Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Prose to Die for, by the Spade-Ful

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Prose to Die for, by the Spade-Ful

Article excerpt

Untold riches could be yours with academics' secret codex. Les Gofton gets a head start.

Stylish Academic Writing

By Helen Sword

Harvard University Press, 240pp, Pounds 16.95

ISBN 9780674064485

Published 26 April 2012

I told you to keep that Sword dame away from me, precious." Dr Tim Spade, research fellow in neurofractal entropy at the University of Dudley, leaned back in his chair and furtively blew the smoke from his last Philip Morris out of the window.

His harassed secretary, Zelda Admin, ignored the rebuke. "It's not Ms Sword, Dr Spade - there's someone else waiting." She waved a file under his nose - an enticing fragrance filled his left nostril.

"Mmm, Snopake," he grinned. "In with him, darling ..."

Joel Biro, a small, overdressed dandy with an indeterminate middle- European accent, slithered up to the desk. "Dr Spade, I wonder if I can interest you in an enterprise which might be of some benefit not only to you and I, but to the academic world in general? I understand that you have had a visit from a person who wished to engage your services in pursuit of, shall we say, the vade mecum for all academics, the Holy Grail, the Golden Fleece, the ..."

Spade cut him off. "Enough of the hyperbole already, boychik. You're talking about the secret of stylish academic writing, recently discovered in the Antipodes, and brought back to these parts by a team of international smugglers!"

Biro flourished some gloves, produced from his pocket for the purpose. "Of that I know nothing. Do you understand what this secret is?"

Spade shook his head.

"Back in the 20th century," Biro continued, "in a time before writing as we know it evolved, there was a secret codex, possessed only by a mysterious group of academic writers known as 'The Fountainpen Heads'. The art and craft of this sacred order was contained on a jewel-encrusted icon, periodically worshipped in their arcane rites. As the present age of text and type took hold, they decided to disguise this precious object by covering its golden face, and the secrets emblazoned on it, with paint. It became - The Black Board!"

Biro mopped his brow with a convenient mop. "She who possesses the secrets of the codex," he leaned across Spade's desk conspiratorially, "could amass untold riches: citations aplenty, and the prospect of academic immortality ..."

Spade cut him off. "Not interested, Jackson; take your unlikelihoods back to Weimar, and tell the Fat Man 'no sale'. …

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