The hat in the cat -a cautionary tail of missed-the-meanings…

Hat in the Cat.

Hat in the Cat (animated by S Webb)

I was watching Master Chef Australia – stay with me, I’m over cooking shows as much as the next person – but the challenge of the day caught my attention. Four contestants had each written a recipe and they had to watch while a home cook interpreted it to make the dish.

It was the test in communication that caught my interest. And all for contestants failed the test in small, but potentially disastrous ways.

A soup recipe listed 3 litres of water instead of 2. Another instructed the cook to divide the mix into thirds and place on 2 trays, so a layered desert lacked the desired presence. A rewrite of another recipe had removed an ingredient from the list, but not the instructions, leaving the home cook understandably confused.

Each contestant had checked and rechecked their recipes several times. Yet it wasn’t until fresh eyes read the words were the errors revealed.

These sorts of mistakes creep into writing so easily –possibly causing confusion, a drop in professionalism, and even potential embarrassment. Something as simple as dropping one letter from a word quickly turns an article about public areas to pubic areas – and who really wants to talk about those!

While spellcheck is getting better at picking these up – it picked up my tail in the heading above – there’s no guarantee. And as the author, you know what you meant to say, so when you read it, you see what you expect to see.

Case in point – I once attended a presentation where all credibility went out the window when a slide appeared with the line “don’t touch this with a ten-foot pool”. When the presenter read out his slide – as so often happens with PowerPoint –he didn’t even notice the error. He read pole as that was what he meant – but it was not what was on the screen.

Of course sometimes using ‘wrong’ words is done on porpoise to create what is known as a pun. These kinds of puns created by substituting one word for a similar-sounding word even have their own name – Homophonic. Great word, perfectly descriptive. “A good pun is its own reword”.

You can find more of these online at

We are usually quite forgiving when this occurs accidentally in conservation, but writing we expect to be more considered. And as interpreters, it’s even more challenging as we are usually working within tight word counts so our choice of words must be even more carefully considered.

So I’d like to present to you my golden rule of writing. Here it is:

Always, always, ALWAYS get someone else to read and edit your work.

I’d like to leave you with a small challenge. Scattered within this blog are several deliberate mistakes, the wrong words used – you probably noticed them. Annoying right? Iconically, it’s far easier for me to be accidentally funny so I’m not going to tell you how many there are, I’ll leave it up to you to tell me. But if there are more than ten I’ll eat my cat hat.