Correction of the Year?

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This is almost too good to be true. Via The Media Blog, here's a correction that ran in Rockhampton, Australia's Morning Bulletin:

Will Sturgeon writes on The Media Blog:

It is a little surprising that the reporter didn't think to check. "Crikey, that's a lot of a pigs mate, are you sure you mean 30,000?". Similarly, if they really thought there were 30,000 pigs floating down the river, why did they only put it on page 11? That would be Biblical!

The obvious source of the error is a mishearing of the initial fricative in sows and [saʊz ənd] as thousand [ˈθaʊzənd]. But beyond that, I think the misunderstanding between the reporter and piggery owner could have been amplified by the use of pig in its specific or "marked" form — that is, meaning 'a young member of the domesticated subspecies Sus scrofa domesticus' rather than the general or "unmarked" version, 'any member of Sus scrofa domesticus.' As the Oxford English Dictionary explains under sense 2a of pig, the more specific sense of the word is "chiefly used in periods when and regions where the usual words for an adult pig are swine, hog, sow, or boar." (The sense is now mainly restricted to North America, according to the OED.) So if the hapless reporter wasn't expecting the semantic distinction of sow vs. pig as used in animal husbandry, then it would be much easier to construe the remark as referring to pigs in the general sense.

Still… 30,000?

(Hat tip, Lynne Murphy via Twitter.)

Update: Here's a link to the original uncorrected text of the story, as noted by Eugene Volokh.

And courtesy of Fred Vultee, here's a link to a .pdf of the The Morning Bulletin for 1/6/2011, including the complete text of the original article, which starts like this:


  1. J. W. Brewer said,

    February 7, 2011 @ 5:54 pm

    For a similar problem, see the various ingenious theories about how it came to be believed over the course of the Middle Ages that St. Ursula was accompanied in her martyrdom by 11,000 virgins instead of 11, followed by some squiggle misread by subsequent scribes as meaning thousand, or possibly even one with a given name or attribute misread by subsequent scribes as meaning 11,000.

  2. y sanz said,

    February 7, 2011 @ 6:06 pm

    this may call for a whole new class of revisionism – revisiting all the old texts eg" into the valley of death rode the five sows and…" … the rest, enigmatically, was silence!

  3. Joseph said,

    February 7, 2011 @ 6:15 pm

    Similar to a joke that dates back at least to the 1940s:

  4. Charles in Vancouver said,

    February 7, 2011 @ 6:24 pm

    That reminds me of the Berlitz commercial:

  5. John Cowan said,

    February 7, 2011 @ 6:24 pm

    I take this river to be the much better known Dawson in Qld rather than the one in NSW.

    The whole idea of the 30,000 pigs reminds me greatly of the entirely factual Great Raft, whereby the Red River was closed to steam navigation due to a natural logjam more than 200 miles long beginning just upstream of Natchitoches, Louisiana, until it was finally cleared in 1833-39 by specially built steamboats.

  6. Stan said,

    February 7, 2011 @ 6:41 pm

    While we're on media horror stories, how about this for scandalous ambiguity of the year?

  7. Jim Breen said,

    February 7, 2011 @ 6:50 pm

    "Australia's Morning Bulletin"? That set me scratching my head. I've lived in Australia for most of my 63 years, and I'd never heard of the "Morning Bulletin". The helpful link explained why – it's the local newspaper in Rockhampton, a provincial city about halfway up the coast of Queensland, i.e. about 2,000km away from me.

    Local newspapers are, of course, a great source of errors such as the one reported. I'm sure you see similar efforts in "America's Echo" or "Britain's Intelligencer".

  8. Charly said,

    February 7, 2011 @ 7:09 pm

    This would be a perfect candidate for the Regret the Error blog. It is quite epic. The correction which I saw firsthand was the erroneous use of "apostates" instead of "apostles" in a religious college's newspaper. Heh heh.

    I'm an American, and I think of pigs as anything that becomes bacon; although I know what a sow is, I would probably never use that word myself.

  9. Mr Fnortner said,

    February 7, 2011 @ 7:49 pm

    Can anyone remember the pseudo-latin poem I recall from high school half a century ago about farm animals that used phrases similar to trux causan dux? I'm drawing almost a complete blank.

