Monthly Archives: May 2011

Polygamy: a tense moment

I’ve just stopped us from libelling an academic whose career we’re publishing a retrospective of. The original read:

…with his third wife, Dorothy (he had five by the end)…

Having the wrong number of ‘had’s is even worse than having the wrong number of wives: both can get you into legal trouble but the latter at least lets you have some fun along the way.

Twenty-Four episode 2: Bin and gone

It didn’t take long after today’s news for ‘Jack Bauer’ to start trending on Twitter. Which gave me the pretext to follow up my first episode about America’s finest special agent grammarian…

[Counter-Typo Unit, Los Angeles. Chloe O’Brian is reporting to CTU Director Bill Buchanan]

Chloe: Bill, it’s a coded message from Jack out in the field – he’s finally got Usama bin Laden!

Bill: What? Usama? But we sent him out after Osama!

Chloe: Come on, Bill, you know that while most of the media prefer to call him Osama, most government agencies transliterate the Arabic as Usama.

Bill: No, Chloe, it’s not that simple! We’ve had a double agent out there in Pakistan for some time now, under cover as ‘Usama bin Laden’. If Jack’s killed him instead…

Chloe: Look, it’s OK, Bill, the report Jack’s sent is clear. The man he killed is head of al Qaida.

Bill: Are you serious? Al Qaida? Bin Laden is head of al Qaeda, with an E. Al Qaida with an I is a small family firm that sells cuddly toys and oil over the internet.

[Tony Almeida, walking past, overhears and butts in]

Tony: Wait, is this for real?

Bill: Absolutely, al Qaeda.

Tony: Oh my god. You’ve not seen the latest intelligence. Al Qaeda is just a pensioners’ community football club in northern Pakistan. The terror network is al-Qaeda, with a hyphen!

Bill: A hyphen? This is worse than we thought. How the hell did this happen?

Chloe: I’m sorry, Bill, I guess I just didn’t think the hyphen was important.

Bill: Not important? Dammit, Chloe, things like this are exactly the reason we have a house style! That’s why we all go through the intensive Top Secret Spy Punctuation training! Look, I’m relieving you of duty. Bernard, get over here.

[Bernard Poddington comes over]

Bernard: Yes, sir?

Tony: I don’t think I know you, Bernard. Are you new here?

Bernard: That’s right, Mr Almeida. I’m a minor character and am probably going to get myself killed pointlessly before very long.

Tony: Well OK. But we’ve got a problem here. We need you to take over from Chloe, who can’t tell the difference between al Qaeda and al-Qaeda.

Bernard: Um…

Bill: What?

Bernard: Well, it’s just that we’re supposed to be tracking al-Qa’eda. With an apostrophe.

Tony: You’re kidding me.

Bernard: No, al-Qa’eda are the terrorists. Al-Qaeda is a hospital for orphans with serious but not disfiguring diseases. Those kids are adorable, you should see the pictures. Are you saying that’s what we’ve attacked?

Bill: I’m not listening to this any more. Chloe, get Jack on satellite phone. Now!

[Chloe gets Jack Bauer on satellite phone. Now]

Jack: What is it, Bill?

Bill: Jack, we’ve got some confusing intel on the exact identity of who you were supposed to be going after. First, can you confirm the name of the target?

Jack: It was Usama bin Laden for sure. I’ve just had confirmation on that from the FOX News camera crew that’s embedded with me.

Bill: Usama, with a U? Jack, listen to me. The guy we’re meant to target is Osama.

Jack: That’s a negative, Bill. Public enemy number one is Usama. Not, repeat, not, with an O. I ran the spellcheck over that sonofabitch a dozen times.

Bill: But how can you be sure?

Jack: Just turn on your TV.

Bill: Bernard?

[Bernard turns on the wall-mounted TV screen]

Crowds on TV: U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!

Jack: You hear that? They know how it’s spelt. They know we got him.

Bill: Well I’ll be damned. Jack, you’ve done it again! Bernard, can you turn the sound up a bit?

Bernard: Sure thing, Mr Buchanan, but after I’ve done that there’s something incredibly important I need to tell you.

[Bernard reaches up to adjust the volume. The screen falls off the wall and crushes him. Closing credits]