So there was a bit of a kerfuffle (oh, how I love that word!) the other week when the article “Actress Betty White, 92, Dyes Peacefully In Her Los Angeles Home” hit the airwaves. I first spotted the headline when a friend posted the article on Facebook with the comment “RIP.”
’Cause I’m a word nerd like that, the first thing I noticed was the word dyes (“changes the color of something using a dye,” M-W) where dies (“to stop living,” M-W) would have been correct — if it was really an article announcing the death of Betty White. It couldn’t be, I thought, that Betty White had passed away and some news outlet had mixed up the spelling of this garden-variety homophone, could it? In that context, it made for a so-bad-it’s-good typo.
When I clicked through the link, I found the joke was on us.
News of the story traveled fast, as it does, and people began to cry “Hoax!” I started to wonder: Hoax means “to trick or deceive (someone)” (M-W), but in this case, the article never said that Betty White was actually dead. In fact, it was quite clear she was not. The only people who thought she was deceased were the people who fell for the dyes vs. dies ruse. A tricksy headline, yes, but in my opinion, not a hoax. What do you think?
So you know that whole thing about how the elves in The Lord of the Rings are all, so, we’re getting in our fancy boats and sailing off into the sunset on our exclusive party cruise? Well, they said that’s what they were doing, but I think “west” must be code for “settling down in Cape Cod and opening a paddle shop.” ‘Cause look what I found.
In other news, if you have not yet heard “Weird Al” Yankovic’s clever and word nerd-baiting tune, “Word Crimes,” what in Middle-earth are you waiting for? You’re welcome.
In this little eggcorn, an unsuspecting YouTube commenter uses peddle stool when pedestal was the word they were seeking.
Peddle stool (or pedal stool) seems to be a somewhat common rendering of pedestal (as documented, for example, by the Eggcorn Database and Brians’ Common Errors in English Usage) but what people understand a peddle stool (or pedal stool) to even be is kind of beyond me. Anyone got any ideas?
A quick perusal of the InterWebs leads to all kinds of eggcorn-related amusement, though. This guy sings a whole song about being put up on a peddle stool. Over at Language Log, there’s an entire essay composed of eggcorns. And tv show “The IT Crowd” got some mileage out of the joke.
This sentence is possibly one of the most tortured pieces of writing I have come across in a long, long time. It appeared in an article about a recent performance Aerosmith gave outside the Boston apartment building they used to live in back in the day.
“Across the street from 1325 Commonwealth Ave. is a sign that Aerosmith band members wrote in a book they would see when they walked out the front door of their apartment building during the early 1970s.”
Here’s the problem: this poor little sentence is trying to do too many things at once. Is it a sign they wrote in a book? Is it a book they would see when they walked out the front door of their apartment building? Or is it neither of these? My red pen is itching to get at it.
From the rest of the article, we find out that it’s a sign they would see when they walked out of their apartment and that they wrote about in a book. But that’s a long way to get there from here. With a little editing, this sentence could be pared down and reordered to reflect that, something like this (for example):
“Across the street from 1325 Commonwealth Ave. is a sign that Aerosmith band members would see when they walked out the front door of the apartment building
, which they lived in during the early 1970s. They wrote about seeing the sign in their book.”
But unfortunately, that’s a lot less interesting than the idea of them writing a sign in a book they would see when they walked out of their apartment. And hey, it was Aerosmith, and it was the 1970s. Anything was possible.
Yes, I admit it: I read Fifty Shades of Grey. And I’m left with very little to show for my investment other than a renewed appreciation for the deft touch of an editor. Even if nothing could have been done to prevent the relentless repetition (okay, we get it! He’s turned on when she bites her lip! Her breath hitches when something exciting happens! His eyes are grey!) (seriously, his name is Grey and his eyes are grey?), at least perhaps this little typo on page 428 could have been prevented:
Okay, here’s the deal: If you’re talking about strappy summer shoes, you are wearing sandals. If you’re wearing sandles, well, then you are in desperate need of an editor.
Wow, well, we’ve all seen Elton John in some pretty crazy outfits, but this one just about takes the cake, doesn’t it? I didn’t even recognize him there for a moment.
Oh wait, I see. It’s, um, not Elton John.
Typo (which has since, unfortunately, been fixed) spotted on boston.com.
So, wordies, behold the trailer for Baz Luhrmann’s take on The Great Gatsby—typo and all:
What’s that, you say? A typo in the trailer? Yes, feast your eyes about, oh, 0:13 for a shot of Luhrmann’s folly:
See that? Where it says
Zeigfield Zeigfeld instead of Ziegfield Ziegfeld? Only time will tell whether Luhrmann’s rendition will be worth seeing, but as far as this typo is concerned, there’s nothing great about that.
• Cartoonist Mark Parisi on the importance of proofreading and other editorial matters. Because, yes, it makes a difference if you tell someone pretty that they’re petty.
• xkcd on what happens when you what you want is Etymology Man but you accidentally call Entomology Man. I know, it’s so easy to mix those two up, but sometimes it really matters.
• Cats as fonts! I mean, who can resist the opportunity to make fun of Comic Sans? Again. via @wisekaren
Recently, I had the chance to see Pilgrimage, the Annie Leibovitz exhibit currently at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. There’s plenty here to delight word nerds: photographs of Emily Dickinson’s dress, Virginia Woolf’s writing desk, Thoreau’s bed, Emerson’s hat . . . the list goes on.
My particular favorite was a photo of the journal of Bronson Alcott. It’s one of several photographs taken at Orchard House in Concord, Mass. Take a close look—you’ll see the outline of Bronson’s hand enclosing the much smaller outline of the hand of his daughter Louisa May Alcott.
Visit here for more images from this exhibit. If you can’t make it to Washington, D.C., the exhibit will begin its national tour in June at the Concord Museum. Watch a video about Pilgrimage.
It’s the Elements of Style rap by Columbia grad students Jake Heller and Ben Teitelbaum. What will they think of next?
Bonus MRP moments
- What’s the most embarrassing typo you can make from “herniated disk”? Yeah, that happened (via Bill Walsh).
- Check out the American Dialect Society’s 2011 Word of the Year nominees, in such categories as “Most Creative,” “Most Unnecessary,” and “Most Euphemistic.” I’m sure it’s not giving anything away to reveal that occupy took the top honors, although I was kind of partial to kardash and mellencamp.