Archive for the ‘Errors’ Category

Amazing prediction

April 18, 2015

In the print edition of the NYT that came to me yesterday, in David Brooks’s op-ed piece “When Cultures Shift”, about postwar America:

Magazines ran articles on the wonderful lifestyle changes that were going to make lives easier — ultraviolent lights that would sterilize dishes in place of dishwashing.

An astonishing prediction — kill those bacteria by brute force!

Ok, it’s an error, which I’d label a typo if it seemed likely to have been induced by a slip on the part of the writer or an editor. But I suspect the involvement of technology.

Of course, it was immediately corrected to ultraviolet on the paper’s website.

Malaphors, aka idiom blends

April 10, 2015

From Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky, a link to a Malaphors site, featuring

Unintentional blended idioms and phrases – It’s the cream of the cake!

The site (managed by someone who identifies himself only as Davemalaphor) keeps a running inventory of “malaphors” — the term came to the site’s compiler from Douglas Hofstadter (1989), who got it from a 1976 newspaper article; Hofstadter also cites Gerald Cohen’s work on “syntactic blends” (generally, not specifically those involving idioms).

[Recent items on the Malaphor site: He’s a black horse in all of this (dark horse + black sheep); The client is one of those hard-moving targets (hard to hit + moving target); I’m going to give him a taste of my mind! (a piece of my mind + a taste of his own medicine).]

In a separate development, inspired by postings on “idiom blends” in Language Log starting in 2004, I’ve been keeping an inventory of my own. Again there’s an earlier history, going back to a 1997 Memory and Cognition article on “syntactic and semantic components of experimentally elicited idiom blends”, whose ultimate antecedent is a 1961 Language article by Dwight Bolinger on “syntactic blends” (which, however, doesn’t take up the special case of idiom blends).



April 6, 2015

This morning’s One Big Happy:

Once again, Ruthie copes with vocabulary she doesn’t know — in this case, the word snit in in a snit, where she has to figure out which of the many senses of the preposition in is at play here.


The element of confusion

April 4, 2015

A graphic that appeared on Facebook yesterday:


Versions of this are available as t-shirts from a wide assortment of suppliers, with various atomic numbers on them. This one has 29, the atomic number of copper (Cu).

Um here represents confusion. In other contexts it’s a hesitation noise, often viewed as a disfluency, a kind of error.


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.



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