Diary

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A Hungarian definition of a corrupt journalist passed to me the other day by an Austrian academic: "He's such a liar you can't even believe the opposite of what he says."

I have read, written and been at the wrong end of nasty reviews, and I know that in this sphere academics excel. But even by their high standards, what I've just been shown in the Journal of the English Place-Name Society is a cracker.

Among the accusations levelled by a professor of linguistics at a "very regrettable" book on Somerset place names were that the author had "no knowledge of Celtic beyond what could be culled from Nance's Gerlyver noweth Kernewek"; was hopeless on etymology ("see especially Crewkerne, Shopnoller, Martock and Neroche - but these do not exhaust the anguish by any means"); lacked "the foggiest idea" about how early Somerset languages required "athletic bilingualism", and had written many entries "which made one gasp, and stretch one's eyes". This man should be hired immediately to assess the novels of Ivana Trump.

"Have you ever ordered, incited, assisted, or otherwise participated in the persecution of any person because of race, religion, national origin, or political opinion ... ?" asks the US form that Gerry Adams and his minders had to fill out to get them the visas that took them to the US this week.

Fortunately for them, the sentence goes on "... under the control, direct or indirect, of the Nazi Government of Germany, or of the government of any area occupied by or allied with the Nazi Government of Germany". Phew! So that's all right, then.

Great happenings in my west London village, for Asian entrepreneurs in London have started to apply in swarms for licences to retail alcohol. Within a couple of hundred yards I now have three small shops sporting a few shelves of bottles and cans; their proprietors are all enthusiastically undercutting Fullers and each other.

My newsagent's younger son, who at nine is a formidable salesman with an eye to the profit margin, loses no opportunity to press me to buy champagne, for from the moment that he observed me purchase a celebratory bottle, he marked me down as an up-market customer. Last time I had something to celebrate, I decided to play him at his own game. "Now, Ravi," I said earnestly, "a problem has arisen. X across the road is selling this brand at £2 less. What action do you think your father should take?" Did Ravi say "Cut the price"? Did he hell: "Go smack him in the gob," he suggested, with a giggle.

Having had, by Friday, only two responses to my request for suggestions as to how the Church of England could be portrayed on the comparative religions stuff-centred T-shirt, I had a momentary fear that even Independent readers had become too materialistic to do anything without the prospect of reward. Then there arrived a large envelope full of witty suggestions from addresses that included an Old Vicarage and an Anglican charity. However, in view of my rudeness about the United States in an earlier paragraph, I'm delighted, as a gesture of goodwill this week, to give Anne Daniel the floor.

"As an American, a practising Anglo-Catholic and a person-centred counsellor, the theological question you pose could reasonably be considered `my stuff'. I have considered the possible definitions of Anglican `stuff' and, after rejecting my first `stuffy' version - `One's stuff can be accommodated' - I suggest `We believe in lots of stuff.' "

Even I have heard enough of Gary Lineker to know that he is so ferociously good that the "No More Mr Nice Guy" advertising campaign featuring him stealing crisps from a child and a cheque from a nun should be understood by the entire population of the UK to be a joke. However, although the great British public has enjoyed the fun, 23 viewers of the Walkers' crisps ads have complained to the Independent Television Commission on more grounds than I have room to repeat.

If the ITC upholds these ludicrous complaints, my occasional terror that we might go the way of America will be strengthened. I was talking recently to a cosmopolitan observer of the American academic scene about a recent demonstration by some undergraduate malcontents who had failed to see a joke. "It's a return to barbarity," he said. "The first stage of human sophistication was the leap from literalness to the use of metaphor; the next was the discovery of metonymy ("the pen is mightier than the sword"); and the third was irony. America is moving backwards linguistically to avoid giving offence to the dumb."

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