Brief takes 12/20/12

Two brief entertaining items: a typo and an imperfect pun.

The raw-bird typo. From George Thompson in ADS-L on the 17th, this wonderful typo:

“Thanks to a raw-bird alert in Dutchess County,  my wife and I got to see our first wild Snowy Owl. – and a very accommodating owl at that… never even had to leave the car! ”
(I usually refer to these alerts as “Dial-A-Bird”, though now-a-days they are usually email groups.)

For a little while, I wasn’t sure what the writer had been aiming for, but I guessed rare-bird alert, and Thompson assures me that’s right. The question is how the typo came about. Several possibilities (not necessarily incompatible with one another): the writer pulled up raw for rare as a Fay/Cutler malaprop, and then spelled what was (temporarily) in his head; the writer began the crucial word RA, and was then led astray by a completion error; or the writer’s fingers didn’t go far enough forward on the keyboard after he typed RA, so he got the closer key W instead of the further keys R and E. Three very different sorts of errors — and as is often the case in such situations, we can’t know ever know which is right, or even most likely, because no one, the original writer included, can have access to the course of mental events while the typo was being produced.

The cute distant pun. Headline in the “Riff” column (by Stephen Marche) in the December 16th NYT Magazine:

Let My Tebow Go

(on allowing Tim Tebow, famous for his varied displays of religiosity, to continue to play football). The model for the pun is the injunction

Let my people go

from the Negro spiritual “Go Down Moses”. From Wikipedia:

The opening verse as published by the Jubilee Singers in 1872:

When Israel was in Egypt’s land: Let my people go,
Oppress’d so hard they could not stand, Let my People go.

Go down, Moses,
Way down in Egypt’s land,
Tell old Pharaoh,
Let my people go.

Tebow /tíbo/ differs from people /pípǝl/ in three of the four positions within the word, but in two of these, the segments are only minimally different: the voiceless stops /t/ vs. /p/ (differing only in point of articulation) and the bilabial stops /b/ vs. /p/ (differing only in voicing); /o/ and /ǝl/ are more distant, but they’re in unaccented syllables and at the end of the word, after the similarities between Tebow and people have already been established, so the differences are easily disregarded.

Note that model and actual production share the allusion to Christian religious belief.


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