First hand job, head jobs and penile swords: The many risks of writing

I got home from the College Media 2017 convention way too early on Sunday morning to find this waiting for me from a former student:

I feel like you need to teach this cautionary tale to your students:

Handjob

As far as an awkward headline goes, it’s not the first to take what should be a pretty benign news story and turn it into a horrifying sex joke. Here’s one I’ve been using for years:

ACP DC Heads 2016
(Doesn’t she look excited? Or like she literally witnessed it?)

The unfortunate nature of writing (particularly when other people can read or misinterpret it) leads to some of the more difficult gaffes of our time. In some cases, even something as simple as a space can turn a line from an austere 1800s play into a really disturbing dick joke:

ThompsonPenis
(His poor wife…)

The takeaway from this shouldn’t just be that it’s fun to bathe in the misery of other people. It should be that you need to be careful in some very specific ways to avoid becoming a cautionary tale:

  1. Always check your dictionary and style guide: In a lot of cases, words mean the opposite of what you intend them to mean. A column a student wrote about the death of his grandfather noted that the man is “now apart of us all.” I’m pretty sure he meant “a part” which means a portion as opposed to “apart” which means separated from. “Firsthand evidence” is collected from specific sources directly involved in an event while “first hand evidence” is probably what the bloody glove was in the original O.J. Simpson trial.
    I know I have problem with “affect/effect” and “less than/fewer than” so I look those up. Learn what you don’t know and always look the stuff up.
  2. Ask for help: If you don’t know something, ask. This is where the benefit of working as part of a collective comes into play. In many cases, you can save your keester if you ask someone else in the office. (Of course, it helps if that person cares about giving you the best possible answer.) “Hey, I’m writing this story and I think I’m using the wrong word! HELP ME!” isn’t an admission of weakness. In most cases, it’ll make you stronger in the long run.
  3. Think like a 12-year-old boy: In every office in which I have worked, there is at least one person (OK, probably 20) that thinks like a 12-year-old boy and can turn almost anything into a dirty joke. (Truth be told, I’ve developed my own inner 12-year-old along the way as well.) Someone is serving cake and you yell, “Hey, Tom, can I get a piece of that.” The 12-year-old boy laughs. “He’s asking time for a piece… heh…” Someone can’t put something away on the top shelf, so you say, “Bill, you having trouble getting it up there?” The 12-year-old boy laughs. “Hey, everybody, Jim knows that Bill’s having trouble getting it up!”
    As annoying as this person is, you need this guy (or gal) to read over your stuff for inadvertent sex jokes. Words like pull, yank, pound, rim, push, bang, head, hand, foot and so forth are just begging for this guy to start snickering, so let him figure it out before your readership does. Roaring laughter in the newsroom is much, much better than a public beating.

    (Heh… he said “beating.”)

One thought on “First hand job, head jobs and penile swords: The many risks of writing

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s