From firstname.lastname@example.org Tue Oct 21 09:15:31 1997
Subject: Archive Material
From: email@example.com (Peter Hipwell)
Date: Tue, 21 Oct 1997 16:15:31 GMT
Here's some old stuff I found, which you probably haven't seen before,
and probably won't read now. Oh well.
This started off as something else, then it suddenly became THIS. That
stuff that it was going to be about turned out to be EVEN MORE idiotic
than this has turned out to be. Now, I don't really need an excuse,
other than saying "Bob" or poking my tongue out, or pretending that
I'm just such a LOVEABLE OLD PRANKY WANKY WACKY DIPSTER that I don't
care -- which I'm not, and don't. But what if I did? Is "Bob" REALLY a
good excuse? Here's the competition.
EXCUSE #1: "I didn't do it ON PURPOSE."
Obviously, this excuse suggests that the whatever the now-dubiously
valuable action in question was, it was purposeless. Given that this
classification covers a large realm of human behaviour, it will be
impossible for me to provide a totally adequate summary of this
concept, but there are a few worthwhile notes to be made.
Firstly, (1), the denial of purpose reduces the offender to the level
of a non-goal-driven inanimate, such as a horseshoe that an
incompetent farrier has put a policeman's horse that flies off
unexpectedly when the horse rears because a lunatic has just prodded
it with a toasting fork and sails across the road, braining a
white-haired old granny that is taking her poodle for a walk: which is
just one of the many futile deaths imaginable that I have
imagined. The obvious consequence of which is that the excuse-giver
should be treated appropriately as a non-goal-driven inanimate and
nailed into place securely to prevent them purposelessly repeating the
Secondly, (2), the excuse is ambiguous, also conveying the impression
that, on purpose, the excuse-giver did not carry out some action. So
clearly it stinks.
Thirdly, (3), the phrase "I didn't do it off purpose" is
ungrammatical, as is "I didn't do it on unpurpose". I don't see why
this should be, but presumably there is some kind of reason for it,
because otherwise we'd have to believe that language is only a
partially systematic ragbag of heuristic devices cobbled together from
random spurts of intuition that have been haphazardly piled up on top
of one another over thousands of years, which would deliver a sharp
blow to the very concept that excuses deliver any kind of exculpation
other than a ritualistic weaselling actuated only when some miscreant
is backed into a corner.
EXCUSE #2: "It wasn't DELIBERATE."
It is possible to carry out an action on purpose, but not
deliberately, i.e. using deliberation. This, at least, was the
argument used by the defense council in that remarkable case of 1777,
wherein Lord Peregrine Thwackery prosecuted a "small, impudent
cumulonimbus". The case is historically notable, being the penultimate
example of an inanimate object being charged within the English legal
system (the last two examples being "Spanwick vs. Marsh Gas" in 1794,
and "Spanwick vs. Misconceptions", also in 1794, both of which were
responsible for important precedents being laid down).
The cloud was accused of spoiling one of Thwackery's legendary nude
boar hunting expeditions by uncovering the sun without permission,
"behaviour indecorous and brash above its station". The sudden burst
of light startled both "quarry and quarrier", the result of which was
a rapid unhorsing, an equally rapid outburst of "robust, voluble
ejaculations" directed Canute-wise to meteorological factors, and a
hideous buttock tusking. Although it did not turn up in court, it was
defended in absentia by the Hon. Bernard Spivey-Knowlton, a notorious
dandy with a taste for frivolity and poisoning whores. Spivey-Knowlton
stated that although the cloud may have carried out the action on
purpose, probably moving away from the sun to avoid being permanently
scorched on the rear, it certainly had not moved deliberately,
"deliberation of the results of its thoughtless action here being
impossible, for the faculty of ratiocination is absent in all such
vaporous masses as have so far been examined, notwithstanding the
existence of judicial proceedings". For this, Justice Postlethwaite
would have ruled Spivey-Knowlton in contempt of court, but the wily
man argued that he hadn't meant to be contemptuous deliberately. The
cloud was dismissed with a fine of a guinea.
