(Is it cheating to reprint one of my old newspaper columns as a blog? Although I didn’t save all the things I once wrote for the “Lake County News-Chronicle” (Minnesota) where I worked, my mother did save a few. Every now and then, one of them shows up in a letter to me. So, here’s one from March 2009–and the only reason I know the date is because of the ad on the back of the clipping.)
I got a phone call from the man whose story I had posted to the News-Chronicle’s web page.
“Hey lady,” he said. “I do NOT study the bumps on people’s heads.”
Since we’re good friends, I could laugh and not be alarmed, although I did promise to correct the mistake before anyone noticed.
IF anyone would notice, that is.
My friend writes about phenology, which is the study of the natural calendar. He tells us when various flora is in bloom, and what the fauna is doing at any particular week or month of the year. I, in a spastic jerk of a typing finger, added an “r” to the word and turned it into phrenology: the study of the bumps on people’s heads.
Although he was anxious that I make it right, I really wonder if anyone noticed. The letter “r” seems to wander in and out of words, changing their meanings, without anyone taking note. For instance, although the subject isn’t funny, I can’t help but laugh inwardly when people start talking about prostrate cancer.
I guess that’s the kind of cancer people get when they’re lying down, because that’s what “prostrate” means. The word they’re looking for is “prostate,” with no second “r.” I have the kind of brain that can be startled into inappropriate hilarity even when talking about something serious. So, when someone mentions “prostrate cancer,” I want to say, “tell him to stand up.”
Here at the newspaper, we get another set of words confused. When people come in to sign on for a year’s worth of papers, they’re getting a subscription. It’s surprising how often they call it a prescription. There’s that letter “r” again, bringing a “p” and an “e” with it to totally changing the meaning of the word.
Now, it’s entirely possible that the people who say prescription mean what they say. I think the newspaper could be considered a good prescription for a lot of things. Just like a medical prescription produces a solution to some physical ailment, the newspaper brings its own kind of relief.
Nowhere else in this community, for instance, can people find a complete schedule of coming events (provided, of course, that they’re submitted to the paper in the first place). Knowledge of what’s going on around here can be the perfect prescription for curing cabin fever.
Nowhere else can residents find even some of the details of the city council and county board meetings–unless they stir themselves to actually attend the meetings. The stories in the newspaper might be a prescription to cure apathy. Or, depending on what went on at the meeting, they might be a prescription for disturbing peace of mind.
Nowhere else can people enter the living rooms of the neighbors they don’t know well and listen to their stories. Those stories appear regularly in the newspaper, though.
The newspaper is also a good prescription for quelling rumors. Chat rooms and discussion groups can blithely accuse, amuse and reuse incorrect information because no one holds them to accountability, no one demands that they check the facts as carefully as possible. They can jump to conclusions without ever asking anyone to verify. And they do it all the time.
This newspaper may not print ALL the news, considering the restraints of time and staff size, but we sure do our best to get the facts straight. Occasionally we’re given wrong information–intentionally or otherwise, we’re not always sure.
Sometimes, the mistakes are our own, and we rue them more than the readers do. In my case, maybe someone should probe the bumps on my head and see if there’s one to insure accurate typing. On the other hand, this one was a prescription for a good laugh.