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A fishy tale and five misprints you'll never forget

No celebration party today is complete without party hats, noisemakers, and of course a large dead fish. At the climactic moment, the host will wave the huge seafood carcass at guests, who will exclaim: Yeah! Go, us! Dead fish! Stinky! Etc

This Japanese tradition, which started with sumo wrestlers, has spread to politicians and is surely ready to go global.

I thought the tradition may have crossed to Europe when a reader last week forwarded me a report from a UK newspaper called the Western Mail: "Then one of the newer Labour MPs rushed across the floor to shake a clenched fish in the Prime Minister's face."

The reader said that he thought "clenched fish" was a misprint. Yeah, the guy probably waved a "clenched buttock" at the Prime Minister's face.

Talking of misprints, I'd say the best recent correction on the New York Times website is this: "An earlier version of this article misstated the length of time E.B. White wrote for The New Yorker as five centuries." I see why they fixed it. Journalists are job-hoppers: they never stay in one post for more than three or four centuries.

That in turn reminded me of one of my all-time favourite misprints, which was in the International Herald Tribune. It said that the Washington offices of the Watergate prosecutor were sealed "on orders of the White Mouse". I had to think about that for a while, since both options were equally believable: top level US decisions were made by the White House or by a mysterious pale rodent?

My favourite Asian misprint came from a Hong Kong newspaper, which accidentally changed "the arrests were made by uniformed detectives" into "the arrests were made by uninformed defectives". A police officer present at the incident told me that the miss-spelt version "was accidentally more accurate".

The LA Times once printed a tale about a guy called Lamb which became a classic although it had just one superfluous letter: "Butt cracks eventually appeared in Lamb's public persona."


On Dec 22, a video of a short fat Korean man doing a horse dance became planet Earth's most successful cultural artifact, with one billion views on YouTube. Mayan commentators said: "So. We were off by one day."


Why are reporters bothering to interview pro-gun activists in the US? They give every question the same answer. How many US gun lobby spokesmen does it take to change a light bulb? MORE GUNS.

Why did the US gun lobby spokesman cross the road? MORE GUNS. Do I look fat in this? MORE GUNS.


Did you read about Sanjay of Mumbai, a man who has spent the last nine months living in a tree because his wife Tara refuses to say sorry for having an affair? I wondered what the point of his protest was, until I got to the part of the news story which quotes his sister: "He eats and sleeps on the tree and even relieves himself from there." For a man who is angry with the world, I can see how this could provide regular opportunities to achieve personal satisfaction.


Bungling guards looking for an escaped mental patient jumped on the wrong man, pumped him full of drugs and locked him up in a mad house, or, to use the medical term, "loony bin". After the incident in Western Australia was revealed last month, a top health official described it as a "mistake".

I would have loved to have overheard the conversation between the guards and the victim. "I'm not an escaped mental patient." "Yeah, right." "No, really, you have the wrong man." "Yeah, right." Etc.

It can only have been one of those conversations where whatever you say gets you in deeper trouble, like when the prosecution lawyer asks you: "Give me a straight answer: have you stopped robbing old ladies, yes or no?"

The mental hospital staff gave the victim a cocktail of drugs which was so strong they then had to send him to a medical hospital to be resurrected.

In the meantime, the REAL mental patient returned to the home, called Graylands, by himself. I would have loved to have overheard THAT conversation too. "Can you let me in? I'm the escaped loony." "Yeah, right." "No, really, I am." "Yeah, right."

At the moment staff realized what they'd done, there must have been one of the greatest facepalm moments in history.


One of the world's oldest humans, a Japanese guy aged 114, died in September. Then the world's oldest person, a woman aged 116, died on December 4th. A person aged 115, took that title. And then SHE died on December 17th. In fact, EVERYONE who gets that title dies within a year or two. Suspicious, no?


Thriller-writer Dennis Lehane two weeks ago lost his dog and offered to name a character in his next novel after anyone who found it. I just hope whoever finds the beagle has the wisdom to hand it over to someone with an interesting moniker to deliver to the author, like Cookie Crackenbush or Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon (both real names). A boring name would produce a minor character, while Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon would have to be a significant presence.


Received a funny-sad message from a girl called Mahboobeh. Her name causes hilarity among English-speakers, especially when attached to a name badge pinned at breast height. "Every day at least one person pronounces it as 'My Boobie'," she said. "Then they joke: 'What's the other one called?' " Mahboobeh says she always smiles as if she has never heard that line before. Pretending To Laugh is one of the most important social skills today. Why don't they teach it at schools?


A woman was arrested in Europe with three pounds of cocaine hidden in her breast implants last month. The big question: did any newspaper in the world resist the temptation to use the headline "Drugs Bust"?


A school in China asked parents to pay extra if they wanted teachers to hug their children. The cost was 80 yuan (US$12.80) per month per child for two daily hugs, at the beginning and end of each day. Moms complained. Dads, I suspect, would be squeezing into school uniform and turning up at the playground, cash in hand. "Me, miss! Me, miss!"


TIP OF THE DAY: Never sign anything without pretending to read it first.

(Nury Vittachi is an Asia-based frequent traveller. Send ideas and comments via

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Nury Vittachi

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