Archive for the ‘Errors’ Category


October 1, 2016

Heard in the documentary Bridegroom, a character saying she had to call 911 for an ambliance (rather than ambulance) a number of times during her son’s childhood. The substitution has been reported in child language, as part of a more general shift

C/jul/ > C/li/

(facilitating ease of production) also affecting, for instance, ridiculous (> ridiclious). And it’s moderately common in adult speech (as in Bridegroom), presumably as a holdover from the child form.


Breaking bad

September 12, 2016

Today’s One Big Happy is mostly about Ruthie’s mistaking femur (a genuinely rare word) for fever (a common one):

But there’s also a crucial ambiguity in the verb break.


Linguistics and its orthographically related disciplines

August 26, 2016

Nathan Sanders writes on Facebook to display the nameplate for his new position at Haverford College:

There are few people in LINGUISTICS who have not been afflicted by the spelling LINQUISTICS, or else LINGUSITICS. But it is a little-known fact that these are actual names of academic disciplines quite distinct from linguistics.


More Ruthian re-shaping

August 25, 2016

A One Big Happy (dated 7/27) in my comics feed today: once again, Ruthie re-shapes an unfamiliar expression, in this case the legal-tinged word offense (‘a breach of a law or rule; an illegal act’ — NOAD2), in the phrase first offense:

with first offense re-shaped as thirsty fence, a phrase that doesn’t make sense, but at least has the familiar word fence in it (and is very very close phonetically to first offense: initial f vs. 𝛉, unaccented ǝ vs. i or I).

I suppose it’s possible that at some point before the time of the strip, Ruthie heard first offense, didn’t understand it, and re-shaped it  But what the substitution really looks like is an old mishearing of first offense; mishearings very often don’t make sense, but do have parts that are recognizable words.

At this point, you’d really want to look at errors made by real, rather than cartoon, kids, in context.


Word times: two Ruthies, three Psychs

June 24, 2016

Annals of lexical confusions and innovations. Two word problems from Ruthie in the cartoon One Big Happy (two recent strips), a word confusion and two innovations from the tv show Psych.


Movies and tv: ethnic versatility (Nouri)

May 24, 2016

(Only a little about language — but one in a series on movies and tv and on race and ethnicity.)

Watching an NCIS re-run recently, I reflected, not for the first time, on the actor Michael Nouri in the role of Eli David, director of Israeli Mossad, thinking, “Wait! Isn’t Nouri Lebanese?” So, it turns out, he is, though his Wikipedia page and his own website don’t mention this, providing only minimal personal information about the man (his birthdate and place), concentrating otherwise entirely on his acting career.

In any case, another chapter in the great story of Ethnic Versatility: one actor of Mediterranean ancestry (or looking like such a person, as many Latins do, or simply having a dark complexion) can play the role of any other. Lebanese-American? Hey, you’ll be fine as an Israeli Jew, with some dialect coaching. You already look the part.


Reciting formulas

April 13, 2016

The 3/13 One Big Happy, recently in my cartoon feed:

Ruthie and Joe are both mishearing parts of the Lord’s Prayer (in one of its many variants). Ruthie, line 1: “Our Father, who art in heaven”. Joe, line 2: “Hallowed be His name”.  This is a highly formulaic text, in a strange variety of English, most often heard recited by groups of people mumbling out of synch with one other. The text is odd, and hard to make out: a perfect breeding place for mishearings.

About as good as texts sung to music. Songs often have remarkable words — poetic, allusive, dialectal, archaic, idiosyncratic, whatever — and singing itself and musical accompaniment deform and conceal wording. Hence classic mondegreens. Rote recitation of texts nurtures something very similar to mondegreens (often classed with them).

Rita M. Weep

April 1, 2016

A One Big Happy that appeared in my feed yesterday, though it’s dated 3/2:

I’m enormously fond of Ruthie’s  attempts to find meaning in expressions that were unfamiliar to her when she first (mis)heard them, as here. She’d heard “read ’em and weep” used at a triumphant moment in playing poker, and clearly interpreted the beginning as the name Rita, but she isn’t entirely sure what the rest was, though she makes a try at M. Weep. (I think Rita M. Weep would be a fine character to weave a fantasy around. Maybe she’s the famous “lovely Rita, meter maid”.)

I note that the kids have picked up a good bit of poker talk. Trip jacks for “three jacks” is especially nice.

The invasive starling

March 24, 2016

Yesterday’s Rhymes With Orange::


Two things here. One, the fact that English has both riffle through and rifle through, with different histories, but with very similar pronunciations (riffle with /ɪ/, rifle with /aj/) and very similar meanings. But both endure. In the case of the cartoon, I would have said riffle, but it all turns on the starling’s intentions in going through that underwear drawer.

And two, how we are to understand invasive. And that takes us into a great morass of uses for this word and for the word alien, the starling being an alien species in North America, in the technical sense that it is not a species native to the continent, but was introduced from abroad.


Ruthie and word division

March 3, 2016

Today’s One Big Happy, in which Ruthie mishears a phrase by dividing it into words not in the intended way:

grave event > gravy vent. It’s possible to distinguish the two in speech, but in ordinary connected speech, they’re homophonous. Of course, gravy vent doesn’t make much sense, but then that’s true of many other mishearings as well.

Word division mishearings are not uncommon, and word division is sometimes also exploited in jokes.