Friday, March 2, 2012

A Subtle Ambiguity Problem

A co-worker of mine found out about an ambiguity problem in one of her pieces the hardest way I can imagine, and long after it was too late. She said I could blog about it, and I'm glad, because I'd never experienced this problem.

My co-worker used to write and sell poetry. A publisher wanted to add one of her pieces to a CD of spoken poems. She agreed, but was horrified months later when she found out one of her poems had been critically misunderstood.

Her poem included the phrase "tear up," and she meant that in the sense of tears forming in one's eyes. So when she read her poem aloud, she always pronounced it TEER UP. Everyone involved in the audio publishing interpreted her phrase as meaning "rip up," which, she later recognized, was a defensible (but incorrect) interpretation of her poem. So the speaker on the CD pronounced the words TARE UP. 

Obviously, that pronunciation changed the meaning of her poem, and in her view, ruined it.

Today, audio books and audio magazines abound. At least two stories we've published in On The Premises have appeared in audio magazines. So remember, if how your story is read aloud matters to you, discuss it with editors of those magazines in advance, and look for places where a defensible but incorrect pronunciation would wreck your story.

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