Monday, June 13, 2011

The Importance of Being Earnest in One's Proofreading

Recently, I assigned my students a short, five-paragraph essay on the issue of instinct versus intelligence in animals, and I learned various amazing facts about instinct, including a rather astonishing assertion about a particular instinct in newborn babies.

But first, a reminder about that "dark-colored, semi-aquatic, carnivorous mammal of the family Mustelidae," namely, the mink:

Outright Dangerous

Mink are, of course, aggressive creatures, though less aggressive in their domestic form:

Less Dangerous, but not Recommended

At any rate, here is what one student wrote on instinct:
All kinds of animals are originally instinctive. They live daily for survival and they fight each other voraciously to get their own profit.
Economic law of the jungle, no doubt, but it's a dog-eat-dog world . . .
For instance, a new born baby has not ever learned how to suck, but the baby sucks the mother's mink naturally.
I'm not entirely sure that a newborn baby will profit much from voraciously attacking a mink and attempting to suck it. And which mink are we referring to? The mother's mink stole, as depicted in the second photo above? Not recommended! Anything of sustenance has long been sucked out of that dry skin. As for the mink in the first photo, such a ferocious creature would be extremely dangerous for any newborn infant to attack, even if the animal is the mother's pet! I'd put my money on the mink. But who am I to argue with instinct? There must be some survival value to a baby's innate desire to suck a mother's mink, else there wouldn't be an instinctive desire of that sort.

Too bad, though, that close proofreading -- spending all morning taking out a comma and all afternoon putting it back in -- is not an instinct but rather a habit of mind, one of necessity being learned with care and, of great importance, being earnest in application, else a trivial comedy of error afflict a serious piece of prose, people.

All for the want of a horseshoe nail, and I mean that in earnest, Jack!

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At 4:08 PM, Anonymous Scott A. said...


The student made an interesting thought though. I probably wouldn't have thought of babies instinctively going for the tit, but I know I wouldn't have thought of it as being done "voraciously to get their own profit".

But, it's an interesting thought.

At least at the start, the baby just cries and has the thing stuck in his face -- which teaches the beast whining makes for profit, which is a hard habit to break in later adolescence.

But, this also reminds me of a Korean-American I worked with last year who said her mother told her when she was 2 or so, she'd push her new born sister aside and go for the milk any time she could...

I think maybe your student is on to something...

At 5:25 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I suspect that even that original thought was an inadvertent juxtaposition of two different points unlinked in the student's mind . . . but I ain't gonna inquire! Not at a girls' school!

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brother Bradley was angry with me, because I caused him to be weaned from the nipple before he was ready.

As for errors, mine are actually intentional, as they give my nephews such pleasure in pointing them out to me.


At 8:32 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Uncle Cran, you erred only in being born too soon. Just think, if you'd been born later, you'd be younger now!

But we have to live with our mistakes . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

C: Look, if a baby is just born and has not ever learned how to suck, it has got to attack a mother's mink to suck. Now, who is sucked?

A: Naturally.

C: Who?

A: Naturally.

C: Naturally?

A: Naturally.

C: So an infant that is just born attacks mother's mink, Naturally.

A: No, it doesn't. It attacks mother's mink, Who.

C: Naturally.

A: That's different.

C: That's what I said.

A: You're not saying it...

C: It sucks mother's mink, Naturally.

A: No, it sucks mother's mink, Who.

C: Naturally.

A: That's it.

C: That's what I said!

A: You ask me.

C: It sucks mother's mink who?

A: Naturally.

C: Now you ask me.

A: It sucks mother's mink, Who?

C: Naturally.

A: That's it.

C: Same as you! Same as YOU!


At 9:13 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Is that the Marx Brothers, the Three Stooges, Firesign Theater, Monty Python, or the NoZe Brothers?

Funny, at any rate! And the mink is wilde . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"but the baby sucks the mother's mink naturally."

Dereliction of editing duty aside, I think you have serendipitously encountered a gem of a passage. I am not a Freudian, but this would qualify as a parapraxis.

The intended meaning is: but, naturally, the baby sucks ITS mother's breast for MILK.

If I were twisted in the Freudian manner, I might translate the passage to: but the baby sucks its mother's "fur," naturally and, no doubt, voraciously.

This passsage reminded me of "Sahdowlands," in which C. S. Lewis is questioned for having his fictional children delight in rubbing their faces into the soft fur of their mother's coats that were hanging in her wardrobe.

Thanks for sharing. I'm glad I stopped by today.


At 9:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Abbott and Costello.

"Who's on First."



At 9:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...




At 9:35 PM, Anonymous Scott A. said...

Well, Freud wrote, in interpreting a patient's dream, that his picturing walking by a hotel was obviously a reference to his mother's breast.

So, obviously, GS' student was thinking about a Russia.

(Or, possibly, the Russian hard rock group Hotel Tokio...)

At 9:41 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Abbott and Costello! Of course! Those are the two I was trying to dredge up!

It is a gem of a Freudian slip . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:43 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Welcome to the Hotel Calcifornia . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You can download the sketch for free from here or here.

You might want to share it with your kids. I like this particular rendition. The chemistry is particularly good and the audience reaction is wonderful.


At 10:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

^I made a mistake, download from the second link. The file is 2.03MB. The first link is of a complete show.


At 10:23 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...


Jeffery Hodges

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