The writing on the wall

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Why won't they call in a linguist?

The producers of "Homeland," a TV spy drama, were filming a scene (shot in Berlin) in which one of the show's main characters walks through a refugee camp run by Hezbollah, and they employed a group of Arabic-speaking graffiti artists to daub the walls with authentic slogans saying "Muhammed is the greatest." (Presumably referring to the revered Arabian prophet, but sounding a bit more like an allusion to the celebrated American boxer; who knows.) But they forgot to hire a trusted Arabic-competent linguist to proofread. They had no idea what the artists had written on the set walls. It turned out to be slogans like "Homeland is not a series," "Homeland is racist," and "Homeland is rubbish." And those graffiti duly appeared on TV (whereupon the guerilla artists, not wanting their subversion to be missed, revealed what they had done).

Look, TV guys, it isn't impossible to find, in Berlin or anywhere else, linguists who are able to read written Arabic. And really, we linguists work cheap: for a few hundred dollars plus travel expenses we're yours if you will only ask. We will come and read the foreign writing systems you are about to film, and tell you what message you're going to be broadcasting. Just have your people call our people. The nearest university department of linguistics is probably closer than you think.

The producers of "Homeland" put a brave face on it, declaring that "as Homeland always strives to be subversive in its own right and a stimulus for conversation, we can't help but admire this act of artistic sabotage."

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