Saturday, July 17, 2004

Getting it right

Writing coach Paula LaRocque offers some thoughts on malapropisms, which are always good for a laugh.

Recently, a newspaper reporter covered a speech I gave on writing – during which I said that we sometimes fear the clarity of simplicity, either because of timidity or because of blindly emulating the wrong writers.

Here's what the reporter wrote – or, in any case, what was published:

"Ms. LaRocque spoke of the 'fear of simplicity, which sometimes comes from timidity or from blindly immolating the wrong people.' "

Malapropisms in quotes present even more problems for readers: Was it the speaker or the reporter who screwed up? We know it's generally the reporter. But do readers?

Another error she mentions:
While some wrong words can make sense, they more often distort meaning, as in this gaffe from an entertainment reporter: "She knew the director and wrangled an invitation to audition for the movie." Wrangle means to quarrel, squabble or bicker, while the reporter obviously meant wangle, which means to get or arrange through contrivance or finagling.
But Merriam-Webster includes this definition: "an instance of intense bargaining." And a Google search shows five U.S. stories that use "wangle" in that meaning, and many more (it's hard to say) that use "wrangle." Is this a word in transition?


Post a Comment

<< Home