Tamuno stared wistfully at the letter on his desk. It was inside a white envelope that bore the company’s logo.
He has not been himself since one of the HR officers delivered the letter to him at exactly 4:45pm. The letter completely rattled him. It was the last thing he expected after all the assurances that he got.
It was getting close to 5:00pm, the official closing time of the company. But he was in no hurry to go home on that particular day. He was lost in thought.
He had a good reason to be worried. In the last few days, employees of the company have been receiving sack letters from HR. No less than 80 employees in the organisation that has a staff strength of about 200, have been affected by the ongoing retrenchment exercise…
Finally, Tamuno summoned enough courage to open the letter. His hands shook like a leaf as he did so.
The letter was terse.
Dear Mr. Tamuno,
Consequent on the restructuring exercise embarked upon by the organisation, I have the pleasure to inform you that you have been elevated to the position of Financial Controller with effect from 1st March.
It is the hope of Management that you will see your new appointment as a challenge to redouble your efforts in the face of the daunting business environment in which we operate.
Please accept the assurances of my highest esteem.
The letter was signed by the Human Resources Director.
Tamuno nearly passed out with relief when he finished reading the letter that had got him so worked up.
Then he burst into laughter.
A certain middle-aged man—a professional philologist—was brought before a judge for parking his weather-beaten car on a restricted street right in front of a sign forbidding parking.
After the charges were read out to him in the crowded traffic court by the pompous, pot-bellied court clerk that hot afternoon, the man pleaded not guilty.
Maintaining perfect composure as he stood in the dock, the man carefully explained that he was not extracting ore from underneath the street as insinuated by the prosecution. To prove his case beyond reasonable doubt, he pleaded that the said sign be tendered as material evidence.
Completely befuddled just like everyone else at this seemingly idiotic explanation and quite amused to say the least by the strange request, the judge, who is reputed for being a stickler for discipline, nevertheless concurred. He permitted himself the luxury of a fleeting indulgent smile, the type reserved for slow-witted transgressors of the law that he often had to deal with.
When the sign was brought in, the defendant triumphantly pointed out that it read: “No Stoping” and stoping, he was able to prove with the help of an unabridged dictionary (p.2, 485, Webster’s New International), means “extracting ore from a stope, or loosely, underground.”
“Your honour,” said the defendant, “I am a law-abiding citizen. When I saw that sign I noted it carefully. And being a law-abiding citizen, I said to myself, ‘Bill, whatever you do, don’t extract any ore—it’s against the law.’ Judge, I didn’t do stoping—and I move the case be dismissed.”
At that, the judge decided that the defendant had indeed lived up to the letter of the law—the single letter—and dismissed the case.
That was how the man was saved by his impressive knowledge of the dictionary. A wrongly spelt word can certainly have dramatic consequences when used creatively by an expert.