When Bad Things Happen to Good Words
There ought to be a lemon law for language. States and the District of Columbia have lemon laws. These are laws that establish standards for when vehicles – motorcycles, automobiles, or other road-legal vehicles – should be repurchased or replaced by a manufacturer. A new vehicle gone bad is considered a lemon.
One of the elements to communicating effectively involves using words correctly. We have ample opportunity to misuse words, especially in print. Print communication is one-way, from sender to receiver, with little opportunity for the receiver to clarify the intended message. Messages where words are improperly placed within sentences, misspelled, incorrectly chosen, or taken out of context result in sometimes-humorous misinterpretations.
A fine example of the humor in such misinterpretations appears weekly on the late-night talk show “Tonight”, hosted by Jay Leno. He dedicates one show a week to headline humor sent to him by viewers from throughout the USA. For your funny-bone pleasure, the following are examples of bad things happening to good words.
- Include Your Children When Baking Cookies
- Asbestos Suit Pressed
- Man Held Over Giant Brush Fire
- Red Tape Holds Up New Bridge
- Collegians Turn To Vegetables
- Panda Mating Fails; Veterinarian Takes Over
- Dog for sale. Eats anything and is fond of children.
The serious message from these humorous examples is to use words carefully, especially when you write. Bad things happen to perfectly good words when they are poorly used. Read what you write, then read it again. Ask someone else to read it and ask how they interpret what you wrote. If they interpret exactly what you intend to communicate, then good things happen to good words.