Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Punt/Bunt Incident

When Sandlot and I first met, I once told her that I would never want to own a pet that was so big that I would be unable to kick it across the room should the need arise. This isn't because I believe animal cruelty is funny, but should my pet rabbit some day become rabid and decide to try eat me, I'd feel reassured knowing that I could send it flying out the window.

This quickly became one of our earliest and most enduring inside jokes. Every time we see a small dog, Sandlot asks me, "Do you want to bunt it?" When I feel jealous of other boys, I describe getting my "bunting foot" or "bunting leg" ready.

This continued for over a year, until one day Sandlot's roomate's boyfriend was privy to a conversation in which Sandlot referred to me "bunting a little dog." He smoothly interjected, "Wait, do you mean bunt? Or punt? I think you mean punt, because bunting would indicate hitting it lightly with a bat."

All of a sudden, I was at a loss for words (no pun intended). Could this be true? Had I been using the wrong verb all this time? My ego reeled and scrambled to recover, but I said nothing and chuckled quietly. "Well... you know, if someone pitched a small dog at me, I think bunting it with a bat would probably be enough to incapacitate it."

"True," he replied, and that was that. This boy would never know the earth-shattering impact this casually short correction had had on my now debunked inside joke. As someone who prides himself on his command of the English language, his more than adequate vocabulary, and his entertaining writing style, a correction of this magnitude was almost unheard of. It is I who frowns on the asinine grammatical degenerates populating the Internet and corrects vocabulary. But to have been using the wrong word consistently and almost daily for over a year? Good heavens.

Yet I've had some time now to come to terms with the error of my ways. Indeed, the fault is indisputable:

bunt1 [buhnt]
verb (used with object)

  1. (of a goat or calf) to push with the horns or head; butt.
  2. Baseball . to bat (a pitched ball) very gently so that it rolls into the infield close to home plate, usually by holding the bat loosely in hands spread apart and allowing the ball to bounce off it.

punt1 [puhnt]

  1. Football . a kick in which the ball is dropped and then kicked before it touches the ground. Compare drop kick, place kick.
  2. a small, shallow boat having a flat bottom and square ends, usually used for short outings on rivers or lakes and propelled by poling.

The only argument that I will make in my defense is that football is a stupid sport that I know next to nothing about. Yet, having been corrected, I immediately recognized that I should be able to distinguish between a "bunt" and a "punt", and part of me felt ashamed. Why?

Well if Freud had his way, he'd associate every negative feeling in adulthood with a negative experience in childhood (at least, the pop culture Freud with whom I am familiar). In this case, my feeling of shame was associated with one single childhood memory in which I experienced the same feeling.

When I was in Grade 6, I was walking down the hall with a friend discussing this book or another, and I dropped the word "subtle", pronounced "sub-tle".

"It's pronounced 'sut-tle'," my friend corrected.

Perplexed, my reflex reply was, "Really? Well, it can also be pronounced 'sub-tle'."

"No, it's 'sut-tle'."

And that was that. It was one of those moments in my life where I realized that I had heard a word used in speaking and had read the same word in writing, but I had never made the association between the two words. I had always read it the wrong way and assumed that "sub-tle" and "sut-tle" were two separate words. When I realized the silly error I had made with a word that receives common usage in the English language, I was ashamed. I felt ashamed that at age 11 or 12, I didn't know this. I felt ashamed at the sheer force and casualness of the correction. I wanted to push back. Argue. Assert my correctness. Except I was wrong.

But I'll tell you, I never pronounced the word "subtle" wrong again. I guess in that way, I accepted that one moment of shame in exchange for avoiding a whole lifetime of it. Similarly, I should probably correct my "inside joke" to accommodate the fact that I intended all along to punt that little critter, not bunt it. Dang.

1 comment: said...

I remember one time I was walking home with Jonathan... Gold I think. and we saw a little dog like that barking like crazy and i was like "maybe it wants to bite us" and jonathan was like "that little thing? i'd kick it a block away" LOL and I imagined this scenario in my head, of a little dog flying into the air ahahahahahaha

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