Our columnist finally opens his mail and hears from men and women of letters


(Eric Shansby)
Columnist April 11, 2014

I’m letting readers write my column today. That’s because the mail I got after I last wrote about atrocities perpetrated upon the English language was way funnier than anything I had to say.

Gene Weingarten is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and writes "Below the Beltway," a weekly humor column that is nationally syndicated. View Archive

The funniest misspellings occurred at my husband’s office. His company had an older receptionist who was the sweetest thing but not super on top of things. Many, many times, he’d get a “While You Were Out” message slip with the person’s name misspelled. Only, oddly, the names were misspelled in a systematic way. They’d go something like this:

Mark, Sarvey Brown called. Please call him back. / Terri

Mark, Stimothy Jones called. Call him this afternoon. / Terri

Mark, Speter Miller needs you to send him the blueprint. / Terri

Mark eventually figured it out. Terri would hear the person say, “Hi, this is Harvey Brown,” or “Hello, it’s Timothy Jones.” She’d hear the “s” elide with the next letter, and wrote the name as she heard it!

— Patricia “Spatty” Boyd

From my days as a pediatric resident at Children’s National Medical Center, I often heard “sick as hell anemia.” Alas, it does correctly describe the condition.

— Catherine Shaer

Once I was commiserating with a friend via e-mail about her getting divorced from “Vernon.” Spellcheck highlighted Vernon as misspelled and offered: Did you mean “vermin”? Oh, yeah, I did.

— Diane Bender

A guy I knew told me his brother, an assistant professor, failed to get “10-year” at the university.

— Richard Garrett

The funniest expression I have heard in recent years was when someone told me, “We have to nip that in the butt!”

— Ann Cochran

Years ago when I typed up a bill for some electrical services that included installing a fan in the upstairs that vents to attic, it was a good thing I proofread the final statement before it went out.

For a “whole house fan,” the program substituted “whorehouse fan.”

— Zig Ziegenfus

I recently sent an e-mail from my “I’m smarter than you are” Kindle concerning a pest problem I was having on my Hawaiian-style patio, which is called a “lanai.” Thankfully, I checked after Kindle got to it but before it went out. I wonder what our Homeowners Association would have thought about a snail infestation on my labia?

— Carol Siegel

I managed a Web site for a while that had anti-obscenity software. It would automatically change my first name to “Thingy.”

— Dick Cooper

I worked for Social Security for years, taking many disability application forms. The one that threw me, until the lady explained her symptoms of pain in her legs, was “flea bites and blood clarks.” Phlebitis. Blood clots. I also dealt with parents of children with “65 Roses.”

— Lizabeth Smith

(I looked that last one up. It’s actually so common a mishearing, and so sweet and comforting to afflicted children, that the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation has adopted it, officially, for use in a fundraising and research campaign. So Below the Beltway hereby certifies “65 Roses” as good English.)

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