  10. Nathan said,

    February 7, 2011 @ 7:55 pm

    O, civile! Si ergo! Fortibus es en ero. O, nobile! Deus trux. Vatis enem? Causam dux!

    Or various other spellings.

  11. Emily said,

    February 7, 2011 @ 7:57 pm

    Could it be this one (in the post by Kimstu)? It has "dux":

  12. Barron said,

    February 7, 2011 @ 8:32 pm

    References to 40 days in the Old Testament are said to be mistranslations of a word for "many" in oral traditions because most people didn't count very high. Now some ascribe reverence to the number 40 because it's mentioned 40 times in the Bible.

  13. Rubrick said,

    February 7, 2011 @ 8:32 pm

    @ y sanz: I like it!

    10 Sows and Maniacs
    20 Sows and Leeks Under the Sea

    …okay, maybe not.

  14. Nijma said,

    February 7, 2011 @ 8:36 pm

    @Mr Fnortner

    Maybe this is it:
    "Seville Dair Dago Tousan Busses Inaro Nojo Demstrux Summit Cowsin Summit Dux!"

    I remember it from some 40 or 50 years ago as a pidgin English puzzle.

    Solution: "See Willy, there they go, thousand busses in a row. No Joe, them's trucks – some with cows in, some with ducks!"

  15. c.q.walker said,

    February 7, 2011 @ 8:45 pm

    If it was FNQ the reporter would have received a scratchy phone call that went something like this…"Yer mate rivers fairly crankin ere ey… all sortsa shit init. Just saw ahhh maybe 30 fuckn sowsnpigs go flogging past….ey ? yeah oh fuck yeah at least 30 ey. Nah I'm not pullin your fuckn leg …at least 30sowsnpigs!!! "

  16. weaver said,

    February 7, 2011 @ 8:53 pm

    The ABC's (not to be confused with ABC) MediaWatch program spotted this. They also noted a story in which -teen had been misheard as -ty leading to anchors genuinely discussing the possibility of the Brisbane river rising 90 meters. And that wasn't at some little local newspaper.

  17. GeorgeW said,

    February 7, 2011 @ 9:20 pm

    @Barron: Hmm, that may be a little of a stretch:

    Gen 7:4: arba'im yom 'forty days'
    Gen 21:34: yamim rabim 'many days.'

  18. Jonathan said,

    February 7, 2011 @ 9:47 pm

    Myself, I'm just delighted to learn that what I've always rather prosaically called a "pig farm" is better called a "piggery".

  19. mark said,

    February 7, 2011 @ 9:49 pm

    Is there a link for the original article or the correction? I have not been able to locate either.

  20. Lazar said,

    February 7, 2011 @ 10:28 pm

    I'm familiar with the poem in this form:

    "O, Sibile! Si ergo. / Fortibus es in ero. / O nobile! Demis trux. / Vatis enim? Causant dux."

  21. Hermann Burchard said,

    February 7, 2011 @ 10:33 pm

    @Egyptologists: Sorry, better under "Game over" about Egypt. Adams comment cartoon, 7 Feb 2011 in today's TELEGRAPH (London):

    I tried to paste it here but that doesn't seem to work. *)

    Just wondering if the hieroglyphs spoken by POTUS are actually saying something, relevant or no.
    – – – –
    *) "doesn't seem to work," common, not exactly grammatical, eh?

  22. tudza said,

    February 7, 2011 @ 10:35 pm

    They should also make sure that the pigs referred to are not pig iron:

  23. Aaron Toivo said,

    February 7, 2011 @ 10:41 pm

    An old joke my dad always used to tell, dating at least from the fifties:

    "What do you call a man with fifty female pigs and fifty male deer?"
    "I don't know, what?"
    "How's that?"
    "That's a hundred sows and bucks!"

  24. Indica Man said,

    February 7, 2011 @ 10:48 pm

    The error has nothing to do with misinterpretation. We Rockhampton folk don't listen and we can't spell:

  25. Adrian Morgan said,

    February 7, 2011 @ 11:55 pm

    I've heard the same joke Joseph has, in my case from a compilation of jokes published by Reader's Digest in 1962. The joke is remarkably similar to the actual event, and just like the Media Blog's report, contains the phrase "that's a lot of pigs".

