Misheard, Mistaken, Misspelled: The Year’s Finest

Misspelled words of 2010? This list is not one to be “refudiated.”

Among the billions of searches that course through Yahoo!, there are bound to be oodles of misspellings. After all, one reason that people search is to figure out an unfamiliar concept, like who the heck this Justine Bieber (aka Justin Bieber) is, or where can you get these Zoo Zoo Pets (aka Zhu Zhu Pets) that the kids are yammering about. With the rush of information that washes over us every day, it’s a wonder we can spell Barack Obama (although it took a good year of people struggling with “Barrack” before some finally just gave up and shortened searches for No. 44 to “Obama“).

Mistakes … or Freudian Slips?
When an error repeats enough, though, you can’t help wondering if there’s something more behind it. That underground Search swell for “Justine Bieber,” for instance, inadvertently hits on the androgynous appeal of Bieber, who still has some hormones to work through. (The young singer might feel better knowing that ESPN reporter and peephole victim Erin Andrews’s Search alter ego was “Aaron Andrews.”) “Justine” is also better than “Justin Beaver” — unless, of course, that slip-up gives Pixar a dam good idea for a cartoon musical.

Yes, some alternate spellings are plain wrong (“Amozon” for “Amazon,” “tattos” for “tattoos“) or are a translation issue (“Louie Vaton purses” for Louis Vuitton purses). Other misspellings, especially of names, are reasonable errors (“Katie Perry” for “Katy Perry,” “Mylie Cyrus” for “Miley Cyrus“). Indeed, a few make more sense than the original (“Wallmart” for “Walmart“).

But imagine the pent-up frustration released in May, when people sought out the “Lost” finale and mistyped “Lost Finally.” And might there be conspiracists afoot whenever the Perseid meteor shower comes and stirs lookups for “Meter Shower” and “Media Shower”?

Other Search misspellings from 2010:
• March 2: “Teutonic Plates” instead of “tectonic plates.”
• April 22: “Profit Muhammad” for “prophet Muhammad,” during the “South Park” controversy.
• May: “Reigning cats and dogs” for “raining cats and dogs.”
• June 19: “Minute Bowl” and “Minute Boll” for the late basketball great “Manute Bol.”
• September 12: “Notre Dames” for “Nostradamus.”

Sarah Palin and Props to Mrs. Malaprop
The mix-up that delivered the biggest lexical controversy of 2010? Of course, Sarah Palin‘s “refudiate,” which became Oxford American Dictionary’s 2010 Word of the Year, although Oxford admitted that she wasn’t the first to utter “what amounts to a minor and relatively amusing portmanteau.”

Palin’s tweet went terribly awry after she asked New Yorkers to “refudiate” a Ground Zero mosque proposal in July. She corrected the offending tweet, and cheerfully excused her ad hominem attack on the English language by evoking the Will Shakespeare defense.

Despite some snickering, the lady from Wasilla may not be too far off. Even the BBC (wryly amused attitude aside) shined a semantic light on this situation by pointing out that the Bard did indeed make up words. Of course, the big difference between Sarah and Shakespeare is that she mangles her phrases indifferently; he, deliberately. The dead English playwright that Palin should have aligned herself with is Richard Brinsley Sheridan.

Born a good 135 years after Shakespeare, Sheridan created the indelible character of Mrs. Malaprop in “The Rivals,” a lady who couldn’t keep her words straight. The term “malapropos” existed well before Sheridan, but he gave the concept comic life. (You can entangle yourself in Mrs. Malaprop’s twisted words by downloading the play from Project Gutenberg.) As for Will, he, too, turned a phrase until it bent in ludicrous shapes. His character Dogberry from “Much Ado About Nothing” specialized in such unwise remarks are “Comparisons are odorous.”

Incidentally, all these delightful linguistic entanglements all fall in the category “acyrologia.” That sounds like a muscle disease, but the term basically derives from the Greek words for “not authority in speech” and literally means an incorrect use of words, especially soundalikes that “are far in meaning from the speaker’s intentions.”

Choosing your words haphazardly
Besides malapropisms, there are all sorts of words to diagnose your slips of the tongue. For instance, cacozelia is when you use “newfangled speech or Latinate diction” to look smart. Paronomasia is plain punning and tends to be deliberate (like the above-mentioned “ad hominem attack” vs. “ad hoc attack.” Get it? Get it?).

Not surprisingly, this controversial tangent (the whole “no mosque in my Ground Zero backyard” is the primary controversy) inspired searches for “palin refudiate” “palin repudiate,” “repudiate,” “refute,” and “refudiating” … yes, people even conjugated the word.

Or, in Palin-speak, they’re seeking conjugal rights.

(A version of the article appeared in Fast-Talking Dame.)