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Gordon Robinson | The essence of dishwashing

Published:Tuesday | December 10, 2019 | 12:00 AM

Across the heavens on the outskirts of a Galaxy far, far away, citizens of fantasyland Apocrypha were in turmoil.

Violent crime had reached runaway proportions. Nothing government tried, including some extremely repressive policies, seemed to work. Economic growth couldn’t be found with a search warrant, and public service corruption had risen to epidemic proportions, resulting in the resignation of two government ministers. But none of these things were trending on Twatter, Apocrypha’s most popular social media platform. Instead, Apocryphans were incensed by the temerity of a Creative Arts student who used the words ‘blood cloth’ in his valedictory address.

In a nation with blood literally running down streets and gullies, the valedictorian advised his audience to uplift themselves by becoming blood cloths, perhaps to assist in crime reduction by figuratively cleaning up the blood being spilled. His creative use of metaphor came across like a lead balloon and high society excoriated him, especially on Fastybook and Twatter.

The matter became so widely controversial that Education Minister Kold Swapamood was forced to decide whether to publicly condemn the student. He didn’t want to get involved, especially as he’d just openly reprimanded a teacher for verbally threatening a disrespectful student, but the issue had become, like dengue, viral. So he went to Oma for advice.

Regular readers remember Oma D’unn, who, despite his PhD in logic, was like a moon, bright only in the dark. Still, he had a knack of solving political problems by parable. Oma was a former finance minister but retired from politics and opened his own consultancy firm called ‘Oma Unsacked’. It began as a hobby with one ‘customer’, his friend and political opponent R.U. Shaw (named for a man whose initials were ‘GBS’ and, when asked “Are you Shaw?” replied, “My dear old thing, I’m certain of nothing”) but grew into big business and attracted persons of all political, religious and social standings.

Kold asked Oma what he should say about the valedictorian: “I don’t want to say anything because I’ll offend too many Apocryphans no matter what I say. But I have to say SOMETHING!”

Oma told him to buy a dishwasher. Kold didn’t understand, so Oma told him the story of the famous NASA engineer:

“John had revolutionised NASA operations by his research into chemical reactions that led to improvements in the construction materials used for satellites and spaceships to ensure safe space travel, communication without interference, and uncomplicated return to Earth’s atmosphere.

His old school chum, Wendell, hadn’t been as fortunate, mainly due to his high-school choice of football over academics, which backfired when he suffered an early career-ending injury. Wendell was now a janitor in his old school but learned from his old friend to insist his job title was sanitary engineer. They’d been out of touch for years, so Wendell decided to phone John and catch up. Wendell asked John what he was working on these days.

John replied he was working on perfecting ‘aqua-thermal treatment of ceramics, aluminium and steel under a constrained environment’. Wendell was impressed until, upon further inquiry, he learned John was washing dishes with hot water and soap under his wife’s supervision.”


Kold remained quizzical, so Oma explained that words were just words and their meaning depended on speakers’ motives and listeners’ perceptions. Protecting youth from ‘bad’ words (a creation of humans’ anxiety to judge others and not an intrinsic characteristic of any word) was congenitally misconceived but also impossible to implement in the Internet age.

Some words are considered ‘bad’ in some cultures but only descriptive in others. Dirty words, like dirty dishes, are cleaned by a process of washing. The spoken word’s dishwasher is a listener’s open mind, able to wipe clean any residue of perceived hostility or malice. Defective dishwashers can make clean dishes dirty. Or break them. Similarly, defective minds can turn perfectly innocent words of exuberance into filthy messages.

Peace and love!

Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to