    Regarding the discussion between @Barron and @GeorgeW in the comments above, it's not that references to 40 are mistranslations of another word, but rather that the word for 40 was often used figuratively in Hebrew culture. It's the same word, "forty" the literal interpretation, "many" the figurative one. I don't know whether this usage survives.

  26. dinah said,

    February 8, 2011 @ 2:38 am

    @Mr Fnortner and Nathan, my father used to recite something as really latin which sounded like "I say Billy, here's a go, forty buses in a row, forty buses, forty trucks, what is in 'em? peas and ducks" – close to Nathan's but not exact

  27. Mr Fnortner said,

    February 8, 2011 @ 6:15 am

    Thank you all for bringing back Latin class memories. I might not sleep for a week.

  28. Mike Eslea said,

    February 8, 2011 @ 6:49 am

    I remember a similar story about a couple who ordered some smoked salmon from Fortnum & Mason – "enough for two hungry people" – only to receive 200 portions.

  29. flea said,

    February 8, 2011 @ 6:54 am

    A similar mis-hearing resulted in my favorite New York Times correction ever:

  30. Ben Hemmens said,

    February 8, 2011 @ 7:12 am

    Yeah, but how many people in Australia are prone to saying sousand? Was the pigman a German?

    Mr. Fnortner, happy to oblige:

    Civile, si ergo, fortibus es in ero.
    Er nobus es, emar trux.
    Vatis inem? Causan dux!

  31. Jon Weinberg said,

    February 8, 2011 @ 7:13 am

    @Adrian Morgan: Is there reason to think that Bible-era authors used the word "forty" figuratively apart from the fact that they repeatedly described periods of time as forty days (or years)? It could be that the phrases "forty days" and "forty years" had an idiomatic sense, without "forty" being used figuratively in general. (Or perhaps the intended meaning was the literal one . . . )

  32. GeorgeW said,

    February 8, 2011 @ 7:59 am

    @Jon & Adrian: If I were to guess, and I am, I would suggest that 'forty X' (X = a time period) was first was used in Genesis with the idea of a long time, but within the lifetime of a person (Moses). Then, this number acquired a symbolic meaning.

  33. Michael said,

    February 8, 2011 @ 8:56 am

    "forty" couldn't have meant "many" in a text that has endless instances of higher numbers, among them 120 and 318. There is a usage of "revava", translated as "myriad", and also indicating 10,000, to indicate a very large quantity

  34. language hat said,

    February 8, 2011 @ 9:12 am

    "forty" couldn't have meant "many" in a text that has endless instances of higher numbers, among them 120 and 318.

    Of course it could. The idea is not that they literally had no way to express higher numbers, but that "forty" had long been an idiom meaning "any large number." Perhaps you are under the impression that because English can express numbers of any magnitude, when comedians say "I got a million of 'em," they mean exactly 1,000,000, not 999,999 or 1,000,001?

  35. Gus said,

    February 8, 2011 @ 9:39 am

    My personal favorite mishearing, caught on camera:

  36. AlexB said,

    February 8, 2011 @ 10:00 am

    About '40 days', when I traveled the Middle East, the standard unit of delay was 'half an hour'. This was not so much an actual indication of time, it only meant that the delay was short enough to stick around and wait.

  37. Greg said,

    February 8, 2011 @ 10:00 am

    @Michael: Bear in mind, too, that the Bible is actually a compilation of many different texts, some of which are themselves compilations of other texts. (Even if idiomatic usage of "40" was somehow inconsistent) inconsistency is almost guaranteed.

  38. Hermann Burchard said,

    February 8, 2011 @ 10:09 am

    @Indica Man: Neither can the Rockhampton author spell, concerning the misprint:
    "..the cost of fixing this was deemed to expensive by the owners.."

  39. Dan Lufkin said,

    February 8, 2011 @ 10:44 am

    We should note that French uses the number 36 in a figurative way to mean "lots of". Voir 36 chandelles = "get knocked out".

  40. Chainsaw Chuck said,

    February 8, 2011 @ 11:37 am

    Rather as in Mexico where instead of "tomorrow", "manana" often just means "not today."

    A friend who makes signage professionally tells of a customer who when arriving to pick up his freshly painted semi truck was shocked to see the large orange colored 'J' on the cab doors – what he'd actually ordered were the letters 'R & J'!

