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10:16am on Tuesday, 30th August, 2005:

Aught for Naught


Being from Yorkshire, I often use the words aught and naught in speech (or owt and nowt, as they are commonly rendered in newspapers). My particular part of the county didn't ever succumb to the use of ain't for is/are/am/have/has not, but they do use it in some of the larger, more cosmopolitan cities. Even then, though, they're unlikely to use it as a double-negative-for-positive form: "there ain't no mountain high enough" means the opposite of "there ain't a mountain high enough".

I tell you this so that the amazing line said at the end of the following anecdote makes more (that is, less) sense...

When I was at school, I had a weekend job of working in an amusement arcade, where I was employed as a bingo caller. Nearby to the bingo was a machine called Penny on Ice, which was a "pusher" — you dropped a coin in one of six playing areas and it was pushed to the sides by a rotating unit with a four-inch plastic ballet dancer on top of it. Very occasionally, some of the coins stacked temptingly at the front would drop down too and you'd win them.

Every once in a while, coins would fall down of their own accord, so naturally we'd keep an ear out for such events so as to supplement our meagre wages (£3 a day, which wasn't a lot in 1977 either). Of course, there is another way you can get money for free from a pusher: you can hit it.

Pusher manufacturers know this, so they put in alarms that go off if people give their machines a wallop. Penny on Ice had particularly good alarms, each consisting of a free-swinging rod the tip of which was surrounded by a metal collar. If vibrations caused this rod to move so as to make contact with the collar, it set off an alarm. The rod was slightly conical, so that by raising or lowering its attachment point it could be set to different sensitivities (because its circumference was nearer or further from the collar). It was possible to beat this system if you knew where the alarms were, by striking directly above them. However, if you did it too much it would set off an alarm on a different playing area. Apparently, the technology was developed for mines in the second world war, something I can believe because we once set it to its maximum sensitivity and people set it off merely walking up to it...

Don't worry, we've reached the actual story now.

One day, a kid went up to Penny on Ice and started playing it. He won a bit, but he lost more, and eventually he ran out of money. With nothing to lose (literally), he therefore hit it.

The alarms rang, the machine shut down, and the astonished boy was seized by the machine attendant. Paralysed with fear, he blurted out the immortal line, "I ain't not never done naught!".

Hmm, so that's an admission of guilt, then?

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Copyright © 2005 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).