IVP - Strangely Dim - AU, Idiot!

March 12, 2004

AU, Idiot!

By David A. Zimmerman


We're far enough removed, I think, from my last Christmas letter for me to own up to an embarrassing error I made in it.

I was riffing on a theme--abbreviations--and in my enthusiasm I misrepresented the abbreviation for gold from the periodic table of the elements. It is, of course, AU; I think I inadvertently stuck lead in its place, a kind of reverse literary alchemy.

I was embarrassed for all sorts of reasons. First off, the periodic table doesn't contain abbreviations per se; it's more precise to refer to the elements' representations as symbols. Beyond that, I wouldn't expect to know any of the periodic table by heart because I am by any measure completely disinterested in things scientific--landing on the symbol for lead would have been entirely accidental--except that I had no excuse for not knowing the symbol for gold. As a student of late-twentieth-century American social/cultural history (they actually let me major in this), I should have remembered that political campaigns from the 1960s represented the name of Barry Goldwater using symbols from the periodic table: Goldwater = AU-H2O. (I'm pretty sure that AU = gold and H2O = water, though I've given up on making such bold assertions.)

Not to mention that I make my living as an editor, which involves (make that "should involve") checking facts. The periodic table is prominently displayed in my dictionary, which I supposedly use every day. I would insert my mea culpa here, but I'm too lazy to make sure that means what I think it means.

The weird thing is that only one person pointed out the error, even though very nearly everyone I know received my Christmas letter. I don't know which scenario I prefer:

1. All my family and friends are embarrassingly uneducated about the periodic table of the elements and late-twentieth-century American social/cultural history.
2. All of my family and friends have come to expect such errors from me as a matter of course and see no reason to comment on them.
3. None of my family and friends reads my Christmas letter.

In any event, I'm not sure if I'd rather have my mistakes pointed out so I can become a better person or remain blissfully ignorant of any fallibilities I might suffer from (such as, for example, ending a sentence with a preposition, which I narrowly avoided here by inserting this parenthetical comment).

Needless to say, I intend to be a bit more careful with this year's Christmas letter. The news that I had potentially embarrassed myself in front of my whole universe of relationships was not my favorite gift this past Christmas, but it's also the only gift I haven't been able to return for money.

Oops--did I just print that?

* * *

Check out my secret identity at www.ivpress.com.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at March 12, 2004 7:56 AM Bookmark and Share

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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