Thomas Mathew writes from London: No sooner had the government allowed the Royal Mail to put up the price of a first class postage stamp to 60 pence, or what used to be known as 12 shillings, in order to increase revenue and thereby the profits of the Royal Mail, when all of a sudden the powers that be realised that this price increase will have the reverse effect. It will increase the volume of electronic mail dramatically.
During the last general election the New Tories promised that, if they were to come to power they would abolish spin that had been introduced by New Labour. Unfortunately, even though Tony Blair and his sidekick Gordon Brown had managed to bankrupt the British economy, while everyone was looking, members of the current unelected coalition, being unfit for purpose, are too frightened to inform the electorate of the impending financial disaster that now awaits the Royal Mail after its decision to price itself out of the market.
The sneaks have woken up too late to the fact that this latest government policy is ill thought out. So they have once again decided to try to instil even greater fear into the electorate. Hence the announcement by Home Secretary Theresa May that she is going to introduce emergency legislation, at a cost of £2 billion, to allow Britain’s spy centre known as GCHQ in Cheltenham to intercept every email in order to supposedly track down murderers, terrorists and paedophiles. In truth, the powers that be are hoping that the inflation busting increase for first class stamps will seem a bargain to those who wish to send hand-written or typed private letters securely through the Royal Mail.
Sadly, since the introduction of text messaging from mobile telephones the majority of the population no longer knows how to write a letter or indeed the meaning of the majority of words they use in their very limited vocabulary. Prior to New Labour coming to power the average person’s vocabulary was 2,800 words. I understand that this figure has now dropped to 1,960 words.
The Second Edition of the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary (OED) contains full entries for 171,476 words in current use, and 47,156 obsolete words. To this may be added around 9,500 derivative words included as sub-entries. Over half of these words are nouns, about a quarter adjectives, and about a seventh verbs; the rest is made up of exclamations, conjunctions, prepositions, suffixes, etc. And these figures don’t take account of entries with senses for different word classes (such as noun and adjective).
This suggests that there are, at the very least, a quarter of a million distinct English words, excluding inflections and words from technical and regional vocabularies not covered by the OED. Or words not yet added to the published dictionary, of which perhaps 20 per cent are no longer in current use. If distinct senses were counted, the total would probably approach three quarters of a million.
It therefore seems unlikely that the ConDem coalition’s threat to intercept every email is going to have the desired effect and persuade the majority to once again learn the art of writing letters. As to the ability of the Home Office staff to be able to decipher semi-literate emails in their quest to catch potential murderers, terrorists and paedophiles, it does not bear thinking about when they have not yet arrested some pretty high profile war criminals and even paedophiles.
It seems to me that the only method left to protect our privacy is once again to start using carrier pigeons to deliver our messages, safely and securely.