Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Missing Word


Click on image to enlarge.

On 11 March 1893, the Observer held this particular "missing word" competition -- on the topic of female suffrage.
"Our second Missing Word Competition is now open. Competition No. 1 was a much greater success than we anticipated it would be. But we fully expect our second competition to result in at least twice as many guesses coming to hand. Any purchaser of the Observer who can correctly supply the word missing from the paragraph on the subjoined coupon — which coupon is to be cut out and forwarded to the Observer, accompanied by one shilling-— will be paid the total amount received in response to this advertisement. Should there be more than one successful competitor, the total amount received will be divided amongst such successful competitors pro rata. The missing word is placed in a sealed envelope in the custody of the manager of the National Bank of New Zealand, Auckland, and the contents are known only to the Editor of this paper. When the prizes are awarded, the winning word and the names and addresses of the successful competitors will be published in the Observer. Should it happen that no one succeeds in naming the word, the whole of the money will be added to that of the succeeding competition, particulars of which will duly appear. The sum of one shilling may be forwarded by Post-office order, postal note, or stamps ; when the latter are sent, an additional penny to be added for exchange."
(18 March 1893)

The topic wasn't what caused a ruckus at the time (although, if held today, it would have) -- it was the nature of the competition itself. The newspaper ran into a spot of legal bother by early April as it was seen by the authorities as being a lottery and a form of illicit gambling. Both of which were frowned upon in an era of gambling crackdown.
"In reference to Mr. Justice Stirling's judgment the Daily Graphic says :— At last it has been judicially decided that " missing word" competitions are an infringement of the Statute against Lotteries. It is difficult to understand how anyone could have seriously maintained the contrary opinion. The competitors were desired to complete a sentence by the addition not of the most appropriate word, but of a word selected at random, and upon no intelligible system, by the stakeholder ; and, as a matter of fact, the winning word in the particular contest considered by the Court of Chancery was almost the least appropriate that could have been selected. Something or other was " most unaccountable;" but unaccountable is an adjective which does not admit of degree, and the particular phenomenon to which it was arbitrarily applied can be accounted for without any difficulty whatever. The competition, therefore, was a game of chance, if ever there was one ; and, as it was a kind of game that brought speculation within the reach of tho poorest and the youngest, and held out strong and peculiar temptations to petty larceny, most people will agree that the country is well rid of it."
(Evening Post, 18 April 1893)
"Readers will look in vain for our missing word coupon this week. The fact is that the head of the police department in Wellington has given us the choice of leaving it out of the paper or testing the legality of the missing word competition in a court of law. We are satisfied that the competition is not contrary to law, but at the same time we derive no benefit from it, and consequently don't feel disposed to go to the expense of fighting a case in Court. The test would cost us a great deal; it would cost the other side nothing. We shall keep faith with our readers in terms of Previous announcements. All the letters received up till Saturday night will be opened next week and the names of the winners in what must be our last competition announced in our next issue."
(8 April 1893)

And the answer?
"Our last missing word competition having closed, Mr A. E. Devore opened the sealed envelopes on Monday afternoon and found the word to be "odd". A total of 375 coupons were sent in, of which eight were correct. The dividend is therefore £2 6s 10 1/2 d. A. White, care of T. Bishop, Ponsonby, sent in no less than three correct coupons. The other winners were: H. W. Varley, Waierangahika, Grisborne ; F. G. Henry, Mount Eden ; R. Falcon, Grey-street, Auckland ; A. Harris, Wellington ; Miss E. Hetherington, Scarboro' Terrace, Parnell. No further competition will take place for reasons already stated."
(15 April 1893)

"Our last missing word competition was very interesting in so far as it tended to show the feelings of many of our subscribers concerning female suffrage. The preponderating weight of opinion was against woman's franchise, and quite a number of people risked their shillings to give expression to their belief that the result would probably be disastrous. Quite a number thought the result would be prohibition."
(15 April 1893)

It sounded all a bit like the old "Spot the Ball" competitions to me, really ...


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