After reading through Anguished English: An Anthology of Accidental Assaults Upon Our Language, by Richard Lederer, I realized three things:
One, our language gets bungled and bastardized daily, even by the media, politicians, celebrities and those we think should know better.
Two, in their defense, our language can be complex and filled with so many nuances that it’s easy to misplace a comma or substitute a word that completely alters a sentence’s meaning and purpose.
Three, our miscues in writing and speaking the world’s most-used language are funny and sometimes more powerful than the intended statement.
What’s also interesting about this book which dates back to a publication date of three decades ago, is that it was penned pre-Internet. Today there are even more illiterate moments to grab at – all for the taking online, in full display of billions of people.
Lederer, a writer and English teacher, broke his book down into blunders and bloopers of advertisements, newspaper headlines, student term papers, court proceedings, and some famous people who said witty things while abusing the language.
Some speech missteps could pose a real danger. Look at what one student wrote in a term paper: “Abstinence is a good thing if practiced in moderation.”
Here are some interesting signs and ads:
“Dinner Special – Turkey $2.35; Chicken or Beef $2.25; Children $2.00.”
“For Sale: Antique desk suitable for lady with thick legs and large drawers.”
“Tired of cleaning yourself? Let me do it.”
“We do not tear your clothing with machinery. We do it carefully by hand.”
“Dog for sale: eats anything and is fond of children.”
“Our bikinis are exciting. They are simply the tops.”
“Illiterate? Write today for free help.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, now you can have a bikini for a ridiculous figure.”
“And now, the Superstore – unequaled in size, unmatched in variety, unrivaled inconvenience.”
Lederer notes of some historical and hysterical gaffes like the one made in a 1632 edition of the Good Book where it omitted one little word under the Seventh Commandment: “Thou shalt commit adultery.”
He quotes Sam Goldwyn, the legendary Hollywood movie producer with these gems:
“If I could drop dead right now, I’d be the happiest man alive!”
“When I want your opinion, I’ll give it to you.”
Then, of course, there’s Yankee Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra with his conflicted ability to speak. I quote:
“Sometimes you can observe a lot by watching.”
“It ain’t over till it’s over.”
“A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.”
“No wonder nobody comes here – it’s too crowded.”
And when he was asked if he wanted his pizza pie cut into four or eight slices, he remarked: “Better make it four. I don’t think I can eat eight pieces.”
Lederer had some especially revealing examples of ads from these people:
A Maine shop says: “Our motto is to give your customers the lowest possible prices and workmanship.”
In a NY medical building: “Mental health prevention center.”
In a maternity ward: “No children allowed.”
At a loan company: “Ask about our plans for owning your home.”
Outside a country shop: We buy junk and sell antiques.”
An Oregonian general store window: “Why go elsewhere to be cheated, when you can come here?”
Of course, headlines from newspapers are great at playing on words – intentionally or not - witness these:
“Deaf mute gets new hearing in killing.”
“Women’s Movement Called More Broad-Based.”
“Police begin campaign to run down jaywalkers.”
“New Autos to Hit 5 Million.”
“Two convicts evade noose; jury hung.”
“Farmer Bill Dies in House.”
“Lawyers give poor free legal advice.”
“Reagan Wins on Budget, But More Lies Ahead”
People mix up metaphors or use malapropisms to give us big word abusage. Lederer tells us where the art of misusing words stems from:
“When people misuse words in an illiterate but numerous manner, we call the result a malapropism (French, mal a propos - not appropriate). The term springs from the name of a character in Richard Sheridan’s Comedy The Rivals, written in 1775, and has come to stand for the kind of linguistic maladroitness exemplified in the statements above.”
He says the best malapropisms "are those that leap across the chasm of absurdity and land on the side of truth.”
I will leave you with a few malapropisms from Lederer:
“Life begins at contraception.”
“He suffered from unrequired love.”
“The defendant pleaded exterminating circumstance.”
“This movie is not for the screamish.”
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Brian Feinblum’s insightful views, provocative opinions, and interesting ideas expressed in this terrific blog are his alone and not that of his employer or anyone else. You can – and should -- follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at email@example.com. He feels much more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog ©2019. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s Independent. This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby http://blog.bookbaby.com/2013/09/the-best-book-marketing-blogs and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. Also named by WinningWriters.com as a "best resource.” He recently hosted a panel on book publicity for Book Expo America.
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