Chapter IX. – Blunders in Composition, pp.43-45.

[Book of Blunders Contents]

ODD blunders have sometimes been made in composition by the misarrangement of clauses, as when boys’ dragons or kites were described as 

   “light frames covered with paper, and sent into the air by boys with tails on them.” 

The tombstone at La Point, which bears the brief inscription – 

   “John Philips, accidentally shot as a mark of affection by his brother”

– must be another slip of the same kind, unless brotherly affection at La Point has an unusual way of expressing itself. A Cleveland paper, describing a Republican demonstration in that city, said:- 

   “The procession was very fine, and nearly two miles long, as was also the prayer of Dr Perry, the chaplain.” 

The same journal, in its notice of a forthcoming meeting, said, with probably more truth than it designed – 

   “A great variety of speeches may be expected, too tedious to mention.” 

A Wisconsin paper announced, about the same time, that the Board of Education had 

   “resolved to erect a building large enough to accommodate five hundred students three storeys high.” 

The building would have to be large, indeed, to accommodate students of such unusual height. Similar to this was an advertisement which appeared in an English paper, under the heading of 

   “To Let:” – 

   “A house for a family in good repair.” 

   Punch, in quoting this advertisement, conjectured that a family in good repair must mean one in which none of the members were cracked. 

The brief and touching advertisement – 

   “Two sisters want washing,” 

which appeared in the Manchester Guardian, is not open to the objection of being ungrammatical, but it is certainly ambiguous, and is apt to excite the thought how many people want washing besides the two sisters. 

Blunders of this sort are apt to be made even by good writers when writing carelessly. We find Swift, in describing a piece of plate, saying – 

   “I could perceive that it was scoured with half an eye.” 

Scoured with half an eye! One feels inclined to ask 


as Sydney Smith did when recommended to take a walk on an empty stomach. 

In reading an interesting article on old newspapers, in Frazer’s Magazine, I could not help smiling over the following sentence, which, though saved to some extent by the “who,” reads very comically – 

   “Opposite me,” 

says the writer, 

   “there was seated at a table a thick-set man, eating a lobster who was a Parliamentary reporter.” 

Dr Buchanan, late Professor of Logic in the Glasgow University, had a rare collection of blunders of this description in one of his lectures on Rhetoric; but at this distance of time I can only recall the roars of laughter with which they were greeted by the students. 

Many of the queer grammatical blunders which one meets are occasioned by the curt and elliptical style of writing so much in vogue in these days of quick trade and telegraphic despatches. 

   “The brooches would have been set before, but have been unwell,” 

was a note of apology sent to Dean Alford by his jeweller. Another tradesman described himself as a  


– meaning, of course, that he made gasholders and boilers, but conveying the idea that he undertook to hold gas himself. 

In India, the signboards put up by native merchants to attract British customers would furnish an endless list of similar blunders. 

   “Ihman Bucks & Co., Merchant and Sodawater,” 

is the superscription over one shop in Allahabad. Over another there glares the following alarming announcement:- 



Customers, sending orders, will be promptly executed

If Mooka Sing & Co. are prepared to stand by their grammar, customers will probably think twice before letting their orders go. 

One would scarcely expect anything like this amongst ourselves; yet I remember reading in the Royal Exchange and in the Glasgow papers the following curious telegram, dated May 13, 1864:- 

   “The captain and crew of the ship Avon, of Boston, U.S., were landed at Plymouth yesterday, having been burnt on the 20th March by the Confederate steamer Florida.” 

After one of Mr Glaisher’s balloon ascents, the newspaper correspondent of the region where the aeronaut and his friends came down, reported that 

   “after partaking of a hearty breakfast, the balloon was brought into the town amidst the cheers and congratulations of the major part of the population.” 

It was remarked at the time that the balloon might well be congratulated on having performed so unheard of a feat. 

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