When I got into the news business many years ago, one of my college professors told me that you’re only as good as the last thing you wrote. He also said for me to find a good woman and a good dog so that someone would always love me. As well, he said your mistakes will live longer than the good stuff.
Well, I’ve always kept that in mind. But my dog died. So now I borrow one.
He also said to be quick to laugh at yourself ... he said that would be good therapy. What he meant was, when a comma got left out or was misplaced or some other literary faux pax occurred, your mistake would be out there for the whole world to see, so you might as well go ahead and get the first laugh.
And so that day when I wrote that headline, and it referred to the “pubic defender” as opposed to the “public defender” I went ahead with my chuckle, knowing the next morning at the breakfast club I would have to run the gauntlet. On that morning almost everyone had read the paper and for those who had not, it was forced upon them. And he was right, screwups have a long shelf life.
Yep, the spell checker on a computer will always give you a real word as an option. It may not give you the right word.
Along my journalistic journey, I have made note of some dangling participles and some misplaced modifiers as a reminder that sometimes what one is thinking is not exactly what one is saying or writing.
The following are examples of some actual comments taken from accident reports.
— “A pedestrian hit me and went under my car.”
— “The other car collided with mine without giving warning of its intention.”
— “I had been learning to drive with power steering. I turned the wheel to what I thought was enough and found myself in a different direction going the opposite way.”
— “Coming home, I drove into the wrong house and collided with a tree I don't have.”
— “No one was to blame for the accident, but it never would have happened if the other driver had been alert.”
— “I had been driving for 40 years when I fell asleep at the wheel and had an accident.”
— “To avoid hitting the bumper of the car in front, I struck the pedestrian.”
— “The telephone pole was approaching fast. I was attempting to swerve out of its path when it struck my front end.”
— “ I pulled away from the side of the road, glanced at my mother-in-law, and headed over the embankment.”
— “The guy was all over the road. I had to swerve a number of times before I hit him.”
These are the kinds of things that tend to show up on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
So far, my faux pas has avoided his show although one fellow told me he submitted the “pubic defender”. Apparently I was upstaged by the Weight Watchers “before and after” entry where not only did the lady lose weight, but she also changed from Caucasian to Afro American.
My old professor also noted that in this business, journalists often develop more enemies than friends. So he suggested I make a list of pallbearers my wife might hire if I preceded her into the big newsroom in the sky. He said some people erroneously believe that baseball is America’s favorite pastime, but in reality it’s bashing the press.
The professor passed away several years ago. And I will always remember his cautions, especially to be careful where I dangle my participle.