  41. wally said,

    February 8, 2011 @ 11:54 am

    @Dan As is well known, the French have no concept of higher numbers. I mean, they don't even have a word for seventy!

  42. richard said,

    February 8, 2011 @ 12:06 pm

    I was intrigued by this passage in the original:

    Mr Everingham said: "We've lost probably about 30,000 pigs in the floods, we tried to get as many weaners and suckers out by boat, but we could only save about 70 weaners, and the …

    Does this suggest porcine origin to the use of "sucker" to mean "thing?"

    I was also wondering what self-respecting journalist would hear about a flood of 30,000 pigs and not demand a photograph to go along with the story.

  43. Robin Lovell said,

    February 8, 2011 @ 1:27 pm

    Of course replacing "pigs" with "hogs" wouldn't be much of an improvement – 30,000 dogs?

  44. peterm said,

    February 8, 2011 @ 1:43 pm

    Jim Breen (February 7, 2011 @ 6:50 pm):

    "Local newspapers are, of course, a great source of errors such as the one reported. "

    The Richmond River Express, tri-weekly of Casino, NSW, once reported a hail storm having hailstones as large as billiard tables.

  45. Urso said,

    February 8, 2011 @ 2:37 pm

    Amazing how many words these Aussies have for pig. Really says something about their culture.

  46. Steve Kass said,

    February 8, 2011 @ 4:57 pm

    Funniest. Mishearing of the initial fricative. Ever.

  47. Jonathan D said,

    February 8, 2011 @ 6:10 pm

    Perhaps you are under the impression that because English can express numbers of any magnitude, when comedians say "I got a million of 'em," they mean exactly 1,000,000, not 999,999 or 1,000,001?

    Sure "a million" is used figuratively, but I wouldn't call it figurative if they did mean 999,999 or 1,000,001! Rounding is another thing altogether…

  48. m.m said,

    February 8, 2011 @ 7:42 pm

    Steve Kass said

    Funniest. Mishearing of the initial fricative. Ever.

    Probly one of the nerdiest adaptations of the "Best. X. Ever." meme I've come across.

  49. m.m. said,

    February 8, 2011 @ 9:00 pm

    I had a surreal moment when I saw the photo. Where it reads

    THERE was an error

    I thought "thats the wrong 'there' isn't it? Major wtf moment.

  50. Steve Kass said,

    February 8, 2011 @ 11:35 pm

    m.m said

    Funniest. Mishearing of the initial fricative. Ever.

    Probly one of the nerdiest adaptations of the "Best. X. Ever." meme I've come across.

    Thanks. (And you meant to type “prolly,” right?)

  51. Steve Kass said,

    February 8, 2011 @ 11:35 pm

    m.m said

    Funniest. Mishearing of the initial fricative. Ever.

    Probly one of the nerdiest adaptations of the "Best. X. Ever." meme I've come across.

    Thanks. (And you meant to type “prolly,” right?)

  52. Barbara Phillips Long said,

    February 8, 2011 @ 11:52 pm

    @Urso — Those aren't just Australian terms — sows, boars, hogs and so on are just farming terms. I don't know if Aussies use "shoat," but that is one term for a young hog. In Australian farm English, that might be a "weaner," which I presume is a young pig that's been weaned, as opposed to a sucker, who would still be nursing.

    Here's a list of pig-related farm terms, although what it is doing at EPA instead of USDA, I don't know:

    My question is, how is "weaner" any more exotic than "fricative"? Next we'll be hearing about the number of words pig farmers have for pigs and how the terms exceed the number of words Eskimos have for "the white stuff."

    @anyone — My feeling is that "pig farm" tends to be the common usage in American English and "piggery" is associated with British English and its (closer?) branches.

  53. J. Goard said,

    February 9, 2011 @ 2:28 am

    Probly one of the nerdiest adaptations of the "Best. X. Ever." meme I've come across.

    …which ought to be spelled "evar." ;-)

  54. Mark Etherton said,

    February 9, 2011 @ 5:38 am

    A colleague to whom I showed this story claimed to have seen a correction in a Scottish local paper along the lines of "in our report last week of the Macgregor/Mactavish wedding, we said that the young couple would be staying with bride's father. They will in fact be living at the Old Manse".

