When I teach students literature, I will begin teaching drama by asking them which is more universal, and more lasting: tragedy or comedy. Frequently, students will say—comedy. Of course, I expect that answer, which happens to be incorrect. Comedy frequently depends on understanding the social setting or the cultural mores or the verbal twists. True, there are some comedies (perhaps in the sense of “all’s well that ends well”) that bridge the cultural divide. But mostly comedy requires you understand what the norm is, so that when the events in the drama twist or distort the norm, you get the joke. Tragedy, on the other hand, appeals to deep seated human emotions that tend to span all time.
I confess to loving verbal humor—not surprisingly considering I teach English. I love a good pun; I love shaggy dog stories, especially when they end with a wonderfully bad pun. All such stories depend on your knowing what the original expression is, again so you get the joke when it comes.
Well, I am in the midst of encountering unintended verbal humor. As I read my way through the second set of papers the students have turned in, I am highly amused at some of the inadvertent errors they make.
Herewith a few examples and my parenthetic comment as to what I think the student meant to say:
--Although once looked down upon, having a baseborn child in today’s society is strangely a great doing. (And, strangely, a great wording! I simply put an exclamation point over baseborn. And a question mark over a great doing.)
--This is probably because for the most part a woman getting pregnant is how most marriages spawned in my grandfather’s day. (While spawned has reproductive meaning, I believe the writer meant started.)
--In the past, a great eminence was place on overcoming adversity within a marriage and remaining loyal. (True, eminence means to grant high status, but I suspect the writer meant emphasis.)
--Six years later, their only biologically combined child was born, me. (The writer was speaking of her father and mother, each having previously been married, combining their families and then having one child together, her—but the wording came out humorously.)
--The anticipation of having a child is almost more than one can bare. (This error makes a wonderful pun, which is purely unintentional. The writer mistakes bare for bear.)
--Fortification, the act of making love without being wed, rarely occurred, or at least was not spoken freely of in the past. (Another hilarious confusion—fortification should be fornication—hmmmm!)
--In today's society, you see exuberant amounts of ethnically diverse and same sex couples. (I do believe the writer means exorbitant; in fact, I hope the writer means that!)
--While younger generations are not as effected by this, the older generations see those relationships as anomalistic. (This one has me puzzled. The word anomalistic means “departing from the rules”and is usually used in astronomy but I suspect the writer meant anomalous. Or maybe animalistic! Yikes, I hope not that latter.)
Not quite up to the Richard Lederer standard, but these examples were just enough to amuse me while I plowed through paper grading. Hope they amuse you too.
UPDATE: THREE new examples to add to the list above.
--The girl wonders how to end the idol conversation, so she can escape through the front door and into her house. (Maybe so she can watch American Idol? or so she can go idle in her house?)
--Society is defiantly not helping with making parenting easier on parents. (Um, make that definitely.)
--They did not have clichés in her class. (I'll bet they didn't have cliques either.)