Monday, November 30, 2009

Grammar Detective or Why Lizards Have Powerful Magic

Mistakes can be found many different books, newspapers, magazines and journals. The problem with being aware of those mistakes is you often can't help but notice them. I've found since starting in the Professional Writing Program, and gaining a better grasp on grammar I notice mistakes left and right. Misused semi-colons, extra commas, and incorrect modifiers are all things that will make me pause and take a moment to mentally insert corrections. Fortunately, if a book is very interesting nothing short of the book disappearing will distract me from the plot.

Of all the possible mistakes, incorrect spelling is often the most amusing grammatical error that can be found in a book, magazine, or other written work. I am often amused by the unintentional meaning when words are mis-spelled, or mis-used. For instance, in one of the early editions of Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling there is a line that is obviously wrong but rather amusing: "He tried to make a sound, even a grunt, but it was impossible. Then he remembered that some lizards, like Dumbledore, could perform spells without speaking." As most people are aware, Dumbledore is a wizard and not, as this sentence claims, a very talented lizard.

Comma splices are another common error found in written work. I have recently re-read the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. There is no doubt that Wilder is a well known author and her books have been read by generations of children. Unfortunately, the books are absolutely filled with comma splices. Of course, there is the fact that these books were written quite a few years ago to take into consideration. It is possible that some of the rules have changed since then, but in my opinion some mistakes are simply that, mistakes. Take, for example, this sentence: "And they were all clean, for Sunday." This sentence is taken from Little House in the Big Woods, the first book in the series, which explains the disjointed feeling of the sentences for the narrator is young and is recollecting faint memories. However, a young narrator does not excuse a comma for being somewhere a comma has no reason for being.

Typographical and grammatical errors in published works just go to show that no one is perfect. Errors can be made at any moment, and, like Kayla Gaffney says in her blog post of a similar topic, "The only way to master your corrections is to take time in your writing." If writers take the time to give their work the time it deserves than major errors can be avoided. However, no one is perfect and errors that are amusing can still pop up. For more hilarious written goofs take a look at Funny Typos, a blog devoted to the funny errors found in written English. A personal favourite is a Harvard University mug that reads "Harvard Universty." Maybe the "i" was cut due to budget cuts?


  1. Your examples are great! I especially love the Harry Potter one. The great thing is that you picked examples that everyone can identify with. We all know who Harry is, we've all heard of Little House on the Prairie, and we all know the reputation that Harvard has. These examples demonstrate that even the celebrities of writing make mistakes. No one is totally immune to bad grammar.

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  3. When simple grammar mistakes are coming from Harvard University, there is obviously a problem. I agree with Lauren, as you made reference to a broad range of subjects. I was not sure of your source on the Harry Potter typo, so I researched page numbers on the internet. After finding that page in my own copy, I realized that you were absolutely correct. If the editors for J. K. Rowling are making mistakes, what does that say for lesser forms of publication?

  4. I can't believe JK Rowling ever made a mistake! Of all the people. . .

    Just when you thought it was safe to leave the house.