A local monthly newspaper, the Emmitsburg News-Journal, has a feature called “One Hundred Years Ago This Month,” with snips of information from newspaper of the past. I always read it, and I’m often amusedby the “objective” reporting, which has many references to the superiority of horse-drawn vehicles over automobiles, and the folly of considering permitting women the right to vote.
This month’s had a great example of misused language. You know, the statements where you can tell what the writer meant, but it didn’t come out quite right.
“Boyle’s Brothers of the Emmitsburg Grain Elevator Company have installed a 10 HP Westinghouse electric motor and are positioned to do grinding of all clients at short notice.”
I wonder how much repeat business they get from clients who have been ground, short notice or otherwise?
It made me stop to think about other instances where the wording is just not quite right. I’m not native to this area, but I’ve lived here long enough that statements like, “Throw the sheep over the fence some hay” don’tstrike me as peculiar any more, although I do keep them out of my writing. Anyone remember Patti Page's song, “Throw Mama from the Train a Kiss, a Kiss”?
One of the saddest things I’ve ever heard was a student who was explaining why she had been absent so much one school year. “They discovered I have sick as hell anemia.” And that does just about sum up sickle cell anemia.
Another sad misunderstanding was the grandmother who told me that the doctor told them that her grandson was artistic, so she’d bought him crayons and paints and paper, but she couldn’t get him to settle down and draw anything.
And then there’s the co-worker who didn’t think anyone should go to a hospital named after a poison. It took a few minutes to realize it was Sinai Hospital he was talking about, not Cyanide Hospital.
It’s hard to forget about the classic London Times article about Queen Victoria dedicating a new bridge over the Thames, although one suspects it was typo. After the ceremonies, Her Majesty passed over the bridge, but the paper unfortunately substituted an “i” for the “a” in passed. One assumes this was an occasion when “We are not amused.”
Perhaps my favorite is the church bulletin that announced that “Ladies of the Altar Society have cast off clothing of every description, and are available for viewing in the church basement on Friday and Saturday from ten to two.”
Today’s digital age adds new possibilities to the confusion. Gary Weinstein, in the Washington Post Magazine, wrote about a man named Dick Cooper. The anti-pornography program on his computer at work kept changing his name to “Thingy Cooper.”
What examples do you have of statements that just didn't come out right, either your own or someone else's?