Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer

He lies across the coat of arms on the marble floor, coughing up green ichor that spatters his face and the lion passant under his head.

Jenny looks at me, her expression seesawing between revulsion and amazement: “How did you spot him?”

I smile at her: “In every language on earth, two words are found: ‘huh’ and ‘err’. They also share inflection and tone. Thus ‘huh’ and its equivalents are pronounced with a rising tone, indicating query, whereas the ‘err’ equivalent group is usually uttered in a monotone, indicating hesitation.”

She shakes her head: “I don’t understand.”

“The subtle differences in mouthparts mean that they cannot pronounce some combinations of phonemes correctly. The Acoustic Detection Directorate in Oxford specialises in identifying those tell-tale mispronunciations and their unconscious substitutions.”

“What about speech impediments?”

“The ADD has a kill-list of ten verbalisations that absolutely identify the speaker as not a member of Homo sapiens. I have to hear at least eight from a suspect before I am permitted to act.”

“Good grief.”

“My Directorate professor at Oxford summed it up as “To ‘err’ is human, but to ‘eyhrr’ is Valusian””.

Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows