Inspired by Sue de Groot’s column in the Sunday Times, I am writing about my own grammar gremlin findings of the past few days.
In this period I read a lot of articles looking for answers to explain the looting, as I am sure many of you did.
In one, I read about a ‘blue childs toy’ – no punctuation and no sub-editor on site – clearly. Unfortunately I do not have a copy of the reference but I remember it well – at the time thinking that even within the flexibility of our very liberal constitution and genetic engineering, we have yet to produce blue children. That’s effectively what the phrase means. Of course, a smart sub-editor, would have changed it to a child’s blue toy – clearly the toy is blue and NOT the child. I never knew children came in blue… what an enlightened moment.
In more grammar news, Lydia Hoyland writes, “Despite all the trauma and what has stood out even more than the devastation, is how South Africans are standing together as ONE, supporting each other, supporting communities and protecting businesses. The human spirit never seizes to amaze us… Of course, what she means is ‘ceases to amaze’ with the word ‘cease’ to mean ‘stop’.
Homophones: same sound, different meaning
Sue de Groot writes, “In a recent communique from a published author, I was surprised to read the phrase, ‘a grizzly discovery’. The discovery had to do with old bones and what the writer meant, of course, was ‘grisly’.”
These homophones trip up even the most practiced and accomplished authors – I can recount my own – saying ‘aloan’ when I meant ‘alone’, however, fitting in response to an annoying call for payment.
Sue adds, “It is comforting to know that even the most worthy of wordsmiths can make mistakes, which is why publishers employ editors, and even these exalted beings can occasionally be fallible.”
The joy of learning
A comment on her piece from Peter Doble: “I consider myself a reasonable wordsmith spanning six decades and have made some real howlers over the years – memorably “umbridge” for “umbrage” (derived from the Latin umbra) and “cow tow” or “kowtow” taken from the Chinese.
“The joy of life is that you never stop learning and as my dear old gran would say ….”always keep the dictionary beside you,” he adds.
I would love to hear about the mistakes that have made you blush in horror at your own word sins and I will be sharing more of my own in the future.