HALLIE EPHRON: Writers everywhere got a giggle out of a widely copied headline from The Oregonian celebrating the debut of the Oakland A's switch-pitcher Pat Venditte.
Blogs had a field day with it:
From Snopes.com: "Oakland A’s reliever Pat Venditte may be able to throw with either hand, but he can’t pitch underwater."
The Washington Post quipped: "... well, let’s just say he made a splash."
It reminded me of a sadder news story I'd read a few weeks earlier about a victim who was "killed by a rouge bullet."
I like to collect these turns of phrase, especially the ones where the mistake renders a new layer of meaning. My cache includes
- Beyond the pail
- Have a quick peak
And in my own writing, there was the time I was talking about a bowls and instead wrote bowels. Fortunately someone (not me) caught that before it went to galleys.
Here are the nearly-alikes that I often confuse:
Have you made some interesting "typos" in your manuscript? Are there words that trip you up?
SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: It's so funny that you put this up — only this morning I was having a steak/stake moment — yes, I was talking about a metaphoric vampire, so it was stake — but does the "steak" mean I'm unconsciously hungry? Tired of mostly vegetarian life? What should I make for dinner?
Hallie, I also do discrete/discreet and descent/decent and others. I think we U.S. Americans are so much-mouthed when we speak that the differences are unintelligible, making for vague spellings. (Or, you know, that's what I tell myself.)
A friend recently mixed up "vaginal" and "vestigial" in conversation — that was a bit confusing until we sorted it out....
And I always have to remind myself about "Hear! Hear!" as opposed to "Here! Here!"
HALLIE: Is it "Hear! Hear!" -- really??? And what about "making due" or is it "making do"? I could go either way. And "cut the muster" or "cut the mustard"?
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: It's making do, no question. And yes, Hear, hear. Cut the mustard. (But why, that I don't know.) Pass muster. (That I do. Military.)
But is it carrot AND stick approach? Or is it: carrot ON A stick approach? Or is it: carrot or stick approach?
And don't even get me started an effect and affect. I men, I understand it, I do. I just can't remember it. And it ALWAYS sounds so wrong..I just avoid it.
It's like one of my (very funny but strangely-educated) pals once said to me-- "This is SO difficult! I't like Godot pushing that boulder up the mountain."
DEBORAH CROMBIE: Hank, it's "Carrot AND stick." Because you use both to get the donkey to do what you want:-) And Sisyphus! How funny. "Discrete" and "discreet" get me every time. I think it's because I was a biology major, where "discrete" means "apart of detached from others." So confusing. And "affect" and "effect." But then I have the British stuff to contend with, too, like "inquiry" and "enquiry." Ack.
Oh, what is the "pale", by the way? And why are we beyond it?
Hallie, I'm glad someone caught "bowel." :-)
HANK: But I always imagine the carrot hanging from a string tied to the end of the stick, and the rider holds it out in front of the mule, and the mule keeps walking toward the always-ahead-of-him carrot. Carrot ON a stick. which is still, carrot and stick. And string. But you are not whapping the mule with the stick.
RHYS BOWEN: I have always struggled with spelling (unlike my friend who got a stoke of the cane for every word she got wrong and was thus a terrific speller. I also have to battle with Transatlantic differences. Draft versus draught.
Discrete is a big stumbling block for me. Affect/effect also really have to think through that one every time it comes up. Don't you think that soon English will be purely phonetic and thus none of this will matter?
I can answer the Pale question. In the middle ages villages had a fence of stakes (not steaks) around them and that was called the pale. If you were beyond it, you outside society. BTW a pet peeve of mine is the use of "outside of"
HALLIE: So what words and expressions trip you up? And Susan, I hope you'll share what your friend was trying to say when she used vestigial instead of vaginal, or was it the other way 'round? Rhys, that's brilliant! I never knew the origin of "beyond the pale." And I'll never hear the play title WAITING FOR GODOT without thinking of Sisyphus.