Monday, June 1, 2015

Whitely + Whiteley (for Whiteley or Whitely)

In the 1986 book Fabulous Folks of the Old Northwest, the chapter called "Fabulous OpalFact or Fiction?" opens like this: "Opal Whiteley, whose childhood diary, allegedly written in a Northwest lumber camp when she was six years old, plummeted her to fame in the 1920's, is one of the most controversial enigmas in Northwest history." You know, I'll tell you what else is an enigma—that sentence! How is it possible to be so technically grammatical, and yet to read so intractably as though it weren't? I don't know if there are two too many commas in there, or one too many non-restrictive clauses, but there is something not quite right, and yet not exactly wrong about it either. And then there's that word plummeted. Can a person really "plummet" to fame? Which way is fame, anyway? A friend allows that one could possibly plummet to infamy, but probably not to fame. Google searches on "her to fame" and "him to fame" supply a variety of workable verbs in this case (rocketed, launched, thrust, shot, vaulted, catapulted, drove, propelled, etc.), but nothing that would suggest falling rather than rising. "Plummeted" was a poor choice of words there, not only due to the direction it implies, but also because, while one can either plummet or be plummeted, one can't really plummet something else. Another sort-of solecism appears on the next page too, where we're told: "Her unique ability to make all the pieces of her destiny fall into place was uncanny, especially, if it was all contrived." It's hard to know whether that second comma is needed there or not, but it does seem to change the meaning or emphasis of the sentence just a little. At any rate, suffice it to say that this book could have used a good proofreader, perhaps someone a bit more like the precocious and paradoxical Opal Whiteley herself, who first rose to fame, and then plummeted, if you will, to infamy, all in the course of a few short years. There isn't room here to do this fabulous creature justice, but you can read her amazing story in her own words in Opal: The Journal of an Understanding Heart or The Singing Creek Where the Willows Grow, as well as in the often contentious words of others. There were 25 cases of today's typo in OhioLINK, and 146 in WorldCat.

(Opal Whiteley, December 11, 1897—February 16, 1992, American nature writer and diarist, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid

No comments: