Monday, October 08, 2007

Handsome Cab, Ugly Driver

My son shared this headline with me last week:

Handsome cab horse killed in Central Park accident

This was a headline that appeared recently on several New York web sites and in a neighborhood newspaper. It falls into the category known as eggcorns--incorrect substitutions that result from words not clearly heard or mistaken for others. [See The Eggcorn Database at ]

It actually should have read Hansom cab, of course. Hansom was the family name of architect Joseph Hansom of Leicestershire, England, who in 1834 patented a vehicle with some of the earlier features of this type of cab. (He also designed the square at Ratcliffe College, a boarding and day school in that town, and what is now the New Walk Museum, originally built as a school.) A Hansom cab was a low-hung two-wheeled cabriolet holding two persons inside, the driver on an elevated seat behind, and the reins running over the roof. It had a low center of gravity for safety in cornering.

The newspaper story went on to give some details of the accident.

A Central Park carriage horse was killed Friday afternoon in what is being described as a “freak accident” along Central Park South. Police say it started when a 12-year-old mare named "Smoothie" was spooked by someone playing a snare drum after four o' clock Friday afternoon. The horse then ran into the street with the carriage still attached and struck a tree.

But it gets even better:

"Nobody should be allowed to set up a snare drum set or any kind of drum set without a parade permit right near to the horse's ears,” said a witness.

So if you wish to beat your drum in Central Park, you had better hold a document near the horse’s head.

This brings us into dangling modifier territory, of course, joining the ranks of the following dubious constructions:

• Pressing the button, the elevator went down to the basement.
• Driving like a maniac, the deer was hit and killed.
• Left alone in the house, the lightning scared the child.
• With his tail held high, my father led his prize bull around the arena.
• We saw firefighters fighting fires that suffered heat exhaustion.
• I saw the dead dog driving down the interstate.
• By the age of ten, both of Dana's parents had died.
• She handed out brownies to the children stored in tupperware.

By the way, handsome cab is not an entirely isolated mistake. When you key “images” on Google, you get at least 15 pictures of a handsome cab; search the web, and you receive 120 hits.

And some Carriage Park Condominiums in Melbourne, Florida, have addresses on Handsome Lane.

My, that’s a good looking vehicle.

SIDEBAR: horse & cab sounds

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