A Review of Robert A. Rubin’s Going to Hell in a Hen Basket

August 4, 2015 § 8 Comments


henA review from Dinty W. Moore

In his new book Going to Hell in a Hen Basket, Robert Alden Rubin, a diehearted defender of grammar and true believer in the inherit goodness of proper usage, runs the gambit to perform do diligence and give us a load down on how common words and phrases are so often horribly mangled, offering readers a pain staking but hilarious journey amidst the strings and arrows of language misfortune.

Girdle your loins, because Rubin looked off the bat and path in an effort to track down each and every mind-bottling nugget of homophonic excess, every instance of linguistic confusion reeling its ugly head.

Frankly, I’ve been chomping at the bit to get my hands on a copy of To Hell in a Hen Basket: An Illustrated Dictionary of Modern Malapropisms. Not only does Rubin bare witness to these word-garblers who seemingly grew up speaking pigeon English, but he sets the goal standard, by honing in on the etymology of these linguistic egg corns, whether it be a case of pesky sound-alikes or deep-seeded hearing difficulties.

By enlarge, the wholemark of these words and phrases we misuse or misremember is that they sound “almost” the same as the expression we mean, so in a weird attempt to parrot phrase, we end up with tortured constructions that fail to pass the mustard.

For all intensive purposes, Rubin reveals our mush-mouthed tendencies in one fowl swoop.

Off course this bags the question, why would Rubin collect a full wheelbarrel of erroneous utterances into a hansom book?  Well, the result is the perfect gift book for word nerds, and he has to make ends meat, does he not?

I’m a ten-yeared professor of English, so I certainly found some of these misused phrases so tone deaf that they through me for a loop. Or another words, they gave me a language-lover’s mind grain headache. I felt as if my brain had suffered most dramatic stress disorder, or as if I was having an outer body experience. At times, I wanted the author to seize and desist.

In our modern world, these misspoken phrases are branded about willy-nilly, creating a brunt force trauma to our eardrums, certainly encouraging severe cognitive dissidence. But this is not altogether new. For instance, in Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing, there is Dogberry’s off-quoted announcement that he has just “comprehended two auspicious persons.” Or Irish playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s Mrs. Malaprop, who once praised a man for being “the very pineapple of politeness.”

I am tempted to say that if Shakespeare can do it, so can we, but I am also tempted to take it all with a gain assault.

Before you get your nipples in a twist, know that this book is chalk full of philological humor, leaving you thinking, “My word, Rubin’s clever tome is as funny as (explicative deleted).”

Rubin, an instructor at Meredith College, a former editor at Algonquin Books, and author of previous books on contemporary poetry and the Appalachian Trail, seems to be a jack of all traits, but from his unique vintage point on language and how we fail to express ourselves clearly, he has it down packed.

How does he find all of these goofy examples? He must have a photogenic memory.

I am internally grateful to Rubin for unearthing these jar-dropping tongue jumbles. My favorite of all is probably those folks will cut off their nose despite their faces, but the constellation prize goes to all of us who compete in our doggy dog world.

Trust me, you’ll double over into a feeble position at some of these not-so-bon-mots.

Time to batter down the hatches and buy this book.

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Dinty W. Moore, founding editor of Brevity, is deathly afraid of polar bears.

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