Monday, 27 June 2011

The rise and fall of the Brigate Verdi

The expression ["the green ink brigade"] is the more-or-less affectionate description given by journalists and politicians to the people who write them eccentric letters, often in block capitals and frequently underlined in multicoloured inks. For some reason I have never heard satisfactorily explained, the most obsessive of these correspondents seem to prefer green.

Ian Aitkin, writing in the Guardian, 1985

The earliest citation Michael Quinion can find suggesting a link between green ink usage and  not being quite right in the head comes from 1953, in Kingsley Amis's Lucky Jim, in which the eponymous hero receives a series of letters “ill-written in green ink” from a correspondent who turns out to be a wrong 'un. Quinion doesn't know whether Amis invented the green ink meme, or whether green ink was already popularly associated with eccentricity.

If the whole thing did kick off with Amis, then it's had a lifespan of a couple of generations - which probably isn't bad for a neologism. I imagine that the phrase has already lost most of its traction in the age of digital communications. These days, if somebody's going to write an impassioned screed about how 9/11 was actually planned by Ann Widdecome in her days as a sleeper agent for Mossad, or how the earth is, in reality, shaped like a massive toblerone bar, a discovery that's being suppressed by a sinister cabal of geography teachers, the warning signs have less to do with the colour of the message than with the exuberant use OF random CAPITALS along with MULTIPLE exclamation marks!!!!!

Sadly, the "Random Caps Brigade" doesn't have quite the same ring to it.