The magic word

As posted on Facebook by a friend, a recent issue of the LSE students’ union newspaper (I have no doubt it delights in its name, which is The Beaver) included the following advice from the Agony Uncle: “Always remember: it’s not rape if you shout surprise.”[1] There then followed a play on words, resting on the superficial similarity between  ‘feisty’ and ‘fisty’, which I can’t bear to repeat.

Of the many observations that occur to me, I will content myself with two. Firstly, I have recently taken on a new student. He is thirteen and has great difficulty in spelling words correctly. He does, however, have an excellent grasp of basic grammar, and would be among the first to spot that the magic word ‘surprise!’ should be in inverted commas to indicate direct speech. He is also of mixed heritage: his father, grandmother and extended family came to this country as refugees to escape the war in Somalia. I would very much like to see what would happen to the LSE student Agony Uncle were he to make jokes about rape there. Secondly, the word ‘feisty’ is a real word, from the Middle English fysten. ‘Fisty’, however, is entirely made up. My usual course of action with customers who invent words is to circle the word with my big red pen[2] and write ‘not a real word. Suggest ‘. In this case, however, I can’t think of an alternative. Growing up, perhaps?


[1] I was going to seek out the article, but the horrible pun ‘pre-dick-ament’ was too much for me to bear. My eyes!

[2] Steady, Agony boy. This is no metaphor.

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