The height of foolishness – Frank McNally on Brexit, newspaper bloopers, and Wile E Coyote
An Irishman’s Diary
The eternal struggle between Wile E Coyote and the Roadrunner
Maybe Jacob Rees-Mogg really did refer to the euro as the “acne of failure” at a Brexit rally last month, as reported by the online Daily Express and other media outlets. The metaphor would almost have worked, because he went on to call the currency “the great destroyer of young hopes and young jobs”. And if not a destroyer, quite, acne is certainly an affliction of youth.
But Rees-Mogg is a man so famously fogeyish that the Guardian newspaper has claimed he was “born aged 53”. So perhaps his experience of such afflictions is limited. In general, hardline Eurosceptics have tended to appeal to Britain’s older voters, not the young. A face-wash to make Brexiteers go away might do well over there.
It’s much more likely that Rees-Mogg, an Oxford history graduate, said the euro was the “acme” of failure, and that the word was misheard by tender ears. That’s what Private Eye magazine decided anyway, when including it in its latest collection of newspaper bloopers.
“Acme” is from the Greek, meaning “highest point”, or “point of perfection”. For this reason, it was once a popular name for businesses. Some even still use it today, despite the fact that since the 1950s, thanks to a certain Looney Tunes cartoon, the word has also been a byword for corporate incompetence.
In the eternal struggle between Wile E Coyote and the Roadrunner, the former always places his trust in products purchased from the “Acme Corporation”, which appears to have a US-wide monopoly on devices to assist in the capture and destruction of annoying birds.
Alas, there is always a fault somewhere in the mechanism, or in Coyote’s understanding of how it works.
This inspired one of the all-time great New Yorker spoofs some years ago when humorist Ian Frazier composed the opening statement of a lawsuit, Coyote Versus Acme, seeking compensation for “personal injuries, loss of business income, and mental suffering” caused by the company’s gross negligence on “eighty-five separate occasions”.
In a sample charge, the plaintiff – described as “self-employed” – was said to have taken receipt of an Acme Rocket Sled, removing it from its crate and, upon sight of his prey, activating the ignition.
Then: “As Mr Coyote gripped the handlebars, the Rocket Sled accelerated with such sudden and precipitate force as to stretch Mr Coyote’s forelimbs to a length of fifteen feet. Subsequently the rest of Mr Coyote’s body shot forward with a violent jolt, causing severe strain to his back and neck and placing him unexpectedly astride the Rocket Sled.
“Disappearing over the horizon at such a speed as to leave a diminishing jet trail in its path, the Rocket Sled soon brought Mr Coyote abreast of his prey, At that moment, the animal he was pursuing veered sharply to the right. Mr Coyote vigorously attempted to follow this maneuver but was unable to, due to poor design and engineering on the Rocket Sled and a faulty or non-existent steering system. Shortly thereafter, the unchecked progress of the Rocket Sled let it and Mr Coyote into collision with the side of a Mesa.”
Come to think of it, there are similarities between the Brexiteers’ pursuit of their goal and that of the coyote. Wile E Farage and his allies have experienced one collision with reality after another in the past two years. Yet their faith in technology remains unshaken. You know that, even now, if the Acme Corporation advertised a device promising a frictionless Irish Border, they’d buy it.
But getting back to newspaper bloopers, I realise that those of us in glass houses shouldn’t throw scones (especially stale ones). Why, just the other day, I was talking here about the great 1960s racehorse Mill House when, in the space of two paragraphs, he turned into Mill Reef, another great horse entirely. They looked so alike, nobody noticed an imposter in the paddock.
Speaking of paddocks, a reader has also advised me that Arkle’s would have been in north Dublin, not Meath as I suggested. Tom Dreaper’s stables were at Donaghmore, Ashbourne. And Ashbourne is in Meath. But Donaghamore is on the county borders, apparently, so that if the horse had been a GAA star, his jersey might have been blue.
Oh well. None of this prevented me enjoying another howler featured in Private Eye this week, form a Guardian online caption on an article about literary associations of places in Dublin. The main text was by Colm Tóibín, who would have known better.
But the picture caption was for “Sweny’s chemist, where Orlando Bloom buys a bar of soap in Ulysses”.