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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Ear Graffiti

All my life I've misheard things. "Did you feed the dog?" becomes to my ears "The toaster's in the garage," for example. When I turn to the people in my life and ask, "Ummmm, what did you just say?" they often won't tell me until I confess to what it is I think I've heard. From long association with me, they know my brain has come up with something improbable enough to alert me that nonsense is afoot, and they enjoy my discomfiture, good-naturedly enough that I've begun to enjoy it too. Sort of.


In the last ten years I've begun misreading things too. Once, for example, "peasants storming the Braille" caught my attention, and sent me back to the original, which had "Bastille" instead of "Braille." Recently I read the title of a novel (by Janette Turner Hospital) as The Last Michigan instead of The Last Magician, although I suppose it could have been The Last of the Mohicans too, only it wasn't.


So I keep a list of my more fantastical misreads and mishears and I insert them into poems. Why not? I might as well get some advantage from my periodical states of confusion. Sometimes when I've got a long list of misreads and mishears, I challenge myself to get them all into a single poem. And occasionally literary journals publish these poems. Go figure.


Apparently I'm not the only one who does this. Last month I read this in Andrei Codrescu's The Disappearance of the Outside: A Manifesto for Escape:


"Mishearing is the true aristocrat of hearing. By extension, so are mistakes. How far into the new truth can one be taken by mistakes? 'Never let a typo go,' Ted Berrigan advised me, 'it may be the threshold of the new, the door into the unexpected.' Mishearing. Mistakes. Misunderstandings. Misgivings. Miscastings. All the pretty misses of discovery."


Because I am raising bilingual sons, I read a lot about second language acquisition. Some years ago I read (and I've forgotten the reference, I apologize) that one of the struggles for second language learners is the inability of their brains to fill in sounds that get lost in conversation. Background noise and simple movement in positioning of mouths and ears (the turning of the head, for example) mean that all of us miss syllables now and then when we are listening, but we often have no idea we missed a small bit of something, because our brains go ahead and fill it in, as though we had heard it in the first place. From years of hearing and reading things in context, our brains can often guess what syllable we missed, and whisper it to us. However, the brains of second language learners don't have years of examples stored up in their new language, and their brains cannot fill in the blanks, so they notice when they've missed a couple of phonemes here and there. They can't keep up.


So what does that mean for me, that my brain goes ahead and fills in the syllables I miss with, um, nonsense rather than searching out the most likely words that fit the context? According to Andrei Codrescu and Ted Berrigan (and who could be in better company than that?) it's a good thing, a chance to discover and maybe to create. I agree. I just wonder how many mishears and misreads I don't catch because they seem probable enough. Now that's scary.


57 comments:

jacki said...

Love this! Just a creative mind at work -- think of it as a gift. Also loving the look of your blog. I'll be following, for sure!

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Hi Jacki, I'm finally following your lead into the world of blogging. You are my creative hero!

Jessica Goodfellow said...

My mind just struck again. I heard "secular Cubist" instead of "secular humanist."

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Recently read Kelli Russell Agodon's charming book, Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room, in which there is a poem entitled "Coming Up Next: Killer Blue Irises Spread" with the italicized note below of "Misheard health report on NPR." Notes in the back of the text explain that the report was actually entitled "How Killer Flu Viruses Spread." Mishears strike again! (and if you love irises, they are a motif in this book, so check it out.)

Jessica Goodfellow said...

I'm just going to keep posting strange misreadings and mishearings here, though I don't suppose anyone but me will ever notice!

I just read "crayons" instead of "canyons." I ought to be able to make something from that!

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Just heard a poem (on a podcast) called "The Heron" but it was about halfway through the poem before I realized it wasn't "The Harem."

Jessica Goodfellow said...

My son asked me, "When is Dad coming home?" but I heard, "I'm meeting Dad in Mexico." Well, similar cadence anyway.

Jessica Goodfellow said...

My son said, "American," but I heard "a meerkat," which made for a confusing conversation.

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Just misread "Every person you meet is a potential character" as "Every person you meet is a potential cracker."

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Okay, this is a little bit off the mark, but I just read the word "goaltending" and spent a few minutes wondering, what is a goalt? And how does one end it?

Jessica Goodfellow said...

My husband was telling me about a service available at the hospital but "only for acute phase patients." I thought he said, "only for cute-faced patients" and I was duly offended for all the ugly patients being discriminated against.

Jessica Goodfellow said...

I thought my son asked me, "Is that a caveman with a saxophone?" But actually he had said, "Is that Cane Man with a bag and phone?" (Cane Man is what we call our cranky old neighbor who whacks anyone passing within canes-length with his walking cane. And hard! He's never been seen yet with anything but the cane, which is why my son was incredulous at the bag and phone. It wasn't Cane Man.)

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Today's misread: Instead of "x is hardwired into our nervous systems" I thought I read "x is haywired into our nervous systems." Ha!

Jessica Goodfellow said...

So my 11-year-old says, "You know how to make dry ice? It's hardened seal poo."

No, he didn't say that, but that's what I heard. He actually said "CO2" and yes the 2 is supposed to be a subscript. I don't know how to change font in the comment section.

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Ha! I just misread: "How Great Women Lead: A Mother-Daughter Adventure into the Lives of Women Shaping the World
byBonnie St. John"

as "......Women Slapping the World..." Let it fly, women!

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Just misread the book title "The Book on Writing: The Ultimate Guide to Writing Well" as

"The Book on Writing: The Ultimate Guide to Writing Hell."

HA!

Jessica Goodfellow said...

It's been awhile since I left a comment. Misreadings and mishearings have been happening but I haven't been recording them.

