A clear case of 'laxative enforcement policies'

August 28, 2008

Academics have responded with gusto to the revival of Times Higher Education's annual "exam howlers" competition. This year's student slip-ups include visual as well as verbal gems, on topics ranging from nirvana to Northern Rock. First up, one for the "truer than intended" section, courtesy of a student of University of Southampton research fellow Anita Perryman: "Tackling climate change will require an unpresidented response."

In literature, a student of Bath Spa University teaching fellow Greg Garrard contributed the following insight into the work of author Margaret Atwood: "The Handmaid's Tale shows how patriarchy treats women as escape goats."

Meanwhile, Geoffrey Wood, a professor at City University London, was informed by one of his economics students that the failure of Northern Rock was due in part to the "laxative enforcement policies" of the regulator.

When Dave Harrison of St Helens College of Art and Design asked his Access to Higher Education students to "outline the importance of the four Noble Truths to the Buddhist faith", one wrote: "Nirvana cannot be described because there are no words in existence for doing so. Not non-existence either, it is beyond the very ideas of existing and not existing."

Another, asked to outline the importance of the railway in 19th-century Britain, said: "The railways were invented to bring the Irish from Dublin to Liverpool where they were promptly arrested for being vagrants."

In answer to the same question, another said: "The railways were invented to take the weight off the motorways."

Rob Stewart, from the University of the West of England, provided the following examples of student spelling howlers: Alchol instead of alcohol (he thought students knew that subject); whom instead of womb (anatomy paper); abominous instead of abdominal.

Special thanks also to Chris Holloway, a retired professor at the University of the West of England, who sent us some highlights of his own collection: "Service products are often intangible, perishable, inseparable and heterogenital"; "Bangkok's notoriously girly bars attract businessmen and larger louts"; "The Loire valley inspired the chef to cook delicacies such as salmon, elves and lamprey"; "Air stewardesses step into the role of portraying their front region, as the job requires them to."

And his favourite: "Control of infectious diseases is very important in case an academic breaks out."


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