Word Wise: Wonky Words in the World

Wonky words. You can find them anywhere: on billboards, on beer bottles, on bus-stop signs. I’m talking about words that make you go hmmm. I’m talking about the kind of writing that makes word nerds groan.

Why stop at groaning? Let’s have some fun with these egregiosities. I propose writing captions for them. I do that on my Pinterest board “Wonky & Wondrous Words in the World.” (I owe my inspiration for this board to Jacquie Samuels’s TechWhirl post “Pinterest: What My Mother Can Teach You About Content Strategy and Technical Communications.”) I’d lay odds that caption writing, like bridge playing and crossword puzzling, staves off Alzheimer’s. Even if it doesn’t, caption writing provides an endless source of free entertainment.

Here are some wonky-word examples that I’ve photographed and captioned.

ManyStopsDoNotFollow

1. Why don’t they?

Where can I trespass, then?

2. Where can I trespass, then?

RedSpoonPromise

3. No telling what the Black Spoon Promise is.

ToEachTheirOwn

4. They has come a long way.

Flush

5. I just want to know … flush up or down?

HappyChildHood

6. A happy child cape, though, you can forget about. (I mocked up this bumper sticker to match the one that got away before I could photograph it.)

GravelRoad

7. Naming a road “Gravel” is like naming a person “Baby.”

CakeWrecks

8. Under neat that, we will not pay for this cake. (This book is a hilarious collection of wonky words on cakes. See www.cakewrecks.com.)

Sandwhiches

9. Can I get shoup with that?

StopWetConcrete

10. Why? What did it do?

envelope

11. Good to know. Wait. Isn’t this an envelope?

DoNotThrowAway

12. DO NOT—WE REPEAT, DO NOT—THROW THESE INSTRUCTIONS AWAY. THEY’RE USEFUL. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

T-shirt

13. Maybe on the back.

BestGluten

14. You get the best gluten—and free pizza. All without leaving town.

I’d love to hear about wonky words you’ve encountered. Have you noticed nutty nuances in the newspaper? Come across a kooky catchphrase in a commercial? Been bewildered by a botched bit of banter? Felt aghast over an ad gone awry? Leave a comment—with your caption.

Marcia Riefer Johnston

Marcia has run a tech-writing business for ... a long time. The author of "Word Up! How to Write Powerful Sentences and Paragraphs (And Everything You Build from Them)," she taught tech writing in the Engineering School at Cornell University and studied literature and creative writing in the Syracuse University Masters program. For more, see howtowriteeverything.com.

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