Andy Gray, the disgraced Sky Sports presenter, might have saved himself a lot of bother had he taken the trouble to read the great 18th-century satirist Jonathan Swift who believed that it was possible to conduct a discourse at two levels – the hidden one of them far more offensively sexist than anything the ex-pundit managed to come up with in his off-air comments.
For where digital technology has sullied the reputation of Mr Gray, it is about to do the opposite for Dean Swift. Until now, academics had thought that the 65 letters first published in Swift's masterly A Journal To Stella in the 1760s were censored by editors concerned to preserve the great cleric's reputation.
The two Dublin spinsters to whom the letters are written are addressed by Swift variously as "agreeable bitches", "naughty girls" and "huzzies", and there are some very dodgy references to the "horror" and "filth" of the female body. But digital imaging analysis by an Oxford academic (female) suggests that it was Swift himself who made these alterations as part of a flirtatious game of handwriting cat-and-mouse.
"The reader has to undress the text to enjoy it fully," says Dr Abigail Williams. If only Andy Gray had had the benefit of so subtle an interlocutor.