Before social media, there was a game called “Gossip.” For those unfamiliar, players would sit in a circle and a designated person would think of a phrase, but not say it aloud.
The “gossiper” would then whisper his or her chosen words to the person at the right. That person repeated it to the person on his or her right and so on until the “gossip” made it around the entire circle. The person just before the original “gossiper” would repeat what he or she had been told for the circle to hear. Fits of laughter would sometimes follow before the actual phrase was announced. More fits of laughter would erupt when players realized how misunderstood the original phrase was by the end.
Many of us have experienced such a happening in our daily lives. Syllables that seem clear as day get murky when a drawl or point of view is applied. Old wives’ tales can easily become ole wise tells should some syllables be less pronounced than others. I suppose the ole wise could tell us a useful tidbit, but the popular vote gives old wives the credit.
“If only they had used some common sense,” was a popular phrase in my parents’ house. In my younger years, I thought “calm and sense” was the missing ingredient when projects or repair work went wrong. I can’t say whether seeing the cover of Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” or some parental correction sparked the light bulb for me, but I eventually realized my error. When I recounted that story years later, it was pointed out that even my misinterpretation is helpful in many situations.
Fans of the television show “Friends” may recall Joey’s explanation of what he thought was a “moo point” instead of a “moot point.” As he said when something is a “moo point” it was “like a cow’s opinion. It doesn’t matter.” Oddly, he wasn’t far off. A moot point can be open for debate or of no practical value or importance. That episode still makes me laugh.
Phrases can be misunderstood in the written word as well. Social media gives us daily examples. Spell check and auto correct won’t tell you that the peace of your mind you gave a co-worker isn’t exactly what you meant. They also won’t help you determine if you should write “there,” “their” or “they’re.” If you don’t know the difference between “hair” and “hare,” they won’t point out your error.
As a copy editor, my job is to find the words that may be just a letter or two away from their intended meaning. There is a satisfaction in knowing that the correct message is making it to our readers. High Plains Journal editors are masters at working with words and many sets of eyes look over those words for accuracy each week.
Social media doesn’t have a copy editor. The story circulating about margarine being developed to fatten up turkeys is fake news. That missing person notice you shared yesterday was from two years ago and the subjects have been found safe. It is up to you to make sure the information you are sharing is correct. Taking your time and a little investigation can keep you from repeating the incorrect phrase aloud at the end of the game.
Copy Editor Jennifer Theurer can be reached at 620-227-1858 or firstname.lastname@example.org.