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Cannibalism, geometry and bad Vatican spellers

LibrariesMusikfestPope Francis

You could argue that Pennsylvania is lagging in any number of areas. Education. Bridge and highway repairs. Environmental protection. Access to health insurance.

But there are some things we would be happy to lag in, which made the implied criticism of a recent headline somewhat mystifying.

It read, "Pa. lags on prescription drug abuse."

It seems to me, and the readers who brought this semi-blooper to my attention, that lagging on prescription drug abuse would be a good thing. One of them wrote, "Does today's headline 'Pa. lags on prescription drug abuse' indicate that Pennsylvania needs more abusers of drugs?"

For the record, the story reported that Pennsylvania is lagging in curbing prescription drug abuse.

In other Pennsylvania blooper news, state Sen. Bob Mensch announced an event last month that was attended by several dignitaries, according to his press release. The list included "Senator John Refereed."

There is no Senator John Refereed. This one seems to fit one of my favorite categories of bloopers, the computer spell check "correction." We've had some doozies over the years, mostly caused by letting the computer automatically replace the word it thinks is wrong.

The editor who handed me this one suggested, "I suspect it should have been Sen. John Rafferty … Although having a referee in the Legislature could be a positive step. More disputes could be resolved and meaningful legislation could be approved."

I ran our spelling program on this column and Rafferty popped up. The computer's first three suggestions were "Rafter," "Riflery" and "Raffler."

Readers routinely send me examples of the media's lack of math skills. With the Parkland Library referendum coming up, I decided to share this one.

One of the articles about the referendum concluded, "The library serves patrons in a 72-mile radius with a population of 56,000 people."

Library officials say it covers 72 square miles, but that's not the same thing is a 72-mile radius, which would stretch 72 miles in any direction from its center. As the reader who sent me this one wrote, "Given that this area extends from New York City to the outskirts of Harrisburg, I suspect that there are more than 56,000 people in that circle — not that I would expect that many from Staten Island to use the facility."

Moving from geometry to basic arithmetic, a local doctor wrote directly to the Tribune Newspaper writer of a story about gold prices.

He wrote, "I was intrigued by an article written by you on 'Price hikes sting gold hungry Indians.' You note that '... two Sri Lankans were reportedly caught in western India's Goa state, with … gold, valued at more than $10 million in their body cavities. Customs officials had noticed them walking awkwardly.'

"My friend: I did the math. Assuming a price of $1,400/oz, August 2013, and dividing this into half of 'more than $10m'(let's assume $5.5m), then that comes to 3,928 oz (245 lbs) gold, that EACH Sri Lankan was carrying around in his 'body cavities!' YIKES!!! I was just in Sri Lanka, less than a year ago, & as they are not 10 foot giants, I can certainly believe that 'normal size' Sri Lankans, each with 245 lbs of gold hidden 'in their body cavities,' would be 'walking awkwardly!'

"Perhaps I have misunderstood something? If not, I do hope the customs authorities videoed the smugglers' 245 lb 'gold walk.' I would love to see it!"

Another news story, this one on the Lehigh County commissioners' rejection of a special tax zone for the old Adelaide silk mills, blooped not by a failure of math, but through the use of a similar but wrong word.

Noting that the Allentown School Board already had rejected the idea, the sentence in question read, "The commissioners' vote, as a result, should have been superficial."

The reader who pointed it out to me wrote, "All too often the commissioners' vote is superficial, but in this case, it also may have been superfluous. Unnecessary, too."

Still, I'm hardly in a position to criticize someone else's bloopers. Here's an example of my fractured syntax.

In the buildup to Musikfest, I wrote, "Here are this year's contest's participating vendors and the featured items, all of which I've either eaten in the past or will be eating this year."

The reader who called me on this responded, "When you say 'all,' I assume you mean both the vendors and the featured items. My plea: Don't eat Mr. Bill. He's a good friend of ours."

When your blooper suggests that you engage in cannibalism, it's a bad one.

On the bright side, all of these combined pale next to the recent error made by the Vatican. Here's the first sentence of one of the stories about it.

"The Vatican has pulled back thousands of medals commemorating Pope Francis' ascension to the papacy because the name of Jesus is misspelled." They spelled Jesus as … Lesus.

There are bloopers, and there are BLOOPERS.

bill.white@mcall.com 610-820-6105

Bill White's commentary appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

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