This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Nuts and Bolts: the seal of authenticity.

A hobbit's will must be signed with the signatures of seven witnesses in red ink. That red ink, in particular, always seemed to me to be a very clever touch because of course it meant that people knew exactly what they were signing. 

(I suppose there's a book to be written about a wicked hobbit who invents a black ink which fades to red over time, but on the whole I hope no one writes it.)

Anyway, the thing that reminded me of hobbits' wills was a remark made by Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the US House of Representatives Oversight Committee '[I'm] going to get the Comey memo, if it exists' he said. '...I have my subpoena pen ready'.

Now, Mr Chaffetz's subpoena pen may be nothing more than a figure of speech, but it sounds like a good idea to me to have a special pen for important decisions, especially if it's kept locked up somewhere so you can't get at it in a hurry - and preferably requiring a very small key to open it that's impossible to manipulate when drunk. 

Of course there's a long history of extra security for authenticating documents. When Bad King John reluctantly agreed to go along with the list of demands on Magna Carta, he had to attach the impression of his Great Seal to prove he really had properly agreed to it:

Great Seal of King John

(though he still tried to wriggle out of the deal).

Similar seals have been used for thousands of years, This one:

is dated about 1,800 BC. It's hollow, shows the worship of the god Shamash, was probably worn on a string, and comes from Mesopotamia.

And it wasn't just ancient kings and priests who have been required to attached things to documents. From 1891 until 1964 in England all receipts for a value over £2 had to have a tupenny (two pence) postage stamp attached to it to make it valid in a court of law.

Now of course we have to make do with passwords and dongles and retinal scanners and fingerprint scanners and voice recognition and goodness knows what else. The codes for the USA's nuclear weapons are printed among random numbers on a credit card-type thing sealed inside a plastic case. It's changed daily, is carried upon the president's person, and is called, bafflingly 'the biscuit'.

All very secure, I suppose. But, I don't know, I might feel safer if the codes could only be triggered by seven signatures in red ink. 

Seven hobbits' signatures in red ink, preferably, too.

Word To Use Today: subpoena. This word is Latin for under penalty.

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