EXCUSE #3: "I was only TRYING TO BE HELPFUL."
Where help is not requested, the actions of one who shoves their oar
in are, indeed, trying. Curiously, there is no excuse that "I was only
SUCCEEDING TO BE HELPFUL'', even though a display of superior
competence is eminently resentable.
EXCUSE #4: "I did it BY MISTAKE."
Anyone can make a mistake. Some people seem to make a habit out of
it. And I personally know people whose every action is a mistake of
some kind. Obviously, they shouldn't be able to get away with anything
more idiotic than normal by pleading this as an excuse. And if "anyone
can make a mistake", then to admit having done so is to debase
yourself to the level of the lowest common denominator, to admit that
you class yourself along with the least functional types of human
being. That's not an excuse: you deserve everything you get.
Because mistakes are generally thought to be directly attributable to
the inadequacies of individuals, in present times it is thought vulgar
and irresponsible to admit to making them. Luckily, most important
mistakes are made within the context of such complicated social
constructs that they evaporate by being divided across the shoulders
of a number of people, each of whom bears a tiny portion of blame, but
not enough to actually cause any physical or psychological discomfort.
EXCUSE #5: "I didn't MEAN TO."
A close analysis of things that people "mean to do" shows that such
actions are not, in fact, "done" in the overwhelming majority of
cases. This, in turn, suggests the hypothesis that the correlation
between meaning and doing actions is not a particularly strong one:
this is strengthened by the observation that many of our deeds are
"meaningless" (see also EXCUSE #1).
However, this is disputed by Sarah Puce, the celebrated Drambuie's
Professor of Moral Effort at Wholesales College, Oxford, who argues
that the meaning of a deed is, indeed, that which is meant-to-be-done,
viz. to deem that the needed meaning metes deep need of demonstrably
made meantness is a needful mode of neat deeds done on the basis of
the denotation of purely subjective attributions to quasi-animate
characteristics that impel the substitution of a symbolic reprographic
infolding iconolclasm that is, itself, manipulated as part of the
overall nexus of actionic potentialization first localizable as a
stream of iterated intercalation that constitutes the interpretability
of social effects. But it seems that this definition doesn't do very
EXCUSE #6: "I APOLOGIZE."
In this situation, the excuse does not rely on any disingenious
dismissal of one's own competence, merely an acknowledgment that
either (a) no competence was present, or (b) that such competence as
was displayed was misapplied, i.e. was reflexively damaging to the
applicant during its application . In either case, maximal culpability
is admitted, and this situation should be exploited to the full by the
recipient of such pathetic grovelling.
EXCUSE #7: "I did it BY ACCIDENT."
Accidents are responsible for some great discoveries. When an accident
is fortuitious, it is dignified by the resplendent sounding label of
"serendipity". When it is not fortuitous, it is christened with mirth:
the accident has been one of the richest sources of comedic pleasure
in human history, along with deformity and torture. Entertainment
based on sophisticated and highly contrived enactments of blatantly
preposterous accidental situations is revered as art by many humans,
who also adopt such performances as the basis of many of their social
As the saying goes, "accidents will happen". Accidents are
supernatural forces, unstoppable, unconquerable, and above all,
occurring at random. If accidents were avoidable, they would not be
accidents: they would be members of the commonplace "cockup"
species. An accident is unpredictable, playing hob with puny human
conceptions of mastery over circumstance. Accidents frequently "wait
to happen", and this circumspection on their part is one of the most
important factors that allow our fantasies of an ordered existence to
Clearly, with this kind of revered pedigree, this is one of the most
acceptable of all excuses: and the connection of this excuse to "Bob"
"The interrogative mode is one of civilized man's most effective
devices for putting the other fellow on the defensive." -- George A. Miller