Back when I was writing The Horologicon, there was one word that I desperately wanted to include. But I couldn't because I didn't remember what it was. I could only remember what it meant.
Years ago, I was chatting to an Italian lady and she told me a strange story of Italy. She told me that sometimes, when Italian men bought a suit, they would buy two jackets. One of these jackets was for wearing as you stroll around town drinking delicious espressos and wooing beautiful women and generally being Italian. Meanwhile the other jacket was hanging over the back of your chair at work, so that it looked as though you were in the office.
I loved this tale. I adored the idea of putting such thought into shirking. I dreamed of doing the same sort of thing in rainy London. But what I loved most of all was that there was a particular word for that jacket. There was a word meaning the-jacket-left-hanging-over-the-back-of-your-chair-in-the-office-while-you're-gallivanting-around-town.
That's a good word.
That's a word that I wanted to include in The Horologicon. There's a whole chapter of that book devoted to sneaking out of the office and that word was going to be the centrepiece.
But I couldn't remember what it was.
I went mad. I racked my brain until I could rack no more. I e-mailed every Italian I knew and asked them about it. Every single one of them had heard of the practice of leaving-a-jacket-hanging-over-the-back-of-your-chair-in-the-office-while-you're-gallivanting-around-town. But they all said they'd never heard of a word for it. It was just a thing you did.
And in the end - miserable and humiliated - I was forced to give up.
And then, a couple of days ago, a year after The Horologicon went off to the printers, I got an e-mail from the Inky Fool's correspondent in Rome.
Yesterday I was watching a very old fun&depressing-at-the-same-time Italian film and the protagonist suddenly mentioned that jacket you had asked me about a year ago. The famous jacket the Italians leave on the chair in order to pretend to be working while they are out of the office doing all sorts of things. And the name of that jacket is lovely, in my opinion. It is "Giacca civetta" which means "Owl jacket" I believe that generally "civetta" in Italian means, amongst other things, something which can attract and deceive too. But you are the expert of this kind of things, I am only trying to guess. So, after one year, here is your answer.
I don't think I really am an expert on the subtle symbolism of Italian birds, and my correspondent is a native of that fair peninsula, so she should know. However, I will add that it works beautifully in English because owls perch silently in corners. So the jacket perched on your chair is - I pronounce this ex cathedra linguae Anglorum - the Owl Jacket.
I don't know how effective this is if you work at home.