Earlier this month the Guardian website featured the following headline: “Almost 100 police have received psychological help after Salisbury attack”. The “Salisbury attack” in question involved a former spy and his daughter being poisoned by a military-grade nerve agent. You can read my own take on it here, in this piece about the word “Spy”. I glanced at the Guardian headline on my phone and thought that it read, “Almost no police have received psychological help after Salisbury attack”. It made me wonder why it had such a prominent place on their home page, if no police had needed psychological help. Later, checking the site again on a laptop, I read it correctly and recalled a few other examples of misreading signs and other items in newspapers.
Last year a nearby house was being renovated by a company called Nuance. It had a sign outside that read “Another Nuance Project”. Initially I read it as “Another Nuisance Project”, and that remained as my first reaction every time I walked past it. If it had just said “Nuance” I probably wouldn’t have misread it, but the presence of other words around the name of the company meant that my eyes inserted a couple of extra letters. Not far from that house is a shop that sells picture frames. It has a sign reading “Bespoke Framers”. No matter how often I see the sign it still looks like “Bespoke Farmers” and my first reaction on seeing it was, what exactly is a “Bespoke Farmer”, and why would they have a shop on a street corner in West London? We have plenty of other local shops offering to frame pictures but they use phrases like “Pictures Framed” or the word “Framing”. I am used to it now, and have never misread the latter as “Farming”, but this is the only example of the word “Framers” anywhere near here.
The great John Cooper Clarke has an excellent routine about how easy it is to misread things once you get past a certain age, especially with the smaller font size that is used these days in TV listings pages. Tuning into the “The Coroner”, having misread it as a show called “The Crooner”, you might well be inclined to shout at the TV, “It’s all very well slicing up those corpses, mate, but when are you going to sing us a tune?” Similarly the title of the 1950s Hollywood B-Movie “Attack of the 50ft Woman” can easily be read as “Attack of the Soft Woman”. This part of his set ends with a poem about the movie, immediately after the following line: “It was when I saw a listing for Ainsley Harriot’s Big Cook Out that I picked up the phone to complain to the BBC.” You can hear “Attack of the 50ft Woman” here, and if I find a link with the whole routine anywhere online I’ll post it here too.