As writers and editors, my wife and I have an appreciation for language.
That is especially true when we mangle English or misinterpret something.
I often quip “words are my life,” especially after I have made a dog’s dinner (a Britishism for a real mess) out of something I was trying to articulate.
For supposedly educated people, we can sometimes misread things, often with hilarious results.
For instance, Meg was recently in Bethlehem, Pa., and visited a favorite Irish tea room.
She was surprised to see the place was now featuring a bar and patio and had been renamed “Paddy Os.” She was puzzled. She wondered if the new name was derived from the manager or owner.
It was not until she was sitting at one of the tables and reading about the place that the penny dropped and she realized it was a play on words.
Paddy Os. Patio. Get it? She finally did.
Similarly, one time we pulled into a parking lot for an Outback Steakhouse and she saw a window marked with a “To Go” sign, that is, a place for customers to pick up their takeout orders.
But the way it was lettered, it read more like “ToGo,” prompting Meg to wonder what was a “togo” (pronounced toga with an “o” at the end).
But hands down, the all-time champion story for mangling and misreading things belongs to me.
I was a newcomer to a newspaper in the Hudson Valley, The Times Herald-Record, in 1992, and I was suddenly thrust into covering the police after the longtime police reporter got fired after a row with the bosses.
I had covered cops before but I now had a multitude of so-called cop shops, and it included the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Department.
Every morning I would meet with Lt. Detective Anthony Suarez, a wiry guy who enjoyed his job but not paperwork.
More than once when he would pull a case file and give me information on an arrest and I would ask for some basic details, like an arrestee’s date of birth, the lieutenant would not find it, stub out his cigarette in a gesture of frustration and leave his office muttering “I’m going to chew me some deputy ass!”
Anyway, he was very obliging with my endless questions.
Some mornings I would have to wait at the front counter and I would kill time looking at the notices and posters plastered on the bulletin board.
One day, curiosity got the better of me, and I asked Suarez: “You know, I’ve seen this one notice on the bulletin board for ages. Did you guys ever catch this guy Bolo?”
In that moment, as soon as I asked, I had an Edith Bunker-like epiphany and realized, of course, the guy’s name was NOT Bolo, but it was cop-speak for Be On The Lookout, as in BOLO.
The detective laughed, shook his head and forgave me.
Not quite sure they ever did get their man, but in that embarrassing moment it was clearly time for me togo.