The Wall Street Journal Finally Catches Up With Campaign Outsider (Rhyme-onyms Edition)

Two-and-a-half-years ago, the hardworking staff posted this:


Posted on March 29, 2010


First: I yield to no man in my respect and affection for my students at Boston University.

Second: During my five years as a mass communication professor at BU, I’ve noticed a grammatical phenomenon in the writing of said students.


Very often in their papers, students use the wrong word – but it rhymes with the right word [or closely approximates it].

Representative samples:

astutely aware for acutely aware

consul for counsel

conscious for conscience

dribble for drivel

reticule for ridicule (despite what you’re thinking, reticule is actually a word. It means “a woman’s drawstring handbag”)

menial for minimal

safety belt for safety net

captain for caption (couldn’t figure out if that was just a typo until – oops – it appeared for a second time)

My theory: the students have never read these words and phrases. They’ve only heard them.

And then their ears fail them.

Fast-forward to yesterday’s Wall Street Journal Opinion page, which featured this by former Western Illinois University professor James E. Courter:

Teaching ‘Taco Bell’s Canon’

Today’s students don’t read. As a result, they have sometimes hilarious notions of how the written language represents what they hear.

Is it true that college students today are unprepared and unmotivated? That generalization does injustice to the numerous bright exceptions I saw in my 25 years of teaching composition to university freshmen. But in other cases the characterization is all too accurate.

One big problem is that so few students are readers. As an unfortunate result, they have erroneous, and sometimes hilarious, notions of how the written language represents what they hear. What emerged in their papers and emails was a sort of literary subgenre that I’ve come to think of as stream of unconsciousness.

What follows closely resembles the hardworking staff’s rhyme-onyms, with some truly poetic examples:

 • A female student, in describing an argument over her roommate’s smelling up their room with cheap perfume, referred to getting in her “two scents’ worth.”

• Some find you can’t go home again. After several weeks at school, one coed returned to her childhood house only to find life there “homedrum.”

• Some learn the price of intimacy the hard way, like the coed who referred to becoming pregnant on “that fetal night.”

Welcome to the working weak, WSJ.

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11 Responses to The Wall Street Journal Finally Catches Up With Campaign Outsider (Rhyme-onyms Edition)

  1. Wondering if the WSJ didn’t get duped on this one, as those three examples seem not like true malapropisms but suspiciously clever puns.

  2. Jeb Barnes says:

    My English teacher mother would have loved this. When trying to explain slang to a student the the high schooled replied “it may be slang to you but to us it’s English.” 1970

  3. Doesn’t that stink? A certain editor of a certain NY-based progressive magazine wrote an entire book based on an article I’d written for a year or so earlier. When I pointed it out to her she sent me a signed copy of her book.

  4. Btw, we have the opposite problem here; Mickey Jr., pronounces words wrong because he’s only read them. It takes forever to get him to change once he thinks he knows how it goes.

  5. Also, btw: The Daily Kos has now had the same brilliant idea as well.

  6. Laurence Glavin says:

    Here’s a malaprop-laden word-salad of epic proportions from an individual who misses the “Lost 45s” radio show that will no longer be carried on 103.3 FM in Boston as a result of its transition to a “Hot Current Hits” format. Even the URL confuses “airwaves” with “airways”, the latter something that must be kept open to facilitate breathing:

  7. Michael Pahre says:

    Does the WSJ really still use the sexist term, “coed”? What millenium are they in? Maybe their finals clubs never went coed…

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