published Sunday, December 2nd, 2012

Galletta: Celebrating a year of mangled language


by Jan Galletta

My traditional wedding anniversary card for my husband, Fred, is almost finished. Its completion comes just two weeks before we hope to start our 43rd year of married life.

I've written before about this ritual in which I jot down all the speaking miscues that Fred, a truly gifted language mangler, makes throughout the year. Come mid-December, I incorporate them in a clumsily crafted card that serves as a nod to our nuptial commemoration.

This past year, the man mixed malapropisms, spoonerisms and unique-speak into a verbal stew that few could interpret, much less digest.

For example, Fred was clean-shaven this past spring when his dermatologist removed some precancerous spots from his face and ears. But in anticipation of the annual appearance he makes as Santa Claus at his former work site, he was shaggy and heavily whiskered when he later returned for a follow-up medical visit.

En route to the office, Fred mused that sporting a five-month shadow may not have been a smart move, under the circumstances. He said, "I probably shouldn't have grown my beard back. I was bare-breasted when she (the surgeon) burned off those bad spots."

In other medical matters, he referred to my topical gynecological ointment as "syrup," and when I called him out on that communication slip-up, he explained, "I have Alzheimer's of the mouth."

Driving on crowded highways often can fluster Fred and trigger a linguistic lapse or two.

Take our recent trip to Atlanta, which found us navigating congested Friday afternoon commuter traffic. A nervous Fred commanded me to "keep watching the cars with nutty drivers in the right lane.

"In this mess," he said, "two eyes are better than one."

Once we'd made our way through the automotive morass, my husband reflected on his operating prowess and, in particular, on a poor driver he'd followed as closely as a cocklebur clinging to a trouser cuff. Fred said, "I bet that old guy was miffed I had my high beams shining in his back eyes."

Atlanta's lights were dimming in the distance before I realized that, in Fred's quirky lexicon, "back eyes" meant rearview mirror.

He always says that his words come out wrong because his tongue simply can't keep up with his brilliant intellect. He claims he's already advanced to the next brainy thought before his ability to express himself catches up.

I have my doubts about this explanation. But occasionally Fred does dazzle me with a seemingly profound statement or observation.

That was the case not long ago in our conversation about the literary figures each of us would most want to meet and hang out with for a while.

I was mentally debating the merits of choosing John the Baptist (that biblical description of him in the book of Mark as a man "in camel's hair clothing" who ate "locusts and wild honey" always appealed to me), versus Dorothy Parker (because, in the end, it's always about smart women, isn't it?), when Fred announced that his selection was Forrest Gump -- a pick that struck me as pretty inspired.

But let's get back to Fred's distorted discourse.

During the year now closing, he pegged the frosting on sugar cookies as "cream sauce" and described our granddaughter's detangler rinse as "the stuff that gets wrinkles out of her hair."

On a summer fishing trip, Fred hooked a lunker and told me to pick up his camera, not with my hands, but with my fins. And, as I prepared to feed our 5-month-old grandson, he said, "You can't do that, there's been a bimbo recall."

So disapproving was the look that accompanied his words that I first thought Fred had been commenting on my behavior instead of talking about the modular baby seat called a Bumbo.

Maybe it's because we're so engrossed in child care that Fred asked an airline attendant for a stroller when he really meant a wheelchair. But he compounded the error when the flight steward asked how big the baby was and Fred told her the stroller was for his 88-year-old uncle.

Email Jan Galletta at jan galletta@yahoo.com.

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