The Fiery Car Wash and Other Journalistic Gems From the Montreal Gazette

Updated: Mar 23, 2020

Rookie reporters and even seasoned pros can make writing mistakes—catching those is one of the roles of editors. When I worked at the Gazette in the 1980s, we collected some of the more memorable—and amusing—word mangles made by young and old reporters. Most of them didn’t make it into the newspaper. One humdinger did.

At the time, corrections had to be entered into the computer system by members of the printers’ union, many of whom were francophones, whose second language was English. A young member of the boxing Hilton family, Stewart Hilton, was killed in a car accident. In the first edition of the paper, the day of the accident was incorrect. I marked the page proof with the correction in a line that said Hilton had died “in a fiery car crash.” When the second edition of the paper was published, the line read “a fiery car wash.”

Thanks mainly to Jim Withers, with help from Matt Radz and Dave Yates, here are a few of the better dingers: • This must be some sort of a misfortunate understanding. • The firemen rescued a cat using a small axe. • “It’s Hawaiian night at the Dorval community centre, so please come in your shorts.” • Then there was this lead: “For the losing team, playing the Lakeshore Lions was as much fun as laying carpet in Rock Forest.” (Context: On Dec. 23, 1983, police raided a motel unit in Rock Forest, Que., near Sherbrooke, believing the room to be occupied by perpetrators of a recent robbery in which a security-van guard was killed. They shot two innocent men who had been working in the area laying carpets, killing one and seriously wounding the other.) • The same reporter did a feature that had a lead that went something like: “Got no arms? Got no legs? Still want to go for a drive in the country? No problem….” (The story was about someone who retrofitted vehicles for the handicapped.) • And there was this winner: “It was a shock, like finding out Michelangelo didn’t paint the Mona Lisa.” Here are some other dandies: • “Sgt. Castonguay said a thief held a revolver to the employee, and warned, ‘Don’t move or I blow it’.” • “It wasn’t until 1705, when Joseph Trottier Desruisseaux was sent by Frontenac to populate the land, that the windmill was built.” • “ ‘I found it moving,’ Rev. Fontaine said after the 10-minute nudists’ wedding ceremony.” • “LaSalle Fire Chief Jean-Marie Robert said he had seen the cat in Clark’s apartment fighting the blaze. • “They’ll be shaking and rattling, rocking and rolling, but it will all be for a good cause as the second annual West Island radiothon for cerebral palsy kicks into high gear.” • “University of Montreal education students made twice as many spelling errors in a simple dicatation in 1984 as grade seven students did with the same dicatation in 1961.” • “In the 1980 election, Lachance beat his closet rival by a margin of 26,544 to 3,337.” • “The driver began masturbating but stopped for a red light.” • “But Paquette said his door is always open and is easy to get along with.” • “Const. André Cardinal said the robber stood in line then, in a ‘nice, smiling way,’ ordered the teller and a trainee to hand over the contents of their cash drawer. When the pair didn’t take him seriously, he pointed to his pants and said he had a gun.” • “Quebec forestry conservation officers were anxiously waiting for the sun to rise last night so that they could put out a forest fire in the Laurentians.” • “ ‘It was a bright, sunny day, his zipper was down and he stuck it (his penis) out,’ said Sgt. Yvon Morel.” • “Other major expenditures for the year include $180,000 to pave and put sewage along St. Pierre St.” • “Upon proffering aid, the cyclist noticed the man wore nothing below his white shirt and dark tie and was in a state of erection.” • “Pounds of flesh gyrated under a hot summer sun to the beat of calypso and reggae music.” • “Jérôme Le Royer has outwelcomed its stay.” • “Lebrun said neighbours became suspicious when they heard someone breaking through a wall at around 1 a.m.” • “Police suspected the man was drunk after they noticed he had red eyes, trouble standing, and handed over his Master Card when asked for his driver’s licence.” • “If Rick Hansen knew the physically disabled have nowhere to live on the South Shore he would roll off the road.” • “The lean, six-footer made it out into the cold early morning air, when the first bullet caught up with him.” • “According to 1984 federal government statistics, just 6.2 per cent of Quebecers were served by sewage that year.” • “But the 3-1 Cobras’ lead fell apart early in the third when the sea parted between Roy’s legs.” • “ ‘God never closes a front door without opening a back window,’ Bishop Crowley told his congregation of homosexuals.” • “Johnson was the only one not wearing a puppy for Remembrance Day.” • “John didn’t waste any time: within 20 minutes, he had bet $100, and lost twice that much.” • “Forecasting is very difficult, especially if it is about the future.” • “The good folks at the Banque Nationale apologized for the mix-up and suggested an over-zealous computer was sticking its nuts and bolts where it had no business.” • “She has two tattoos on her body: the word ‘Eric’ one her right shoulder and the letters ‘Eri’ on her right toe.” • “Thieves used a crowbar to pry open a window at a golf course pro shop and steal gloving gloves.” • “My right front foot hurt so much, I began to cry.” • “Macdonald College security guards are wondering what happened to a Denver Boot they attached to a frequent parking offender.” • “On Wednesday night, coach Lafortune returned to his spot behind the bench, but relieved himself midway through the game.” • “A 69-year-old blind woman clinched a court case for a group of 10 Lotto 6/49 winners when she calmly reeled off 13 ticket combinations she had memorized at a glance.” • “It’s really only 50 minutes between the time all the guys get on the ice and when they blow the siren to get us off.” • “The Sainte Anne de Bellevue Horticultural Club is calling on all nature lovers to polish off their green thumbs.” • “When the Châteauguay Raiders and St. Hubert Rebelles last met a year ago, it was sort of like watching Godzilla and Kermit the Frog in a tobacco spitting contest.” • “Leg amputees will no longer have to ‘hop, skip and jump’ the way Terry Fox did thanks to a new artificial limb bearing the one-legged hero’s name.” And finally: • “The coach said he could sum up the reason for the team’s success in one word: hard work.”

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