But it is more typically through modifications to language itself that Fowler unsettles the act of easy assumption. At the end of the poem ‘Scent’ (via the rendering of a hairdresser’s comment, only partially overheard) the modifications are orthographical:
[…] “…exicans have been decapitating
peeple for thousands of years
it doesn’t mean there,
what it means here.”
The aphaeresis of “…exicans” is a sly lexical analogue to the decapitations to which the text refers—assuming, of course, that we take “…exicans” to be an aphaeretic rendering of “Mexicans”. Irrespective of whether we make this readerly decision, and supply the missing ‘M’, the sense of violence, of complicity in what things “mean”, and of ultimate detachment from what they are is insurmountable. This is further reinforced by the fact that “peeple" are being decapitated, and not ‘people’. ‘Peeple’ and ‘people’ are homophones (what looks like it should be a diphthong in the standard spelling isn’t) and as such, whoever overheard the hairdresser’s words would not have been able to infer any orthographical difference by sound alone. Contextually, the subtle de-anthropomorphic tweak makes perfect sense, given the implication that the value of human life is lower in the culture in question than it is in the “here” of the utterance; but the homophony preserves the problem of whether we are to read this as satire, or as a straight-faced semantic downgrade—a problem compounded by the ambiguity as to whether these are words cognized as heard, words cognized as (vicariously) spoken, or words that have been tinkered with at the extradiegetic level. Regardless, the text aims deliberately to upset the facile imputation of the spoken words—and perhaps, by extension, any facile imputations that we might be tempted to make upon reading it.