The other night, I had a very strange dream. It was about a man who wanted to be my boss. He thought the way to win support was to spread hatred and fear. Unfortunately, the louder he spoke, the more people seemed to listen.
So I decided it was time we had a talk, and in my dream I invited him to lunch at my favorite Somali restaurant. When he was told they didn’t serve beer there, he pounded the table and shouted, “That’s un-American!” and so just to lighten the mood a bit I offered to recite a poem.
“You want to recite a poem to me?” he screamed. “Let me offer you the news that my principle goal in life isn’t listening to some . . .”
“It’s called ‘Spellbound,’” I said, “by Penny Harper. It begins, ‘I have a spelling checker, / It came with my PC; / It plainly makes four my revue / mistakes I cannot sea.’”
“And all those who know me,” he bellowed, “know that my curiosity is not peaked by nonsense verse. And so who but a fool would flaunt the rules of social discourse by reciting . . .”
“Well,” I said, “I thought we might have a little holiday fun.”
“Furthermore, to spread this nonsense is an affront to a man of my imminence,” he shouted. “Explaining my hatred of such drivel to people like you is tortuous. So for your edification, please be advised that I loath fruitcakes like you.”
“I invited you here for some pleasant conversation and great food,” I said.
“As for kindness, have no allusions,” he screamed. “It will get you nowhere with me.”
“But kindness toward our fellow human beings is what this country, and this season, is all about,” I said. “I feel kindness even toward you, you who are so bold, articulate and unapologetic in expressing your beliefs.”
“Spare me,” he bellowed. “You think love will affect a cure for all the problems in this messed-up world? Give me a break. Your kindness and love will do nothing accept make us appear weak. My own understanding of how this world operates is vastly superior to yours, so drop that complementary tone of yours. It makes me sick.”
With that, he stood up and walked out. A moment later, the owner came over to my table.
“Was your friend having a bad day?” he asked.
“No, he’s always like that.”
“And did he intentionally confuse the words principle/principal, peaked/piqued, flaunt/flout, imminence/eminence, tortuous/torturous, loath/loathe, allusions/illusions, affect/effect, accept/except, and complementary/complimentary?”
“I doubt it.”
“And your holiday message?”
“I think you know the answer,” I said. “It’s the third word of each sentence in which the 10 errors occurred.”
“Yes, of course,” he said, taking my hand. “Peace be with you.”
“And with you,” I said.
Stephen Wilbers offers training seminars in effective business writing. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is www.wilbers.com.