Here's one though: I read "angry labelling" when what was really written was "allergy labelling."

Jessica Goodfellow said...

So this morning I looked 'echolalia' up in the dictionary, because I had heard it used as a technique small children apply when learning to speak by repeating everything their parents say (and I have a kid who did this, but had not heard of this usage of 'echolalia' before), and I saw the word echoey, with the definition:
1 like an echo.
And I read it too quicky and thought I had read "I like an echo" and I thought well, who doesn't, but still that's an odd thing to be written in a dictionary. Because of course that wasn't written in the dictionary.

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Just heard "nico...." and expected to hear "nicotine," when what the speaker actually said was "Nicodemus." Which I should have expected from the context. Not a mishearing, but a misexpectation.

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Just misheard "universal story about the self" as "universal story about the south." Hmmmmmm. Odd, from a eastern girl.

Jessica Goodfellow said...

I may be taking my low-carb diet too far. I just misread "body language" as "body lasagne"!

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Son said "Look at all the buses," which totally confused me as I had heard "Look at the octopuses" and there weren't any octopuses, nay not even any octopi.

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Today's entry on Poetry Daily was Stephen Cushman's "Atheism's Easier," which I misread as "Atheism's Easter."

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Mishearing may be genetic. Just heard my son singing, "I can see clearly now the rain is gone. I can see all popsicles in my way."

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Yesterday was a banner day for mishearing. Instead of "notify the next of kin" I heard "notify the Mexican." When my son said, "I have a question," I heard, "Hare Krishna."

Jessica Goodfellow said...

The quote I ALMOST read: "A cynic is a frustrated idealist. You care *so much* that, to protect yourself from being burned again, you became cynical." —Rankin

But what I really read was: "A cyclist is a frustrated idealist."

Which is often also true.

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Misheard "interpolate" as "in triple H." Why not "in triple eight"? Can't say.

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Misread "gorilla mask" as "Galileo mask."

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Just misread Diverse Voice Quarterly as Divorce Verse Quarterly.

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Just misread the headline "Has Your Smartphone Hijacked Your Life?" as "Has Your Sophomore Hijacked Your Life?"

Jessica Goodfellow said...

This is a misreading due to my eyes just getting bad. The print was small so I read "gut churn" as "gut chum." Disgusting...

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Rereading a Murakami novel, and misread "overwhelmed by a stillness deeper than anything I'd ever known" as "overwhelmed by a silliness deeper than anything I'd ever known."

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Just misheard Patton Oswald reading his wine list. "Whites by the glass" I heard as "white spider glass" and I was enthralled--what is white spider glass?

Too bad, no such thing.

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Misheard, this morning, "mine detonator" as "mind detonator" and spent a few puzzled moments wondering what that would be.

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Misheard "dragging the lake" as "dragon the lake," and wondered whether it was a nickname or title, like "Pepin the Short" (who I'm related to), or whether it was a lake named Dragon, like "Dragon: the lake" or "Dragon, the lake", sort of an appositive. Those were the possibilities I considered before I finally figured it out....

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Misheard "original sin" as "a regional sin".

I think I'm on to something here...

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Just thought I heard: "What kind of grammar would a grammar without Christians be?"

What was actually said: "What kind of grammar would a grammar without questions be?"

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Epic misread:

Instead of "security camera"

"sincerity camera"!

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Misread:

Instead of "cowboys and Indians"

I thought I read "cowboys and lesbians"

A much better title!

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Was reading a description of abject poverty that included the statement "only 10% of households had even a basic privy" which I misread as "only 10% of households had even a pastry bag," and I thought, well, no pastry bag, that's poverty all right.

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Just misread "Rolex Replicas" as "Rolex Republicans."

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Recently misheard 'embossed in gold' as 'in Boston gold.'

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Instead of "The Plot Against America" I misread "The Crotch against America." In my defense, there was a cr- word in the line just below the line I was reading. Really, there was!!!!

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Another doozy: Just thought "your cellphone company is robbing your blind" was "your celibacy company is robbing you blind." Once again my eyes picked up some letters from the line below the one I meant to be reading, and alphabet-souped it up.

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Yesterday, I thought I heard "satire's dark humvee". I still don't know what it was that was actually said.

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Just misread 'pipe tobacco' as 'pig tobacco.' Which you have to admit is more interesting.

Jessica Goodfellow said...

And just misread 'No dogs, horses, motor vehicles' as 'No dogs, horses, mother vehicles' and wondered if they were referring to strollers.....

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Just thought I read "daredevils never say halitosis." You don't even want to know what it really said; this is much better.

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Just misread "the autumn of 1969" as "the asylum of 1969".

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Misread "Any sponsorship would be greatly appreciated" as "Any censorship would be greatly appreciated"!

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Just misread "Stop having kids" as "Stop having ideas." Whoa......

Jessica Goodfellow said...

And just misread "digital paper" as "digital diaper."

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Today, I misheard "Gore Vidal" as "Barbie Doll." Best. Mishearing. Ever.

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Just misheard "Made available by the support of listeners like you" as "Made available by the support of the sinners like you".

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Misreading. Thought it was 'ten minuses.' Nope. 'ten minutes.'

Also, read 'dragonwings' instead of 'drawings.'

Jessica Goodfellow said...

What I thought I'd read: "If he loved so much as a limb, a muscle, he was afraid it would trigger an abundance of feeling he was doing his best to contain."

Actually it was "moved" not "loved."

Jessica Goodfellow said...

misread 'black-and-white baby photograph' as 'bleak-and-white baby photograph'