Wednesday, March 3, 2010


In honor of Words Matter Week, a holiday that is celebrated annually the first full week in March, the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (NAIWE) is hosting a Blog Challenge with a specific daily topic Monday through Friday.

I'm a day late (yes, and a dollar short!) but I thought I'd comment on yesterday's topic:

Communication breaks down when words are misused. What is the funniest, most interesting, or worst break-down you’ve ever observed?

I was struggling through my first year as a reporter at a small newspaper in Orange County, Ca. I couldn't believe how much I was expected to know and hadn't been taught in journalism school.

I worked at an old-fashioned afternoon paper, which are all but extinct these days, with early morning deadlines. I would literally break into a cold sweat just driving to work, anticipating that deadline pressure.

As the low man on the totem pole, I routinely got the klunker story assignments. That meant on Armistice Day, I was sent to the local VFW for a World War I reunion.

It might have been an inspiring, interesting event. Except for the fact that all the veterans were wheelchair-bound, hard-of-hearing and senile. Their wives poked, prodded and shouted the old-timers through the ceremony in the most demeaning way imaginable.

If I'd been more experienced, I would have known how to handle the assignment gracefully. Instead, I gritted my teeth and tried to get out of there as quickly as possible.

At the reception after the ceremony, I introduced myself as Karen Klein and explained that I needed to do some interviews with the veterans. But somehow, my name seemed difficult to grasp.

I shouted it multiple times, until someone at a table repeated a garbled version. Like a game of "telephone," grotesque versions of my name ricocheted around the room.

Finally, one of the women seemed to understand. "Clara Pine! This is Clara Pine. She's a reporter!" she announced.

Trying to start all over was beyond me. So for the rest of the afternoon, I was intrepid girl reporter Clara Pine.

Not my best journalism moment, but I survived. And my colleagues got quite a chuckle out of it when I got back to the newsroom.


  1. That's too funny. I'm the caregiver for my grandmother, and I find myself in the company of older people quite often. I've learned to answer to pretty much anything.

    Thanks for being part of Words Matter Week!

  2. Thanks, MJ. No I haven't read that book, but I'm definitely putting it on my reading list. Appreciate the recommendation.

    Thanks for doing this, Janice. It's a fun idea.

  3. That's charming. Intrepid, too.

  4. I love this story.

    (The misnomers and malaprops I most remember were my own. I share these sparingly.)

  5. Somebody else in the contest mentioned misheard song lyrics. I have gone for years belting out completely wrong words for popular songs, only to discover it belatedly and feel like a dork.

  6. I have some cherished ones from my brother, but I won't embarrass him online. Ask me and I'll tell you next time we meet.