The Language Perfectionist: To “Er…” Is Human

I have long been fascinated by funny mistakes committed by people who should know better. Whenever I find an amusing goof, I seize upon it. “How did the copy editors and proofreaders and fact-checkers miss that one?” I think.

Many people share my passion, judging by the popularity of Jay Leno’s “Headlines” segments, bloopers and outtakes on TV, and lists of errors, real or alleged, that circulate online. (“Dog for sale, eats anything, fond of children.”)

Even more appealing is when the boner is followed by a witty or snarky retort, in the style of The New Yorker.

I’m working on a book — a compilation of these gems. Here are a few samples:

  • Correction: “Some jesters in a British competition described in a page-one article last Monday ride on unicycles. The article incorrectly said they ride on unicorns.”

The unicorns’ union is filing a protest about those lost jobs.

  • Photo caption: “Karen Duplessis and her son, Patrick, are Patrick Henry’s ancestors.”

And they look so young, too.

  • Headline: “Though Frail, Castro Denies He’s Dead”

But why should we believe him?

  • Newscaster: “We’ll be talking to one of the producers of Law and Order SUV — excuse me, SVU.

The cops are really cracking down on those gas guzzlers. Newspaper article: “An island surrounded by water, Manhattan has long been without a beach, prompting locals to flee by bridges and tunnels during the dog days.”

Thanks for differentiating it from all those islands surrounded by cottage cheese.

In an era of declining literacy, perhaps the laughter and ridicule that bloopers provoke are a hopeful sign that we still care about language. Keep your eyes and ears open, and you’ll start spotting them, too.

[Ed Note: For more than three decades, Don Hauptman was an award-winning independent direct-response copywriter and creative consultant. He is author of The Versatile Freelancer, an e-book that shows writers and other creative professionals how to diversify their careers into speaking, consulting, training, and critiquing.]