Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Small Sheik Escaped

Whom haven't experienced a a grammar gaffe?

A spellling snaffoo?

A: peccadillo, of a punctuation, slipup;

Years ago, I myself was stung by a misspelling mishap in which I forgot to uppercase the capital of Alaska (A: Juneau) in a school spelling bee.

As a professional copyeditor and writer--and sometime proofreader and fact-checker--I experience all of the above and more on a regular basis. Not many rise to the level of Jay Leno's "Headlines" segment, however.

One of the funnest and most visually evocative goofs I saw in a manuscript was "A small sheik escaped from her lips." (She meant "shriek.") That one kept me laughing, well, for years. (Thank goodness I caught it before it went to print!)

To get serious for a moment, one I made as a student reporter was that I wrote in a serious book review something to the effect that "you would not typically do that," a very poor juxtaposition against "imagine choking someone for two minutes," when what I meant was an attorney would not typically force the jury to wait out a two-minute period to imagine what it would be like to choke a victim to death, thus illustrating the cruelty and premeditation of that particular crime (in a murder case the book was discussing).

Then there was the local paper's grocery advertisement selling "eight leg chicken fryers." (No, it was not Chernobyl chicken, and I have no idea what they were trying to say.)

And the bulletin board stating "Humane Society Trivia Night Saturday" on top, then just below that, "Meat Shoot Sunday at noon."

Or a journalism professor's tale of a bad headline break in a story about the "Pale-stinians."

In any case, these and many other examples underscore the importance of writing it right, or working triply hard to do one's best in the endeavor(s) of writing and editing.

The importance of being earnest in editing and writing cannot be overstated. For words truly do matter, in everyday conversations and in writing.

The poet on whose work I based my master's thesis might have characterized human life, much less a poet's existence, best as "the wrestle" between words and meaning (T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets).

Then again, Hamlet might have been the most succinct.

"Words, words, words" indeed!

What feats of linguistic legerdemain, or lack thereof, have you experienced? Participate in Words Matter Week and run through the language gauntlet, ahem, gantlet to challenge yourself and others to choose their words as carefully as possible. If we don't, our words just might pursue us evermore--to the grave, even--in this ever-digital age.

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