“…the Ku Klutz Klan…”

I have nothing to say here. The phrase cannot be improved!

Well, okay, I guess I can say something. This is a typical example of what happens when a writer endeavors to write a word he or she has never seen, but only heard. I’ve seen this nefarious organization referred to also as the “Ku Clucks Klan,” evidently a bunch of terrorist chickens (apt, that).

My earlier post, on doggy dogs and next store neighbors and the like, explores this process. The unknown is filtered through the lens of the known (or, in these cases, through the hearing-aid of the known), and the hearer conceives a new reality. There’s a name for this, and the presentation on Wikipedia is quite good, giving the origin of the term, a discussion, and some examples (including, I’m happy to see, “There’s a bathroom on the right,” my own mis-hearing of the “Bad Moon Rising” lyric). Read it at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mondegreen.

And then let your imagination fly. My concern with “Mondegreens” is that either the hearer is satisfied with the bizarre picture evoked by what she thinks she has heard, or what she hears evokes no picture. If the latter, then language is losing its most important dimension for communication, as young and older readers are provided with actual pictures of everything they’re reading about. The physics textbook I attempted to learn from in college had nothing but graphs, charts, technical drawings…with the single and singular exception of a Charles Addams cartoon, little Wednesday on one end of a seesaw and Cousin Itt on the other, in the middle of the discussion of the fulcrum and moments of force. Yes, you can see that the picture made the concept memorable! But it doesn’t necessarily follow that if every concept in the textbook had been illustrated with a cartoon I would have remembered every concept. I’d suggest that if every concept had been illustrated I would have remembered none, not even the Addams family at play. Nevertheless, contemporary physics textbooks, and textbooks in many other disciplines, pop with images, color, and arresting graphics. The mind’s eye gets no exercise. Does it eventually cease to see?

Well, while you’ve got yours: picture this klutzy clan. Maybe they’re tripping over their sheets. Maybe they’ve got their hoods on backwards. Maybe they’re setting themselves on fire. With any luck, they can’t manage to get into their Klown Kars and Trux to go about their obscene business.

My student wasn’t trying to ridicule the actual Klan; she was just referring to them in an essay about civil rights. But think about it: Their (blessedly) diminishing numbers haven’t stopped those who remain. Community vigilance hasn’t stopped them; laws haven’t stopped them; the teachings of Jesus haven’t stopped them; intelligence hasn’t stopped them; the tide of history hasn’t stopped them. Maybe they can finally be conquered by laughter, which is, after all, a great weapon against strutting stupidity, boastful bigotry, and overweening pride. If they show up in your town for a rally, flaunting their First Amendment rights, hand out some red noses.

About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

6 responses to ““…the Ku Klutz Klan…”

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