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Talking In Conversation With Joseph Of Montford
On a day during this current year it will be the anniversary of the discovery of the semicolon by taxator and Briton, Joseph Of Montford (? - 1264). Almost nothing is known of Of Montford, and some scholars dispute even this. The details of his life are a mystery, but he remains an enigmatic figure who has fascinated historians for, inexplicably, nine centuries. They have long sought for almost exactly 900 years the interview with Joseph legendarily rumoured to have existed by a friend of a friend of the greengrocer to a duke or someone, and must now be feeling quite the fools, as we at The Weekly have secured it.

Of course, no mere scrap of paper this. Of Montford, having left no writings, being mentioned only once in oblique reference in a single historical text and having been dead for close to seven hundred and fifty years, presented a problem for the Science Combine in quizzing him, but we have the advantage of today's modern science of the atomic space-age.

The Weekly commissioned a group of today's foremost science-tists and ex-perts to recreate Of Montford as he might have appeared in life. Another group was engaged to recreate him as he might have appeared in death. The first group of foremost science-tists and ex-perts used cutting-edge historical linguistic analysis techniques and speech algorithms based on contemporary sources to provide a near-perfect reconstruction of how Of Montford might have answered questions using words available at the time. This was very much like reading Chaucer and no one could understand a word, so we commissioned a third group of science-tists and ex-perts to recreate Chaucer, whom no one could understand either until a fourth group of science-tists and ex-perts translated Of Montford's words into modern English by recreating a famous Chaucer scholar who, as it transpired, was living on the Isle of Wight and would have been quite happy to help over the phone, but you have to see these things through, haven't you? Meanwhile, the second group produced a drawing of a man lying face down in woodland.

The Interview.

The Weekly: Joseph Of Montford, thank you for agreeing to speak with us today.

Joseph Of Montford: The pleasure is very much mine. We can assume I am precisely the calibre of person likely to enjoy The Weekly on a regular basis.

" The hyphen the semi "
The Weekly: Yes. As generations of schoolchildren have accidentally found out, you are the person to whom we owe the discovery of the semicolon, or, as it was known in those heady decades following the refinement of the hyphen, the semi-colon. Could you perhaps tell our readers about the moment you realised you had come across an entirely new means of punctuation?

Joseph Of Montford: Indeed. It happened late one evening, possibly on a Tuesday - a day we know also existed in the eleventh century. I was twisting the stiffness from my neck after a long period sorting though the levies Henry III required from parts of Wessex. I stretched my arms wide and rubbed my tired eyes.

The Weekly: How did you manage that?

Joseph Of Montford: No, I meant I stretched my arms wide and after doing so brought my hands back to rub my tired eyes.

The Weekly: Of course. Please - go on.

Joseph Of Montford: As I removed the massaging heels of my palms, my refocusing eyes fell on a small section of text I'd written earlier in the day. I squinted, trying to sharpen my vision, and brought a candle across for more light. At first I thought I'd simply found a poorly executed colon, an artefact of my monotonous calligraphy. However, my hairs began to prickle when I examined it more closely and became certain this was not simply the result of random, sloppy penmanship, but a new device for dividing text - one never seen before. I tried to hold my excitement in check - one reads of these things, of course, but I was frightened to allow myself to believe that such a thing had happened to me. Most people spend their whole careers - their whole lives - in bookish pursuits and never find so much as a neologism. Yet here I was, holding a never before seen method of partitioning prose.

The Weekly: Golly.

" Beauty I don't know "
Joseph Of Montford: I held it yet closer to the candle - trembling that the paper might ignite and I'd lose it forever, of course. My heart thundered in my ears as still closer examination confirmed it was real. I was struck by its beauty. I don't know if you've ever just looked at a semi-colon? Simply gazed at its shape for minutes on end, without thinking of its purpose?

The Weekly: Yes.

Joseph Of Montford: It's extraordinarily lovely.

The Weekly: Yes.

Joseph Of Montford: The form, like a full stop over a comma - it seems so obvious now, of course - stopped the breath in my chest. Here, here, was a pause longer than a comma, yet shorter than a colon. It wasn't bound to the unavoidable finality of a full stop, it could divide and re-divide a sentence almost endlessly. Clauses could be inserted in places it had never been thought possible before, specific or tangential additions made to previous phrases, thoughts cut down to their basic components yet rendered as a whole which far exceeded the sum of its parts!

The Weekly: Astonishing. And now, of course, primarily used as a winking smiley.

Joseph Of Montford: Yes. Obviously I burned all my papers and killed myself immediately, but you know how these things get out.
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