October 19, 2005

Innocent Bongo

Since I am residing in Cambridge (Massachusetts) at the moment on sabbatical leave, I was the obvious choice to represent Language Log at the Ig Nobel Prizes awards ceremony earlier this month in Harvard's Sanders Theater. I did go. It is important that the organizers should know that their support comes not only from the ragtag band of tired old Nobel Prize-winning scientists who obligingly join the platform party each year, but also from really serious and important organizations like Language Log. We support them because if it were not for the Ig Nobel committee the business of bring science into disrepute by publishing amusing nonsense would be left almost entirely to BBC science reporters.

For me, the greatest pleasure in the ceremony was to find that the Ig Nobel Literature Prize had been awarded to such a worthy group of recipients: "the Internet entrepreneurs of Nigeria." (They were announced as "unable, or unwilling, to be with us here tonight.") They have indeed done astonishing work. It is not too much to say that they have tarnished the whole field of creative writing (not to mention the name of Nigeria; spam filters will ditch a message for just mentioning the N-word, so the entrepreneurs are now cycling through the names of various West African countries). Do you want to know the name of the latest literary genius who has written to me to try and get help in extracting a windfall from an account in Cote d'Ivoire? His name is Innocent Bongo. I am not kidding. I know I have often been guilty of posting hoax material and random humorous nonsense on Language Log, but I swear I am not making this up. A confidence trickster named Innocent Bongo wants me to help shift 18 million bucks of his father's lifetime savings into the USA via my Harvard credit union account. "I am soliciting for your assistance," he says, "to help me lift this money out from Abidjan to your safe account abroad so that we should invest it in any meaningful lucrative business in your country because this is my only hope in life." Don't underestimate your life's prospects, Mr Bongo. Whether you know it or not, you are the co-recipient of an Ig Nobel prize.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at October 19, 2005 09:26 PM