  55. GeorgeW said,

    February 9, 2011 @ 6:26 am

    @Barbara Phillips Long: "My feeling is that "pig farm" tends to be the common usage in American English and "piggery" is associated with British English and its (closer?) branches."

    Actually, I think in the U.S. they are now called factories and those in charge are called CEOs.

  56. Barbara Phillips Long said,

    February 9, 2011 @ 9:47 am

    @GeorgeW — "Factory" and "factory farm" seem to carry derogatory overtones. I doubt people who raise pigs are all CEOs, even though many farms now have LLCs or other parnership or corporate structures as part of succession planning.

    I think it is interesting that your comments seem critical of choices farmers make and another commenter believes the culture of Australia can be deduced from its farmers' vocabulary. There seems to be a long tradition in the U.S. of humor that finds farming and farmers innately hilarious, but there's also a long tradition of finding city people hilariously ignorant of rural life. This newspaper correction seems to play to both camps.

  57. GeorgeW said,

    February 9, 2011 @ 9:53 am

    @Barbara Phillips Long: My comment was intended as sarcasm about the state of farming in the U.S. It is now, to a large extent, corporate. It seems that the small, family farm now exists largely in history, myth and product names.

  58. Ellen K. said,

    February 9, 2011 @ 10:33 am

    @Barbara Phillips Long: I'm pretty sure Urso does not actually believe that the number of words for pig in Australia says something about their culture. It's humor. A reference to a topic that has been discussed multiple times on language log.

  59. nick said,

    February 9, 2011 @ 11:49 am

    Jonathan Swift was a master of fake Latin of the "causan dux" type and could evidently produce it with great fluency. Here is a splendid example: "Is his Honor sic? Prae letus felis Puls. It do es beat veris loto de." etc, ad nauseam…

  60. Diane said,

    February 9, 2011 @ 2:31 pm

    I can't help but think: There but for the grace of God go I.

    Until today, I thought pig always referred to the species and a sow was an adult female pig. Therefore saying "sows and pigs" makes about as much sense as saying "women and people."

    I also know there are giant pig farms with literally thousands of pigs.

    So, to me, 30,000 pigs might be unlikely but 30 sows and pigs is incomprehensible.

    So don't laugh at us!

  61. m.m. said,

    February 9, 2011 @ 7:40 pm

    Steve Kass said,

    m.m said

    Funniest. Mishearing of the initial fricative. Ever.

    Probly one of the nerdiest adaptations of the "Best. X. Ever." meme I've come across.

    Thanks. (And you meant to type “prolly,” right?)

    As common as "prolly" is the relaxed pronunciation of "probably", I've actually always been a constant user of "probly" in my idiolect.

    probably: [ˈpɹɑli], [ˈpɹɑbli], prolly, probly

    J. Goard said,

    …which ought to be spelled "evar." ;-)

    I'd be inclined to use the less common 'aver' or 'avar' forms haha.

  62. Johnny Trash said,

    February 9, 2011 @ 8:38 pm

    Reminds me of the story about George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfield. It seems that Rumsfield was updating Bush on the war in Iraq: "Sir, today the allied forces suffered the loss of two Brazillian troops."

    Bush was shocked and shouted to the heavens, "Noooooooo!"

    After a moment to compose himself, he turned to Rumsfield and quietly asked, "Just exactly how many IS two brazillian?"

  63. maidhc said,

    February 9, 2011 @ 10:05 pm

    Reminds me of the Goon Show line: "The River Foote has risen Severn inches. Or is that the River Severn has risen foot inches? …"

    Myles na gCopalleen was a master at writing English using Irish spelling. It bhas nó mín fít!

  64. Barbara Phillips Long said,

    February 10, 2011 @ 1:13 am

    @GeorgeW — I know you were being sarcastic. I know people have an idealized view of the family farm, but there are still many traditional family farms. Some of them are incorporated. Some family farms practice intensive agriculture. Some practice sustainable agriculture. Farming doesn't have just one business model.

    I don't hear anybody complaining about how when Ben Franklin was a printer there were lots of mom and pop shops doing printing, but now there aren't enough family printers cranking things out on hand-fed sheet presses. Since there are many more family farms than family printers, I am baffled that people think all farming is done by corporate entities.

