October 13, 2006

What the L?!

From the Annals of Taboo Avoidance, an elegant solution to avoiding a not-very-taboo word, and another ostentatious avoidance from the New York Times.

First, from Charlie Clingen, an MSNBC tale of a typo:

In the public interest
Misspelling of 'public' forces Michigan county to reprint ballot for $40,000

Updated: 4:21 p.m. PT Oct 10, 2006

GRAND HAVEN, Mich. - Ottawa County will pay about $40,000 to correct an embarrassing typographical error on its Nov. 7 election ballot.

That's how much it will cost the county to reprint 170,000 ballots that were missing the letter "L" in the word "public."

They give you the intended word and tell you how to derive the actual word printed.  Thus is the word "pubic" avoided.  A bit more detail from the story:

... The word "public" was misspelled one of the six times it appears in the text of the ballot issue, county Clerk Daniel C. Krueger said Tuesday. Five or six people in his office proofread the ballot but it was a local election clerk who found the mistake early last week, he said.

"It's just one of those words," Krueger said. "Even after we told people it was in there, they still read over it."

... If a printing error is discovered before an election and the mistake changes the context of a ballot item, the ballot needs to be reprinted, he said. The cost will come from the county's general fund.

I'm a bit surprised that the error was judged to change the context of the ballot item.  I wonder who makes these calls.

Googling on <public pubic misspelling> gets thousands of occurrences, most of them stories of people who embarrassed themselves by writing or typing "pubic" for "public".  There are, however, some errors in the other direction, and some of these might be eggcorns:"public lice" for "pubic lice", for example.  Ken Lakritz on the Eggcorn Forum, 10/25/05, reported getting over 50,000 hits on "public hair" (for "pubic hair").

Meanwhile, New York Times reporter Joyce Wadler found herself dealing with the very outspoken art critic Robert Hughes and decided to show some of his earthy side.  But this being the Times, she had to euphemize (and then allude to the original language indirectly).  From "After Calamity, Critic's Soft Landing" in the Home & Garden section of 10/12/06 (pointer from Sim Aberson):

Comparing the careers of J. Seward Johnson Jr. and Jeff Koons, he once said, was like debating the merits of dog excrement versus cat excrement - although Mr. Hughes would never use a word as flat and unevocative as excrement.

Actually, there are at least three candidates for the word euphemized as "excrement".  My guess is that it was the old reliable "shit", but I can't at the moment confirm that.

zwicky at-sign csli period stanford period edu

Posted by Arnold Zwicky at October 13, 2006 04:31 PM