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What is Anguished English?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 24 August 2016
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Anguished English is a 1987 book published, compiled and written by Richard Lederer, which evaluates and also gives many examples of the way the English language is routinely butchered by native and non native English speakers. His examples, many taken from student essays, headlines around the world, classified ads, and famous quotes, are sure to have you giggling non-stop. In fact Anguished English proved so popular that Lederer followed up this first successful book with several sequels, including More Anguished English and The Bride of Anguished English.

In addition to providing hours of entertainment, particularly for verbivores, defined by Lederer as eaters of words, Anguished English and its sequels certainly provide a delightful way of instructing folks in the errors so easily made by trips of the tongue, mixed metaphors, and misquotes. The books aren’t intentionally instructive or preachy, but they can be said to teach through example of “how not to do it.” A few of the interesting examples Lederer provides are a bit racy for younger kids, but for the PG-13 audience, or at least PG audience, these examples do serve as wonderful departures for teaching about a variety of grammar mistakes, like split infinitives or misspellings that completely change the meaning of a sentence.

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A favorite section for many is the one that includes examples of English mistranslated by foreign speakers. This section has actually spawned devotees to finding various mistranslations in foreign countries. One particular site is mainly devoted to the extensive use of English in Japan, has numerous pictures, signs and advertisements that are rendered amusing by their translations into English.

Naturally, while there is Anguished English, there are also numerous ways in which English-speaking countries have decimated foreign languages. One classic example was the failed marketing and the stagnant sales of the Chevy Nova, in the 1970s in South America and Mexico. The car was a fine automobile, but in Spanish speaking countries its name translated to “no go,” not exactly a name to inspire brand confidence.

Teachers have long cornered the market on reading the various student mistakes that can inspire great misunderstanding and loud bursts of laughter, and Anguished English can make a terrific gift for these folks. Lederer, in his book and sequels, has opened the field for any to enjoy such bloopers, whether they occur in student essays, church bulletins, medical reports or court records. He furthermore devotes a section to mondegreens, frequent misunderstandings of song lyrics, including the US anthem, where the opening line may be sung as “Jose, can you see?”

There are a few cautions toward enjoying Lederer’s work. Don’t read these books by yourself in public unless you want people to think you are simply odd, and subject to spontaneous laughter for no reason. Don’t read Lederer’s books if you’re trying to get to sleep; the subjects are likely to promote wakefulness rather than sleepiness. Also, you may want to wait a few days to pick up Anguished English if you’ve just had your appendix removed. Though laughter is usually painless, hearty chuckles and belly laughs may give your stomach too much of a workout!

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