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Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Words & Language Toolbox

Reader submissions

By Paula LaRocque

Quill readers often send me material that appeared in their local media or that a friend passed to them or that they saw on the Internet —not just mistakes, but bloopers and oddities as well. Their offerings entertain and instruct me all year long, and this November/December issue is a perfect time to share some of the reader submissions I’ve received over the past year.

I get lots of tortured and runaway metaphors. The following passage overworks the automotive image until it’s as stretched as a … limo:

“Will the new-car smell wear off before or after Democrats sign the contract and drive it out of the showroom? I’m betting that Boren is the first in a line of blue dog Democrats who know the full tab to be paid for picking the hybrid version of a shiny new McGovern-mobile. Promises 40 miles per gallon, delivers 12. And when the costs of buying off all the constituencies who assembled the Obama ride are factored in, working Americans will suffer an extreme case of sticker shock.”

Readers also send plenty of groaners, danglers or just plain astonishments:

“We saw what they did to challenge the patriotism of Max Cleland, a triple amputee, a man who left three of his limbs on the ground in Vietnam. They challenged his patriotism. His regret is he didn’t stand up and fight back.”

That Cleland didn’t “stand up and fight back” should have rung the editor’s warning bell, if not the writer’s.

This column headline is another entry in the body-parts division: “One-armed man applauds the kindness of strangers.”

Sometimes even mechanical errors can amuse: “She said she basically had no childhood — that at 3, her father left home, and at 5, her mother died.”

And she thinks she had no childhood! What about poor dad, who left home at 3, and mom, who died at 5?

Journalists are notorious for awkwardness with numbers, but even they should know there’s something wrong here: “Statistics show that teen pregnancy drops off significantly after age 25.”

Corrections are often good for a laugh, especially if they’re other people’s corrections. But the subject below probably was not amused:

“Due to incorrect information received from the Clerk of Courts Office, Melanie K. Taylor, 38, was incorrectly listed as being fined for prostitution in Wednesday’s paper. The charge should have been failure to stop at a railroad crossing. The newspaper apologizes for the error.”

The following submission for the “oddity” category is an excellent example of why you should never, ever keep more than $300 billion in your checking account:

“Police in Fort Worth, Texas, arrested Charles Ray Fuller, 21, after he tried to cash a check for $360 billion. Suspicious bank employees called the check’s owner, who said the check was written on her account without her permission. Police who took Fuller into custody found marijuana and a .25-caliber handgun in his pockets and said he told them he intended using the money to start his own record label.”

Sometimes a submission qualifies for more than one division — like the following, which suits both the “astonishment” and “great quote” categories:

“Debra Jackson said she likes shopping at the Dollar Palace because it is convenient and casual.

“‘I don’t have to get all dressed up like I’m going to Wal-Mart or something,’ she said.”

Newspaper ads are not supposed to be funny. Maybe someone should have caught this one: “Get 50% off — or half-price, whichever is less.”

And then there was this clipping from the classified ads: “Tombstone. Standard gray. Good buy for someone named Grady.”

But for sheer hilarity, look to the police briefs:

• “Police were called to Market Square for a report about a ‘suspicious coin.’ Investigating officers reported it was a quarter.”

• “At 1:14 a.m., a caller reported hitting an intruder over the head with an axe. The caller noted that the intruder was ‘in the mirror.’”

• “A woman in the 1900 block of 129th Lane Northeast reported Oct. 15 that someone must have stolen her mail because she did not receive birthday cards from some of her friends.”

• “At 2:58 p.m., the Learning Center on Hanson Street reported that a man across the way had been standing for hours, watching the center, making the parents nervous. Police identified the subject as a cardboard cutout of Arnold Schwarzenegger.”

• “On Friday, police received a report from Wal-Mart of a newborn infant found in a trash can. Upon investigation, officers discovered it was only a burrito.”

Finally, an entry in the success-beyond-our-wildest-dreams division:

• “Police are seeking public help in finding an Army vehicle worth $74,000 that went missing after being painted with camouflage.”

Dear reader. Have a happy new year. And let’s try not to provide the grist for someone else’s humor mill in 2010.

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