Learning From My Meaty 'Misteaks'
Do you think of me as a pillar of linguistic virtue, a Doric columnist of verbal perfection? Alas, poor Doric, you do not know me well.
It's time for true confessions. Here are some grammatical, usage and spelling errors I've made during my checkered career as a student, teacher and writer. As Benjamin Franklin said, "Experience keeps a dear school, but a fool will learn in no other."
Speaking of school, as a college sophomore, I wrote what I thought was a profound, sophisticated paper contrasting Rip Van Winkle and Benjamin Franklin. (Spoiler alert: These two American archetypes are VERY different, except perhaps when Ben fell asleep during the Constitutional Convention.)
My English professor's extensive negative comments on the paper included this erudite observation: "'A lot' is two words, not one."
Later that year, I wrote a highly charged history paper about a Revolutionary War cavalry raid. In it, I spelled "cavalry" as "calvary" about a zillion times. ("Calvary," of course, is the site where Jesus was crucified.) Professor Greene circled the first few misspellings and then gave up.
A few years later, trying to wheedle a job as a newspaper reporter, I boasted of "my strong news judgement" in a letter to a daily paper in Minnesota. The editor returned my letter with this scrawled notation: "We don't hire people who can't spell 'judgment.'"
Well, I decided, there's always teaching. So, I took a job as an English teacher. What the heck, I figured, at least I know how to spell "a lot," "cavalry" and "judgment."
After observing one of my first classes, the department chairman took me aside. "Do you realize," he said, "that you repeatedly said 'metamorphic' for 'metaphoric' and 'entomology' for 'etymology'?" (If we'd been studying rocks and insects instead of poems and word origins, I guess I would have been OK.)
I gained an even wider audience for my gaffes when I became a freelance writer. In one newspaper essay celebrating the summer solstice, I wrote that the sun's rays had reached their "furthest point north of the equator."
A letter soon arrived. Praise for my brilliant lyricism? Nope. "Don't you know," the letter read, "that 'farthest' refers to physical distance, and 'furthest' refers to figurative distance?" I do now.
And when I wrote in one of my first language columns, "Everything didn't come up roses," everything came up razzes. Wrote one reader, "Didn't you mean to say, 'Not everything came up roses?'
Ouch! -- another thorn in my side.
Rob Kyff, a teacher and writer in West Hartford, Connecticut, invites your language sightings. His book, "Mark My Words," is available for $9.99 on Amazon.com. Send your reports of misuse and abuse, as well as examples of good writing, via email to WordGuy@aol.com or by regular mail to Rob Kyff, Creators Syndicate, 737 3rd Street, Hermosa Beach, California, 90254.
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