At the end of every year, I like to share a side dish of corrections and amplifications to complete the 12-month menu of columns. This year, as always, I cooked up a small succotash of misses: misspellings, misjudgments, misstatements. Succotash is not my favorite cuisine, mind you, though it's better than eating crow.
In any case, what follows is my annual attempt to cleanse both the plate and the slate in preparation for the New Year's feast.
Let me begin in the weightless but not errorless realm of outer space. This fall I wrote about the allure of a joint U.S.-U.S.S.R. venture in space. Somewhere in the mysterious workings of the computer, the dreamy notion that we could travel to an asteroid together was translated into the cockeyed idea that we could build an asteroid together. About the only thing more farfetched than building Star Wars is building a star.
While we are in orbit, I also wrote about the cartoon commercial for the Strategic Defense Initiative featuring a little girl who drew a nifty "peace shield" with her set of crayons. The crayon manufacturer objected. No, they didn't mind being involved in military work -- "We have noted with pride and appreciation your reference to our . . . brand name" -- but they did mind my negligence. I forgot to capitalize and brand-name their product. Mea culpa: CRAYOLA. CRAYOLA. CRAYOLA.
This mistake was minimal compared with the one made by the mother of the commercial's voice-over. Wendie Sakakeeny wrote: "My present humiliation is that I am the mother of the little voice in the pro-'Star Wars' TV commercial." Sakakeeny, who is adamantly against SDI but just didn't read the fine print, added: "I can only hope . . . that the many thousands of people who watch a happy little child's drawing and hear a sweet little girl's voice tell them why we need a 'Star Wars' machine will not be taken in."
Another not so little voice heard in this column was that of Prince. In a piece about pornrock, I quoted his ballad on incest. Fans pointed out that the sister-song was a baddie but also an oldie. According to several readers, his latest album has only one sexual reference that ends with the line, "Love is more important than sex. Now I understand." I hope he also understands that I was not trying to ban rock.
My favorite banner of the year was the one waved by the military when they outlawed umbrellas. In a piece suggesting that the Pentagon was all wet, I used the word "mufti" to describe a military uniform. A retired military man from Sun City, Ariz., corrected me. "When an admiral is in mufti," he wrote, "he's wearing his 'civvies.'he military has banned something else: earrings for men.
On from military umbrellas to money shelters. In a column on taxes, I quoted a People magazine tally of Jane Fonda's income from desk calendars and exercise tapes for one year. The Fonda corporate people weren't poor-mouthing, but they gently objected. The money from the exercise tape didn't go to Jane's pocket but into her nonprofit organizations. For that mistake I will do 70 extra sit-ups.
I won't however, touch my toes and recant for those who believe that we should concentrate our foreign birth- control aid on Natural Family Planning. After a column on this subject, I heard from dozens of NFP advocates playing dueling statistics. They insist that NFP has a success rate of 99 percent among stringent followers. So far, so fair. No doubt NFP works among highly motivated, well-trained couples involved in a program of self- monitoring and abstinence for about 12 to 14 days a month.
Abstinence for 30 to 31 days a month would presumably produce a success rate of 100 percent. But in practice, especially practice in the Third World, it's seriously flawed. I'll stick with the World Health Organization study that showed 35 percent of the users in both developed and undeveloped countries discontinue NFP.
Finally, a historic footnote. In a column on "canned Fresh Fruit Salad," Opium perfume, Visible Difference face cream and other misnomers of the marketplace, I commented ruefully on how little people care about truth in naming. Not true. Many do care. I heard from them all, including one Chicago woman who challenged the local One Hour Cleaner because they didn't do it. But my favorite letter came from Jarrett Leplin of the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, who shared Honest Abe's thoughts about this:
"There's a story that Lincoln in a debate responded to a long speech of Douglas' by asking the audience how many legs a horse would have if you call a tail a leg. 'Five' some yelled out. 'Four,' replied Lincoln, 'Calling a tail a leg doesn't make it one.'