In my job, as sub-editor at a community newspaper, I had to reprimand a reporter for shoddy work.
His report was submitted for subbing with several repeated paragraphs. When I pointed this out to him, he swore it was a systems error.
This was highly unlikely and even if it was, he should have made the necessary corrections to the piece before sending it on for subbing.If he had known the word, he probably would have said that a ‘gremlin’ found its way into the report. English was not his first language and so he settled for systems error as his justification.
What is a gremlin?
Dictionary.com says: a mischievous invisible being, said by airplane pilots in World War II to cause engine trouble and mechanical difficulties.
A loose wire was the gremlin that blew out the lights.
Merriam Webster definition of gremlin: a cause of error or equipment malfunction (as in aircraft) conceived of as a small mischievous gnome.
Collins: A gremlin is a tiny imaginary evil spirit th
at people say is the cause of a problem, especially in a machine, which they cannot explain properly or locate.
The microphones went dead as if the technical gremlins had struck again.
Oxford: An imaginary mischievous sprite regarded as responsible for an unexplained mechanical or electronic problem or fault.
All agree, it’s something small and elf-like.
This morning I saw a tiny red bug crawling across my keyboard. Can I blame it for any errors that there might be in this blog? A grammar gremlin?
Many English language experts have written chapter and verse about it. Any search will produce a list of books that address the grammar gremlin, giving explanations for correct grammar and word usage, much as I do in this blog.
Grammar gremlins are everywhere. I see them as typos or words used absent-mindedly because they sound the same. This happens when your phonetic brain is switched on but your intellectual brain is in rest mode.
Examples of these are a writer using sole instead of soul, peak, instead of peek, plague instead of plaque (I often see this) or this one; pubic when the writer means public.
I once wrote in an angry email. “Please leave me aloan”. When I looked at it months later, I could immediately dentify the Freudian slip. At the time, I was being hounded by creditors, and did not have the money to pay. Sometimes the subconscious mind is the cause of the grammar gremlin, and no amount of blame, not even spellcheck, will get you out of that one.