Misconscrewing Wildlife Biology
God love a good malapropism! All editors and graders should collect the best ones too. In 30 years of teaching I have encountered many writing mistakes (made a few myself too) so I kept such a list.
Teaching university wildlife biology yielded a rich treasure trove of mis-statements so here are a few student comments on various topics:
“A pelican stood up and became a parent.”
“We observed an offspray catching fish in the lake.”
“Size is the greatest factor in electrocution risks for birds; for example, the California condom can span a gap of 2.5 meters.”
“Ferruginous hawks have been observed stalking their prey outside their boroughs.”
“Once the first Whopping Crane egg hatches, the parents begin feeding it.”
“Some nests have eggs that are invaded by predators”.
“The borrowing owl relies on excavations by other animals.”
Habitat management is important and students sometimes spoke passionately about its shortcomings:
“Hand removal is an inefficient method of controlling exotic plants.”
“Water quality suffers from cattle grazing; with a defecation rate of 14 times every 24 hours, few cattlemen even consider this effect.”
Now to the students’ credit, many of these examples were drawn from essay exams where the students were writing quickly and nervously, thus, I did not mark them down on bad grammar or spelling so long as the concepts were decipherable.
Colorful descriptions are not restricted to any one field of natural resources; all fields get battered and fried:
“Sex ratios and fertilization rates must be studied to manage a dear population.”
“Leg hold traps on the other hand cause excessive suffering.”
“We should reduce wolf populations near farms engaged in predation.”
“The cost of aerial surveys is approximately $43,000 for deer with a fixed-wing aircraft.”
“Mule deer with CWD often display excessive salvation.”
“Management is needed where coyotes pray on sheep.”
When we involve humans and wildlife, things get very interesting. They must be fans of Gary Larson’s Far Side comics:
Policy and Social Dimensions of Resource Management:
“Family values emerged as the subsistence users prepared the feist.”
“People enjoy seeing deer wandering through their back yards before getting in their cars and going to work in a high-rise building.”
“The public pays in the end for public wildlife risks.”
“In Courts of Law, oral testimony is often considered heresy.”
“In the United States, female hunting has increased dramatically.”
“Eco-tourists stay in high-end hotels and eat erotic meals.”
“They were frightened of encountering grizzly bears while hiking but were also worried about seeing bears on horseback.”
“Collisions with cars kills many animals while others are only partially dead.”
“In 1977 a Canmore woman was attached by a grizzly bear.”
“Hind-end sight is always 20:20.”
It can feel mean-spirited to revel in other’s mistakes, and I tried to be understanding but occasionally, I would simply catch myself laughing out loud. In my family’s tradition, humor trumps manners so long as it does not drift into denigration or hate speech. The ability to laugh at one’s self is one of life’s joys.
“The population of double-chested cormorants continues to expand on Lac LaBiche.”
“Over-fishing depressed the wally population.”
“Oceanic fishing boats are equipped with frizzing compartments.”
We are all capable of making similar mistakes. I certainly wince at every typo or “grammarical” error I make in print, and there are many. Something about blinders to our own errors and the real reason to have others critique our work before sending it onward. I celebrate students hanging it out there on their paths to becoming better writers. If often remind them “There is no great writing, on great re-writing”. It is humbling. Eating “H’umble pie”, however, is a play on words (according to Mr. Google) because in England, “umble” is the collective term for offal and guts. Gut pie does not appeal.
Let me end with a few more choice bloopers.
“Inuit seal hunters relieve their experiences on the ice.”
“Early hunters entered North America through Beginia.”
“Single parents have less time to take their children hunting that duel parent households.”
“Removal of mature boars may allow new mail bears to enter the population.”
“Wildlife corridors are a theologically sound idea.”
“To test for CWD, hunters had their heads submitted.”
“According to Dr. Geist’s ‘Hell-hole hypothesis’, early hunters had to face predators such as North American cheaters, Dire Wolves and the giant Shit-faced Bear.”
“In 1991–92 there were approximately 50,000 hunters; the estimated number harvested was 12,200.”
While it is good to demand excellence in our pursuits of writing, shooting, golf, or dancing, it is folly to demand or expect perfection. Recall the famous quote by the French philosopher Voltare “Perfection is the enemy of the good”. Because perfection is unobtainable in most pursuits, we will fail in most pursuits. Far better to take the moderate path of setting goals of excellence and leave a little room for improvement. Thus, cleaner drafts of writing await. It is all very “umbling”.