Among the many things that have required adjustment since we lost Stephanie as the Voices/editorial assistant is getting letters sent by snail mail or fax or that are hand-delivered into our computer system.
I can type them in, sure, but once my carpal tunnel starts yelling at me (which it’s doing now), it’s best to grab some Tylenol and an ice pack to shut it up. It’s like a toddler who’s sleepy but still wants you to know he’s seriously ticked off. And it really doesn’t like when you snort at its incomprehensible scribblings. Not fair!
I could scan the letters … except that my old personal tablet’s scanning app, which supposedly reads handwriting, doesn’t read all that well, even with typewritten text. Anyone know what “ia rrw aper so me»miss knge of important Dusmess arid pulll” means? I might have spent more time typing with this particular program … which kinda defeats the purpose, now, doesn’t it?
And then there’s dictation, which is what prompted this screed. Since I already have a Google account, I can open a Google Doc and use the talk-to-text feature. Aha, I thought when it finally dawned on me (three weeks in) to try this tack, this will make it so much easier.
Easier to guffaw, maybe.
The first time out, I had few problems; mostly the wrong homophone being spit out (“musical gym” is now one of my favorite phrases). There was that one letter I dictated about the Clinton National Airport that Google decided was “missing” rather than “misnamed”—how you lose an entire airport is beyond me—but it was an understandable error.
The next day, though … I still have no idea what words I spoke that made Google think I said “to make it to saint desperately like I’m at Ikea.”
Really? I’m pretty sure I’d remember a letter about Ikea (not the teeniest mention of anything even slightly Swedish) or that sounded like Valley Girl-speak.
And yet, when I decided to pull a fast one and use an infamous misheard song lyric—“… ’scuse me while I kiss this guy”—it came up with the correct “Purple Haze” lyric—“… ’scuse me while I kiss the sky.” Well, except that it was confused by “’scuse” and gave me “q’s.”
Apparently Google really wants me to type, carpal tunnel be damned.
It seems fitting somehow that Google, now a big player in the development of artificial intelligence, has an app that apparently is afflicted with a human malady, that of the mondegreen, which got its name in 1954 in an essay in Harper’s Magazine by writer Sylvia Wright:
“When I was a child, my mother used to read aloud to me from Percy’s Reliques, and one of my favorite poems began, as I remember:
Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,
Oh, where hae ye been?
They hae slain the Earl Amurray,
And Lady Mondegreen.”
Except that there was no Lady Mondegreen; instead, after the Earl of Moray was slain, they “laid him on the green.” And that childhood mishearing became the word for all those lyrics, poems and everyday bits of speech that our brains don’t get quite right.
The New Yorker’s Maria Konnikova, in a 2014 story, wrote that the process of hearing is what creates mondegreens: “Mondegreens occur when, somewhere between the sound and the meaning, communication breaks down. You hear the same acoustic information as everyone else, but your brain doesn’t interpret it the same way.”
Konnikova noted that oronyms—“word strings in which the sounds can be logically divided multiple ways”— are a common cause of mondegreens:
“One version that [cognitive scientist and linguist Steven] Pinker describes goes like this: Eugene O’Neill won a Pullet Surprise. The string of phonetic sounds can be plausibly broken up in multiple ways—and if you’re not familiar with the requisite proper noun, you may find yourself making an error. In similar fashion, Bohemian Rhapsody becomes Bohemian Rap City. Children might wonder why Olive, the other reindeer, was so mean to Rudolph. And a foreigner might become confused as to why, in this country, we entrust weather reports to meaty urologists or why so many people are black-toast intolerant.”
Hell, native English-speakers get confused. And now I’m terrified of meaty urologists.
I have no deep philosophical insight to offer you if you suffer from the plight of mondegreens. There’s not really a way to keep them from happening, so you might as well enjoy them. Laugh at yourself before others do it for you.
And oh, will they laugh.
So you sang “sweet dreams are made of cheese” at karaoke and everyone chortled? Smile, and say “cheese” (even though it’s “this”). Maybe even sing the extra-cheesy version.
So you feel sorry for the poor boy Queen sang of, “sparing his life from this warm sausage tea”? Well, that “warm sausage tea” certainly sounds like a “monstrosity” (the keyword in the correct lyric) … and a devilish prank to play on those who laughed at your cheesy karaoke performance.
So you said “John Brummett’s,” but Google heard “John Bromance”?
Uhhh … I got nothin’.
Being serious for a moment: In a couple of days, the world will change as a man who has no regard for anyone but himself will be sworn in to lead our country. For those of us in the legitimate media (meaning those that strive to tell the truth, not spin), it’s a bit scary. But take heart: The man behind the curtain is always found out, and it’s up to all of us to hold him, and the media, accountable.
And yep, it’s still not illegal to make fun of the people in power, and every president has had to deal with it. En garde!