Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Tiresome dribble

Every time I write a column criticizing the misuse of English by "citizen journalists" on the Internet, I get two kinds of reader response. The first are letters of applause, often from prim grammarians pushing their own pet peeves. The second type is scolding me for being a prim grammarian, such as this letter from reader J. Meyers:

"I'm so tired of reading your stupid, nitpicking dribble."

To which I responded:

"Dear Mr. Meyers: I believe the word you are looking for is 'drivel.' "

The dribble/drivel confusion is actually a common one among citizen journalists. I call it the Law of Add Homonym attacks, which authorizes the flagrant confusion of words that sound like each other. My favorite among these is "toe-headed" children, suggesting not light blond hair but a rather disturbing birth defect. Google identifies 46,000 of these unfortunates. (Also, tragically, more than 70,000 dogs and cats have been "spaded.")

Before the Internet, my principal source of add-homonyms was my friend Brian, who knew a doctor who worked in the emergency room of a hospital that was not located in an upscale, sophisticated neighborhood. More than once the physicians there treated patients who reported they suffered from "the smilin' mighty Jesus." That would be spinal meningitis. Also, several complained of abdominal pain caused by "fireballs of the Eucharist." Fibroids of the uterus.

But now that we have our posse of citizen journalists, language has been even more savagely spaded. Reader Harry Lauder has been collecting such things for some time. He sent me a list. I thought he had made it up, that no one could possibly actually use these expressions. So I vetted them, one by one. Each of the following expressions appears online at least 10,000 times, and sometimes much more.

Behold:

"Self of steam."

"Pedal stool." (As in, not putting someone on a pedal stool.)

"Hammy downs."

"Lack toast intolerant." (When I also tried "lack toast in tolerant," Google produced only 185 hits, but asked me if I meant "lack toast intolerant.")

"Mind grain headaches."

"Blood presser."

"80 HD," as in the mental disorder.

And:

"Minus well." As in, we minus well just throw up our hands at all the illiterate idiots out there.

Finally, I got a tip from another reader who offered a corollary to my Law of Incorrect Corrections, in which citizen journalists are autocorrected by a machine but aren't literate enough to realize the correction is wrong. Sometimes, she told me, it happens not out of illiteracy but simple, spectacular inattention, and she pointed me to a great example. Some versions of spellcheck apparently don't recognize foreign-based words such as "prosciutto." So they flag it as wrong and substitute an alternative. And so it just so happens that the following has been printed more than once, such as this, still online, on a website of Italian recipes: "Crumble bread sticks into a mixing bowl. Cover with warm water. Let soak two to three minutes or until soft. Drain. Stir in prostitute, provolone, pine nuts."

© 2014 Washington Post Writers Group

Tiresome dribble 02/12/14 [Last modified: Friday, February 14, 2014 10:37am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Washington Post - Writers Group.
    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Florida education news: Budgets, discipline, charter schools and more

    Blogs

    BUDGETING: Florida school district officials keep a close eye on their spending plans as they await word on the Legislature's budget. Gov. Rick Scott

  2. Forecast: Return of summertime pattern means afternoon storms on tap for Tampa Bay

    Weather

    As if Memorial Day wasn't enough of a signal that summer truly is upon us, this week's forecast across the Tampa Bay area will be a stark reminder.

    Tampa Bay's 7-day forecast. [WTSP]
  3. Tiger Woods says medication, not alcohol, led to DUI arrest in Florida

    Public Safety

    Players arriving for a tournament this week at Muirfield Village might notice a framed picture of Tiger Woods with a resplendent smile and bright red shirt. He's posed there with the trophy, an image that embodies the excitement he once brought to golf.

    This image provided by the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office on Monday, May 29, 2017, shows Tiger Woods. Police in Florida say Tiger Woods was been arrested for DUI.  [Palm Beach County Sheriff's office via AP]
  4. Manuel Noriega, Panamanian strongman toppled in U.S. invasion, dies at 83

    Obituaries

    Gen. Manuel Noriega, the Panamanian strongman and onetime American ally who was toppled from power in a 1989 U.S. invasion and who spent more than two decades imprisoned on drug dealing and conspiracy convictions, died late Monday. He was most likely 83.

    Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega waves to newsmen after a state council meeting, at the presidential palace in Panama City, where they announced the new president of the republic in 1989. Panama's ex-dictator Noriega died Monday, May 29, 2017, in a hospital in Panama City. He was 83. [Associated Press]
  5. Austin Mahone talks Pitbull, Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, his pop evolution and more

    Blogs

    Austin Mahone has vivid memories from his childhood visits to see his grandparents in Tampa Bay.