"Evil being protesting"

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Mark Meckes asks:

Is there a name for the mistake of substituting one kind of participle for another? I feel like I've seen a number of examples of this lately, most recently in Ross Douthat's current NYT column
("The Red Hen and the Resistance", 6/27/2018):

"But to mitigate the effects of backlash, an effective protest politics also needs to make sure the acts of protest are clearly linked to the evil being protesting, and that they set up scenarios where the person being protested, not the protester, comes out looking

If there's a name for this type of typing error, I don't know what it is — but it's something that I find myself doing frequently. (Along with other cases where my fingers follow a common but contextually incorrect path, like typing "frequency" for "frequently" at the end of the previous sentence — which I just did.)

And I call it a "typing error" because this particular type of mistake is rare or non-existent in speech, since it violates the lexical category rule governing speech errors.

The obligatory screenshot:


  1. Mike Wasson said,

    June 27, 2018 @ 10:42 pm

    I often find myself make the related error of dropping the “ing” or “ed” entirely. It hardly ever occurs with other morphological suffixes. Again, this is entirely a typing problem.

  2. Victor Mair said,

    June 27, 2018 @ 11:07 pm

    I agree that it is a typing error, one triggered by the preceding "being".

  3. Viseguy said,

    June 27, 2018 @ 11:44 pm

    Yes, triggered by the preceding word — but lately I've been noticing that my typing errors are often influenced by the next word I have in mind. Wish I could think of a real-world example, but it's something like "thead" for "thinking ahead".

  4. neminem said,

    June 27, 2018 @ 11:47 pm

    Funny, I read that fragment the first time, and didn't get it. I read it as "there is an evil being, and that evil being is protesting". Which would certainly make sense for the protester to not want to look bad, if the protester is an "evil being". ;)

  5. Robert Davis said,

    June 28, 2018 @ 1:35 am

    When I read it I automatically read "protesting " as "protested". How often do readers "auto correct" what they write. To find my own errors, I need to print it out. On the screen, I tend not to see them.

  6. Richard Hershberger said,

    June 28, 2018 @ 5:10 am

    My guess would have been that this is an artifact of incomplete editing: that the first draft had "the evil they are protesting" and the change to "the evil being protested" was not quite completed. This is the sort of error that creeps into my online writing.

    [(myl) That's certainly possible. But slips of the fingers often produce results of this kind as well — and the question on the table is whether there's a term for such substitutions.]

  7. David Morris said,

    June 28, 2018 @ 7:08 am

    Two V-pps in a row, on the other hand, is quite possible: the evil that has been protested.

  8. Stephen C. Carlson said,

    June 28, 2018 @ 7:52 am

    Somewhat reminiscent of the old passival construcrtion

  9. Cervantes said,

    June 28, 2018 @ 10:18 am

    I don't think there is a term for this because it is not, in fact, an error of language production. The writer may well be thinking "protested." But this is a motor error. Experienced typists' brainstems have programs for producing common character strings. We don't think individually about each letter we type, just as we don't consciously put one foot in front of another as we walk. The previous "ing" activated the next one, not as a verb form but simply as a motor program for a string of letters. So this isn't really about linguistics at all, in my view.

    [(myl) I agree that it's a motor-system error — but the error involves a part of the motor system that includes character-string typing habits, not general finger-twiddling. And anyhow, there are names for plenty of motor-system problems.]

  10. rpsms said,

    June 28, 2018 @ 10:18 am

    I am wondering if the line-breaks which stacked "protesting" and "protested" had something to do with it surviving copy-editing.

    No guarantee that the breaks were the same in the pre-published version, but CMS systems often look identical sans a "logged in for editing" toolbar.

  11. Sergey said,

    June 28, 2018 @ 12:31 pm

    Well, there is little doubt that there "protesters" are the evil beings.

  12. Ray said,

    June 28, 2018 @ 7:09 pm

    it's weird and funny how both protesters and those being protested come out looking bad, no matter what. oh wait, did I just point out the evils of media-driven protestations and rushes to judgement and slippery slopes? at the end of the day, all this can't happen fast enough, even with the stately and sedate course of mainstream media, even with our mega-analytical linguists' apologetic recourse to "gosh, maybe that's just how I type." in the end, it turns out that none of us, actors or analysts, can type faster than a speeding, agenda-driven, monetized news cycle. schnell! schnell!

  13. Viseguty said,

    June 28, 2018 @ 11:32 pm

    As for terminology, how about "prolapse" for slips influenced by words coming after and "retrolapse" for those influenced by words coming before — which would make the instant example a retrolapse. (By way of analogy to "prospective" and "retrospective".)

  14. Viseguy said,

    June 28, 2018 @ 11:36 pm

    Previous comment by Viseguy, not "Viseguty".

  15. Bessel Dekker said,

    June 29, 2018 @ 8:59 am

    I'm not at all sure that this does not occur in the spoken language: sometimes a word is garbled so that one phoneme is shifted forward or indeed backward. Can't think of an example off-hand, but psycholinguistics must have many. And then, assimilation seems to be a related process.

    I would call this an "anaphoric typo" (or, more generally, an "anaphoric assimilation"). Had the text been "Evil been protested", I would call it a "cataphoric typo / assimilation".

  16. CuConnacht said,

    June 29, 2018 @ 5:53 pm

    I thought that perhaps the textual critics, who have an extensive catalogue of different types of common scribal errors, might have a name for things like "protested" becoming "protesting" under the influence of an immediately preceding "being", but if they do, I have not been able to find it.

  17. Rodger C said,

    July 1, 2018 @ 10:45 am

    @CuConnacht: Probably because that kind of mistake is unlikely in Latin.

  18. Bessel Dekker said,

    July 1, 2018 @ 12:39 pm

    In “Speech and scribal errors as windows of the mind” (Cognitive Philology no. 3 [2010]), TeresaProto distinguishes between anticipations (‘leading list’ instead of ‘reading list’), perseverations (‘waking wabbits’ rather than ‘waking rabbits’), and deletions (‘same sate’ for ‘same state’).
    The present case would be one of perseveration.
    Incidentally, the term “anticipatory” for an error does occur, eg in Johannes Tromp, /The Fife of Adam and Eve in Greek. A critical edition/, Leiden 2005. It is not unlikely in the classical languages, if in other guises: eg the use of a neuter article where another gender would actually be needed, but where later on a neuter noun follows.

  19. Bessel Dekker said,

    July 1, 2018 @ 1:02 pm

    Sorry, /The Life of Adam…/.

  20. David Marjanović said,

    July 1, 2018 @ 1:23 pm

    Ha, I've done this – in English; it can't be native-language interference.

    ‘same sate’ for ‘same state’

    This particular example strikes me as a perseveration of the syllable onset.

  21. David Marjanović said,

    July 1, 2018 @ 1:25 pm

    Sorry, /The Life of Adam…/.

    Self-illustrating anticipation!

  22. Bessel Dekker said,

    July 2, 2018 @ 7:16 am

    I'd consider this a typo myself. Of course the fact that we recognise anticipation, perseveration, and deletion should not blind us to the fact that typos do exist. I'm saying this on the basis of vast personal experience.

  23. R Steinmetz said,

    July 2, 2018 @ 2:38 pm

    I find myself making this kind of error in most often when editing something hastily written like an email. I often go back and edit them for some reason.

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