Too often those of us who love the English Language put its lexicon up on a pedestal isolated from the world of irreverence or revelry. We view even the most good-natured mocking of it as a sacrilege. Richard Lederer has produced the perfect antidote to such sacrosanct pomposity with his laugh-out-loud collection of confused usage examples.
The wise underlining message of this risible read is that the richness of out mother tongue is greatly enhanced by its propensity for malapropisms, mispronunciations, misspeaks, and the melange of other maladies that can and regularly do befall it.
His chapter on rewritten history--a compilation of actual student papers' errors--reads like a much more amusing version of the revisionist rants that get taught in too many public schools these days. Lines such as "The Pilgrims crossed the ocean, and this was called Pilgrim's Progress...Many people died and many babies were born; Captain John Smith were responsible for all this" should rightly make us shutter when found in a post-modern textbook, but merely cause guffaws when taken from student essays.
While much can be lost in translation, priceless gems can sometimes be found in inter-linguistic exchanges as this gallimaufry of goofs from other languages amply proves. Cited nuggets include a Roman laundry that blatantly announced, "ladies, leave your clothes here and spend the afternoon having a good time," or the French hotel--presumably a hangout for swingers--that requests all guests, "please leave your values at the front desk." None seem to top the Japanese motel tailor-made for former President Clinton advising all visitors that "you are invited to take advantage of the chambermaid."
Perhaps no aspect of our revered English is as hallowed as the rules of grammar. Violating certain principles (What do yous guys want?) earn automatic and well-deserved odium. Yet even among these dogmatic deficiencies, Mr. Lederer found fodder for merriment. Sometimes the ambiguity of a pronoun can have an unintended, but uproarious impact on the perceived meaning of a sentence. Authentic selections include, "according to the report, a vehicle struck the mailbox as it attempted to get back on the roadway." Pity that the mailbox was so slow moving. Regarding ravenous politicians, we read "after Governor Baldwin watched the lion perform he was taken to Main Street and fed 25 pound of raw meat." Spelling errors and wrong words often go undetected, but in certain instances they can truly change a sentence's intended message. The book quotes an article that read, "during peek season the beach is covered with hundreds of bikini-clad beauties;" people are probably "peeking' during all seasons. Bug spray would be a minor concern to a garden where "the pistol of a flower is the only protection against insects," and it's best to have a holiday dinner out when one hears that "on Thanksgiving morning we could smell the foul cooking."
The referenced items above are random choices representative of the many inadvertently funny linguistic mistakes that comprise this rousing work. After finishing "Anguished English" readers should have a duplicitous glow--one part for the mirth that always stimulates a tired soul and the other a renewed respect for our glorious English--a majestic language that is not afraid to laugh at itself.