Woodworking again: English bloopers

By Dave Wood
Posted 12/13/23

We Americans are blessed with a language that even outclasses English, the language of the Bard. Think I’m kidding? We have all the basics inherited from Merrie Olde England, which already had …

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Woodworking again: English bloopers


We Americans are blessed with a language that even outclasses English, the language of the Bard. Think I’m kidding? We have all the basics inherited from Merrie Olde England, which already had been enriched by ancestors from the Roman Empire that brought along their Latin, Greek, the Romance Languages, and then from invaders from Germany and Norway.  I was once shocked to read that 20 percent of English derives from its Viking occupiers centuries ago. 

The American language has been enriched by immigrants from a wide variety of nations (think of adios, aloha, sushi, etc. etc.), but in some cases it’s become so complex that those of us who get to these shores from other places can make serious mistakes that cause guffaws from the natives. I remember a tale my grandpa told about going to church to hear a German immigrant confess that he had delayed finding the Lord for so long because “My ghost (Geist or spirit) was willing but my meat [Fleischer-meat-flesh]) was weak.”

The mysterious words youngsters hear at church services may be transformed into words more familiar to the ears of little tots. A chaplain at Augsburg College related to his fellow faculty members that “My father was a preacher whom we heard every Sunday morning. On one Monday morning my mother was washing dishes and watching my sister and me playing beside a pile of dirt from a hole being dug for a neighbor’s new house. She watched me pour water over a doll my sister was holding. Then she saw me shout something and toss the doll into the hole that was destined to be a basement. We kept doing it over and over. Curious, she came outside to listen. Just before I tossed the doll into the hole she heard me say “In the name of the father, the son . . . and in the hole he goes.” Mother quickly retreated indoors to hide her laughter and to prompt my father to be a little more articulate when addressing the Holy Ghost.”

My hometown’s nearest neighbor is populated mainly by those of the Polish persuasion, and when my kid sister lived there, she had to learn an entire sublanguage in order to know what was going on. “Who are you from home?” meant “What’s your maiden name?” Agricultural jargon required the same skills of transformation. “You trash [thresh] me and I’ll plow you back” meant “Let’s engage in exchange work.”  “I’ll toot you out” meant “I’ll be by in my car to take you to the dance.” Syntax was also a problem, as in “Throw the bull over the fence some hay.”

Norwegian also got into the act when it came to sound-alikes. My grandpa remembers when his business partner and wife came home from a fishing vacation up north. Grandpa asked August why it was the best vacation ever. August replied, “Because we didn’t pitch a tent. Yah, we went for comfort: we rented a college.” Fortunately Grandpa restrained himself from asking if it was Superior State Teacher’s College or UMD. 

Even if you are a native-born American, malapropism can also rear its ugly head when it comes to obscure topics like medicine. Not too long ago, I heard a fellow report that he had not lost an ounce since he began working out at the Wilderness [Wellness] Center months ago and that his cousin had recently visited a proctologist who discovered scallops [polyps] in his intestine—to which his friend replied, “God! If they weren’t shucked that must have been painful!”

Academics aren’t immune to embarrassing mistakes either. One of my Bowling Green freshman students complained in an essay that “Due to the incestuous noise in the study hall at the House of Commons, studding is nearly impossible.” 

Well, I should hope so!

Mistakes like that are nothing new at Bowling Green. One of my profs reported that in a term paper on the history of jazz music in New Orleans, “The development of Jazz suffered a setback when its red light houses were closed due to a navel [naval] addict [edict].”

Yes, English is a wonderful language, even when we misuse it!

English bloopers, Woodworking again, Dave Wood, column