On the Road with Malapropisms and Misnomers

Roads are lovely places to drive. The one I live on is wedged between the sea and dark, mossy pines clinging to a craggy escarpment. Then there are back roads, like Routes 52 and 173, tarmacing their way through the pastoral, beech, oak, and birch twitching light and shade as if in some primeval game of hide and seek. Or there is Route 1, boring its way north and south along the coast, clogged with cars like a sticky swab flies.

And these roads are where you will come across such verbal misfires as this: Hidden Drive. Say what, Freud? What exactly am I supposed to be on the lookout for with this sign? The first thing that comes to mind is a portly recluse dressed in slack cords, frumpy sweater with either his university’s crest stitched over his heart or last night’s supper, and immaculately clean slippers, the ones his doting mother bought with money she’d saved for her plot of land in the necropolis.

And that drive? Well, it would certainly be hidden. Maybe exhibited each time a certain magazine arrives in his mailbox. But then there’s that very long dirt drive to shuffle along before he can get home with his prize. And by the time I realize the sign is in fact referring to an inconspicuous road instead of a sexual condition, I’ve sped by.

Then there’s this sign: Slow Children. Could use a little punctuation, this. Lynne Truss made oodles of cash from her panda that eats, shoots, and leaves. Anyone at the MDOT read that book, I wonder? So the conundrum for me, as I’m driving and fiddling with the iPod, is am I supposed to ease off on the gas or gawk about in the hopes of spotting the not-so-astute child? The when I do? Is it still politically correct to stop and commiserate with the kid for a sign that not only is shamelessly thoughtless but also grammatically witless.

And it doesn’t stop there. What about Cat Crossing? Lovely. Now, is it just my macabre sense of humor or is this useless sign a prognostication? Does it announce the impending demise of another feline? Cat Crossing . . . to its death! It also wouldn’t hurt to make it into an exclamation. That way, I might have the presence of mind to slow down and not run over your pet. Or better yet, why not keep your tabby or you Maine coon indoors if you live that close to a road. The sign may boost your feline’s reckless nature, but with a dead cat, it will soon rust, its ironmongery rattling in the wind announcing to all that a pet cemetery is undoubtedly filling faster than the one in the horrormeister’s penny dreadful. (For the record: I read Harold Bloom but I don’t put his words in my mouth and spout them. I like penny dreadfuls. Jesus, I’d have been a huckster hawking them myself on a grimy corner just before Grub Street.)

So that leaves me with malapropisms, you know, solecisms, blunders, Freudian slips that young ravishing beauties like to expose before coitus. One of my favorites I actually remember from reading James Joyce: the rheumatic wheel. Then there are others I like to ponder while driving in my hunchback car after a pleasing course in entomology. It’s the kind of thing that will either drive you stark raven mad or else you’ll be tickled blue.

Here’s one I drove by the other day with Radiohead shuffling on the Pod. Fresh Muscles for Sale. Which is so much better than old sagging ones burnt to a crisp on hot sands. Taking a slight hiatus at a harbor, I read this: No Large Births. I totally agree. My daughter’s birth was a very small affair. But then she was a cesarean and I wonder if that makes a difference? Then back on the road I entered a busy town with pedestrians aimlessly schlepping across the crossway when I saw this: Banana Spit. Watch out, I wanted to cry to my fellow semantics, some long curved fruit is hacking. Now I better understand the phrase going bananas. The next had me pressing the hazard lights: Handicupped Parking. But there was not a single travel mug in sight. Finding nowhere to park, I moseyed on in bumper to bumper traffic tickled that my five minute wait — yes, five minutes — was nothing compared to hour long crawls I’ve endured at South Bend, Indiana and unscheduled holidays on the M25 close to London. Thirsty, I eyed around for a coffee house. I located one — but it sold Decapitated Coffee. Which made me wonder how the tea would come. Hung by its string until high noon? And finally, since this could get hackneyed, there’s this juicy howler: Yankee Stripper.

For obvious reasons I can’t comment on this because I’m no Yank and also because, I believe, lap dancing is the new trend.


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