“Did you catch that typo?” I asked my oldest son, Stan Adam, as we drove past a place of active outdoor sales.
He said he hadn’t, so I made a U-turn to give him another look. “I don’t see anything unusual — for Las Vegas,” he said, “unless you’re looking at the way the people misspelled “flea.”
He had in fact gotten it, even emphasizing that he saw the typo several days earlier but failed to mention it to his language-cop dad. That was a number of years ago when there was a flea market in that empty field close to Mills Avenue and Hot Springs Boulevard.
In those days, there was an actual supermarket on the site of the just-vacated Alco store; there was a restaurant and a dry cleaners, and there were other stores that came and went. And for a few years, there was enough traffic to support a flea market.
Except that the big sign had spelled it “flee.”
What fun we could have with that! But unlike that pesky animal that ruins clothes, this “flee” is a verb which means to rush from a place of danger. I experimented with a visual definition of the word, getting my three sons to position themselves near the sign and, on signal, to run away, their arms waving, their faces contorted.
We rehearsed it several times, but it was hard to find a time when there were crowds in the market without there being lots of car traffic that made it difficult for my sons to flee convincingly.
Yes, we tried, but none of the photographic results were satisfactory. To make matters worse, the management soon fled the area. And now the only flea market of any consequence is on North Grand, next to the Pennzoil Oil lube shop.
It’s easy to divine why flea often becomes flee. Phonetically, the words are identical, as most words ending in -ee or -ea have that long-e sound.
The Bible provides such a puzzler for anyone who confuses the two words. Citing chapter and verse, a kid in Sunday School once asked the teacher, “But what about the flea?” He’d heard the advice for Joseph to “take your wife and child and flee to Egypt.”
Since the more common phrase is the Flight into Egypt, one could ask who the pilot was — Pontius Pilate?
Did the flea also make the trip?
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An amusing quality of the English language is the infinite variety of sound-alikes, which give fits to English learners. We have bergs and burgs, Adams and atoms, pray and prey, mores and morays, escapes and escapades.
An Internet language columnist, Rob Kyff, collected samples from readers who say they’ve seen such confusion of sound-alikes in print. Here are a few:
“The lobby is busy with clean-looking families who are up and Adam.”
“The attitudes and morays that developed throughout much of the 1800s.” We must watch out for those slippery eel-like creatures.
“Upon exciting the train, this woman promptly went into labor.” She probably excited the other passengers who also exited.
“He left in a state of high dungeon.”
“Parishioners banned together again to make the needed changes.”
“Serving eloquent meals and entertainment.” Here we can say the food speaks for itself.
“ECAC Hockey is full of parody this year.” Don’t make fun of them.
“A rooster and hens emerge from their coup on a farm.” Planning a fowl takeover, perhaps?
“The ex-patriots are living around the world.” That New England football team moves around a lot.
• • •
A frequent contributor to this column, knowing my penchant for committing gross distortions to the written or spoken word, once asked what time she and her husband could expect me for an interview. Her question: “When should we be expectorating you?”
The Optic often finds itself in linguistic confusion. The phrase that has appeared on our pages, “mourning dove hunting,” is ambiguous. Does it refer to a sad period in which members of the public lament the hunting of doves? Does it refer to the hunting of doves that mourn?
Just in the mourning?
Or, possibly, the item is about birds of pray.
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.