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Karen Virag

GETTABLE GRAMMAR: Verbal Boobery (VB)

Plate of peanut butter cookies, with accompanied by caption with awkward wording quoted from an Air Canada lounge.

Verbal whatery?

Not long ago in the Air Canada Lounge at Toronto Pearson Airport I noticed a small sign beside a tray of freshly baked cookies. It said:

Plate of peanut butter cookies, with accompanied by caption with awkward wording quoted from an Air Canada lounge.
“For the safety of our passengers with allergies, these cookies contain nuts.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, I have to say, I don’t know why so many people complain about Air Canada. Knowing how many passengers are allergic to nuts, AC actually went out of its way to prepare a snack that, well, contained nuts. Good on them.

What Air Canada probably meant to say on this sign was, “These cookies contain nuts. So, if you are allergic to nuts don’t eat them because you could die.” (Or something like that. Maybe it would be too much to expect an airline to use the verb “die” in any of its materials.)

Off-kilter sentences like this belong to a particularly rich linguistic class I like to call verbal boobery (VB). Consider this example from a notice about emergency procedures:

In cases of extreme emergency, the operator may tell passengers to evacuate through the PA system.

The Oxford Guide to Canadian English Usage notes that the original meaning of evacuate is “to empty a building,” which is a definition true to the word’s Latin roots—e meaning from and vacuate, from the Latin evacuare, meaning “to empty.” But as the Canadian Oxford Dictionary tells us, evacuate can also mean to “empty one’s bowels”; “to discharge feces.”

So, the passengers being addressed here are either so thin that they can squeeze themselves into the wires of the PA system, or the people on the other end of the PA system are about to get a nasty earful.

The August 12 issue of Australia’s The Independent reported a particularly fine example not of VB but of a delightful slip of the tongue. The paper cited this comment, made at a Liberal Party event in Melbourne by opposition leader Tony Abbott: “No one—however smart, however well-educated, however experienced—is the suppository of all wisdom.”

A statement of great, um, rectitude, Mr Abbott.

last post: I Come to Praise Typos, Not to Bury Them

5 Comments on “GETTABLE GRAMMAR: Verbal Boobery (VB)”

  • Arlene Prunkl

    says:

    Where were these when I was writing my blog post on dangling modifiers! Love them!

  • Samber

    says:

    I’m crying with delight. « a nasty earful »: so clever.

  • Kelly Parry

    says:

    This is brilliant but I must admit I clicked because of the cookie picture. It does remind me of the signs on some Vancouver buses that says « Theses seats are reserved for people with disabilities and seniors. » I travel with seniors all the time and I never get to sit there 🙂

  • Jessica

    says:

    Also known as malapropisms.

  • Cheri

    says:

    My favourite came courtesy of the Winnipeg Free Press at grad time a few years ago: « Looking lovely in her pink and black dress, her parents could not have been more proud. » How did they both fit into one dress?

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