03 September 2022

The Days of Using Proper English Are Went

I'll open with a confession. I started writing late in life, I have no degrees in English, and I am certainly not a badge-carrying grammar policeman. But, like most writers, I tend to spot style mistakes in fiction and I try not to commit too many of them myself. NOTE: Two years ago at this blog, I wrote two back-to-back columns on the do's and don'ts of writing (May 30, 2020, and June 6, 2020), and even though I'm not fond of most advice when it comes to fiction writing (in my view, if it works, to hell with the rules), I still find the subject interesting. 

Here's a definition I heard someplace: Style includes grammar, punctuation, spelling, capitalization, abbreviations, word choice, word usage, sentence construction, paragraph construction, etc. All of us occasionally make style errors in writing, and it can be embarrassing, but what's worse is to make one of those mistakes and have it turn out to be humorous. So . . . 

For today's post I have attempted to list some of the craziest misuses of written language that I've seen. Some of the following examples have been called "garden path" sentences because they lead the reader in the wrong direction, and others just involve unfortunate errors or typos. But I found all of them to be funny.

Here goes:

Missing punctuation:

I love cooking my friends and my family.

The hunter shot a man eating tiger.

No smoking food or beverages will be permitted.

Let's eat Grandma.

If you like taking your time travel can be exhausting.

No dogs please.

I work at the School for the Severely Handicapped State of Missouri.

Witnesses to the crime at City Hall were two hookers, the mayor and her daughter.

I'm sorry I love you.

We're going to learn to cut and paste kids.

Misplaced modifiers, poor word choice, etc.

I bought a vase from an antique dealer with a giant bottom.

Dressed in a diaper, Mom read a story to my little brother.

Banish all information about the case from your mind, if you have any.

I'm looking for a horse that belongs to a girl with a silver mane and tail.

The blind man picked up the hammer and saw.

The marijuana issue has been sent to a joint committee.

Spewing lava, he took a photo of the volcano.

One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas.

Having finished my dinner, the waiter brought my dessert.

His company makes combs for people with unbreakable teeth.

Grammatically correct but confusing

Time flies when you're having fun; fruit flies like bananas.

The boat sailed on the river sank.

The merry man Mary married married people. (Mary's cheerful husband was a clergyman.)

Rose rose to hose her rows of roses.

The old man the boats. (The ships' crews are elderly.)

The complex houses married students and their families.

All the education he had had had had no effect on his future.

The mouse the cat the dog chased killed ate the cheese.

Will Cook will cook. (William's willing to prepare dinner.)

He fell into the well because he couldn't see that well.


Your the best teacher ever.

The choir will meet at my house for fun and sinning.

Mr. Ellis willingly took the stand, butt cracks appeared in his testimony.

Her hiccups were cured through the use of carbon monoxide.

Having a great time, wish you were her.

The weather will not be ass cold tomorrow.

We have a great band: Bill Jones on guitar, Joe Bennett on drugs.

If you must heave during the sermon, please do so quietly.

All our representatives are busy severing customers.

The swimming pool will be closed due to the David-19 situation.

AutoCorrect is my worst enema.

Be kind, and say hell to someone you don't know.


Tables are for eating customers only

Bed for sale. Free: one night stand

This door is alarmed

Slow work in progress

Be sure to flash after using toilet

Our teachers make a differance

Raise Your Self-Esteem meeting in auditorium, 7 p.m. Please use rear door.

Try our seizure salad

Sale: men's trousers, half off

Cows please close gate

It's a fact: tacos is brain food

No trespassing violators will be prosecuted

Today's sermon: Jesus walks on water. Tonight's sermon: Looking for Jesus.

There are of course many more; these were some that first came to mind. Please contribute your own in the comments section. Have you made any of these kinds of mistakes in your own writing? Would you admit it if you did?

That's it for today. See you in two weeks, unless, well, you know, you never know.


  1. Excellent column, John

    1. Thanks, Anon! These signs and typos, etc., are always funny.

  2. Replies
    1. Jeff, these sound like things you might come up with.

  3. Oh, John, multiple laughs out loud with tears in eyes this time. Thanks! Loved the joint committee, the butt cracks in testimony, and the elephant in (your?) pajamas.

    1. Hey Liz. Yep, nobody likes butt cracks in testimony. And I think it was Groucho who shot the elephant in his PJs. (Animal Crackers, if I remember right.)

