14-3 humor

The Center for Literate Values ~ Defending the Western tradition of responsible individualism, disciplined freedom, tasteful creativity, common sense, and faith in a supreme moral being.



A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis

14.3 (Summer 2014)


grammatical gaffes



Linguistic Death Watch


Occurs in student writing with ever-increasing frequency. Possible origin: an answer to the question “how” in circumstances where other answers are stand-alone nouns. “How is money to be saved?” “Investment… cost-cutting… lay-offs… by modernizing plant and equipment.”

example: “By getting more tax revenue could be the only way to build a new school.”


“aisle” for “isle”

example: “Nugent spent hours in the library reading about the Blessed Aisles.”

Improbable origin: Early libraries were but large rooms with shelves covering all four walls. The single central space was not conducive to reading: even when patrons observed the most mannerly silence, their mere circulation hither and yon to view volumes was a great distraction to the would-be student. It was therefore decided to create pockets of space demarcated by additional shelves. These pockets were called, quite logically, “islands”—or just “isles”. Librarians would designate such spaces as A Isle, B Isle C Isle, and so on.

Eventually, Mr. Dewey saw to it that the spaces were more efficiently numbered; but in the meantime, A Isle had fused to create the word “aisle” which we all know and love so well. In Newspeak, the two words are perfectly interchangeable, whether used of library spaces or of volcanic outcrops in the Pacific. No problem.

“meddle” for “medal”

example: “I should like petty bureaucrats to stop medaling in physics.”

Improbable origin: We all know that the number of Olympic Events has grown and grown in order to celebrate the diversity and richness of human experience and talent. Walking was added to running; skateboarding has been added to skiing, and snowboarding to skateboarding; curling is another recent arrival… and can it be long before big-hair, Southern Baptist homemakers with plug-in curling irons are also awarded their own version of that competition? After all, everybody is the best in the world at something!

In what are vaguely known to business professionals as “affairs”, some excel at going boldly where no man—or woman—of a particular rank and pay-grade was supposed to go. In fact, so many people on our public-sector planet are really, really good at “meddling in the affairs of others” that the Olympics Committee has lately decided to recognize their contribution to postmodern civilization. It is now entirely proper to speak of “medaling in others’ affairs”. The event takes place indoors and, as such, is staged during both summer and winter games. Certain Russian diplomats who know nothing about figure-skating are strong favorites to medal in the affairs of that event’s judges.

“initial” for “entail”

example: “Worried about my lack of experience, I asked exactly what the job would initial.”

iPad spell-corrector alert: your happy e-slave is probably tidying up after a little keyboard slip

demonstration: With a thick bandage on your pointer, or after a really bad night without morning Java to compensate, you might find that, “Being convicted of libel requires the conscious formation of intent to deceive,” has transformed into the monstrosity, “Bing convicts liable to quit conscience for Nation of Islam if deceased.” Go back to bed.

“instinct” for “extinct”

example: “The woolly mammoth had gone instinct by the end of the Ice Age.”

Improbable origin: In the beginning, before animals had an opportunity to be selected by Darwin, they were all just slug-dumb. Undefended by any sort of prophylactic code in their DNA, they routinely had unprotected sex, and their cranial capacity continued to degrade…

But no, this one isn’t going the right way. Try the following: Once upon a time, an elite group of homicide detectives on the NYPD was charged with tracking down a dangerous serial killer. At first the malefactor was very clever, and even these crack sleuthhounds despaired of being able to bring him to justice. The years wore on and the crimes increased in number and violence, until finally… the killings simply stopped. It was remarkable. The detectives, despite their century’s worth of combined experience, had never witnessed such a criminal to drop suddenly and permanently off the radar.

Only by some ingenious deduction did they connect their prey to a peculiar suicide case. The man in question had thrown off all his clothes in Times Square, turning into a gorilla before the eyes of hundreds, before scaling a tall building and hurling himself upon the blades of a chopper that had come to talk him down. The professional profiler shook his head over the evidence and pronounced his considered verdict on the closed case: “I’ve seen it before. Sometimes these wild men… they just go instinct in a puff of smoke.”

Okay, so we should have stuck with the first one.

“peruse” for “pursue”

example: “We intend to peruse this elusive cat-burglar until he is caught.”

Another police story: “Your Incident Report says that you perused the burglar.” “That’s right, Lieutenant.” “What did you find?” “Several dangling modifiers and… oh, must have been three dozen transferred epithets. He really has a taste for other people’s epithets, that guy.” “Good thing we got him off the street. What’s his story?” “He told us to read the dedication inside his coat collar, but we couldn’t. It was in Chinese.” “If you don’t know Chinese, how do you know that’s what it was?” “Aw, give me a break, Lieutenant! This was just a quick perusal. I had to peruse him his rights, and then he lawyered up. I didn’t have time to get a good look at that tattoo, but… there was something there, a lot of really interesting letters, yeah. And they ain’t going nowhere.”

“Plutonic” for “Platonic”

example: “Determined to stay focused on their vital work, Paul and Leah maintained a wholly Plutonic friendship.”

This word might prove very serviceable in the right circumstances, as in the following.

Paul and Leah were an unusual couple. To all of their mutual acquaintances, they didn’t seem to get along in any way, shape, or form. They picked at each other in the office, they argued when they went out to lunch, and those who had seen them on the town during weekend evenings swore that they looked ready to kill each other. Furthermore, although both were reasonably attractive in form, neither appeared to attract the other physically. There was no hand-holding at any moment, no pecks behind the water cooler, no feet interlacing under the restaurant table.

An especially daring soul finally put the question to Paul that was on everyone’s mind. “Paul, why do you and Leah hang out together so much when you just put each other through hell?”

“You’ve answered your own question,” smiled Paul darkly. “Our relationship is entirely Plutonic.”