The Wurges Page

Wurge (werj) - n. humorous written grammatical or linguistic slip, evoking the response "I really don't think you meant to say that". [Derived – somewhat tenuously – from "I can't get a wurge in edways"; source Yvonne Strong, Royal Society, early 1980s. Originally applied to scientific papers.]

Merton Council logo(As an aside, I live in the Merton (South Wimbledon) area; it strikes me that the Merton Council logo shown alongside is an example of a visual wurge. Even though the waterwheel is a distinctive local feature because of the borough's connection with the River Wandle and Merton Abbey Mills, it completely contradicts the progressive slogan (which was replaced recently after a change of controlling party in the council) by conjuring the mental picture of something that goes round and round in circles and never gets anywhere. It's also a historical, or backward-looking, connection. But I digress...)

During my 17 years at the Royal Society, I and the other copy-editors half-filled an exercise book called the Wurge Book, in which left-hand pages carried amusing errors in proofs, and right-hand pages the utterances of authors who, whether through carelessness, distraction or boneheadedness, wrote sentences that didn't convey quite the intended meaning (or, in some cases, any meaning at all). About the only one that I can remember of the originals was a proof error that dates back to the days of Monotype hot-metal typesetting, when all the individual letters and spaces were lined up like soldiers in rows on the page. The geological phrase "away from the orebodies" had evidently fallen out of the galley and been replaced partly at random, to be rendered "awa the ory fromebodies", which sounds impressive declaimed in a Scottish accent. (A more recent effort on a typescript was an author acknowledging secreterial assistance.)

Anyway, we were amused.

Sadly that book is no more, so in its memory I'm starting a collection of genuine new wurges. It's only modest at the moment but it has aspirations. If you'd like to pass on your own favourites, please feel free to send them to me at wurges2@goatly.co.uk and I'll put them up, either on this page or linked from it, with your name alongside, if they make me laugh. Can't say fairer than that, can I?

Bruce Goatly

The difference a comma would make:
 
  • We thank A. B— and P. B— for supplying us with DNA clones and P. Y— for technical assistance.
  • We thank Mrs E. H—, Ms B. B— and Mrs M. B— for their technical assistance in the isolation and cultivation of the cells and Mr H. D— ...
  • We thank Dr N— for the gift of the receptor subunits plasmids, Dr M— E— for serum against vaccinia virus and C— M— ... [In fairness, this was followed by 'for technical help.'].
  • I thank Dr B— C—, Dr T— S— and an anonymous referee for their useful comments on the manuscript and Ms Y— I— ... [This was of course followed by 'for her secretarial assistance'.]
  • We thank X, Y and Z for taking care of the animals and E— M—— ... [And, as predicted, 'for histopathological analysis.']
  • In most countries routine vaccination largely prevented the emergence of serious outbreaks and pig farmers, for instance,...
  • These authors used rigorous techniques to avoid contamination and careful reading of these papers ... [the next word was 'suggests'; a comma after 'contamination' would have been a Good Thing.]
  • (2002). Flexible sexual development is particularly com-
    mon in coral reef niches and many evolutionary ecologists
    have focused ...
    [Three consecutive lines, broken as here.]
  • He usually ended the lecture covered in white dust and most of the students ... [Sentence concludes: 'were left slightly mystified by his explanations.']
  • Several centuries after Copernicus, we know that at the heart of our galaxy, the affectionately termed Milky Way is a black hole. [Submitted by Kersti Wagstaff]

Watch your words:
 
  • ... a wide rage of physiological functions...
  • The availability of the cDNA for this enzyme, as well as a gamete of antibodies directed against the enzyme, ....
  • Maltese-binding protein [should of course be 'maltose-binding protein']
  • This wok was supported by the American Heart Association, southeast affiliate and National center.
  • We thank T. I— for careful secretary assistance.
  • Royal School of Navel Architecture [yes, really]
  • This study was conducted in a retrospective manor...
  • ... Mrs Sherwood had reportedly received offers of £2 million for the right to operate her [refreshment] kiosk, which boasts permanent fixtures to the ground, and connections to the mains electricity, water and sewage supplies. [From the London Evening Standard, 30 October 2001; it pays to be clear on the distinction between 'sewage' and 'sewerage'.]
  • H— B— and his group discovered a family in the Netherlands where a number of male members had some incidence or history of aggressive or antisocial behaviour.
  • ... which means in real terms that the electronic background nose should be imperceptible. [Distracted contribution to an editors' mailing list.]
  • Molecular Cloning: A Laboratory Manuel  [Trust me on this.]

