Unintended Wordplay

By John Weeren

To paraphrase Jane Austen, it is a truth universally acknowledged that even the most experienced wordsmith must be in want of an editor. For how else are we to explain the errors that creep into documents and publications of every kind? Many of these mistakes are pedestrian—a missing comma here; an incorrect spelling there—but some are more consequential.

As The New York Times noted in a correction published last fall, “an article on Thursday about a growing number of working Americans who earn too little to afford rent and have turned their cars into a form of affordable housing included a column of type that was printed backward. (There was no need to get your eyes checked.)” As you can see, The Times addressed this embarrassment with a dash of humor. Indeed, some missteps are intrinsically amusing.

Take, for example, a 2016 email from our own Office of Information Technology, announcing a new system for accessing alumni data, that prompted the following correction from then Vice President and Chief Information Officer Jay Dominick: “In case you are wondering, you can’t actually look up any ‘biological’ information on our alumni. You can, however, look up certain ‘biographical’ information, which is probably a lot more helpful anyway.”

In 1980, the Columbia Journalism Review published a collection of its favorite “journalistic flubs” in a volume entitled “Squad Helps Dog Bite Victim.” While such unfortunate constructions underscore the importance of rigorous proofreading, they can also temper a heavy diet of cheerless news.

So, to kick off 2024, here are some bloopers to tickle your funny bone:

“Dr. Tackett Gives Talk On Moon”

“Farmer Bill Dies In House”

“Edmisten Seeking Injunction Against Damn Construction”

“Aging Expert Joins University Faculty”

“Caribbean islands drift to left”

“Police Can’t Stop Gambling”

“Stiff opposition expected to casketless funeral plan”

“Town OKs Animal Rule”

“Owners of all dogs in the city of Metropolis are required to be on a chain or in a fenced in area.

“AN ITALIAN SINNER will be served at 5:30 p.m. at the Essex Center United Methodist Church”

Stephen King was right: “to write is human, to edit is divine,” but perfection, could we achieve it, is likely to be less enjoyable.