A hot-air balloon was drifting over a landscape when it happened to gaze down at a peculiar creature sitting on the summit of a hill. “What on earth are you?” the balloon wondered. “I’m the largest gastropod in the world,” came the reply. “What’s a gastropod?” asked the balloon. “I don’t actually know,” admitted the entity. “Why not find out?” pressed the balloon. “Is it important?” the gastropod queried. “Yes,” nodded the balloon, “because I want to invite you to dinner, but until I know what you are I can’t issue a formal invitation. Isn’t that obvious?”

“Maybe it is, but I can’t oblige,” said the gastropod, “because I don’t own a dictionary.” “But I do!” the balloon shouted gleefully. “Look the word up then,” the gastropod suggested. “I’m a balloon and don’t possess hands to turn the pages,” sighed the balloon, “but I can throw it down and you can find the word for both of us!”

The gastropod was just about to dissuade the balloon from taking this course of action when the book came plummeting down, landing nearby. So it looked up the word and recited aloud for the benefit of the balloon, “A mollusc with a large flattened foot.”

But the balloon was rising rapidly. The large dictionary had acted like jettisoned ballast and with less weight to keep its altitude low the balloon was soon in the stratosphere. “Sorry!”

“Maybe next time,” said the gastropod philosophically.

¶ If you wait until the parameters of a potential new friend are rigidly defined you may never get to eat dinner with them.