Tag Archives: Harper Lee

In Defense of English: or, the Day I Sherlocked the Internet

When you teach English, you learn a great deal about the colorful palette of poetic language people resort to when expressing their ideas. In the seven-and-a-half years since I began teaching, I’ve learned, for instance, that Martin Luther King Jr. preached passive-aggressive resistance, that he and Malcolm X were assignated, that nuns live in a covenant, and that our continual depletion of the Earth’s resources is part of a viscus cycle of human destruction.

I’ve written in the past about the fact that these errors result from human laziness due to the reliance on spell-checker, autocorrect, and predictive text. All of the above words (with the exception of assignated) are Standard English words, so a spell-checker won’t register their incorrect usage within the context of a sentence in which they clearly don’t belong. The Urban Dictionary, however, does define assignate as follows: “To take off someone’s $3000 designer glasses, wipe your butt with them, and put them back on their face.” Ya know, because you were wondering. You’re welcome.

Over at You Knew What I Meant, a fellow English teacher posits that students might also be mishearing certain words, an opinion that, if more willing to give students the benefit of the doubt, is nonetheless entirely plausible. (If you call yourself a grammar geek, and you aren’t following this blog, why aren’t you? But I digress.) I know I’ve certainly misheard expressions over the years, and had I not bothered to check the spelling and pronunciation, I might never have been any the wiser. In the popular Christmas carol, “Here we Come a’Wassailing,” for instance, I could have sworn as a child that the lyric actually went “Here we come a’Waffling.” Wassailing. Waffling. Perfectly understandable. Sort of mistake anyone might make.

I don’t offer the above examples of carelessness as anecdotal evidence of my own self-righteous adherence to perfect grammar. On the contrary, just this past week, a friend of mine was kind enough to point out several hilariously ridiculous errors in my own work that, because we both recognized how an incorrect homonym can completely change the meaning of a sentence, proved both a lesson in proofreading and an entertaining diversion in my day. We’ve affectionately termed our typo-spotting game “Sherlocking,” after a scene in the BBC television series “Sherlock,” when the great detective takes the time to correct a criminal’s grammar before sending him to the gallows.

You are all charity and benevolence, Mr. Holmes.

It should come as no surprise, then, that my Friday morning was off to a snickering start when I read the following Tweet from the BBC:

While the actual article headline assured readers that Lee wasn’t “pressured” into releasing her second novel, the damage had already been done. Merriam-Webster defines pressurize as “to press (something) tightly into a container.” No one can ever erase the images my mind conjured of Lee being forced into an enormous pressure cooker. In my score-keeping, this ties for first place with the time that Kristen Stewart told a reporter that she’d “literally implode” if she couldn’t act. OK, now, I know that Bella Swan tends toward the melodramatic, but I find it hard to believe that not having one’s dream job would result in collapsing inward in a very sudden and violent way.

Last Sunday, I dared to Sherlock the writers of “The Big Bang Theory” on a post written in honor of International Women’s Day, discussing what makes the main female characters such amazing role models. I tried to restrain myself. Truly. You must know this. I did everything I could to keep my hands otherwise occupied. I played fetch with my dog. I ate a cookie. I sat on my thumbs until they lost all sensation. Nothing helped. I just had to point out that, given the subject matter of the article, describing Bernadette as “the dependent character who has her life in line” doesn’t quite carry the intended meaning. Did they mean independent? Dependable? Either possibility would make far more sense in the context of the sentence. The writers of the show have since expressed their undying gratitude to me with a pair of tickets to the next taping. Bazinga! No one ever actually responded to my tweet. I don’t expect to be thanked for doing my duty as I see fit, but I ask you, in my position, what would Sheldon Cooper have done?


If you spot any errors in this post, I give you leave to shamelessly Sherlock me. It is your duty as a devoted reader.