The poetry of mistakes
Make that mitsakes (possibly a Japanese milkshake?). When WH Auden wrote ‘and the poets have names for the sea’ in his poem Journey to Iceland, a typesetter changed the wording to ‘and the ports have names for the sea,’ Auden reflecting ‘…as so often before, the mistake seems better than the original idea, so I’ll leave it.’
‘Mistakes’ in writing can indeed be serendipitous, helping writers to stumble upon a more appealing phrasing or image.
Leaving aside the Freudian view that slips of the tongue are actually a portal into the subconscious, writers can find rich comic pickings not only in typing errors, but also in malapropisms (‘they went to China on honeymoon and saw the panacotta army’), as well as more commonplace solecisms (‘it was very slippy outside’ or ‘he never looked at me. He was totally disinterested’). Recently, someone was described to me as being ‘as deaf as a pancake’ and I thought, why not a pancake instead of a post?
Since people really do speak like this, ‘mistakes’ in written dialogue reflect naturalistic character. Beware of overusing such devices, though, unless writing broad comedy, or you can come across as the too-clever-for-their-own-good narrator ‘mocking’ a character’s linguistic limitations.
It’s all in the word play
‘Mistakes’ often happen in a Chinese whispers kind of way because someone is as deaf as a pancake. Think of all the song lyrics you might have misheard growing up (for ‘we built this city on sausage rolls’ and other gems, visit http://www.nme.com/photos/30-hilarious-misheard-lyrics-1427576) or heard correctly and decided any alteration would improve the original. When Sheena Easton warbled ‘she eats a tangerine, flicks through a magazine’ in Modern Girl, my friend and I adapted this variously from ‘she eats a langoustine and plays the tambourine’ to ‘her cold sore’s turned bright green, could it be gangrene?’ (we were 12ish, OK?).
Here, we’ve moved from mistakes to word play, a device favoured by sub-editors to ensure that headlines pivot on puns. ‘Man follows sat nav into a river in Buenos Aires?’ You might find that story filed under ‘don’t cry for me Ford Cortina.’
‘Allotment grower gets locked in his shed overnight.’
‘Dave’s marrowing experience.’
And so on and so forth.
Have a go yourself with song lyrics or summing up news stories as fantastically as possible – it gives the imagination a workout.
And finally, take a photo and add a silly caption (remembering to activate your sensitivity filter). Apart from anything else, this could land you a bona fide writing job in the greetings card industry.