Sean Williams

falling on my assonance

posted on 24 Sep 2006 at 10:26 am

As my brain gets older, my neural nets continue to evolve in unpredictable ways. (I’m sure I’m not alone on that score.) Sometimes I find myself performing writerly tasks on autopilot that would once have required my full, conscious attention and, naturally, I like it when that happens. Just as often, however, I find myself making mistakes I’ve never made before. I’m reminded in those instances that what one learns has nothing to do with its value (just as evolutionary change proceeds in any direction, not just “upwards”). We learn mistakes as often as we learn new skills, prompted by the continuous acquisition of data, age-related attrition of neurons, or good old bad habits.

One of my strange, new mistakes is the rhyming typo, which occurs with increasing frequency the more I write. They’re difficult to spot, since spellcheckers don’t flag them; they are not, strictly speaking, spelling mistakes. They are the wrong word for the job, chosen instead of the right word by virtue of the fact that they rhyme. I’m not talking about the usual English craziness: “they’re” for “their” or “there” etc. These are malaprops I never had to unlearn in primary school because I simply wasn’t making them then.

My internal rhymer seems at times to have a bit of an accent, perhaps from somewhere near New Zealand. It writes “since” instead of “sense”, “side” for “said”, and “want” where “won’t” should have been. I appreciate the more baroque substitutions for their cleverness, such as when “splendour” replaced “splinter” and “adventures” became “inventions”, clearly not the same word but not a bad fit either (almost qualifying as an eggcorn). I’ve started jotting them down, as a reminder of the plastic weirdness of my brain, but I fear that I’m rewarding my errant mental module for making such mistakes. Is this any different from running immediately to a child when it squawks? Aren’t I just asking for such behaviour to recur by consciously reinforcing the crossed wiring?

I don’t know. And frankly, I don’t mind that much. Copyediting exists precisely to pick up and correct this sort of mistake–and as long as I keep making new ones I’ll know that my brain is working on more than just the superficial level. For every unconscious dysfunction their could be a dozen other, productively creative processes churning away in the background of my brain, preparing to surprise me with who knows what dazzling conjunction?

And even mistakes can lead in interesting new directions. Just look at Alexander Fleming‘s life for proof of that. Fingers crossed, anyway.