Fun With Bloopers

by James Scott Bell

We had some fun with typos recently. Fun, sure, except when they happen to you. I hate typos! They are the sand fleas of publishing. You shake off the sand from the beach, and you think you’ve got rid of them all. But sure enough, when you get in the car and start driving away, one shows up in your armpit.

So it is with typos. Even after paying a proofreader, you’re apt to get an email from an astute reader who will point out that a character should be eating out of “wooden bowl,” not a “wooden bowel” (an actual typo in a novel by a friend of mine).

Yes, typos can provide a chuckle. Even more amusing are bloopers, those verbal miscues from actors and speakers uttered over various airwaves.

The word “blooper” was popularized by a radio producer named Kermit Schaefer, who was the first to research and document these fluffs. He put out several books and a couple of LPs with them (in the latter, he sometimes reproduced the blooper with actors when he couldn’t secure a copy of the sound recording. But they were otherwise legit).

The blooper that got Schaefer started was made by radio announcer Harry von Zell in a 1931 broadcast honoring President Herbert Hoover. Von Zell told the audience they would next hear from President “Hoobert Heever.”

Oops. And on live radio there are no re-takes.

So, because I wanted to have some laughs today, here are a few of my favorite bloopers:

“And Dad will love Wonder Bread’s delicious flavor, too. So remember, get Wonder Bread for the breast in bed.”

“This is the British Broadcasting Corporation. Our next program comes to you from the bathroom at Pump…pardon me, the Pumproom at Bath.”

“And just now we’ve received a new stock of Reis Sanforized sports shirts for men with 15 or 17 necks.”

“Mrs. Manning’s are the finest pork and beans you ever ate. So when you order pork and beans, make sure Mrs. Manning is on the can.”

Laundromat commercial: “Ladies who care to drive by and drop off their clothes will receive prompt attention.”

Fight night broadcast: “It’s a hot night in the Garden, folks, and I see at ringside several ladies in gownless evening straps.”

On an early TV game show called Two for the Money, a young lady was asked her occupation.
“I work for the Pittsburgh Natural Gas Company,” she said.
“And how is business?”“Wonderful. Over ninety percent of the people in Pittsburgh have gas.”

NBC radio: “Word comes to us from usually reliable White Horse souses.”

Disc jockey: “You’ve just heard the front side of Doris Day’s latest hit, “Secret Love.” Let’s take a look at her backside.”

Steve Allen

But my favorite blooper of all time is really a “save.” It was made by the great Steve Allen. Most youngsters today have no idea who Allen was, so I’m glad you asked. He was one of the great natural wits. As the first host of the Tonight Show, he set the stage for late-night comedy ever after. When he wasn’t being funny he was writing songs…lots and lots of songs (the most famous of which is “This Could Be the Start of Something Big.”) On top of that, he wrote several books on subjects as wide ranging as public speaking and religion.

Here is an example of Allen’s on-the-spot wit. He was to do a live commercial for Fiberglas. There was a Fiberglas chair on the stage, and Allen was to hit it with a hammer and then announce, “Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this chair is made of genuine Fiberglas!”

But when commercial time came around the temperature in the studio was colder than usual. So when Allen hit the chair, the hammer went right through it, leaving a gaping hole. A major visual blooper that would have had most hosts stymied. But Allen, without missing a beat, looked into the camera and said, “Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this hammer is made of genuine Fiberglas!”

Priceless. Which is why, when you can swing it, giving your character something witty to say at just the right moment delights the reader. But it’s not easy to do. One method I suggest in my book, Writing Unforgettable Characters and in a post last month, is “curving the language.” Write out a plain vanilla line, then bend it and play with it.

So a line like, “She looked like a million dollars” (cliché) can become, “She looked like a million dollars tax free” (Harlan Ellison). Or, “I became a made man when you were in high school” can turn into, “I made my bones when you were goin’ out with cheerleaders!” (Moe Green to Michael Corleone in The Godfather).

Your characters will thank you for saving them from bloopers.

Do you have a favorite blooper, maybe even from your own life?

The Secret Language of Vikings


Old English was originally written in the runic alphabet, named futhark after the first six runes: f, u, th, a, r, and k. The alphabet consisted of 24 letters, 18 consonants, and 6 vowels. Futhark assigned a sound to each character. Runes could be written in both directions—right to left, left to right—and could also be inverted or upside down. The earliest runes consisted almost entirely of straight lines, arranged singly or in combinations of two or more. Later, runes became more complex. Some even resemble modern day letters of the English alphabet.

