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Summary – Oops! How’s That Again? | Magic of Words

Unit – 4: Humour
Chapter 2: Oops! How’s That Again? [Roger Rosenblatt]


People do multiple mistakes while using verbal language. Verbal errors create misunderstandings and negative effects upon the listeners. So, humorously Rosenblatt mucks over the human follies created through spoken language. Rosenblatt categorizes verbal errors into four different groups. The first one is ‘public blunders’, for e.g. Nancy Reagan told her husband that she was highly delighted looking at all beautiful white people although there were many black people. The second verbal error is ‘mistranslation’.

For example the slogan “Come alive with Pepsi” when translating into German as “Come alive out of the grave with Pepsi” and elsewhere it was translated as “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the grave”. The third mistake of spoken language is ‘bloopers’ often made on radio or TV. Once radio announcer Harry von Zell called Hoobert Heever for the president Herbert Hoover. Bloopers are the lowlife of verbal error and have become part of toilet jokes. The fourth error is ‘spoonerisms’ such as ‘you have hissed all my mystery lectures’ but in reality, it means you have missed all my history lectures.

Rosenblatt says that verbal error is the natural tendency of human beings. Its main cause is slip of the tongue. Such slip of the tongue is the expression of inner desires for a psychoanalyst. Sometimes the verbal error is caused because of misunderstanding. When a single matter is repeated regularly, it can be twisted differently. Mistranslation is the next cause of the verbal error. Verbal error creates humor. Sometimes it damages personal dignity also. Verbal errors also affect our actions. It creates misunderstanding and miscommunication. We can just show sympathy in such a condition.

Short Answer Questions

1. What are the four types of verbal errors? Why do we commit them?

“Oops! How’s That Again?”, It is divided into three major sections to give us the total understanding of the verbal errors: types of verbal errors, the causes of them and the reason we laugh at such errors. It is written by an American writer, Roger Rosenblatt. While illustrating the types of verbal errors, the writer divides them into slips of the tongue, mistranslation, bloopers, and spoonerism and faux pas. He cites a number of examples for each type of error committed by celebrities. A slip of the tongue refers to the verbal error which is relatively a minor error that takes place in course of conversation.

He gives some of the instances when the great personalities like Nancy Regan, France’s Prime Minister Raymond Barre, and Businessman Peter Balfour, etc. committed such errors result when different expressions are translated from one language into another. For instance, the slogan “Come Alive Alive with Pepsi” was translated in Germany’s President Heinrich Lubke is one more example as a person known to have committed this type of error. Bloopers are embarrassing errors made in public. The writer gives the example of Radio Announcer Harry who announced the name of Herbert Hoover as Heaver on the radio. Spoonerisms are the errors committed when the syllables of the words get replaced with one another.

The writer presents the explanations or the causes based on the psychoanalytical theory and theory of linguistics. Victoria From kin of the linguistics department at U.C.L.A. regards slips as clues about how the brain stores and articulates language. She believes that thought is placed by the brain into a grammatical framework before it is expressed. In simple terms when we fail to translate our thoughts in the language, we commit an error. Again Sigmund Freud, great psychoanalysis, removed the element of accident from a language with his explanation of slips as being the result of the operations of unconscious wishes. A psychiatrist, Richard suggests that the incorrect words exist in associative chains with correct ones known as a kind of “dream pair”. Errors result when the incorrect word is articulated Psychoanalyst Ludwig suggests that a slip of tongue involves the entire network of id, ego, and superego.

The writer points out different reasons for laughter at such mistakes. One of the reasons is that conventional discourse is so predictable and boring that any deviation comes as a delightful relief. Another reason is our meanness. It makes us laugh to see the embarrassment of the speaker. Similarly the most charitable and optimistic thoughts of the blunderer cause laughter. For instance, Gerald Ford’s famous error in 1976 that Poland was not under Soviet domination showed his optimistic thought about Poland’s freedom in the future and it caused a pleasant laugh. Sometimes the bizarre mistakes disclose a whole new world of logic and possibility. This also causes laughter which is the most interesting one. Finally, there is a sympathetic laugh that sees into the essential nature of a slip of the tongue with a perfect understanding.

Long Answer Questions

1. What explanation does Rosenblat advance for the human tendency to make verbal errors? Is the reader meant to regard all the theories with equal seriousness?

Rosenblatt advances the human tendency of making verbal errors in the essay. They make different verbal errors Rosenblatt has organized them into four groups: public blunder, memorable mistranslations, bloopers, and spoonerisms. First, he talks about public blunders e.g. Nancy Regan describes the voters as “The beautiful white people” secondly, the writers say created when “Come alive with Pepsi” another verbal error is blooper is generally made on TV and radio says “Boobert Heever”. The fourth error is “Spoonerisms” once Spooner said to his students. “You have hissed all my mystery lectures” instead of “You have missed all my history lectures”.

The writer examines many reasons why the speaker makes such errors. Sigmund Freud, a psychiatrist, presents his theory about verbal error in a different way. According to him, tongue slips are caused by the network of id (unconscious mind), ego (subconscious mind) and superego (conscious mind). According to the writer, the slip of the tongue is the main cause of the mistakes (verbal errors). Slip of the tongue is like a slip on the banana peels. The thoughts in our mind are put into the grammatical order before we express them.

According to Freud, slips or verbal errors are caused by the speaker’s inner desires. The tongue slips also because of other types of verbal errors such as blooper (stupid mistakes) and spoonerism. The writer says that nothing is perfect and every successful. It is human nature to make mistakes. Another reason is the linguistic one. We have a grammatical framework in our minds. When we can’t translate our thoughts on the proper grammatical structure we commit errors. Thoughts need to be properly replaced by the grammatical structures but many of the time we fail to select the proper grammar from our language acquisition device.

I don’t think we have to take all the errors seriously. Errors are natural. In our daily life, we make numerous verbal errors. They become the cause of embarrassment, insult and sometimes just laughter. But most of the time we are not serious about it although they seem surprisingly interesting. But there are some like public blunders which should be taken seriously. They might damage the reputation and the system as a whole.

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