Nicholas Lezard: Read between the lines, Arnie

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

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.

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next

On the Tusk of a dilemma: Cameron's latest EU renegotiation foe

Andrew Grice
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959  

Stephen Ward’s trial was disgraceful. There can be no justification for it

Geoffrey Robertson QC
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas