A gift of plagues for our supporters and a cross-eyed bear for Jesus

Dr. Gerry Turcotte


August 25, 2014

"A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver."

Proverbs 25.11

Of all the columns I have written over the years, a few seem to have had special resonance, though perhaps none more so that my column about typographical errors.

Readers may remember that I began by admitting my own most embarrassing moment when I wrote to my then faculty with the salutation, "Good morning Dead Colleagues," instead of "Dear Colleagues." Since then I have received reams of examples from readers about their own embarrassing faux pas, usually while emailing or texting.

To be consistent, it is only fair that I report on my own most recent near blunder - an email to a generous couple thanking them for their contribution to the building of a new biology lab to support our newly approved bachelor of science degree.

I blithely informed them that I wanted to establish a plague in their name. I can't tell you how close my finger came to hitting the send button before I noticed the typo. Perhaps I was thinking of all the experiments our students would perform in our new science degree, but I definitely had no intention of creating a plague - a plaque was perhaps a better starting point.

Recently a friend sent a note from the CBC website polling people's opinion about Parks Canada's intention of providing full WiFi services in select public spaces. One of the poll choices actually read: "It's fine, as long as wife users aren't obnoxious."

I think CBC meant WiFi users, but who knows these days?

I read one unfortunate autocorrecting nightmare on someone's cellphone recently. The text arrived announcing: "Great news! Grandma is homosexual!" "Okay?" the recipient answered cautiously. "I mean hot tulips." This went on for some time until finally the texter wrote: "Home from hospital! Forget it! I'm calling you."

I was thinking of these unintentional errors most recently after Mass one week when my 11-year-old daughter was singing one of the hymns we'd heard that morning. I think it was something along the lines of "Gladly the cross-eyed bear fur Jesus," instead of "Gladly the Cross I'd Bear for Jesus."

It reminded me of another famous misheard lyric from Lord of the Dance that went: "I am the lord of the damp settee"! Misheard lyrics are called mondegreens, a term coined by Sylvia Wright in 1954 when she wrote of confusing the lines of a Scottish ballad: "They ha'e slained the Earl of Murray/ and the Lady Mondegreen." Alas, there was no such Lady. The line actually read, "And they laid him on the green."


At our own St. Mary's weekly Masses we often have the words to the hymns on an overhead slide. I'll never forget the time we all burst into "Gory to Jesus!"

There was a struggle to retain our composure immediately afterwards, but I must confess that the gaffe brought us all closer together, reminding us of our shared camaraderie in the context of a service that is meant, after all, to build community.

If we can't laugh at our own vulnerabilities then we should be whistling a different tune.

(Dr. Gerry Turcotte is president, St. Mary's University  in Calgary.)