24 January 2023

Boys Two Tax


When I was ten years old, my dad brought home a conversion kit for my bicycle. He installed a banana seat and high-rise butterfly handlebars so that I could ride a Sting-Ray, just like the cool kids.

Alas, Dad could change the bike to cool, but the rider remained unreformed.

I was reminded of my bicycle’s conversion in a rather roundabout Proustian moment the other day. Sitting at my desk in the courthouse basement reviewing cases, I was presented with an officer’s affidavit.

He pulled over a pickup on a routine traffic stop. As he approached the vehicle in the bed, he spotted a Cadillac converter.

Having some familiarity with our local crime trends, I knew that the officer had likely spied a stolen catalytic converter. The voice-to-text, called-in report had changed the stolen object. If one says the words out loud and mumbles just a smidge, it is easy to hear how the substitution occurred. 

In the moment, however, my imagination ran wild. I envisioned Hyundai Elantras or Chevy Sparks sprouting tailfins and hood ornaments, stretching out before my eyes until they became El Dorados. The Cadillac converter rolling around in the back of this defendant's pickup brought the transformation from an entry-level motor vehicle to a classic American roadster.

That sort of thing happens when you spend too much time alone in the basement.

Cadillac converter is a petite-typo, a small error, easily understood in a world of dictated reports and auto-corrections. January 2023 has provided several examples already. Perhaps the new year brought software upgrades to the local departments, and the bugs are still being worked out. None of these are significant, but each has successfully taken me away, if briefly, from the subject of the offense to consider the alternative reality posed by the language on the page.

Consider where your mind goes with the following actual examples:

“John Smith was arrested leaving the Budget Sweets.”

Envision the Willy Wonka-esque crime implied by the sentence. Readers might quickly fix this one and picture the malefactor sneaking away from the Budget Suites, a low-rent motel just off the freeway. Lots of offenses occur there. But a discount candy store as a crime scene? Maybe Hershey, Pennsylvania, has that problem, but it is unheard of here in Fort Worth.

Or perhaps this example:

“I apprehended John Smith before he was able to flea.”

If true, legal pundits will be forced to consider the definition of the verb, to flea. Can a pest infestation be a weapon? What constitutes a swarm? Fortunately, my colleagues and I were spared all that scholasticism. Smith merely hoped to run away. He was arrested by the police and not by animal control.

If the workload is heavy and I’m blessed with a smidge of discipline, the above auto-corrections rarely slow me down. They are momentary distractions, encouraging flights of imagination in the free moments. Occasionally, however, the auto-corrections indeed prove disruptive.

The other day, for example, Officer Lawful met Smith and Jones regarding a dispute. The police report described Officer Lawful comforting Smith after hearing his statements. I regularly read examples of officers offering succor to distressed individuals, so the emotional support did not seem out of place. Smith’s version of events changed while being comforted, and Officer Lawful subsequently arrested him.

In a world absorbed only through the printed page, the electronic shifting from confronted to comforted changed my perception of who the arrestee would be. Like a bad plot twist, it took me out of the story, and not in a good way.

As I think about my writing for 2023, I hope that exposure to these errors reminds me of some basic lessons. When I'm writing, the words matter. Seeing silly examples of word choice should prompt me to take extra care with my language decisions in the stories I'm trying to create. At least, I hope it does. The more important lesson for me is the reminder to carefully proofread my pages. And then reread them before hitting "send." I regularly see how a garbled or inattentive word changes my reading of a police report.

My apologies to Michael, Barb, and my other editors for the typos and word choices they’ve comforted.

Until next time. 

16 comments:

  1. Sheesh, Mark. I'm still scratching my head over Boys Two Tax. I like Cadillac Converter… I could picture people I know saying that.

    Crimes occurring in Budget Sweets might include B&Es, D&Ds, and M&Ms.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Boys two tax= Voice to Text

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    2. M & Ms, a ripped from the headlines crime these days.

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    3. Voice to Text--we've got a winner

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    4. O I C. I embarrassed myself day before yesterday: I sent a one line text overseas… with 2 boys-two-text errors in one sentence. I enjoyed the article, Mark.

      Delete
  2. Mark, when Middleborough was part of my address, spellcheck insisted on Middlebrow. Was it sending a message?
    great article,
    Edward Lodi

    ReplyDelete
  3. And all that's in English, while people who don't speak the same language wonder how wars get started.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. R.T., you're always reliable for a deep thought. Thank you.

      Delete
  4. Elizabeth Dearborn24 January, 2023 13:07

    res judicata = race you to the car.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's the name of my law school's annual 5K.

      Delete
  5. With thanks to the late, great Florence King: "fragrant lick toes" = "inflagrante dilecto."

    ReplyDelete
  6. Eve, any reply risks lowering the maturity level of this serious blog. Let me just say, thank you for your comment.

    ReplyDelete

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