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Monday, August 1, 2011

85. From my Archives: Idiotisms

Idiotisms: howlers, bloopers and silly mistakes
The just plain stupid things we write and say

We’re all guilty of it at some time or other – we open our mouth and put our foot in it. These small human failings go by various names: howlers, bloopers, idiotisms. But whatever name we give them, these not so bon mots give rise to two reactions: embarrassment for the speaker (or writer) and riotous laughter for the listener or reader.

Radio and TV programs devoted to ‘bloopers’ – the name such errors have been given in those industries – chronicle he frailty of the human tongue – the capacity of news presenters, interviewers, actors and the like to get things wrong.

For many years, it was quite common for newspapers to print what were termed ‘schoolboy howlers’. Such articles often appeared in January newspapers, and were gleaned from the examination scripts of students who, in the heat of a two or three hour exam managed to get the pen in motion before properly engaging the brain. Gems like:

The rhythem of the Bible is usually unrhyming Diameters.

A metaphor is a thing you shout through.

And he said “What shall I do to inherit interal life?”

Poetry is when every line starts with a capital letter.

William the Conqueror was thrown from his horse, and wounded in the feudal system, and died from it.

There is sometimes a certain joy in seeing the pompous make fools of themselves publicly. Or almost anybody, really. Especially TV journalists. The well known TV Sports commentator, Sandy Roberts, produced one of the all time greats of the genre. At the Melbourne Cup, in around 1980, he stood up in front of the nearly 100,000 people at the race track, and an audience of millions of television viewers, to introduce the 1980 Miss Australia,a young women with the unfortunate name of Susan Dick. Sandy Robert’s managed to stun the nation, however, when he began:
“May I introduce the winner of the 1980 Miss Australia contest, Miss Australia herself: Susan Cock. "

Politicians, perhaps because they are in the public gaze so often, and are so prone to giving speeches, inevitably blunder from time to time. But Dan Quayle, the vice president of America in the early 1990s, managed to produce idiotisms on almost every occasion that he spoke publicly. Such was his outstanding achievement in this regard that a website has been established devoted to recording for posterity Dan Quayle’s unrivalled capacity to produce inanities. Here are a few:

Mars is essentially in the same orbit... Mars is somewhat the same distance from the Sun, which is very important. We have seen pictures where there are canals, we believe, and water. If there is water, that means there is oxygen. If oxygen, that means we can breathe.

I have made good judgments in the Past.I have made good judgments in the Future.

Peter Sellars once satirized poli-speak in a sketch which lampoons the pompous, ponderous pointlessness of much Party political propaganda:
“Let me begin by saying that I do not consider existing conditions likely. On the contrary, I regard them as matters of the gravest significance…”

The English language, in the hands – or rather, on the tongues – of non-native English speakers can give rise to some extraordinary word pictures.

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