Scapegoated wolf bites salty Welsh leper

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The Independent Online
I sometimes receive protesting letters about thoughtless use of English and I only wish I had time to answer them all myself. Alas, this is not so, but rather than let them go unseen and unanswered, I think it makes more sense to use them to fill up a column. Thanks, everyone!

From the Leprosy Society

Sir, May we urge you to desist from using the phrase "moral leper", to designate someone who is outside the social pale ? This ancient phrase dates from a time when leprosy was thought to be highly contagious and incurable. Science has moved on, and so should language. I am not saying that all lepers are the salt of the earth, but people who suffer from leprosy are no more moral or immoral than anyone else. Why should the leper be the scapegoat ? It is about time that society chose a term for the moral outcast which carried less offence. "Lone wolf" or simply "undesirable", perhaps?

yours etc

From the Better Blood Movement

Sir, it saddens us yet again to see the expression "salt of the earth" being used so freely (see previous letter ). The expression dates from a time when salt was scarce, and indeed valued for its preserving qualities, and therefore salt was felt to be a "good thing", as of course it is in the correct small qualities. Alas, it is now eaten in reckless qualities, (even young children are encouraged to wolf it down) and we know that it does us terrible harm, so it gives quite the wrong impression to use the expression "salt of the earth". A person who is really the salt of the earth is probably very bad for us!

yours etc

From the Goat Society

Sir, I think the man from the Leprosy Society was ill-advised to use the expression scapegoat. There may have been a time when poor innocent goats were left tied up in the desert for a rapacious wolf to savage, so as to take away the sins of society, but those days are long past. Could the goat please stop playing the image of the hapless victim? And also, come to that, could the goat PLEASE stop being a byword for lust? If I had a penny for every time I have heard someone described as a "randy old goat", I'd be rich. I'd be moderately well off on descriptions of Lloyd George alone !

yours etc

From The Lycanthropy Club

Sir, I can hardly believe my eyes. Do you realise that every letter you have printed so far manages to traduce the image of the wolf ? The "lone wolf", I read. "Wolfing it down". The "rapacious wolf" ... and so on and so on.

When will people ever learn that the wolf is NOT rapacious, NOT savage, NOT a loner and NOT a greedy eater? The wolf does not attack humans. The wolf is no threat to us, so why do we always wish to keep it from the door? You would think in an enlightened age that the wolf would get a better press, but far from it. Every time there is a documentary about wolves on Channel 4 or a well informed piece in the National Geographic magazine, I feel, rather like Canute, that the waves of ignorance are about to recede. Like King Canute, I am doomed to disappointment. This dreadful ignorance is shared by the highest and lowest, from Cabinet minister to street Arab. I enclose a copy of our pamphlet: "Know Your Wolf", but without much hope.

yours etc

From the Arab-British Friendship Society

Sir, Has the Zionist lobby got to you again? I am appalled to read in a letter you have published recently, in fact directly above mine, that you permit the use of the phrase "street Arab" in your column.

Why should the average illiterate urchin be an Arab?

Would you refer to him as a "street Israeli"?

Or as a "street Jew"?

Or even as a "street Semite"?

I think not.

Let us have no more of this atrocious racism.

yours etc

From Professor Walter Regius

Sir, I am appalled to see a repetition of the old canard that King Canute thought he could order the waves back. The whole point of the story was that he knew he couldn't. He was chiding his courtiers for exaggerating his power. For heaven's sake let us get one historical fact straight in these benighted times!

yours etc

From Mr Goronwy Davies

Sir, I have been waiting avidly for you to use the word "welsh" in a derogatory sense, as in "to welsh on someone", so that I could write in and protest. You haven't, but I am going to write in and protest anyway, because we Welsh are very sensitive about ....

Continued some other time, perhaps.