By Mary Bagg
My husband Bob, who is a poet and a translator of ancient Greek drama, got an email out of the blue yesterday inviting him to speak for an hour on 30 April 2012 at King’s College in London (Strand Campus) about a rather daunting topic, the “Mystery of Life and Death.” The person who wrote the letter, one “Prof. Christopher Orton,” said (among other things) that because Bob’s profile on the Poets & Writers website “was up to standard,” the college would take care of his plane fare, hotel accommodations, and a speaker’s fee. Orton urged Bob to reply quickly, and state the amount he wished to be paid. All for one hour’s work! This deal, of course, sounded somewhat suspicious, if not in the least because rarely are guest lecturers at an academic symposium chosen on the merits of their web profiles, no matter how spectacular, and, in any case, a symposium such as this one would likely have been booked months and months in advance. But the dead giveaway, at least for the editor in me, was the following: “We will be very glad to have such an outstanding person in our mist.”
London fog notwithstanding, this was a howler, and there were more typos to be found. In one paragraph the “Prof” wrote that arrangements would be discussed as soon as “you honour our invitation.” In the next paragraph he stated: “A formal Letter of invitation and Contract agreement would be sent to you as soon as you honor our Invitation.” Let’s ignore the odd locution and inconsistent capitalization. The difference between British and American spelling (honour and honor) suggests that someone on one side of the Atlantic might have been trying to impersonate someone on the other. The more obvious clue to the scam was that despite an accurate address and postal code for the Strand campus, the Prof sent this official announcement through a gmail account.
So what did the scammer hope to achieve by promising this all-expenses-paid invitation? Evidently a “processing fee” to facilitate the “Contract,” as Bob found out later from another poet friend who found notice of the “prank” on Facebook.
The moral of the story is not a new or terribly exciting one—if you want a letter (or an email) to be taken seriously you had better make a serious attempt to ensure that it is error free.
Which reminds me—and since I am “allowed” to digress in a blog, I will—of the recent fuss about Downton Abbey and some of the language-based gaffs the scriptwriters have let by, things that a person in England during World War I would never have said (for instance, the maid who shrugs her shoulders and says, “I’m just sayin’”). And that reminds me of reading what the British playwright Tom Stoppard said in an interview about Arcadia, a play in which the dialogue of Byron scholars from the nineteenth and twentieth century is juxtaposed: “It’s a great advantage and a bonus to have, really, two different languages—both of them English—in the same play.” That phenomenon, as this and On Point’s recent postings prove, happens in prose all the time, and in the same century, when the two English languages are British and American.
Another line from Arcadia stands out in my memory, and is especially relevant to our mission at Berkshire and to everyone in pursuit of knowledge: “It’s the wanting to know that makes us matter.”
I wonder what the guest speakers at King’s College will have to say about the mysteries of life and death?