Side note: Think outside the box as you read. There’s a question at the end to get your creative juices flowing.

According to rune experts, the word “futhark” itself may have been used for ancient Norse magic. An example of this can be found carved into the tooth of a brown bear, found in Orkney in the 1930s. It’s said this amulet was used for protection or fertility magic.

Photo credit (hot-linked):  National Museum of Scotland

In Old Norse the word “rune” means “letter,” “text,” or “inscription.” In old Germanic languages it means “mystery” or “secret.”

For years researchers have tried to crack a runic code called Jötunvillur, a perplexing code found in some inscriptions. Ancient codes prompt associations with treasure hunts and conspiracies as depicted in The Da Vinci Code.

But mysterious codes are not just for fiction.

Real-life Vikings and medieval Norse people carved runic codes into wood, stone, swords, pendants, and other objects. These codes are found in many forms and contexts.

“It was very common to use codes,” said Runologist Jonas Nordby from the University of Oslo. “Much of the population mastered them. That’s why I think they were something people picked up at the same time they learned the runic alphabet. If you had learned to read and write, you had also learned codes.”

Some of the decoded messages showed a playfulness among friends. Others were more romantic, like the 900-year-old cipher code carved into a piece of wood (pictured below). The inscription reads “kiss me.”

Photo credit: Jonas Nordby

These codes exist in many forms and contexts and date back to the 11th or 12th century. But there’s still a lot we don’t know about runes.

Why did Vikings encrypt their messages by using codes? Did they want to keep them secret, or did they have other reasons for encrypting their ruin texts?

Runologist K. Jonas Nordby has made significant progress toward an answer by cracking a code called jötunvillur, which has baffled linguists and historians for years.

Jötunvillur is just one of many different types of runes. This code works by exchanging the rune sign with the last sound in the rune’s name.

For example, the rune for “f” (pronounced fe) would be turned into an “e,” the rune for “u” (pronounced urr) would be “r,” and “k” (pronounced kaun) became “n.” Note: I put the last letter of the pronunciation in bold for clarity in deciphering the code.

Problem is, numerous runes end in the same sound.

“It’s like solving a riddle,” Nordby said. “After a while I started to see a pattern in what appeared to be meaningless combinations of runes.”

Many of the messages in runic codes include a challenge to the reader to crack the code, like “interpret these runes.” The art of writing and codebreaking ensured a certain amount of status among peers. Others bragged about their proficiencies, evident by the inscription below that reads, “These runes were carved by the most rune-literate man west of the sea.”

Photo credit: Bengt A. Lundberg/Riksantikvarieämbetet

“Many think the Vikings used cryptography to conceal secret messages,” Nordby continued. “But I think the codes were used in play and for learning runes, rather than to communicate.”

One of the reasons for his claim is that the jötunvillur code is written in a way that makes the interpretation ambiguous.

“A typical bunch of male adolescents were fooling around and wrote tall tales about treasures and their own sexual prowess. Jötunvillur can only be written, not read. It would be pointless to use it for messages.”

Hence why he’s considered other possible uses for the code. His best guess would be that the Vikings memorized rune names with the help of the jötunvillur code.

“We have little reason to believe that rune codes should hide sensitive messages. People often wrote short everyday messages. I think the codes were used in play and for learning runes, rather than to communicate.”

All runes have names, but their similar sound makes it difficult to figure out which runic letter the code refers to.

The rune codes weren’t just used for learning. Nordby says this also indicates whimsicality within the Viking Era and Middle Ages.

“People challenged one another with codes. It was a kind of competition in the art of rune making. This testifies to a playfulness with writing that we don’t see today.”

Nine of the 80 or so coded runic writings Nordby investigated are written in the jötunvillur code. The others are cipher runes written with the use of Caesar cipher, a system involving a shift to letters spaced a few places away in the alphabet. Researchers have understood cipher runes for some time.

Henrik Williams, a professor at Uppsala University’s Department of Scandinavian Languages and a Swedish expert on runes, said Nordby’s discovery is an important one.

“Above all, it helps us understand that there were more codes than we were aware of. Each runic inscription we interpret raises our hopes of soon being able to read more. This is pure detective work and each new method improves our chances.”

He agrees the codes could have been used as a tool for learning runes. But he’s not certain about how big a role jötunvillur played in the learning process. Rather, he thinks the codes were used for much more than communication.

“They challenged the reader, demonstrated skills, and testify to a joy in reading and writing.”

What better reason could there be?

Have you ever used codes in a story? Please explain.

Get those creative juices flowing, TKZers. In what ways could a writer use runic text?