One of my jobs as a multiplatform editor at The Post is to put together the corrections for the print edition. It's a bit of a grim task, staring failure (sometimes my own) in the face, but occasionally I see a correction and can't help but smile.
For instance, one correction in today’s paper was straight out of a “Seinfeld” episode.We pointed out that our review of a Spencer Tracy biography referred to the actor as being “off the wagon” when he was wasn’t drinking. What we meant, of course, was “on the wagon.” The wagon, however that expression might have originated, is sobriety, though it’s easy to see how one might picture it carrying barrels of whiskey or cases of beer down the highway.
And once you're off that wagon, it's all downhill from there, right?
Our colleague Gene Weingarten is adamant that "all downhill from there" is a good thing, as in easy coasting. That interpretation makes sense when you think of "uphill battle" and the like, but then what to make of "downhill slide"? If English had a governing body, it might help clear things up by discouraging "downhill slide" in favor of "downward slide," but, alas, we're stuck with our lively chaos, in which somehow "could care less" is used to mean "couldn't care less," and "literally" is used to mean "very much not literally."
I've written a couple of books about that chaos, and in the first one, "Lapsing Into a Comma," I wonder about calling someone something like the world's worst serial killer. I mean, don't you mean best serial killer? Wouldn't I, having killed nobody, be a worse serial killer than Ted Bundy or John Wayne Gacy?
I don't think we've run any corrections about uphill and downhill or who's really good at murder, but another one that made me smile had a uniquely inside-the-Beltway flavor. In writing about another figure from the Nixon/Watergate/Pentagon Papers days, Charles Colson, we referred to Daniel Ellsberg as a psychiatrist. I know I'm losing a lot of people here, but those of you of a certain age heard the phrase "Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist" enough that you'll understand how Ellsberg and the psychiatrist might merge, the same way Dr. Frankenstein's monster gets erroneously called "Frankenstein."
Earlier today, as it happens, I was reading a discussion of "Muphry's Law," the principle that Internet posts correcting another person's language invariably contain errors themselves. The joke -- get it? -- is in misspelling Murphy's as "Muphry's." Well, the post I read today called it "Muphrey's Law."
I hope I didn't prove that law here. If I did, let me know in the comments. I'll blame Old-Timer's Disease.