Just a hearing error, you say. Just another heard word transposed into a familiar one, noticed only when written down. I knew what she meant.
Ah, but this is also another instance where the ghost of S. Freud seems to have been whispering in the student’s ear. Not quite a pun this time, but an apt error.
The subject was a controversy at a community theater that annually hosted an exhibit of the work of local painters in the lobby—a mutually beneficial collaboration of serious amateurs in the arts. The theater had also instituted a summer day-camp for children: their activities were limited to the stage and backstage areas. Through no fault of anybody, the art exhibit and the camp overlapped; and in the year in question, through no wrongful intention of anybody, several of the paintings were nudes.
Well, boys will be boys, and parents will be parents. Wandering and gawking during the camp’s lunch breaks led to whispering and giggling (and perhaps a bit of play-acting) at home, and one day the theater office was stormed by a phalanx of mothers concerned that their 8-year-old boys were being subjected to pornography. The “compromise” worked out by the parents and the theater board enraged the artist whose work (not pornography, by the way) was the subject of the conflict, and both in reality and in the somewhat simpler case I presented to my writing students the story did not end happily. Students were to take a side and defend it.
That my writer had heard “traumatizing” as “dramatizing” was not all that remarkable; even if she had heard it numerous times, as long as she had never seen it written down there’s no reason to expect that she would have detected her error. What makes the error funny, or punny, as you have surely noticed, is the context: boys assuming the nudes’ poses to entertain one another (and remind themselves of the lobby’s thrills); boys being “dramatized” in a theater; an innocent situation turning into high drama. We would have to find out whether the writer had assumed the word was “dramatizing” before she encountered this theatrical case if we wanted to attribute the error to the context. My suspicion is that the error predated the assignment and the sentence is funny, or comically apt, through mere coincidence.
But the unconscious mind does have a wicked sense of humor (witness: dreams), and I like to think hers was exercising it here.