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If They Spells a Word

October 1, 2011

I really REALLY like mistakes that come from words. Well, the mistakes, I suppose they come from us and how we use the words. Like this one in the photograph — a book dedication I transcribed recently for a freelance client, which was actually quite sweet and lovely, generously crediting his aunt for inspiring his career path and guiding him in developing his professional and personal values. Mercifully, the typed word scans more clearly than the hand-written, sparing his by now quite elderly aunt a vocabulary lesson I’m not sure the lady would be prepared for. There was a moment though, after my laughter had subsided (this was a long, long project, completed after-hours through the summertime, and which competed against sunshine, hot weather and  two other jobs for my time), I proof-read the manuscript…because, I, too, had typed up the offending word as it appears at first glance. Not sure the publisher is ready for that vocab lesson, either. I know my editorial reputation isn’t at any rate.

As for words and the ways in which they go wrong. I feel like there’s a pre-teen boy in my brain, guiding my sense of humour from sophisticated down the path toward childish and crass. I sometimes refer to it as the Twelve-Year-Old Snicker Panel. Run something by it, and if it elicits a smothered chuckle, then you know there’s a double entendre, homophone (snicker), or outright lewd reference in what you just said. Names, places, titles, slogans, catch phrases.

The only thing better is a typo or error someone should’ve known better than to make, or doesn’t know better than to make. Both funny, for different reasons. For instance, 90% of the reader comments posted to online news stories. Thank goodness for the little nicknames we make up to identify ourselves in those forums, because I’m going to guess that Torontocansuckit42 probably doesn’t want his children knowing that, in addition to hating cyclists, non-whites, the poor, and the left, he can’t string a sentence together proficiently enough to pass grade four. Speaking of grade four, I am not above exposing my own wordy stupidity here. In a recent email-based rant against the laziness that passes for news writing at the CBC these days, I informed a friend that even a fourth garder could do a better job than whoever is writing the online reports for that network. I think it took five short seconds for my friend to reply that yes, by fourth garde, we all ought to be spelling and writing better than that. Heh.

This morning, it is icy cold in my kitchen, and likely in the neighbourhood outside my house. I’m taking no chances going out there, considering the blasting wind, the trees leaning parallel to the ground, the squirrels flattening against the lawn to avoid being swept aloft and blown soaring over the fence. The sunshine has that peculiar brightness that, no matter which season, tips the hand of the sky and calls its bluff — it is NOT warm out, simply because it’s bright. So, while my gentlemanfriend sleeps off a super-late work shift from last night, and my cat sits curled into a bagel-shape on a cushion in the corner, I’m eating toast, drinking everything hot I can lay hands on, listening to the random crap I decided to purchase from iTunes last night (note to self: 1 AM is not the time to pick things, even if they do cost only 99 cents), and reconsidering the writing retirement I sent myself into back in July. And, reading up on things I’ve lost track of while avoiding my computer and the Internet this past month. Once the aforementioned freelance marathon ended, the last thing I wanted to do was spend another minute hunched in front of a screen, hands poised like tippy-tappy claws, neck craned, face bathed in computer glow.

And so, while reading a few blogs that I like(d) to follow, and checking the weather forecast over and over in hopes that the number would climb higher than 8, and dicking around on Facebook, trying to understand why everyone but me seems to be freaking about privacy issues and “change”, and searching  for The Perfect Recipe for panna cotta which I intend to prepare at dinner tomorrow night, I came across a food and (I think)  decor magazine I’d never heard of before. Its production seems pretty solid, and I think it might also exist in print (like its focus, which might or might not include home stuff and suggestions for fancying up a place, it was too hard to figure out whether a print version exists, which I suppose is a stroke against solid production after all), and the photographs paired to each recipe, craft instruction, and decorating/entertaining demo are lovely enough to count as a curious sort of pornography. But, the best part? The five-sentence post dated yesterday, about building book-ends out of random stuff such as wooden die-cut letters, glued together with a hot-gun.

“I got my letters at the Brooklyn flea. Its cool if they spells a word.”

That was the crux of the post. Two sentences out of five, both with easily avoided, easily detected, “fourth garder” errors. And, strangely, somehow charming. To summarise: Brooklyn Flea is an event, capital letters all around; “it is” reduced to contraction requires our buddy, the apostrophe; and, they probably doesn’t spells any words at all. In fact, the wooden letters selected and glued into a book-end-like stack for the blog post were strung together to read “dera”, which is not any kind of word I’ve seen before. (Having once written a letter to a childhood friend, when we had a serious penpal thing going on, circa 1989, and joking “what’s up, no letters in two months, what’s your excuse, I sure hope something’s on fire or someone died” only to be informed eventually that yes, his grandmother who raised him in place of his mother had died three months prior, and he’d put writing on hold while he grieved, I feel I ought to be careful here, joking about how dumb someone’s craft project is. For all I know, the poor writer is blind, dyslexic, or learning English for the very first time.)

Yesterday at my office, a company-wide communication was emailed to us from an executive-level project team. The letter was two pages long, addressed a major strategic business initiative, which itself is highly contentious and costly and important to complete, and, there were nineteen errors of the “fourth garde” kind. It was signed off by not one but two execs, which means it was proof-read by at least six executive assistants, and staff even more senior than those executives themselves. A handful of mistakes is still not really all that acceptable, but I appreciate that decision-makers are often not essay writers, or even good email or letter writers, and this is why support staff exists. It’s the difference between whipping off a quick blog post and penning a major announcement about a million-dollar venture. It’s why my dad had a secretary in the 1980s, and why someone else types that doctor’s manuscript (i.e., me), and why the mayor does not write his own speeches. Well, in my city, it’s possible the mayor does write his own speeches, but  that’s because no one else could come up with such crazy crap, and anyone he commanded to take dictation (snicker) likely turned on her heel and stalked from the room once they reached paragraph two.

I suppose it’s about venue. That it’s funny rather than off-putting to see a shittily written blog post at a site that commands incredible attention and enjoys massive success. I sometimes find myself absorbing especially great mistakes into my library of expressions, a vernacular developed amongst friends, an in-joke not unlike shouting “doh” in Homer-voice after dropping a full carton of carnival french fries on the ground. And, I suppose it’s the lingering nerd in me that finds badly crafted language one of the funniest things of all. I almost barfed laughing at David Sedaris’s essays about learning to speak French. Pointing to a tray of brains and asking his butcher, “are them the thoughts of cows?” Purchasing groceries in quantities larger than one as a work-around to learning the gender of words…

When it comes to jokes, it’s good if they spells a word.

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