‘Tis the season not only for more bloopers but for unpleasant illnesses for students. I received an email from a student who needed something and being a very polite student, he wrote, “Dear Mrs. Palmer, I apologize in advance for any incontinence.” I’ll pause for just a second here so that you can have a moment to let that really sink in. My guess is that while he was typing on his mobile device, he got to “i-n-c-o-n,” when his mobile device suggested “incontinence” for “inconvenience,” an unfortunate substitution for both sender and receiver. Another student, who was suffering not only from some internal disruption but a high disclosure rate, wrote, “I won’t be in class today. I just woke up and started puking … If it doesn’t reside, I’m going to have to miss class.”
I got a good chuckle from the following email. A student who was having problems with a transfer of credits from a class taken at another institution wrote, “ I assumed that it counted for 6 credits but I could most defiantly be incorrect. Please get back to me whenever you’re free. No rush!”
Some writing gets tangled because of a partial recall of a certain word or phrase. Describing a lovely geographical region, a student wrote “Although world renown for their environmental beauty … the announcement about the impact of the environment on the area clearly lacks sustenance.” Spelling can be a source of tangled language as well. Another student wrote “enviroment” while another piece of writing that I saw spoke of “the need to be confidant” in approaching a difficult situation. An email summarizing an upcoming dinner included the following line “There will be 2 8 ft tables with clothes for the food.” And one of my recent favorites was on a fashion and style blog written by an exuberant, free-spirited author, who wishing to convey an elegant flair, wrote “Grey poupan, anyone?”
Sometimes the source of the incorrect language can be a confusion between words which sound the same but are different parts of speech, for example “passed” and “past.” The following example is from a short article published by a fairly well-known publishing house with a team of very good editors. “But as life moved on and time past, I was able to see a few things much more clearly.” And another example that slipped past (not passed) the editorial team “so perhaps we should consider what it might look like to begin living quieter.” Can you identify the error? “Quieter” is a comparative adjective but because the idea of being more quiet modifies the verb form “living”, the sentence requires the adverbial phrase “more quietly.”
I’ll end with two more examples that I hope will bring a smile. In a small essay describing the importance of listening if two people are having a conflict (good advice all around!), an author wrote “Change roles. The listener now becomes the speaker and visa-versa.” And finally, a colleague of mine noticed that a recent announcement from a service organization that he belongs to contained the line “the old bridge will be replaced with Emory and Henry students.”
JULIA PALMER is an associate professor of modern languages at Hampden-Sydney College. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.