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What are they on about?

David Newnham decodes an important email from 1938

Imagine if email had been invented in the 1930s, then picture this scene. The press are assembled. Enter Neville Chamberlain, the prime minister.

"I have in my hand," he says, holding aloft several pieces of foolscap, "the print-out of a message from Herr Hitler." He starts to read.

"From: . LESS THAN LESS THAN fuhrer@reichstag.gov.ger

To: . LESS THAN LESS THAN nevicham@freeserve.co.uk

. Subject: peace in our time. Date: Wed, 29 Sept 1938 16:46:12 +0100. MIME-Version: 1.0 X-Priority: 1 X-MSMail-Priority: Normal X-MimeOLE: V4.33.3110.2I" Reporters shuffle and clear their throats. The PM, clearly embarrassed, adjusts his spectacles in an effort to see the minute type that seems to trail on forever. Sweating profusely, he carries on: "Hi AdolfI" before breaking off abruptly. "Er, sorry. That was my message to Herr Hitler. Here it is. I've found it at last. He saysI" But the rest is history.

Anyone who has waded through lines of technical email waffle in search of a two-word message will recognise the problem. The odd thing is that emails are supposed to be slick and quick, leanand mean.

Frequent users no longer bother with capital letters, greetings, sign-offs and all the time-consuming niceties of conventional letters. Instead they pour out their ideas, and express their moods using smiley sideways faces put together thus :-) out of now-redundant punctuation marks.

Yet these snappy communications are frequently buried between layers of technical garbiage (like verbiage, only utter rubbish).

So what is all that nonsense? In the days of pen and ink, it might have read:

"From: Tommy Tucker, 3 Winstanley Rd, Shrewsbury, Salop. To: Auntie Flo, Mapledean, 11 Victoria St, Worthing, Sussex. Subject: Birthday present. Date 28 June, 1958. Six o'clock in the evening. Second attempt (first version contained crossings-out). Written with Parker fountain pen in Quink turquoise washable ink on Basildon Bond. Posted: corner of Acacia Avenue, teatime. Collected by: Andrew Collins. Sorted by: Michael Penrose at Shrewsbury. Placed on 10.34 to London, hauled by 4-6-2 locomotive No 45309 Princess Beatrice, driven by . . ."

Did Tommy need this nonsense to thank his auntie for a book token?

Don't bother replying.

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