How many academics are frustrated novelists, poets and literati? How many attempt to vent this frustration with literary flourishes in articles and books? It may be a sentence like this: ‘His work is sui generis, a tumbling stream of consciousness that swishes and swirls in egregious eddies around its slippery subject’. Or it may be, ‘She is inevitably outdone by doughty defenders of the sublime sanctuary of the book, who intone the inscrutable inheritance of tract scribblers and podium pounders who fulminated and fumed against the trespasses of modern thought’. Or one can write like a fish: ‘I love to swim straight out into the middle of the ocean, but this is often curtailed by grinning great white pointers and assorted cousins. I can go from 0 to 70 kilometres per hour faster than a Porsche and with better brakes’.

In this respect the wordsmith is like the journalist who loves to produce bad puns and excruciating alliteration. Go to any newspaper and you are bound to find examples such as ‘Rudd Wreaks Revenge’, or ‘Finding Mojo: How Mothers Can Get Their Groove Back’, or ‘Arbib Pitches for a Sporting Life’, or ‘Bronto Burger off the Stone Age Menu’ (reporting that a new fast-food chain, Paleo, ‘takes inspiration from the Stone Age to create primal gastronomy’), or ‘Mariners Slip Off the Hook’, or ‘Champagne Flows as Local Drop Loses Its Sparkle’. All these come from one issue of one newspaper.

What is it with the wordsmith? Is there a string of rejected novels or poems? Is there an unhealthily high sense of self-importance that makes the wordsmith feel he or she is better than the novels studied over the years? Has someone, a kindergarten teacher perhaps, said, ‘you write really well’? (The teacher meant handwriting …) Is the wordsmith really a sadist out to inflict untold suffering on his or her many few readers? Or is the wordsmith just a hack whose scribbled lines should best be bundled into a plastic bag, brick attached, and dumped in the bay?