The Last Word – Another Reading from the Stylebook of Leviticus

A Fourth Reading from the Stylebook of Leviticus. Write ye not that a man is “head over heels” in love – or in anything – if thou meanest to suggest an inversion of the natural order. That is unclean.

For doth a man not walk on his heels, normally, with his head in the air? Doth a seated women not arrange herself in that general order, also?

Yea, even the wild beast proceedeth with head above and cloven hoof below. The bird too flieth in this manner, and any fowl after its kind.

Only the serpent confuseth the situation.


Therefore if thou beist a newspaper scribe, bother not the chief-subeditor with thy tale of a person being “head over heels”. Know instead that “heels over head” is the minimum requirement for the event to be considered news.

In similar vein, write ye never of any violent situation that a victim was “struck over the head”. That too is unclean.

For if he be struck over the head, it followeth that the striker aimed too high, or that the target ducked. If that be so, verily, no strike hath occurred.


But if a victim be struck on the head, write not that he “sustained” an injury. That is an abomination.

For it followeth surely that he or she who sustainteth an injury will then not be allowed merely to go to hospital, like a normal person, but have to be “admitted” there.

And so it proceedeth, into a nightmare of lapidary prose that may retard the patient’s recovery, even if the injury be “not life-threatening”.

Speaking of threats, avoid ye always the use of verbs as nouns, lest either the chief subeditor or I be forced to smite you. For if "Smart" may "fly Aer Lingus", as certain false prophets say, be warned that "Smite" may fly Aer Lingus too, and may end up in the seat beside Smart.

This goeth also for the money-lender who claimeth: “We’re backing brave.” To which the chief sub replieth: “We’re punishing semi-literate.” Say not that ye weren’t warned.

Shun too the double-negative, even if thou usest slang.

For the writer that useth a double negative may easily slip into a triple negative, and this leadeth only to trouble.

Consider the foolish man in scriptures who hath “been to the desert on a horse with no name”. Once there, he feeleth “good to be out of the rain”: fair enough. But then the man addeth, unwisely: “In the desert, you can remember your name/Cause there ain’t no-one for to give you no pain”.

If he leaveth it at just the two negatives (“ain’t no-one”) then, verily, his desert experience may indeed be anaesthethic.

But by adding a third (“no pain”), he implieth an imminent smiting. And for one of his other lines – “The first thing I met was a fly with a buzz” – he deserveth one.

Still with horseflesh, and deserts, use ye never the word “ass” as a polite alternative to “arse”.

For that was what the Americanites did in ages past.

And hath this not wrought only folly, leading them (and a blameless animal) astray?

Behold the Bible, 1 Samuel 25, wherein Abigail hath ridden into the wilderness to meet King David. Then, seeing him and his men, she is said to have “lighted off” her “ass”.

The scene involveth no loss of decorum in the original. But thanks to the Americanites, it soundeth rude now.

Beware also confusions, especially the word that soundeth like another. If thou meanest “defuse” (literally, “to remove the fuse”), for example, spell it not as “diffuse” (“to spread or scatter”). This is especially important if thou art writing a textbook on bomb disposal.

Avoid the word “ultimate” if, like that wretched sinner, the advertising copywriter, thou meanest something desirable.

For according to scriptures (OED), "ultimate" in fact meaneth "last, final, beyond which no other exists". Therefore if thou promotest something as an "ultimate holiday adventure", thou impliest the journey will be one-way, to the bourne from which no traveller returneth.


In like vein, call no man or woman a “postgraduate”,  no matter how well educated they be. For once a graduate, always a graduate.

Yea, if a graduate undertaketh further study, he or she becometh a postgraduate student for a period. But they remain mere graduates afterwards, verily, even if they be like unto the 1970s soul singer and have Three Degrees behind them.

Only if a well-educated person goes on the “ultimate holiday adventure” may the term postgraduate become appropriate.