Thing sliced ham

On Facebook yesterday, Stewart Kramer reported from Grandma’s Restaurant in Oceanside CA (way down south, between L.A. and San Diego):

(#1) [SK:] Thing sliced ham? Thing as in Addams family, Fantastic Four, or Cat in the Hat? None of those seem likely ham slicers, except Green Eggs and Ham. The food was good, anyway.

For entertainment, SK jumps right in with a few fictional characters named Thing, knowing full well that they’re entirely, preposterously, irrelevant. Then, commenters chose to lump thing sliced together with “spelling mistakes” that are misapprehensions about how some words are conventionally spelled, surely not what’s going on when a writer is aiming for thin sliced. Instead, thing sliced looks like a nice example of a pure typo, an error in hitting the right keys on a keyboard.

Three Things we have known. None of them at all like sliced ham. Very briefly…

— the Addams Family Thing. From Wikipedia:

(#2) Hand-only Thing on the prowl

Thing T. Thing, often referred to as just Thing, is a fictional character in The Addams Family series. Thing was originally conceived as a whole creature (always seen in the background watching the family) that was too horrible to see in person. The only part of it that was tolerable was its human hand (this can be seen in the 1964 television series). The Addams’ called it “Thing” because it was something that could not be identified. Thing was changed to a disembodied hand for the 1991 and 1993 Addams Family films, a depiction retained throughout subsequent adaptations

— The Fantastic Four Thing. From Wikipedia:

(#3) (art by Marko Djurdjevic)

Benjamin Jacob “Ben” Grimm, also known as the Thing, is a fictional superhero appearing in American comic books published by Marvel Comics. He is a founding member of the Fantastic Four.

… Known for his trademark rocky appearance, he has superhuman strength, a sense of humor, and the battle cry “It’s clobberin’ time!” Thing’s speech patterns are loosely based on those of Jimmy Durante.

— the Cat in the Hat Things. From my 7/9/16 posting “Two cat cartoons”, Thing 1 and Thing 2 from Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat:


Just “spelling mistakes”. From Joe Eugene on Facebook:

One that almost nobody gets right is crème brûlée. I’ll give you a pass if you leave off all the accents but if you put any on, you’d better get them right!

Herb Caen used to collect odd menu items like this. A couple that stick in my mind are rice peel-off and Ground Marnier. [exemplary eggcorns]

Putting aside the whiff of contempt for the ordinary folk who write the menus for their diners, family restaurants, ethnic eating spots, and the like, the idea that such people (most of them native speakers of English) don’t know how thin is spelled is laughable. Their problem isn’t with higher-order mental processes of memory and retrieval, but down on the ground, so to speak. As I wrote on Facebook (somewhat edited here):

Just to note that “spelling errors” is a great big bag of phenomena with very different sources. With enough experience (I’ve been studying errors in linguistic performance since, oh, the 1970s, so I have some experience here), you can make reasonable hypotheses about what’s going on in particular cases.

I don’t recall having seen thing sliced before, but my immediate hypothesis was that this was a more or less pure typo, an error in hitting keys — a result of what’s sometimes colorfully called “finger memory” (fingers do not, of course, literally remember anything), in this case for sequences of typed keys that are quite frequent — like NG — so that hitting the first key will sometimes just take you on through the automatized sequence. Typos are sometime things (I make dozens in typing up everything I write, because of a hand disability, and then have to painfully try to correct them, but of course I don’t make a particular typo — like skipping the N key, or inserting a V before a B — every time it’s possible), so we can look at places where a typo would be possible at different places in a single text.

I offer you: from the menu of Charlen’s Cafee, Central City South in Phoenix AZ:

French Dip 6.49
With fries – thin sliced roast beef on french roll with au jus sauce

Ham Dip with Fries Potato Salad 5.99
Thing sliced ham on french roll with bbq sauce dip

(Lowercase french and with au jus sauce are common features of a demotic menu register in the US, and not any kind of spelling error.)

One right above the other, thin sliced roast beef vs. thing sliced ham. No, I don’t think it’s all about the ham. It’s just that sometimes, but not always, typing an N is likely to take your fingers to a following G. Especially likely if you’ve just typed an I, given very common monosyllabic words in ING (BRING, FLING, RING, SING, SLING, STING, WING, and, yes, THING) and the very high frequency of -ING as an suffix.

Just one example. But I found it pretty quickly (through a search on “thing sliced”), and it should at least make the pure-typo finger-memory analysis plausible. (More systematic evidence would be a light year or so beyond my research resources.)

2 Responses to “Thing sliced ham”

  1. Michael Newman Says:

    Absolutely a tangent but Grandpa (as in the actor who played him) had an eponymous restaurant in Greenwich Village. I saw him standing outside one day looking like he did in the series.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      That would be Al Lewis. From Wikipedia:

      Grandpa Sam Dracula (Grandpa Vladimir Dracula in The Munsters Today) is a fictional character in the CBS sitcom The Munsters, originally played by Al Lewis [born Abraham Meister; 1923-2006; later in life a restaurant owner, political candidate, and radio broadcaster]. The doting, irritable, and sarcastic father of Lily Munster, Grandpa is an undead vampire. The role was later played by Howard Morton in the 1980s television series The Munsters Today.

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