Saturday, January 28, 2006

To bloop is human

As the examinations draw near, students dread evaluation and teachers look forward to student bloopers. The word ‘blooper’ comes from the verb ‘bloop’ which originated in the US in 1926. ‘Bloop’ was used for the low-pitched electronic screech emitted by a radio. Gradually, ‘blooper’ evolved in meaning from this sense to the sense of an embarrassing error. Student bloopers provide good comic relief to the poor soul who has to evaluate piles of answer sheets. Let’s look at a few interesting bloopers.

Ferdinand de Saussure is called ‘the father of modern linguistics’ but an answer sheet recently cast aspersions on the paternity of many people when it declared: ‘Ferdinand de Saussure is the father of modern linguists’. A definition of monogamy once read: ‘Having one wife is called monotony’. An essay on Punjab said: ‘Sardars wear turbines on their heads’. One would think that mathematics, with its precision, would be blooper-free, but this one sets the trend with the statement that ‘A triangle which has an angle of 135 degrees is called an obscene triangle’. To quote some at random… ‘A virgin forest is a place where the hand of man has never set foot’, ‘The death of the main protagonist was a turning point in his life’ and ‘The difference between a king and a president is that a king is the son of his father but a president is not’.

Even dictionaries can make bloopers. For instance, the word ‘dord’ once appeared in the Merriam Webster Dictionary. It came from a list of abbreviations, where one entry read ‘D or d’, meaning a capital or small-case letter ‘d’. These referred to the abbreviations of the word ‘density’. The letters got separated from the list and surfaced as an entry in the dictionary that read ‘Dord’ (D or d), giving the meaning as ‘density’. As a matter of routine, ‘dord’ acquired a phonetic transcription and the label of a part of speech as well. For more than five years, this blooper survived as a ‘hothouse word’ or, a word that lives only in a dictionary. Apologies to the students for letting their bloopers out of the hothouse.