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

Junior / Graduate Application Support Engineer

£26000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful international media organ...

QA Manager - North Manchester - Nuclear & MOD - £40k+

£35000 - £41000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: QA Manager -...

Property Finance Partner

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: LONDON - BANKING / PROPERTY FINANCE - ...

Agile Tester

£28000 - £30000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: An ambitious...

Day In a Page

 

Naturism criminalised: Why not being able to bare all is a bummer

Simon Usborne
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on