The following is my email to “A Way With Words” on PBS.
My brother (an avid Public Radio listener), made me aware of
your show and I’m sensing you are exactly the right people to answer the question that arises from the following anecdote:
Many years ago, during my first year in college (’75), I was experimenting with being a
vegetarian. Unfortunately, in those days the result was a dining experience that consisted of american cheese sandwiches on white bread and too many iceberg lettuce salads.
Making my way down the cafeteria line one evening, a work-study classmate working the line pleasantly lifted up a piece of white fish (I assume cod) and inquired if I would like a helping. I informed her of my ‘eating status’, – most likely a bit smugly as being vegetarian back then was a way to stand out a bit.
On hearing that I was a vegetarian, she helpfully offered the following:
“Oh, fish isn’t an animal, fish is a mammal”
That phrase has remained burned into my brain to this day. In just eight words, she managed to be wrong in at my best count five different contexts.
This has me wondering, is there a word that describes an almost haiku-like economy of wrongness? Something that would describe the efficiency of the fewest words conveying the most mis-information? The brilliant prose of Secretary Rumsfeld or President Bush – perhaps the Defense Dept. double-speak that converges toward malapropism comes to mind as living on this spectrum.
So,to put it concisely, is there a word that describes an economy of wrongness?
Thanks for your help,