Well, the US presidential election is in its final month at last. Will any of us sleep safely in our beds again?

History has been full of people who have hedged their bets and emulated the venerable Vicar of Bray. And in smaller ways, politicians are doing it all the time. Saying things that don’t actually say too many things in case they be accused of actually saying things they don’t want to be heard actually to be saying. This is the art of amphibology: deliberately using ambiguous word order or double-meanings to equivocate and remain rooted to the fence. It’s quite a fun spectator sport. So for this week’s Friday Fun, here are a couple of fun historical examples – one from the US civil war, and the second from the post-Jacobite Irish Rebellion in 1798. They’re both taken from the sublime Bombaugh

An American Triple Platform

You don’t have to know too much about this to get the idea. It’s very clever (if you don’t believe me, try creating one yourself). This is an American platform arranged to suit all parties:

  • The first column is the Secession case (ie the argument that the Southern States used to break away from the union)
  • The second column is the Abolition platform (ie those especially in the North calling for the abolition of slavery)
  • Then read the whole together: and you will find the case for preserving the Union.

Loyal to the Crown or the Uprising?

This piece of amphibology was circulated among the United Irishmen, previous to the Rebellion of 1798.

  • First, read the lines as they stand
  • Then read according to the numerical order

1. I love my country — but the king,
3. Above all men his praise I sing,
2. Destruction to his odious reign,
4. That plague of princes, Thomas Paine,’
5. The royal banners are displayed,
7. And may success the standard aid
6. Defeat and ruin seize the cause
8. Of France her liberty and law

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