  4. How do you know that whoever wrote this--"the Severely Handicapped State of Missouri"-- didn't actually mean it? (Grinning all the while,)

    1. And an obvious Groucho joke: "One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas I'll never know."

    2. HI Don. Maybe he DID mean it. (Yep, it's hard not to grin at that.)

      As for Groucho, I've been watching some of those old YOU BET YOUR LIFE episodes on YouTube--that guy said a lot of funny (and usually inappropriate, by today's standards) things to his contestants on that show.

  5. Yes. I guess the worst is during proof reading when I run across a sentence that even I am unable to ascertain what I was trying to say.

    1. That happens a lot to me. When I see them, I'm just thankful I found them before an editor did.

  6. One that made me laugh out loud: "..try to exercise his demons.." I wonder what kind of aerobics they were doing? Maybe zumba? Jogging?

    1. I like that one. Sometimes a word that's used wrong like that is extra embarrassing because readers might assume that it wasn't a typo at all, and that the writer didn't KNOW how to spell the correct word (like wench for winch or ring for wring).

  7. Elizabeth Dearborn03 September, 2022 12:58

    I've heard it as "Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana". We were having trouble with flies until I bought an electric mosquito killer on Ebay. The box has some funny sayings on it: "Applicable to mother and baby," "Cyclonic absorption," "Quiet and low consumption," "Sleep at ease".

    The guitar player for a band we saw announced, "We're giving bargains tonight! Ladies' clothes 100% off". This was a few years ago when such statements weren't considered objectionable.

    1. Elizabeth, I probably just remembered that one wrong--I think yours is better.

      Yes, we have to tiptoe around some things now. That "Men's trousers, half off" sign I saw was in a store window in a small town twenty years ago or so. Sometimes I think we've become TOO uptight and afraid to say things that just might possibly offend someone somewhere.

  8. Deborah Elliott-Upton03 September, 2022 13:01

    As always, you’re right on target! Thanks for the laughs. I think the worse I’ve read are ones that have characters rolling their eyes—which makes me imagine them either in curlers or traveling down a bowling alley.

    1. Ha! Hi Deborah! I'm afraid I do indeed have my characters roll their eyes now and then--but hopefully not down the same alley at the same time. I love this crazy-language stuff.

  9. My favorite: The New Orleans television reporter who reported the murder occurred in the "alleged kitchen."

  10. News reporters come up with some of the best of these, O'Neil. (Hey, he might've been right--maybe it was sort of a breakfast nook.)

    True story: My wife and I once heard the anchor of a local newscast say, "The suspect who fled the scene was described as being about six years old and 25 feet tall." Afterward, as we sat there with our mouths hanging open, she turned to me and said, "Well, he should be easy to identify."

  11. John, when I saw the subject title, I thought, “… is went. It should be ‘is went.’

    I’ve been observing a writing forum mostly for novice authors. Two major factions stand out. One is those who are earnestly trying to learn the craft, trying to get it right. They really care.

    The other faction argues grammar and spelling are overrated, and punctuation and capitalization are ‘old school’ and unnecessary because everyone knows what’s meant anyway. They sneer at rules, and they back up their theories by quoting their Kindle sales.

    Now that I think of it, this may be where we got the term ‘woke’. The forum moderator keeps the conversation civil, but I find it dismaying.

    1. Leigh, I agree--I think "is went" sounds better.

      As long as publication editors want correct punctuation, capitalization, etc., I'll continue to try to do it right. There'll always be a fine line between what you should do and what you can do. Fiction does allow a lot of stretching of the rules, and I'm glad it does--but the rules are still there, and for a reason.

      And yep, your observation is right on--this might indeed be where "woke" came from.

  12. I love these. I'm laughing so hard my sides hurt. Sadly, I recently came across a published writer who wanted to know if any of her readers had "went" on any retreats. --Susan Oleksiw

    1. Thanks, Anonymous. I too think this kind of thing is fun. As for the writer you mentioned, I sympathize with her--I make dumb statements all the time. I can visualize Mr. Rogers saying "Can you spell 'proofread'?"

  13. Yup, I'm a first grade teacher and get plenty of "your the best teacher ever" notes from my kiddos. I've always hoped to be good enough that by the time we cover contractions and possessives vs. plurals in the spring, they look back on their notes and giggle. Hasn't happened yet....

    1. Ashley-Ruth -- I bet you DO get a lot of those notes. And I'm sure your students will indeed be giggling at those before too long.

      You and all teachers are heroes--keep doing what you're doing!

  14. Recently, I saw this sign in a nursing home: Enjoy your fall. Lovely article. It makes us writers soooo superior. Mary Jo

    1. Hey Mary Jo. "Enjoy your fall"? In a nursing home?

      I guess sometimes making a "not funny" mistake is even worse than making a funny mistake.


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