“Last month a man turned himself into a fire station…”

This seems like a practical kind of man to have around town, although he didn’t start out all that well:

“Last month a man turned himself into a fire station after allegedly committing two murders.”

But he made himself useful at last, kind of “giving back” to the community.

I’m breaking from my commitment here to look at student writing: this quotation comes from an article in the Huffington Post.

Am I showing that, as the classicists used to say, “Homer nods”?

What interests me here, aside from the magic trick, is the fact that what the print says is not what the person would say. The expression for surrendering to authorities after committing some kind of infraction is “to turn oneself in.” If HuffPost had ended the sentence before reporting the authorities to whom the man surrendered, the sentence would have read “Last month a man turned himself in.” It would not have read “Last month a man turned himself into.” The prepositional phrase that identifies the authorities, the recipients of this turning-in, begins, alas, with “to,” and here either the writer or the AutoCorrect muttered “‘in’ + ‘to’ = ‘into'”—and error elbowed its way into the sentence (and possibly into the fire station, who knows?).

A speaker of English would have said, clearly, that the man “turned himself in to a fire station.” Speakers usually know what words they have in mind, and certainly most people would be able to differentiate between walking into a building somewhere and saying “take me,” and standing still and suddenly becoming a building. But computers can’t yet make that distinction (yes, I am determined that the people who write for HuffPost do know the difference, and that the error was the result of a presumptuous software program rather than a human).

Why anyone would turn himself in to the fire department for committing homicide I cannot guess—maybe it was murder by arson, or maybe the fire station was a shorter walk than the police station—and the part of the article I read didn’t say. I confess that I didn’t read the whole article. One of my students had done her Journal on crime in a particular city, and this article was one of her sources; I was reading it to check the accuracy of her summary, not to glean information.

The picture of the man transforming himself into a fire station, and then the imagined reactions of passers-by, was really all I needed. I dissolved into laughter.

If I write an illustrated book for children and call it The Man Who Became a Building, I shall have to credit HuffPost. I really never would have thought of it myself.

My grandfather built this firetruck. During its career it often turned in to a firehouse; I don't think it ever turned into a firehouse. Thanks to my cousin-in-law Rick for saving these photos.

My grandfather built this firetruck. During its career it often turned in to a firehouse; I don’t think it ever turned into a firehouse. Thanks to my cousin-in-law Rick for saving these photos.

 

 

Advertisements

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 ““Last month a man turned himself into a fire station…”

  • philosophermouseofthehedge

    (Sadly mainstream is becoming more like student writing…it was only a matter of time…The idea would make a good picture book…could be quite fun?)
    What a great fire truck picture. Did you get to ride in it?

    • RAB

      If not that one, then ones like it. Grandpa’s shop did beautiful work, and he sold trucks in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania (that’s how I learned there was a town named “King of Prussia”!), and…Cuba. It is VERY special to be a kid whose grandpa makes fire trucks!

  • Mary Jane Schaefer

    It never ever occurred to me that fire trucks weren’t manufactured in factories the way cars and trucks are. Just amazing. A craftman in metal.

  • Helen Baumgartner

    Too Much!!!! Is it better to turn into a firetruck or to turn into stone? Loved the picture.

  • RAB

    I had a vision yesterday of this guy being chased by cops, then turning himself into a fire station….the cops run past the station, thinking they’ve lost him….and when the coast is clear he turns himself back into a guy…

Leave a Reply or Share a Horror.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: