Thursday, May 31, 2007

This is how 'irregardless' got into the dictionary

On Tuesday night, the fiance and I were enjoying the return, after a much-too-long hiatus, of one of our favorite TV shows, Supernanny. Why do we love this show so much? Is it the opportunity to judge others, and the pleasure of seeing bad parents chided and corrected? Is it the harrowing glimpse of what could be our future? Is it the blooper reel of children doing very cute things that runs during the closing credits? Or is it Jo? Oh, it's probably all of those things, but mostly, it's Jo. We love Jo. If you haven't had the pleasure of hearing Nanny Jo-Jo speak, you should know she has a fascinating English accent (working-class London, I think?), which makes it especially delicious to listen to her point out the errors made by clueless parents. Everything she says sounds simultaneously authoritative and whimsical, no-nonsense and musical. Like Mary Poppins. And after months with no new episodes, we were hanging on her every word -- Oh, Jo, it's so good to hear you adding a "K" sound to words that end in "ing," and punctuating your pronouncements by saying, "Full stop"! (E.g., "Tell her: For dinner, you can have this, or nuffink. Full stop.") You won't ever leave us, will you, Mary Poppins?

Anyway, I bring this up because, in this episode, Jo said something that made me laugh particularly hard. Scolding the clueless dad du jour for interfering with his wife's attempt to discipline their son, she said, "...You came in, and you underminded her."

Underminded? Granted, Jo is under a lot of pressure, so she's allowed to misspeak now and then. Plus, everything she says is awesome. But that's a dumb mistake, and I was surprised it made it into the final cut -- did ABC want her to look bad? Her point was a vital one, but couldn't they have shot it again, to give her a chance to say the word correctly? Or did the crew just assume "underminded" was a Britishism, like "whilst" or "aluminium"? (Jo doesn't have many opportunities to say "aluminium," but she does say "whilst" at least three times per episode, and I giggle each and every time. Whilst!)

I'd forgotten all about it until Wednesday evening, when I was flipping through the latest issue of New York magazine. Near the front (page 12 of the June 4 issue, if you're playing along at home) is a piece called "Penny-Pinching Peril," a flow chart/timeline of the major and minor disasters that have plagued the various Chinatown bus lines. And the deck (corrected on the website here, but cached incorrectly here) reads, in part: "But turf wars and safety problems... soon underminded the dream."

What are the odds I'd run across the same mistake twice in 2 days? And saying "underminded" out loud is one thing, but the second time, someone actually wrote it down! And then the copy editor (presumably New York has at least one copy editor) didn't fix it! What's going on here? Is this some sort of cultural reference, like that dark period in our recent past when magazines kept saying it was "hot in herrre"? Is "Underminded" the title of a new Gwen Stefani song or something? Or is it possible that some people actually think the infinitive form of this useful verb is "to undermind," rather than "to undermine"? Have you encountered this, my friends? Because I've always thought "undermine" was a pretty transparent, not to mention vivid, word. And this is kind of blowing my mind.


Anonymous said...

Actually, maybe Jo was being more clever than even she knew: If the mother is trying to teach their child to mind her, then the father's lack of support is "underminding" . . . .

Mollie said...

Ah, of course. It must be one of her patented Supernanny techniques, like the Naughty Step. Jo-Jo tolerates no underminding!