Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Copywright* (for Copyright* or Copywrite*)

The first U.S. federal copyright act was passed today in 1790 and it's been kind of a hard word to get right ever since. I once had an unfortunate moment of "wordnesia" (during a spelling bee, no less) and inexplicably spelled the word playwright "playwrite," so I can understand how some people might be inclined to misspell copyright as "copywright." Or even "copywrite." Especially since those who write "copy" are called copywriters. Lots of copy has been written about copyright (both pro and con), but there may not be any dissent at all when it comes to the "best copyright statement ever," as helpfully supplied by a NYLINE member recently. It's from the Riverhead Books division of Penguin Random House and starts off typically enough ("Penguin supports copyright..."), but soon veers off into "a clear and charming argument for the importance of supporting intellectual property." The copyright statement, which was suggested by cartoonist Ryan North, author of a "choose your own adventure" series based on the stories of Shakespeare, continues for a while and then interjects: "Also, way to go on reading all this small print! Lots of readers just skip over it (they think it's "boring"), but it's nice to see that you, for one, are getting your money's worth out of this book by reading every single word it contains. In thanks, here are some special words just for you that won't appear anywhere else in this book: callipygian, saudade, and mamihlapinatapei. Look at those words! Those are some quality words, and everyone else who picked up this book is missing out." I know that callipygian means, to put it bluntly, having a big beautiful butt, but I had to look up the other two, an endeavor I highly endorse. And speaking of big butts, I was just discussing with a friend whether the more "proper" expression is "butt naked" or "buck naked." It's an interesting debate that may or may not involve a level of racial bigotry. Some words are intrinsically "offensive," I suppose you could say, while others are simply misunderstood (niggardly, picnic, etc.). Just ask your favorite copywriter. Today's typo came up seven times in OhioLINK, and 291 times in WorldCat. (In one case, though, what at first looked like a typo actually turned out to be a pun of sorts: The Copywrights: Intellectual Property and the Literary Imagination.)

(Three happy copywriters in 1950s Chicago, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Nuremburg* (for Nuremberg*)

Today in 1828, a raggedy, shambolic teen, who claimed his name was Kaspar Hauser, materialized on the streets of Nuremberg, Germany. He was carrying two letters with him, both of them written in the same hand. One was purportedly by the anonymous man who had raised him and taught him a few fundamentals, while the other was from his mother, stating that his dad was dead, but had once been a member of the German cavalry. (Kaspar was unable or unwilling to say much of anything else, other than: "I want to be a cavalryman, as my father was" and "Horse! Horse!") He later expanded his account, insisting that he had long been kept locked in a small dark enclosure with nothing but bread and water to subsist on, and a little toy horse to play with. Experts now believe the boy probably wrote both letters himself, but the real question is why. His story is a convoluted and confusing one, but Kaspar Hauser is still widely thought to have been the original "wolf boy" or "feral child." He died (by his own hand, and perhaps by accident) at the age of twenty-one. His epitaph reads: "Here lies Kaspar Hauser, riddle of his time. His birth was unknown, his death mysterious." Though some see him as a simple (if not simple-minded) prevaricator, his tale has resonated throughout the years. In 1974, director Werner Herzog memorialized it in The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser. In the film Fahrenheit 451, Guy Montag slips a copy of a book called Gaspard Hauser into his bag before the rest of the collection is burned. Hauser has been referenced by a great many writers, including Leo Tolstoy and Herman Melville. There's even a syndrome named after him—not for his possible "Munchausen" tendencies, but rather for his short stature and related physical anomalies. No lie, though, there were 100 cases of Nuremburg* (for Nuremberg*) in OhioLINK today, and "too many records found for your search" in WorldCat. The prevalence of this typo may be partly chalked up to the fact that there is also a city in Germany known as Nürburg. The two spellings for something like "fortified settlement on a hill" in German are often mixed up, even when it comes to words like iceberg, so be careful with this one (along with any other berg/burg typos that may turn up out there).

(Drawing of Kaspar Hauser, by Johann Georg Laminit, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Crimim* (for Crimin*)

While I have always been an admiring fan of "Weird Al" Yankovic, I haven't really been keeping up with his amazingly prolific career of late. So I was pleased to have been shown a recent clip from The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, where he performed a grumpily grammar-themed parody number called "Word Crimes"—a G-rated, F-graded send-up of Robin Thicke's sexy/sexist and controversial rap song "Blurred Lines." If anybody can pull off "spoken word" poetry about the process of writing, it's a word nerd like Weird Al. (He's downright antic and quite pedantic, wielding grammar as if he were MC Hammer!) He chides older listeners for their "errant" and "incoherent" e-mail and tweaks the tweeters for their childish constructions: "Be, see, are, you are words, not letters," he explains, adding, "Get it together!" He gives us a pass on the "Oxford comma" because, he admits, he doesn't want "all your drama." But then snidely murmurs: "Saw your blog post. It's really fantastic! That was sarcastic. 'Cause you write like a spastic." "Word Crimes" (in contrast to its lurid inspiration) is frankly educational and inoffensively amusing, but it does perhaps push the PC envelope just a bit (by using a word such as "spastic," for example, a slur I can easily imagine a young Yankovic having been called on the school playground). In any case, if Al is ever accused of committing a "word crime" himself, he can always rely on the excellent rhyming defense. Today's typo was caught red-handed, six times in OhioLINK, and 91 times in WorldCat.

