The Etiquette Of The Anonymous Note

Nearly everyone I know has, at one time or another, received an anonymous note or letter*. Frequently these have been disturbing or distressing and have led to serious social and family consequences. Divorces, dismissals, disgraces…the list is nearly endless. It has long seemed to be the bane of civilisation.

And it is not just the badly worded sheet of cheap paper in the letter box or under the door, either – these days the internet brings this sort of thing in through the screen all day. If it is not your email that receives it, it is your Facebook or Twitter or Instagram. Some days all you can do is to open the thing and look at the cartoon strips.

We’ve been asked here at the Guild how this sort of thing can be dealt with – a good question, an innocent question, and a wrong question. We cannot advise you how it can be dealt with…we can advise you how to deal it out.

As with all Guild activities, there is an etiquette that must needs be followed. We are not savages..though we do employ them at fair union rates for certain jobs…and we insist that members follow the  rules of civil incivility.

a. Only use anonymity if you send a note that accuses without offering proof. If you can actually prove miscreancies or worse, attend the Blackmail Office and ask for a consultation with one of our operatives. Everything you say will be kept in strict confidence until it can be published widely.

b. Anonymity need not be wretched or small. The practice of using cheap note paper from Woolworths and a builder’s crayon to hint that a Duchess carries a loathsome disease is not only dated but ineffective. The terror of discovery is much worse if the stationery is of extremely good quality and the note seems to have been written with a Montblanc Meisterstück fountain pen in a precise copperplate hand.

If you can obtain letterhead paper from a doctor’s office for this purpose, so much the better. A nice touch is to get it from an ophthalmic specialist.

c. If you feel you must use a pseudonym, either make it extremely crude or extremely elegant. ” Your Friend ” is neither of these: ” yor frend ” serves and ” One who Loves you ” even better if you can get a delicate purple ink.

” The Black Hand ” is comic-book stuff and unless you are writing anonymously as a former President of the United States, will serve no purpose.

d. Sometimes anonymity can be used repeatedly. If you purport to be ” Anonymous ” as the writer, it can be paired with ” To Whom It May Concern ” ( remember to use those capitals…) to give even more of an air of mystery and menace. If you then go on to hint at What You Know, but never specify who knows what, it can get very diffuse…

e. ” We know what you did ” is an excellent start, but you have to be able to add at least one other fact to start the powder train alight. ” We know what you did when you went into the shed ” is good, and ” We know what you did when you went into the shed with Doreen ” better still. You needn’t know, of course, but then they needn’t know that you needn’t know. You know?

f. In some cases the addressee should be specified very accurately. In others the ” To Whom ” is quite sufficient. In especial cases this vagueness of aim should be combined with a very precise authorship – the note should be signed in the name of a real person with a real address. It need not be your real name, nor your address, of course. Suffice it to say some form of communication will ensue…

g. Some have advocated never threatening things that cannot be performed – but we say, where’s the fun in that? Where would Oriental dictators and Indian telephone callers be if that were the case? So use your imagination, and dig into your own psyche to see what would frighten or distress others.

Are you worried about crayfish? Horrified by water pumps? Depressed by the thought of Johnny Young going to the dentist? Incorporate these into the implied threat of the note. You never know when you’ll strike a chord, or, for that matter, when Young will…

h. Likewise use your own sins and peccadilloes as a stepping stone to imagine those of others. But make ’em worse. It  may be difficult, on this basis, for the Dalai Lama to send a nasty note accusing someone of anything – I mean, what is he going to write? ” You are slightly unsettling…”? It just wouldn’t have all that much impact.

Or maybe it would…if he signed his name in blood.

*  I’m absolutely certain of this, trust me…

 

 

 

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