Teachers Savor Students' 'Mist Queues'

Rob Kyff on

Sometimes, when grading my students' papers and tests, I encounter errors that disarm me because they reflect young minds struggling with the complexities of the English language.

While reading a student's history test recently, I came upon this sentence: "President Taft disappointed Progressives with a series of mist queues."

After picturing people queuing up outside the White House on a foggy day, I realized the student meant "miscues," a term I had used in class to describe Taft's blunders.

Instead of being depressed by this, I was actually heartened by the student's brave attempt to correlate the word I had spoken with words he knew.

It can happen the other way around, of course. Sometimes students encounter a word in print but, having never heard it spoken, have no idea how to pronounce it.

A colleague in the English department, for instance, once assigned his students a poem by the German author Johann Goethe, whose last name is correctly pronounced "GEHR-tuh" or "GEH-tuh." The next day in class, the teacher was taken aback when a girl referred to "Goath." But how could she have known?

Teachers often send me errors from their students' papers, and I can't resist sharing some of the more amusing and charming ones:

"The federal government imposed a 25% exercise tax on whiskey." Does elbow bending constitute exercise? (excise tax)

"Women were expected to be celebrate before marriage." Bachelorette parties? (celibate)


"In the first days of America's life as a country, it was really a blank palate ready and waiting to be molded into whatever the Founding Fathers chose." Were they oral surgeons? (blank slate? blank palette?)

"Gangrene was another one of the more popular maladies at Andersonville (a Confederate prison camp for Union soldiers.)" Did a Gallup Poll show high approval among the prisoners? (common maladies)

"The speakeasies were spectacle about letting in unknown people." Well, speakeasies did have a lot of glasses. (skeptical about)

"A statistical sampling error skewered the results of the survey." Was it a survey about shish kebobs? (skewed the results)

"Hamlet felt that his father was a great man and that Gertrude was not morning him correctly." Did she fail to serve his father's ghost breakfast in bed? (mourning)

"After the death of her husband, Gertrude was left on her own, a situation that she cannot bare." Though she did bare all when she hastened to incestuous sheets with her husband's brother. (cannot bear)


Rob Kyff, a teacher and writer in West Hartford, Connecticut, invites your language sightings. His new book, "Mark My Words," is available for $9.99 on Send your reports of misuse and abuse, as well as examples of good writing, via email to or by regular mail to Rob Kyff, Creators Syndicate, 737 3rd Street, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.

Copyright 2021 Creators Syndicate Inc.



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