(Title card for "Word Crimes" video, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Exhibt* (for Exhibit*)

OMG, you're probably getting really sick of me TMIing about crossword puzzles all the time, but I have to say one more thing: I just finished the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle—correctly, completely, and completely unassisted—on the very same day I got it, no less—and for the very first time ever! And in spite of such wonderfully confounding clues as "'Conger eel? Au contraire!'" (THATSAMORAY) and "Repeatedly cried, 'Land ho!' with no land in sight, maybe?" (AGGRAVATEDASALT). Even the puzzle's theme seemed to reflect my own superlative results: "EXHIBIT A." The other day a coworker advised me that doing a lot of crossword puzzles makes a person ... good at doing crossword puzzles. I suppose that's true, if a tad deflating. You do tend to pick up lots of tiny, vowel-laden, Scrabble-friendly words; some of the trivia occasionally sticks with you; and working out the answers most likely does help support one's cognitive functions. Nevertheless, I think my esteemed colleague may be on to something. Crossword puzzles are pretty much their own reward. Exhibit A? The pleased-as-punch countenance of your dear old typo blogger! You know, I almost wrote "proud as punch" there, until I remembered that it was "proud as a peacock." I'm not exactly sure what "pleased as punch" could even mean (albeit the Kool-Aid Man always looked pretty happy!), but much like any punch-drunk, pun-dunked peacock, I'm proudly exhibiting my assets. (Seeing as how I can't seem to leave a single clue unsolved these days, though, I just looked it up. It turns out that it's a reference to the old "Punch and Judy" puppet shows, which would also suggest that the word Punch in this context should be capitalized, although apparently that's optional. Another variation on this phrase, it appears, was my initial inclination: "proud as punch.") Our typo for the day was found 53 times in OhioLINK, and scored "too many records found for your search" in WorldCat.

(NBC peacock logo, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Elphant* (for Elephant*)

"Murderous Mary," they called her. Though prior to September 11, 1916, the fateful day she killed an assistant animal trainer (little more than a newly arrived hobo turned janitor) in Kingsport, Tennessee, the five-ton Asian elephant had been a gentle and beloved beast. But when Mary paused the circus parade to investigate a watermelon rind on the side of the road, causing the trainer to inexpertly prod her behind the ear with an "elephant hook," she reacted with unexpected violence. She grabbed him with her trunk, threw him against a drink stand, and then stepped squarely on his head. The shocked onlookers demanded justice, crying, "Kill the elephant! Kill the elephant" The media played a major part in painting Mary as a "murderer"; they actually held a trial and convicted her. The circus owner, who had been with Mary since she was a baby, but whose motto seemed to be "Elephants are an investment," reluctantly bowed to pressure from the angry mob and sanctioned the dispatch. At first they attempted to shoot her, and when that didn't work, they contemplated "electrocuting" her (such as was actually done to an elephant named Topsy on Coney Island in 1903, and filmed by the Edison Corporation). Finally, they decided to hang her from a railroad derrick in the nearby town of Erwin. Whether this was more for the spectacle of the thing or because it was deemed a "humane" death (which it certainly wasn't) is hard to say. Later on it was learned, though, that she had had a badly infected tooth near the site where the untrained trainer had poked her, which surely must have exacerbated her outsize response. I recently saw a production of Elephant's Graveyard, by George Brant, in an odd old Masonic temple in downtown Albany. It treated the sad and peculiar events in Erwin like a morality tale told from the differing perspectives of both circus folk and townspeople. It also brought to mind that Indian parable about the blind men and the elephant, which was so large each man could only perceive a small portion of it (trunk, tail, and so on) and therefore all of them felt and described it differently. At one point, a character in the play invokes the idea of lynchings, a popular activity among Southern whites back then, and wonders why Erwin should be so notorious for the elephant hanging when so many black men had been hung there as well. You can read more about this dismal bit of Americana in the N.Y. Daily News and in the U.K. Daily Mail, which poignantly notes: "That night the circus went ahead as usual, but after the show one of the remaining elephants broke away from the herd and began running towards the railway yard. Since wild elephants are thought to return to the bones of fallen family members for many years, he perhaps went in search of Mary. But he was quickly recaptured and returned to the life of captive misery from which he had escaped..."

There were four instances of today's typo found in OhioLINK, and 147 in WorldCat. These errors should be swiftly eradicated, of course. But a much graver concern to us all is the potential eradication of endangered elephants, whom experts are now predicting could possibly go extinct within the next decade.