    I'm not sure what you want to go back to. Shoveling manure by hand? Making everyone garden and farm so they feed themselves? Having everyone drive horses? Plowing fields instead of conserving soil by using no-till production? Having higher food prices?

  65. Michael said,

    February 10, 2011 @ 6:25 am

    re biblicaal forty: the tessarakonta literature reaches far beyond the bible. The Babylonians already associated 40 with significant astronomical observations. The probability that this is either based on an error or on a "large number" is very low…

  66. GeorgeW said,

    February 10, 2011 @ 7:22 am

    @Barbara Phillips Long: I wonder what percentage of the pork Americans eat today comes from the " many traditional family farms?"

    I don't know, but if I were betting, it would bet on a very small portion.

  67. Barbara Phillips Long said,

    February 10, 2011 @ 8:45 am

    @GeorgeW — I can e-mail Language Log with my personal e-mail if you want to continue this discussion, since it really is off topic.

    Last I knew there were a couple of people in my region raising pigs commercially on farms their families have owned and at least one chicken producer — I think he was growing for meat and not for eggs. He and his sister operate the family farm and diversified into chickens so it isn't all dairy.

    A factory farm is a stereotype, so I'd have to know how you define it or how you define traditional farming (no computers?) before I could find an answer to your question about pork.

  68. Jon Weinberg said,

    February 10, 2011 @ 1:46 pm

    Well, if the question is what percentage of hogs in the U.S. come from farms with fewer than 100 head, the answer in 2004 was 1% and dropping. If it's what percentage of hogs came from facilities with fewer than 2000 head, the 2004 answer was 20% and dropping. 2000 hogs in a single facility is already a whole lot of hogs. Most hogs in this country come from facilities with more than 5000 head. (All numbers courtesy USDA economic Research Service.)

    Seeing as this is LL, fewer than 100 head? less than? under? Nothing feels right.

  69. Barbara Phillips Long said,

    February 10, 2011 @ 11:18 pm

    @Jon Weinberg — As an editor, I would use "fewer than 100 head." In the interview I did today (about dairy farming), the source used "less than" exclusively, and my impression is that "less" is used more often than "fewer" in the speech I hear at meetings and in interviews.

    @GeorgeW — The "Hog and Pig Farming" handout from the last census of agriculture in 2007 had this information about hog farms:

    Hog producers were more likely to derive income from non-farm
    sources in 2007 than in 2002. Only 51.9 percent of hog producers
    now list their primary occupation as farming, down from 65.1 percent in 2002. As a result, 61 percent of all hog producers derive less than 25 percent of their total income from farming and less than 10 percent obtain all of their income from farming. …

    Although family farms made up 85 percent of hog and pig operations, they accounted for only 43 percent of the inventory and 44 percent of the sales. In contrast, corporations made up only 6 percent of the number of U.S. hog and pig operations, but accounted for 33 percent of the inventory and sales.

    The report is at:

    There are larger contractors in the Midwest who raise pork for commercial sale (some on family farms but probably others that have different business models), but there are also businesses that produce specialty pork that is not raised using more intensive practices. I don't know the headcounts at pork producers in my region (a lot of times information is blocked out in local ag census breakdowns because it identifies a particular producer). In the county north of me in Pennsylvania, at least one operation advertises that it sells pastured pork, and I believe they are producing it themselves or obtaining it from a local source.

  70. Sili said,

    February 11, 2011 @ 3:41 pm

    Therefore saying "sows and pigs" makes about as much sense as saying "women and people."

    "Women, children and animals are happy, but we people!"

  71. bryan said,

    February 12, 2011 @ 4:50 pm

    "….the French have no concept of higher numbers. I mean, they don't even have a word for seventy!"

    You are wrong: "Seventy" in French is either literally "sixty-ten", "soixante-dix" or seventy, "septante" or "settante" [from Italian?]

  72. Sili said,

    February 13, 2011 @ 3:01 pm

    You are wrong: "Seventy" in French is either literally "sixty-ten"


    Sixty-ten != Seventy.

  73. James Law said,

    February 14, 2011 @ 9:27 am

    This actually is my local newspaper. Gotta love stumble :D

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