There are certain things that you would not consider as an ability, had it not been for the circumstances in which these things manifested themselves. The ability to swear may not be particularly bad in itself, but to swear in an exam in my times would earn you nothing but a zero mark (and very possibly, a long talk in the headmistress’s room).
I graduated from school in 1997, so it is certainly pleasing to see that in 11 years, in another country things have changed almost dramatically. The Times report that a London pupil answered “f*** off” when asked to describe the room he was sitting in. He gained 2 out of 27 marks, and, in the words of the Chief Examiner, could scored even more. The answer “does show some very basic skills we are looking for – like conveying some meaning and some spelling, …; shows some nominal skills but no relevance to the task. If it had had an exclamation mark it would have got a little bit more because it would have been showing a little bit of skill“.
As much as I am tempted to decry this decision, I also think that it shows some sense of humour on the part of the examiners. And hey, the note on the skill very much pleases my inner Oscar Wilde. You should only swear when you’ve got no other words left to use – and you should do so in good taste, that is, conveying the full range of thought and emotion involved. In short, don’t just mumble a swearing word – exclaim it!
Speaking of abilities… “Ability” is synonymous to “gift”. We heard earlier about Prince William receiving his RAF Wings, and now, following the reports about the cost of his helicopter flights, the MoD asserted that Flying Officer Wales “displayed natural flying ability“. I can’t help but noting this because “a natural flying ability”, instead of highlighting William’s skill, may rather be interpreted as that we may be in for more chopper flights expenses – for how can you possibly restrict anyone in expressing their natural gift?? Some can argue that monarchy, in the end, is about the ability to spend (or to distribute and receive gifts). However, in the age of taxpayers’ carefully counting every penny, monarchy will have to be about smart spending – and by the sound of the media reaction, “natural flying ability” may be too expensive. This is not to say that this ability should not be; but I think the MoD could certainly convey their meaning better.