. It may be, though, that no one notices, and that the writer's subtlety is wasted – how does one alert the reader, let alone the recipient of the insult, to the fact that such a message has been concealed?

Editors pose another risk, in that they are anxious to maintain the high moral tone that traditionally obtains on the pages of a notionally respectable paper; they are, indeed, paid to be vigilant about this kind of thing. If subliminal vulgarity is allowed on to their hallowed pages, does this not sully and undermine the noble principles of informed comment?

Sadly, though, every so often something childish slips through the net. After all, writers are capricious, puerile creatures, often motivated by malice, and the urge to pull off this kind of stunt, which allows them to demonstrate their facility while also settling scores, once conceived, is hard to repress. Naughty, yes; but once the embittered hack gets going, the process is hard to stop – they proceed with a kind of insane glee, and indeed the very discipline of composing a piece to conform to a predetermined grid can actually aid composition, prevent said hack from rambling, or slapping down the first thing that enters his head.

And it has to be said that another duty of the columnist is to entertain; it's to be looked on as something like a crossword puzzle. Readers who notice these things can feel justifiably pleased with themselves, and, once the trick has been spotted, it stops them from having to read the article in its entirety; a 550-word piece can, essentially, be summed up in one pithy phrase of, say, 17 letters.

Stephen Pollard's final column in the Daily Express contained a memorable message to the new proprietor who had unwisely sacked him. Each initial letter, when strung together, spelled out: "Fuck you, Desmond".

How pathetic, you might think; yet how rewarding for the writer concerned. Ordering one's phrases in such a way is a demonstration of the journalist's skill, a rebuke to the very idea that they can be silenced or reined in by those nominally in control of them (and it has to be said that Pollard's message, concealed within a piece of otherwise dry reading about organic farming, of all things, is a model example of the genre, and should be taught as such in all schools of journalism).

Like it or not, such pranks will continue to be pulled off as long as people use the printed word, and as long as there are grievances to be aired. Every dog has his day.

n.lezard@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Administrator

£16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Administrator is requ...

Recruitment Genius: International Trade Advisors - Hertfordshire or Essex

£30000 - £35379 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The company is based in Welwyn ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Controller - Response Centre

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Resource and Recruitment Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Resource and Recruitment Manage...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Voices in Danger: With the drug cartels in control, a Mexican editor has been forced to flee for his life

Anne Mortensen
 

Here’s why I’m so full of (coffee) beans

Jane Merrick
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn