When a Fox News reporter referred to “the horseless rider” during Ronald Reagan’s funeral procession a couple of years ago, I created a folder called “freaky deakies.” It contains weird mistakes from the media, and if it were not a computer folder, we could accurately term it “bulging.”
* A newspaper want ad for an office manager specified that the applicant must be “prophetic” in Microsoft Office.
* Pet advertisements often note that a dog or cat has been “spaded,” but you have to wonder if the following pet ad was even in the right section: “Datsun — free to good home.”
* One newspaper reporter wrote of the problem of “intimate domain,” another wrote of a “died in the wool” Baptist, and still another wrote that a new policy should “expediate” local government efforts to help Katrina’s victims.
* A business columnist, in a wham-bam groaner, wrote glowingly of a professional who had reached the “pinochle” of success in his personal “Alger Hiss” story. This writer meant Horatio Alger, a 19th-century preacher of the gospel of success, celebrated for his rags-to-riches themes. Alger Hiss was a U.S. State Department official famously accused of being a communist and Soviet spy in 1948.
* An entertainment reporter likewise garbled meaning when he mourned Jerry Orbach with the words: “His loss is irreplaceable.” Another said: “We’ll miss not seeing him.”
* After a tornado hit Fort Worth, Texas, a local radio reporter announced that 12 square blocks would be “condored” off in the downtown area.
* A Dallas-Fort Worth TV news anchor, describing a tribute to a local luminary, said that the speakers shared “antidotes” during the banquet. (How bad was that food?)
* An on-screen text behind a TV anchor bannered: “TROOP WITHDRAWL.” (“Soldiers with a Southern accent?” asked the viewer who sent me this freaky deaky.)
* Sometimes TV sports announcers get so excited they seem not to know what they’re saying. A Fox Sports announcer said before a NASCAR Busch series race that the area was “compromised” of three cities, two states, and a whole lot of beauty. An ABC-TV announcer said the quarterback was “telegrafting” where he intended to throw the ball. Another TV announcer screamed during a wrestling match that a wrestler was acting like a man “repossessed.”
Good freakies can come from anywhere. ACLU attorney Margaret Winter produced one when she said that a prisoner should not have been put into the general population section of Wichita Falls’ James Allred Unit, one of Texas’ roughest prisons. In that environment, she said, Johnson was like “catnip to a pack of wolves.”
* The one-time governor of New Mexico warned that a politically tricky situation would be like “opening a box of Pandoras.”
* And there’s the politician who said it didn’t matter if the bill was passed after the beginning of the “physical” year; they’d just make it “radioactive.”
So it’s no surprise that some of the best freaky deakies in my folder come not from the press, but from its most frequent subject: the president of the United States. We’ve heard the president say he knows that “human being and fish can co-exist peacefully,” and that “America needs a military where breast and brightest are proud to serve,” and that it’s hard work to “put food on your family.” And we know about “nucular.” But he paired that mispronunciation with another in Waco, Texas, when he said that one of the goals was to reduce our “nucular” arsenal to a level “commisurate with” … whatever.
Paula LaRocque, former Dallas Morning News writing coach, is author of The Book on Writing: The Ultimate Guide to Writing Well and Championship Writing. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.