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The Last Windrow: Forgiveness sought for misused word

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My maternal grandmother would have forgiven me. Not my 12th-grade English teacher.  

Those of you who actually read this bit of a trivia column might have seen something in my column last week that made me feel like I had just a bit of egg yolk stuck to the corner of my mouth.

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I usually proofread my columns for errors in wording or tense or dangling participles — all things to be avoided in the journalistic world. You are known by the way you write, if you haven’t been told that before.

My column last week was intended to throw a little levity and hope into the travails of we who stay on the northern tundra for the winter. The column was devoted to the flickering signs of the coming spring. I just felt you all needed a lift. I know about this time of year I need a lift, and looking at the calendar turning its page to February gives one just enough hope to plod on.

I was so absorbed in the lighthearted feeling that I felt while punching the keys of my keyboard that I ran right past an obvious error in wording. I was describing the chore of feeding silage to our herd of Holsteins and I wrote about climbing up into our 30-foot high silo in the early morning darkness and pitching fork-fulls of corn silage down the “shoot.”  

Gulp! Shoot? How could that word have slipped by me? Of course the minute I read the word “shoot” I wanted to call the editor and change that word, but it was too late. The paper had already gone to press and gone out to subscribers.  

The word, for those of you who don’t know, should have be “chute.” I cringed as I sat on the couch watching my wife read my column and when she came to that word, I saw her hesitate for just a second. I knew she had hit “shoot.” But, being the kind and gentle person she is, she didn’t even look over at me quivering on the couch nursing my just replaced hip joint.  

My grandmother came from the Czech Republic and she learned the English language the hard way — she earned it! She told me once that the English language was the most screwed up language there was. It was a treasure to read her letters, of which she wrote many.

When it came to the different meanings for words such as “read,” “right,” “weather,” “might,” “seen” or a multitude of other words that can be spelled more than one way and pronounced the same, to Grandma it was multiple choice when she put words on paper, which made her letters pure pleasure to read.

It was so easy to screw up theme papers in my high school English class. I was fortunate enough to get most of my words correctly spelled and my tenses correctly placed, but that was not so for some of my male friends.  

Big, burly farm boys would break out in a sweat when they were given the task of writing a theme. They knew the look that Mrs. Lindgren tossed at them as they sat at the back of the classroom. They watched with horror as Mrs. Lindgren brought out that red pencil and went to work swiping it across the pages of their theme.  

Usually there was more red on their paper than black when she got done. I felt bad for them; but, hey, they could shoot baskets better than me, so things evened out I thought.  

So, I ask the forgiveness of my readers if I should flounder once in awhile in writing this column. No one is perfect, and I’ve become a more humble person because of some of the words I’ve used over the years and then wanted to crawl in a hole after reading the finished product.  

It makes me just want to yell, “Chute!” No, change that to “Shoot!” See how hard it is?  

My grandmother would have forgiven me, my English teacher would have given me a C- and told me I could do better. 

See you next time. Okay?  

(Editor’s note: The editor of this column at the Echo Journal also apologizes for not catching the misspelling!)

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