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Right, right, you’re chuffing well wrong

27/08/2012

Un cordiale benvenuto ai nostri nuovi lettori in Italia

Simon Barnes is a writer of some of the most elegantly-turned English around. He writes primarily on sport and wildlife in The Times, and is an enthusiastic horseman. I can’t remember how many copies of his A Sportswriter’s Year I’ve given to people over the years.

Now, I have little interest in team sport, and I particularly deplore football. The very idea of ‘supporting a team’ and spending real money to watch a bunch of absurdly overpaid show-ponies behaving like toddlers for 90 minutes, either in the rancid stadium atmosphere of pies and cigarettes or on Sky TV, is something that I simply don’t understand. As for horses, I learned to ride long ago but much prefer the sight of horses without riders.

Nevertheless, I can read Simon Barnes on any sport, even football, and it becomes immediately alive and interesting. However unsympathetic I may be to the subject, I learn something and am delighted to do so. He writes with a simplicity that seems effortless, but he probably sweats blood to achieve it. He could write about stamp-collecting, train-spotting or dolls’ houses and it would still be worth reading.

In Saturday’s Times, he was writing about choughs (pronounced chuffs, obviously. Through – cough – borough – bough – though – tough – hiccough – thought – lough: one vowel-sequence and eight exciting ways of being wrong). The chough is a member of the crow family (Corvidae), and featured on the coat-of-arms of the Duchy of Cornwall – which is Prince Charles’ private piggy-bank. Despite all the attention that Simon Barnes had given to his words, some illiterate half-wit on the paper managed to render the coat-of-arms ever-so carefully thus:

No, the Duchy’s motto ist not TUOMUOH. It is HOUMOUT, a word thought to be Old Flemish or Low German (Be fair. The Duchy was founded in the early 14th century, when etymology was a young science) meaning “high mood” or “courage”. Even if the word is unknown, how difficult is it to read capital letters and see that the Us and the M are back-to-front?

Today’s headline? It’s a hat-tip to the chorus of Supertramp’s Bloody Well Right, of course.

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