Archive for the ‘Errors’ Category

The perils of [sic]

March 22, 2015

(From my enormous backlog of Things to Blog On.)

In The Atlantic of December 2013, a letter (p. 13) from Tom Bourne of Woodstock VT:

The word sic is used to indicate an incorrect word in a quote. Why, then, does Karl Greenfeld use it after a perfectly correct its? I can only assume someone thinks its should be it’s here: “We have also to read 79 pages of Angela’s Ashes and find ‘three important and powerful quotes for the section with 1-2 sentence analyses of its [sic] significance.’ ” The possessive its is fine just the way it is. I’ll bet both Greenfield and his daughter know that. How about your proofreader?

The Copy Desk disputed this in a reply; see if you can anticipate its content. And then we’ll talk a bit about the perils of [sic].


Briefly noted: a misreading

February 27, 2015

I was startled to read on the front page of this morning’s NYT, the headline:

Move to Ban
A Ballet Adds
To Its Appeal

A closer reading revealed that it wasn’t Ballet, but Bullet: the armor-piercing 5.56 millimeter “M855 green tip” rifle bullet, used in AR-15 semi-automatic rifles.

As before, I wondered what disposed me towards the misreading. Well, at least, banning artistic performances is not an uncommon event in many parts of the world.

(Also on that page, the doubly appalling story headed:

ISIS Onslaught Overrums
Assyrians and Wrecks Art

in which militants were taking hammers to ancient Assyrian artifacts. More extreme art criticism, reminding us of the Taliban’s destruction of the great Buddhas of Bamiyan.)

Ruthie strikes again

February 15, 2015

The One Big Happy that came by me today:

Once again, Ruthie latches onto a word she’s familiar with that fits pretty well with the phonological input. In this case, the phonological distance is considerable (and the orthographic distance is smaller).

Journalists and their names

February 11, 2015

Late last week, the Stanford Linguistic Department’s assistant e-mailed me about a phone call (for me) that had come into the department: a Mr. Ethics, representing a magazine, wanted to talk to me about a story he was working on, and left a New York City phone number.

I tried to check on this fellow Ethics, to no avail, until I realized that the assistant (who is very good at her job, but is not a native speaker of English) had almost surely gotten the name wrong. Eventually I figured out that the man’s name was Essex, not the unlikely Ethics. By then the day was over in New York City; in any case, I thought the phone call to my department was an ominous sign.


Carbs, not crabs

February 5, 2015

Today’s One Big Happy:

Ruthie (and her friends) turn the (for them) unusual word carb (short for carbohydrate) into the more familiar crab — which fits their view of Playground Lady.


January 29, 2015

In today’s One Big Happy, Ruthie once again understands a rare and unusual expression (the word comfit) in terms more familiar to her:


I very much doubt that I knew the word comfit when I was 6.


A syntactic blend

January 28, 2015

In gathering material for my posting on Zippy the Pinhead’s road trip to Kansas, I came across this sentence in the Wikipedia entry on Strataca, aka the Kansas Underground Salt Museum.:

There are 14 other salt mines in the United States, but none of which are accessible to tourists.

The intended meaning is clear, but the syntax is definitely off. The sentence looks like a blend of two different, though very similar, formulations of the idea:

(a) There are 14 other salt mines in the United States, none of which are accessible to tourists. [nonrestrictive relative clause]

(b) There are 14 other salt mines in the United States, but none of them are accessible to tourists. [conjoined independent clause with but]

Both are syntactically unproblematic (disregarding the disputed usage choice between none … are and none … is, which is identical for (a) and (b)). But it appears that the writer(s) began option (b), with the conjunction but, and then continued with the relative-clause syntax of option (a). A classic syntactic blend, it seems to me.


Ruthie and the gargoyle

January 21, 2015

Today’s One Big Happy:

gargoyle / gargle

The cartoonist, Rick Detorie, goes to some lengths to put Ruthie in situations where she’s confronted with vocabulary that will be unfamiliar to her. Recall Ruthie in an art museum (#2 in this posting), where she gets to cope with odalisque.

The racy ATM

January 19, 2015

From the BBC site in October (the 28th), this cash machine story:

A cash machine outside Tesco Express in Aberystwyth has been promising customers “free erections” after a translation error.

Above the ATM at the new store in west Wales it said “codiad am ddim” which would translate colloquially as “free erections.”

A more correct version would have been “codi arian heb dâl”.

The Welsh noun codiad translates as ‘rise, increase’ in a number of senses, including the rising of the sun, and is not in itself racy (the plural is codiadau, by the way); am ddim is ‘for nothing, for free’. But apparently in colloquial usage codiad can also be used for a penile erection.

The BBC story’s version, codi arian heb dâl, translates roughly as ‘raising money/cash without charge'; codi arian am ddim would have done, or even just arian am ddim ‘cash for free’.

(The story was picked up by a great many sites. The BBC version came to me through Sim Aberson.)


January 12, 2015

In today’s One Big Happy, Ruthie once again wrenches unfamiliar vocabulary around to something she knows:

pallbearer to polar bear.


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