There's a large graffiti 'installation' by a canal near my Oxford house. It reads: ETHNIC CLEANING - BEWARE!
It's fascinating how just leaving out that one sibilant and sinister 's' changes everything. Ethnic cleaning sounds like a useful dry cleaning service for berkas, dhotis, and saris, which ethnic cleansing demeans unwanted races to the status of stains on your clothes that need removing. Dehumanising the other - as the Nazis attempted to do in their 1930s propaganda before most of the real persecution began - is an essential first step and tool of oppression.
Language was what it took to unhinge Zinedine Zidane. He'd more or less survived the sticks and stones of Italian tackling, but the words (or reputed words) of defender Materazzi were too much for him to bear. If one takes language seriously enough - as we should - the Italian should also receive a red card. Naturally, this would involve a new kind of footballing referee - the professional lip reader - to become an essential match assistant.
The war on racism in football has been fairly successful in the UK, but is still sadly far behind in, say, the Balkans and more alarmingly, modern Spain and Italy.
Another example of how one letter can make all the difference is the naming coincidence of two popular musicians - Bryan Adams and Ryan Adams. The former is a highly successful and rather middle-of-the-road Canadian rocker whose Everything I Do (I do it for you) remained at the top of the charts for many weeks on the back of its tie-in to the movie Robin Hood, Prince Of Thieves (1991).
The other is a younger, alt. country musician whose two albums, Heartbreaker and Gold took music aficionados by storm in the early part of this century, displaying a dazzling command of styles from country to rock to blues to balladeering.
For me, the world divides clearly into those who like Bryan and those who prefer Ryan. Another convenient division is between those who don't know either, and those who do. If you're a music fan, there's no question.
Put on - or download - Track 6 of Love Is Hell tonight and you'll see what I mean. Or Track 14 of Heartbreaker, one of only two songs I know where a banjo is not only acceptable, but also truly moving.
Whoops - I gave it away. It's Ryan, not Bryan. Funny how one letter can divide two worlds.
Originally published: Fri 28 Jul 2006