A letter, recently arrived:
In my professional capacity as a lexicographer (a role I have held for some forty-seven years) I am obliged to inform you that your much-repeated tale concerning one Johannes Speyer and the murder of a largely innocent magpie [see here] bears the unfortunate mark of falseness. Far be it from me to confirm that you are hell bent on deception: mad things do happen in this world of ours, and maybe (just maybe) this was one of them. The chances, nevertheless, are slimmer than a Slovakian sausage. Let me tell you why.
First, I put to you a question: have you ever had recourse to fling, throw or toss a lexicon? If so, you will know that, of all books, they are not especially conducive to being projected. Pitch a paperback, by all means. Cast forth a work of classic fiction. Hurl and heave your average hard-back, should you please. It can be done. But a lexicon? To launch a lexicon is no easy feat. I have lobbed many a lexicon, in my time, and trust me: it takes all the guile and might that a literary man (or woman, for that matter) can muster.
Provided you have the requisite strength to send a lexicon flying, there remains the issue of direction. Is it really possible to sling a lexicon at something in particular? Say, a bird? This, now, is really testing the boundaries of one’s imagination. Magpies are, I think it is fair to say, quick on their feet. What’s more, they have wings. For these reasons, and more besides, it takes more than a good aim to hit a magpie, let alone to hit one with a lexicon. In the course of a long and mildly illustrious career I have impelled no less than fifty lexicons in the direction of a quick-footed bird – and I have never hit, let alone killed, a single winged creature. On several of these occasions I was, admittedly, somewhat intoxicated. On others, however, it is fair to say that I had will on my side. I sought to destroy those birds, and could not complete the task. I could not even come close.
And here you are claiming that Speyer, a mere lexicon owner, murdered a magpie with his first shot! The idea is a proposterous one. I sincerely doubt he got within three feet of the blessed bird. He’d have been lucky, I suggest, to have grazed a feather. Only a highly-skilled lexicon dislodger could have acheived such a feat, and I think it very unlikely that Speyer was one of that number. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that I think the whole story a fanciful concoction, dreamed up by a feather-brained professor with nothing better to do.
Yours in eternal doubt,
Lars Groot, (Chief Lexicographer, Babel Library)
I am, needless to say, considering my reply carefully.