On his blog, Dan Bloom has posted about crash possums (a term invented on the model of crash blossoms — on which, see here). A crash possum is

a mis-spelled CNN headline on the CNN TV screen [or a on another news network], maybe a headline under a talking head or a headline in the news crawl below the video images: CNN obviously has trouble hiring competent copyeditors to type in the correct words with the correct spelings [sic].

… They are called CRASH POSSUMS because they arrive on our TV screens “dead on arrival” like possums that were run over on a rural road or highway….

I’m not sure that the world needs a new term for misspellings in some particular context. And in fact the misspellings listed on Bloom’s site are a mixed bag.

Two of  them are inadvertent errors in typing — typos in a narrow sense:

Sliver lining in AGW [reversal of letters in SILVER]
Harbey Kushner [V replaced by B, through keyboard adjacency]

The other two are much more interesting. In neither case is the mistake inadvertent; people typed what they intended, but what they intended is not the prevailing norm. In fact, these mistakes are not really a matter of spelling at all, though they’re manifested in the way words are spelled.

Exhibit A:

Marshall law lifted in Philippines

MARSHALL or MARSHAL for MARTIAL was an early entry in the eggcorn database. Here, pronunciations of the relatively unfamiliar word martial are interpreted as instances of the familiar name Marshall or the noun marshal (often spelled MARSHALL), as in “Marshal Dillon”.

Exhibit B:

Competiting for gold
A look at who’s competiting in Vancouver

At first glance, this might appear to be a kind of “stutter” in spelling COMPETING. But it turns out to be extraordinarily frequent, as are COMPETITE and COMPETITED (all presumably pronounced with stress on the second syllable). Again, a familiar sort of phenomenon, back-formation — in this case, back-formation of a verb competite on the basis of the nouns competitor and competition and the adjective competitive. Not in my files before, but it is now.

(I haven’t tried to figure this out, but there probably are people who discern a subtle semantic difference between competite and compete. Back-formed verbs are like that.)

No doubt if we asked people to submit incorrect spellings from news crawls, we’d get still more types of examples; there are many different routes to spellings that are “mistakes” in one sense or another.

(A final note: as so often happens in blog comments, the crash possums thread drifted quickly to a very different topic, namely deliberate misspellings: Krispy Kreme, Tastee-Freeze [1/19: whoops! it’s Tastee-Freez], and the like.)

4 Responses to “Misspellings”

  1. Benjamin Lukoff Says:

    Interesting. Of course, it’s not that CNN, or any other network or media outlet is having “trouble hiring competent copyeditors.” It’s that they don’t want to pay for them. Copyeditors are being cut left and right. I wonder if *anyone* takes a look at the crawls before they go out other than the person typing them.

  2. arnoldzwicky Says:

    Following up on Ben Lukoff: I wonder if news crawls *ever* had copyeditors. It’s work that has to be done very fast, after all.

  3. Benjamin Lukoff Says:

    Good point, but there seem to be more and more errors lately. Are we just noticing them more; are there more crawls these days, period, thereby raising the number of ones with errors; or is a decline over time in the spelling abilities of 23-year-old new hires at TV stations?

  4. dan bloom Says:

    I sent a polite note to Chris Dwyer who runs the CNN public relations office in Hong Kong, since most of the crash possums I see on my TV here in Taiwan are on the CNN International channel, but so far he has not responded at all. He knows me and he knows my email address, we have corresponded before, so I do hope he will get the message this time.
    He told me once before, last year, “Hi Dan, I head up the PR for CNN in Asia-Pacific. I understand you reaching an ireporter and
    > – do you have a number I can call you on to discuss?” So let’s see.

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