Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Potentially Tense Canaries by Andy Scheer
Perhaps their experience with spell-check had made the canaries tense. They flew at me off the page, daring me to discover their sentence’s original meaning, before spell-check and its minion, “suggest word replacement,” had their way.
The sentence taunted me; what could it mean? Nothing in the manuscript I’d been editing hinted at the problems posed by Question 5:
5. What potential tensions canaries from a transition in mower, authority, responsibility and promise as we see with Abraham and Isaac?
I poured over the sentence, my curiosity peaked.* What had spell-check wrought?
I started with the easier word, “mower.” My mind recalled, then rejected the old joke:
Q: What do you get if you run over a canary with a mower?
A: Shredded tweet.
The context suggested the author had meant “power.” But canaries? What potentially could make them tense? I noted the problem in my “questions for author” document and moved on, hoping my subconscious would solve a problem that could only be computer induced.
Spell-check is wonderful. I use it—but I don’t trust it, especially if I’ve not given the document a line-by-line, word-by-word reading. Otherwise you end up with a paragraph like this, from a nonfiction proposal that once came my way:
I remember at the age of twenty-one thinking surly marriage was eminent and my prince charming was right around the corner. With each passing birthday I would try to quite the ache in my heart with the thought “maybe this year.”
Perhaps if she didn’t want a marriage that stood out so much, she wouldn’t be feeling surly. But I decided to quite my objections. Maybe I was the one being surly, condemning a writer for three correctly spelled typos in one short paragraph, not counting the lack of capitalization.
Then I turned the page and saw this:
I was like many eighteen year old girls when I graduated from high school. When I walked down the isle with my diploma in hand, my sights were set on the next exciting chapter of my life, college.
Aisle not be reading further, I thought. It’s no good atoll.
A half-hour later, my subconscious did its job and I returned to the canaries. With my editing knife, I cut them in two, then switched the order of two letters. Canaries = can arise.
5. What potential tensions can arise from a transition in power, authority, responsibility, and promise, as we see with Abraham and Isaac?
The sentence made sense, even if spell-check didn’t care.
* Yes, they’re intentional.