Careful with that which dangles:
 
  • During flight, he imagined that Scleromochlus held the forelimbs outstretched,...
  • Despite their diversity in size, shape and internal construction, botanists have long recognized that the petioles and laminae of foliage leaves respectively operate as cantilevered beams and stress-skin panels...
  • After 10 days in culture, we unexpectedly observed...
  • Built in the 1920s, you can enjoy superb views from most of the rooms. [From an estate agent's blurb.] (Submitted by Mary Korndorffer, who comments: "Surreal/Magritte vision. The eyes, the windows of the soul....")

Misguided hyphenation (or lack of it):
 

Misleading relations:
 
  • People with [allergic] conditions make IgE in response to relatively innocuous substances, for example grass pollens or shellfish, which are often either airborne or eaten.
  • ... this includes some primitively social species (e.g. Arévalo et al. 1998).
  • Females prefer males with long ornamental outermost tail feathers both as social and extra-pair mates (e.g. Møller 1994; Saino et al. 1997a).
  • There was by that time a steady flow of research students working on molluscs, whose supervision Graham took seriously.
  • Long-term continuous intrathecal baclofen (CITB) infusion is a treatment option used to manage otherwise intractable spasticity delivered via an implantable pump.
  • Female flies can store sperm for up to two weeks after mating ... and commonly store the sperm of two or more males simultaneously (e.g. Marks et al. 1988).
  • Bats were captured either while roosting during the day with a large hand-net, or on emergence at night with a harp trap.
  • Protozoa can be divided into organisms introduced systemically, usually by biting insects...
  • The families reported on eating difficulties and drooling through a questionnaire.
  • The tomb in the basilica of
    St Justina was opened by a
    committee led by the
    Bishop and two teeth
    removed.
    [From a narrow-column news item on the BBC News web site, 16 October 2001.]
  • Police are following up new leads in the hunt for a man who carried out two violent attacks on women in West Yorkshire following a televised appeal. [First paragraph of an item on the BBC's web site on Thursday, 20 July 2006.]
  • All infants were randomly assigned to one of the three experimental groups [...] or the control group by means of sealed envelopes.
  • Digital neighbourhood watch plan [Headline on BBC News website, 16 February 2007.]
  • Floating fly embryos were eliminated by suction, and the embryos washed twice with ice-cold lysis buffer. [The encroachment of the implied verb.]
  • ... a retrospective study on the racial variation of patients admitted to hospitals within six US states with sepsis.

Garden-path sentences:
 

If this novel aspect of the non-genomic mechanism of action of 17β-oestradiol in enterocytes is relevant to the hormone's modulation of intestinal cell processes coupled to sustained activation of PKC, remains to be elucidated.

A peek behind the scenes:
 

We thank F— F— and S— T— for excellent technical assistance, and S— C— for adequate secretarial assistance.

Not so much wurges, just interesting authorships...
 

Gordon WS, Jackson RB. 2000. Nutrient concentrations in fine roots. Ecology, in press.
Gower ST. 1987. Relations between mineral nutrient availability and fine root biomass in two Costa Rican tropical wet forests. Biotropica 19: 171-175.
[A word of explanation for the bemused: Gordon Jackson (1923–90) was a well-known Scottish actor with major roles in such TV series as The Professionals (as George Cowley) and Upstairs, Downstairs (as Mr Hudson), as well as many films; Gower Street is the home of University College London. There's no connection between these two, which were consecutive references in a phytological journal, but each is remarkable in its own right.]