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  • Chris Morris

Anti-Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia




Barnaby Schultzwopper Eringifferdale Tweed Percy (Barnie for short) was a poet who once moved next door to a fellow writer named Charles Fletherson Twumbleton Ghort Blighterwack (his friends called him Charlie). The very fact that each man was furious that the other’s full title was precisely forty-four letters long is a testament to the short-lived and yet intense rivalry between the pair.


It began on the morning after Barnie had moved into his new abode. Charlie, having awoken earlier than the crowing cockerels and written an entire play – an amusing little farce about a lumberjack who had lost his favourite socks – was sitting comfortably upon his garden bench and smoking his pipe.


‘Hallo there!’ a voice called from the hedge separating Charlie’s garden from the next. Charlie glanced up to see the poet leaning on a shovel and gazing into his neighbour’s garden. ‘Why! If it isn’t the famous Charles Fletherson Twumble…’


‘Please!’ Charlie interrupted. ‘Call me Charlie.’


‘Charlie!’ Barnie beamed. ‘How are you upon this, the most beautiful of mornings?’


Charlie could not stop his mouth from forming the smallest yet most brazen of smirks.


‘Beautiful?’ he questioned. ‘One would have thought that a poet might have come up with a more sophisticated word than that to describe the morning. Especially one as talented as Mister Barnaby Schultzwopper Ering…’


‘Please, please!’ Barnie interrupted. ‘You simply must call me Barnie! And since you’ve requested a more pleasingly innovative way to describe it, may I comment on how delightfully divine the morning truly is?’


‘It’s remarkably resplendent!’ returned Charlie.


‘Beauteous!’


‘Enticing!’


‘Statuesque!’


‘Ravishing!’


‘Pulchritudinous!’


Each word from Barnie was akin to waking up to an unpleasant odour. Charlie had been known for many years as the finest wordsmith in town; he would rather eat nothing but lemon skins for the rest of his days than let this poet get the linguistic better of him.


‘Pulchritudinous, you say? My, my that’s an awfully long word. One imagines a fine poet such as yourself could find many words with which you could rhyme it? If one relies on their great fortitudinous.’


Barnie grinned and said: ‘The number would be far too multitudinous. The possibilities are simply latitudinous. But a poet denying this to his neighbour would be unscrupulous.’


Charlie, beginning to feel a fierce and powerful exasperation within him, decided to change the subject.


‘So, what brings you to this quaint little town?’


Expecting an ostentatious and lengthy reply to this question, Charlie was more than a little surprised when Barnie said:


‘Money.’


Charlie choked on the fumes from his pipe smoke. ‘Money?


‘Yes, my dear fellow!’ Barnie beamed. ‘You see, the people in this town are lovers of literature, worshippers of words, cognoscenti of compositions!


‘Aficionados, you might say,’ Charlie fired back, pleased with his ornate choice of word.


Continuing as though Charlie had not even spoken, Barnie said: ‘and so I wish to become their wordsmith of choice. The one they turn to for a journey into the realms of imagination, an escape from the dreary and often wearisome ways of their ordinary lives.’


‘And what makes you believe that you are the man to take over the job which I have been doing so eloquently for these past nine years?’ Charlie asked with a shade more irritation than he’d intended.


Barnie’s annoying smile broadened. ‘I am famous for using words of great length, and with great effect to match.’


‘Oh, really?’ Charlie raised a suspicious eyebrow. ‘Such as?’


‘Oh, you wouldn’t know the meaning of any of them,’ Barnie claimed.


‘Try me,’ Charlie insisted. ‘Give me a word of gargantuan size and I’ll expound it for you.’


‘Very well… Honorificabilitudinitatibus.’


Once again, Charlie choked on his pipe smoke. But this time, it was from laughter. Once he’d calmed enough to speak, he said: ‘You think that I, a playwright, and myself a fanatic of words of many letters, wouldn’t know the longest word that Shakespeare invented?’


And now Charlie could spot a small but definite look upon the face of his new neighbour and rival wordsmith which suggested annoyance.


‘Well then,’ Barnie said. ‘What does it mean?’


‘It refers to the state in which one can receive honours. Really, if that is your best effort I must regard this conversation as a floccinaucinihilipilification.’


‘Oh, bravo Sir, bravo,’ Barnie said with a tone of sarcasm. ‘Your long word suggests that this conversation is worthless. But I’d wager that your inability to use it properly in a sentence and then to fail to realise its full potential is just one of your many incomprehensibilities.’


‘On the note of incomprehensibilities,’ Charlie fumed. ‘Being a poet, one would assume you may often set your verses to music?’


‘With both regularity and fashionableness.’


‘Then I hope you would understand the difference between say, a crotchet and a quasihemidemisemiquaver?’


Now it appeared that it was Barnie’s turn to laugh. And he did so with rotund guffawing and hysterical glee. He wiped at his sweating brow with a dry handkerchief while also using it to dab at his waterlogged eyes.


‘What do you take me for!’ Barnie howled. ‘An amateur!? A dilettante?’


Charlie now threw his pipe to the grass at his feet and stood up before marching over to the hedge which separated the pair and puffing his proud chest outwards like some strange and wild bird squaring up to a rival. ‘Come then! Tell me what the difference is!’


‘A crotchet,’ Barnie said. ‘Is worth one beat. In a bar of common time, that is. It is better described as being one fourth of a whole note. While a quasihemidemisemiquaver is worth precisely one hundred and twenty-eighth that of a whole note. Not used very often, I must say, unless you’re Ludwig Van Beethoven.’


‘That’s it!’ Charlie yelled. ‘There’s only one way to settle this.’


‘A contest?’ Barnie suggested.


‘A composer’s combat!’


‘A storyteller’s skirmish!’


‘A battle of the bards!’


‘When?’ Barnie asked.


‘Tomorrow at noon,’ Charlie said.


‘Where?’ Barnie demanded.


‘The town square. Send notice.’


‘Very well. See you there.’


‘Very well!’


The contest was postponed. In an incredibly unlikely coincidence, both men were diagnosed with pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis. Charlie didn’t know what upset him more; the fact that he was ill, or that the illness only had one name and yet managed to be precisely one letter longer than his own full title.

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