(Photograph of Mary hung in Erwin, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Palce* (for Place* or Palace*)

A couple of friends sent me this photo of the building in New York City where they had recently traveled for a baby's bris: Trump Place. I had been engaged in some rather thorny proofreading just then, and was feeling a tad punchy, so perhaps that had something to do with it, but my immediate reaction upon seeing the name of the place was that it had to be a typo. Surely, I thought, that's supposed to say Trump Palace, but some minion must have misspelled it! (Actually, there is a Trump Palace located in Manhattan, so for those who like to live large, and then even larger, along with the king of bling and schwing himself, there's always that option as well.) "Trump Place," in any case, does sound a little like a child's daycare center or playground of sorts; maybe with a bit more downsizing, "Trump Pals" can be next, and after that, a simple, retro "Trump P.S." Luckily, my initial mistake doesn't extend to the palavering pol for whom these places are named, though. I can spot that gaffe-making goof coming a mile away. Palce* (for palace* or place*) came up 27 times in OhioLINK, and 1,436 times in WorldCat.

(Photo of Trump Place, New York City.)

Carol Reid

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Mseum* (for Museum*)

Speaking of great museums, P.T. Barnum once solved the problem of traffic flow at the American Museum in New York City (a showcase for "oddities" both natural and unnatural) by pulling a rather punnish prank. He posted a sign: "This Way to the Egress." Those who didn't realize egress was just a fancy word for "exit" and thought that maybe they were about to see another exotic species or exciting hybrid of some sort, would suddenly find themselves blinking furiously in the sunlight. The New York State Museum employs the very same word to probably more or less the same effect: a dollop of semantic chagrin with a possible frisson of fear. On the front door there's a sign that states: "In order to provide safe egress from this building, smoking is prohibited within 25 feet of all entrances and exits." (Almost exactly 25 feet away is another sign that reads, "No Smoking." More ironic still might be the fact that, reportedly, several decades ago a large block of marble fell from that building onto the sidewalk below—where people continue to both walk and smoke.) Why did the egrets cross the road? To get far enough away from the museum. There were two sightings of today's typo in OhioLINK, and 52 in WorldCat.

(Great White Egret, 4 February 2015, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Meduim* (for Medium*)

We made it up to Los Angeles on our last day of vacation and were able to squeeze in a trip to the renowned J. Paul Getty Museum. The Getty is truly immense and contains all manner of amazing art. In addition to lingering over "Woven Gold: Tapestries of Louis XIV," and rooms full of Impressionist art, among many other treaures (I spotted "Clara the Rhinoceros" briefly in an orientation video, but was unable to locate her later on), we were excited to find ourselves there for "The Perfect Medium," a celebration of the work of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. Along with all the portraits of people and flowers, there was also a discreet corner devoted to the "X Portfolio," a series of graphic S & M images of gay men in NYC circa 1970. Mapplethorpe had come under attack for such images during the senatorial reign of Jesse Helms and the controversy surrounding government funding of the NEA. Or what we "intellectual freedom" types were simply inclined to call Art Censorship. (One of my favorite Loudon Wainwright songs states, "If Jesse don't like it, it's probably not art, Jesse knows what's good, oh, Jesse is smart.") The Getty's smart and expansive array of Mapplethorpe's work was accompanied by an equally fascinating exhibit from the collection of his life partner, and patron of his art, Sam Wagstaff. "The Perfect Medium" was the perfect end to a perfect week out west. Meduim* is a typo of "low probability" on the Ballard list, found four times in OhioLINK, and 107 times in WorldCat.

(Visitor looking at iconic Patti Smith portrait, taken at the Mapplethorpe exhibit, Getty Museum, April 27, 2016.)

Carol Reid

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Gammar (for Grammar, or Gammer)

Right after I wrote my humblebrag apologia about finding a "typo" in a crossword puzzle (the mistaken use of "effects" for "affects"), my partner handed me a page ripped from a recent issue of Vanity Fair. It was a tongue-in-cheek assemblage of "Unsung Superheroes: The Next Wave of Franchise Players from Marvel and DC," and included the Bean Counter, Super-Lawyer, Nude Celeb, Pop-Uppity, and Mud Slinger. Needless to say, though, the best of the lot was Grammar Girl. (Who might end up needing the services of Super-Lawyer if the real Grammar Girl, Mignon Fogarty, ever decides to take umbrage.) Grammar Girl "swoops in to save the day whenever frightened townsfolk desperately need to know who vs. whom, that vs. which, and just plain right vs. wrong. Her modifiers never dangle and her voice is never passive. She has just the right effect. Or affect. She'll tell you..." I'm sure she will. Hey, look, up in the sky! It's a nerd, it's a pain, it's Grammar Girl! There were five cases of today's typo in OhioLINK (though two were for possible variant renderings of an English play called Gammer Gurton's Needle), as well as 227 in WorldCat.

(Grammatica, from The Seven Liberal Arts, Sebald Beham, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid