The response to last week’s Work of Art, in which I planned and planted misuses of the English language, was great. The reaction ranged from the concern that your resident Language Cop somehow had “lost it” to a let’s-do-it-again attitude.
A half dozen readers either e-mailed or dropped off their responses, and one person went even farther, finding a stray question mark in my column and catching me on my capitalizing a word that shouldn’t have been.
The column was mainly about how people use words and expressions that seem correct but carry a different — sometimes humorous — meaning. It’s like cutting off your nose despite your face or getting knocked over with a fender.
Chad Boliek’s e-mail paid me back in kind, as he mentioned that he found seven planned abuses and added, “You hit the provisional male on the head this time.”
Trini Martinez correctly noted, among other things, that ex-President George W. Bush had used “disassemble,” meaning to take apart, when he meant “dissemble,” to deceive.
And others joined in to correct the linguistic blunders I committed. I particularly enjoy it when a reader responds in the same vein in which I wrote the column, as Martha Johnson did by writing, “I’ve been caring this around with me until I was able to ‘do my homework’ and see if I could find the misuses . . . So let me command you on this test. You’re student of 38 years ago, Martha.”
Martha’s that old? Her mother is that age, and then some. Martha added that “when I told a person my mom had turned 100 years old, he said, ‘Wow! Your mom is a centurion!’”
No, Sara McWilliams, the person people affectionately call “Chula,” is of course a centenarian, and she never served in the ancient Roman army.
And reader Jose Marquez, who corrected the misuse of “disburse” for “disperse,” also caught me on my reference to my dog Heidi’s manners. I had written that Heidi had passed on bad culinary habits to the Great Dane that was brought in to set a good example for my dog.
Marquez wrote, “Culinary means of the kitchen or cooking. Now Duke is a bad cook too. At least you have two dogs that cook.”
Nacho Jaramillo e-mailed to give his take on words like “complimentary,” (filled with praise) and the word with the identical sounds, “complementary,” meaning something that completes or enhances something else.
My sister Dorothy T. Maestas, who never lets a grammatical error go unpunished, compiled a list of some 14 abuses of the language, which she says she “discovered after a cursive glance at the column.”
She honed in on usages I hadn’t intended, particularly in my creative use of Spanish as I referred to the word for “pregnant,” which I wrote is “encinta,” but which Dorothy says should be two words.
Reader Anne Kennedy correctly noted that I needn’t capitalize “cavalry,” which is not a proper noun. I’d mentioned my struggles with that word and the similar word Calvary.
Some of the verbal abuses I intentionally inserted are:
• It’s a doggy-dog world should be dog-eat-dog.
• Disperse, meaning to scatter, as opposed to disburse, to pay out.
• A fine-tuned comb should be fine-toothed.
• “Eminent” means distinguished, and imminent means coming soon.
• Blessing in the skies should be blessing is disguise.
• Foment, to stir up, as in trouble or as in creating dysentery in the ranks, should not be confused with ferment, which is what we allow to happen to juices and liquor.
I hope the grammar search was enjoyable. One person who apparently thought I had been up until 3 writing the column was the boss, whose job it is to check the copy.
He warned me that next time I choose to plant these linguistic train wrecks, I ought to warn him, at the beginning of the column, not the end.
• • •
Church bulletins, small-town newspapers and public signs supply interesting messages, which I’m sure their creators swore were correct in the first place. Here are some that have been published:
• The club’s celebration will include a DJ and balloons falling from the ceiling at midnight.
• The minister said that the church widows were a disgrace to the parish and that it was time somebody washed them.
• Mrs. Donahue found the cat using the lost-and-found column.
• • •
Alex King, a web developer, provided some of the following definitions:
• Arbitrator: A cook that leaves Arby’s to work at McDonalds.
• Avoidable: What a bullfighter tried to do.
• Burglarize: What a crook sees with.
• Counterfeiters: Workers who put together kitchen cabinets.
• Eclipse: What an English barber does for a living.
• Eyedropper: A clumsy ophthalmologist.
• Paradox: Two physicians.
• • •
I pay almost no attention to rock stars and think that groupies who pay big bucks to attend concerts and get to crowd the bandstand, arms waving, are clueless. Understandably, I don’t know George Strait from Marvin Gaye.
But there is one exception: Whitney Houston. When I first heard “The Greatest Love,” I became a huge fan, but from a distance. I asked my then-teen son Diego to call me whenever he saw her on TV or heard her songs on radio.
That led to phone calls at unearthly hours. I’d ask myself, “How do I get out of this? What if Diego calls me when I’m in class?” Not to worry, as we didn’t yet have a cell phone. Diego’s “duty” to phone me waned in the past few years, possibly corresponding with the singer’s own fading star.
Whitney died, drowned in her bathtub. The music world has lost an icon, and fans will be the lesser for it.
And that includes a certain 72-year-old in his dotage.
• • •
My ravaging of the English language is nowhere near an end. So, don’t be surprised to find more misuses — in this week’s column.
Art Trujillo is a copy editor at the Optic and a contributing member of the newspaper’s Editorial Board. He may be reached by calling 425-6796 or by e-mail to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.