13. Fumble Rules

UnknownCommon Errors: FumblerulesOur brains already “know” the rules of the language we grew up learning and also even possess underlying universal knowledge of all human languages. Besides those somewhat invisible powers, we informally self-correct and correct others in speech and writing (for example pronunciation, spelling, etc.), especially when there are breakdowns in communication.  Among the most common kinds of errors are those connected with what have sometimes been called “fumblerules,” meaning we actually know the right rule for speaking or writing, but then we accidentally break that same rule. Fumblerules are also called typos, goofs, slips, or even gaffes.

Helpful lists of these often humorous fumblerules have been compiled by the famous journalist William Safire and by science editor George Trigg and can be found in a website called “Proofed Beyond Doubt”: http://www.proofedbeyonddoubt.co.uk/fun/humorous-rules-for-writing.html.

ON LANGUAGE: In addition, The New York Times has an extensive free website called “On Language,” with a handy search engine for quickly finding practical articles on using vocabulary, punctuation, grammar, and style effectively in your own writing: http://topics.nytimes.com/top/features/magazine/columns/on_language/index.html

YOUR TURN: Fortunately, because in a real sense we already know about the goofs we might make in our writing, we can often quickly correct them on our own or with a friend by simply rereading and proofreading something we’ve written.

Look over the fumblerule goofs in Andy Minch’s anecdote.  Can you spot them and correct them?  Look for the following kinds of goofs: punctuation, spelling, agreement, verb tense, wordiness, and numbering style.  Rewrite Andy’s anecdote in your notebook or on a handout I give you.

Ping Pong is Life

“Life ain’t nothin’ but a funny funny riddle. My friend, Fariborz, laughed at the country songs lyrics and said, “Ain’t that the truth!” Hailing from Iran Bo his American nickname had taken to wearing cowboy boots and learning as much American English slang as he could. I am driving my roommates back to campus after a table tennis tournament. Bob, our Greaves Dorm philosopher, said “I think life is like ping pong.” We knew what’s coming next, an unstoppable diatribe expressing another one of your sort of wacky takes on life. Here’s what I remember: “Both ping pong and life are all about points. A nice smash or lob get me a point. Breaking a rule grants a point to my opponent, like hitting the ball twice on my swing. If our current driver, Ray, runs a red light or gets caught texting and driving, he’s penalized fifty points, and 150 more means he could of lost his license. Tom get ready to take over, driving. Both ping pong and life have obstacles. With ping pong, its the net. With life, it might be physics, exams, or no gas money. And, finally, to really enjoy ping pong or life, you have to participate. I get bored watching sports on television or binjing a Netflix series, even with all its character conflicts and unpredictable outcomes. We’d rather be in the game ourself! But I guess my analogy isn’t perfect. Ping pong has only 2 players, well with doubles as much as 4, but life has so many more examples of the many kinds of people that I guess you might have to interact with, and I’m glad not all of them are trying to beat me. Finally, ping pong goes only to 21, but as a matter of fact I’m planning on going a lot further than that.”

Andy Minch