Positive mutations

I've been fascinated by slips and typos like these for a long time, but in a lecture by Daniel Dennett (at the University of Virginia in Spring 1995) I finally found a wonderful metaphoric description for them. Think of the effect of changing a single nucleotide in a DNA strand. Most often it makes no difference (DNA has many redundant encodings). If it does make a difference, usually it's negative. But once in a while, the mutation has a positive effect, and the result is preserved. Now, consider the same thing occurring in a long string of letters, instead of nucleotides.

The Washington Post's "Style Invitational" invited readers to construct humorous "slips", although their rules were slightly different: add, subtract or change one letter, and supply a new definition. [Winners] The list below contains some "positive mutations" that I've encountered.

I'm also amused by the phrases that folks come up with when they hear words they don't understand. This happens most often when a journalist interviews someone about a topic unfamiliar to the journalist. The technical terms get mangled in sometimes-humorous ways.


And it's not limited to journalists writing about technology...

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Ari Rapkin
Last modified: Mon Nov 24 13:35:36 EST 1997