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A clanger is an unfortunate verbal mishap (usually in spoken language). So called because when it’s committed it’s as if the words hit the floor with a loud “clang”. These can be amusing (the focus of this column) or they can be embarrassing, even painful. Other words closely related to “clanger” are “howler” and “gaffe”. I prefer clanger, because it has a nice metaphorical edge to it, but gaffe is especially appropriate for those occasions when one says something and then realises one’s brain has taken an unauthorised coffee-break. Mention of which, before I proceed, reminds me of a lovely pun (play on words) I encountered the other day. Hobbling along the road I passed a van owned by a company that delivers coffee and coffee-making equipment to restaurants and cafes. The name of the company was “Break Fluid.” Isn’t that neat? I shall now confess two of my most memorable clangers. Once in a telephone conversation I asked a cousin about the well-being of her husband: “How’s my great buddy, David?”, forgetting she had recently divorced David and was now engaged to a Trevor. Another time I shocked friends I was dining with at the Trading Post, Roma, when we were discussing Mary, Queen of Scots, and I came up with a witty remark, “She wasn’t the brightest Queen on the block”, forgetting that “block” refers not only to a section of a city street (“brightest kid on the block” is a well-known saying) but also to the executioner’s block of the kind Elizabeth I had Mary beheaded on. So my friends thought my remark was more heartless than I’d intended. Ouch. Another confession now, not in respect of a laughable clanger, because there is nothing funny about it, but a serious error made in my writing, which I now want to clear up, in case I’ve led my readers astray. Some weeks ago my column featured a piece in which I identified Wole Soyinka as the first African to win the Nobel Prize for Literature (in 1986). When I sent a copy of my column to the eminent scholar of African literature Bernth Lindfors (none such scholar more eminent) he pointed out that Albert Camus had won the prize in 1957, nearly thirty years before Soyinka, and Camus was an Algerian. I should have known this, as I’ve read practically the whole of Camus and have frequently argued that you can’t fully understand his work—his particular take on existential philosophy—without taking into account the fact that he was Algerian. Bernth also noted that Claude Simon, who won the prize in 1985, was born in Madagascar, and added, on a satirical note, that I could have said that Soyinka was the first person to win the prize who was born in Abeokuta (a town in south-west Nigeria. Soyinka’s autobiographical book about growing up in Abeokuta, Ake: The Years of Childhood, is one of the most beautiful works in the whole of African literature). I stand corrected and hope that my long-suffering editor will not reduce my fee on account of my carelessness. Back now to the kind of clanger that provokes a giggle. My favourite type of clanger is that made by sports commentators on television or radio. These are often comments that are self-contradictory or that state the blindingly obvious. Now I appreciate that the job of a sports commentator requires great skill: they have to keep up with the rapid pace of a football match or a horse race and verbalise what is going on in the larger context of the game / race as it happens. Nonetheless, one can legitimately have some fun at their expense when they drop a clanger. The following three masterpieces I have taken from a UK newspaper, which carries a regular item titled “Great sporting insights.” “It was a superb performance that came from the way they performed.” “There’s definitely another goal coming in this game, but who’s going to get it? If there is one.” (The problem there is the introduction of the idea “definitely” and its immediate abandonment. The following gem is similar.) “Sacking Solskjaer is absolutely what the board might do. Possibly.” And here’s another that I picked up watching a recent Manchester United / Manchester City match: “You can’t score a goal unless you have possession of the ball.” Then there was the late, great Brian Johnston, who clanged his way through half a century of BBC radio commentaries. His most celebrated disaster was a jewel of a clanger dropped during a cricket commentary, when he announced the names of the players who had just taken the field: “The batsman’s Holding the bowler’s Willy.” Realising what he’d said, he shrieked with laughter and fell off his chair. Finally, a clanger from the BBC’s John Arnott, which needs some contextual information. Oxford and Cambridge are the two oldest universities in England (not in the UK, as the oldest of all is St. Andrews in Scotland). Cambridge was set up as a break-away or dissident university from Oxford, which is why Oxford graduates (like me) refer to it snootily as The Other Place). Every year on the River Thames there is a boat race between the two universities (and bear in mind that these are the only two universities that take part in what is one of the major events in the British sporting calendar). Here is Arnott’s commentary on one race: “It is SO close! The two boats are neck and neck! How thrilling! There are just inches between them! How close can you get? I can’t tell you who’s in front, but it’s either Oxford or Cambridge!” Chris Dunton

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