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Eric Shackle Writes: No Pullet Surprise For These Authors

If you write a witty poem which escapes from your clutches and finds its way onto the internet, don't be surprised if someone chides you for claiming it as your own.

Eric Shackle tells of the experiences of two authors who are rueful victims of Net "banditry''.

For more of Eric's ever-surprisng and unusual articles please visit his world-famous e-book www.bdb.co.za/shackle/

Thirteen years ago, Professor Jerrold H. Zar composed a brilliant poem called Candidate for a Pullet Surprise (say the title aloud, and you'll get the joke). Here's the first verse:

I have a spelling checker,
It came with my PC.
It plane lee marks four my revue
Miss steaks aye can knot sea.

Since then, thousands of readers around the world have chuckled over the poem and emailed it to their friends. It's probably read more often than any of Shakespeare's poems, yet the author is virtually unknown.

The poem is a favourite on the internet. Scores of websites have copied the original words, or posted versions amended by various wits and halfwits. Some have retitled it as Owed to a Spell Checker or Spellbound. Many webmasters have added the words Author unknown, or Anon. One says Sauce unknown. It's a classic example of intellectual property being stolen on the Internet.

Here is the complete, official version, published with the author's kind permission:

By Jerrold H. Zar

I have a spelling checker,
It came with my PC.
It plane lee marks four my revue
Miss steaks aye can knot sea.
Eye ran this poem threw it,
Your sure reel glad two no.
Its vary polished in it's weigh.
My checker tolled me sew.

A checker is a bless sing,
It freeze yew lodes of thyme.
It helps me right awl stiles two reed,
And aides me when eye rime.

Each frays come posed up on my screen
Eye trussed too bee a joule.
The checker pours o'er every word
To cheque sum spelling rule.

Bee fore a veiling checker's
Hour spelling mite decline,
And if we're lacks oar have a laps,
We wood bee maid too wine.

Butt now bee cause my spelling
Is checked with such grate flare,
Their are know fault's with in my cite,
Of nun eye am a wear.

Now spelling does knot phase me,
It does knot bring a tier.
My pay purrs awl due glad den
With wrapped word's fare as hear.

To rite with care is quite a feet
Of witch won should bee proud,
And wee mussed dew the best wee can,
Sew flaw's are knot aloud.

Sow ewe can sea why aye dew prays
Such soft wear four pea seas,
And why eye brake in two averse
Buy righting want too pleas.

Title suggested by Pamela Brown.
Based on opening lines suggested by Mark Eckman.

By the author's count, 127 of the 225 words of the poem are incorrect (although all words are correctly spelled).

Published in the Journal of Irreproducible Results, Jan/Feb1994, page 13. Reprinted Vol. 45, No. 5/6, 2000, page 20.

Zar told us, "My poem continues to travel around the Internet, sometimes with attribution (and permission) and sometimes without.

"In addition, several authors have asked to include it in books they were preparing (on writing, editing, and the like)."

Zar's experience closely resembles that of another gifted comic poet, Gene Ziegler, the overlooked author of a "stolen" poem that's now best known as If Dr. Seuss Were a Technical Writer. In a remarkable string of coincidences, both poems were written in 1994, both authors were professors at US universities, and both their names begin with Z.

Back in 1994, Professor Gene Ziegler, an educator at New York's Cornell University who later became Dean of the American Graduate School of Management, an online business school in Nashville Tennessee, wrote a long and witty poem containing these ludicrous lilting lines:

If a packet hits a pocket on a socket on a port,
and the bus is interrupted as a very last resort,
and the address of the memory makes your floppy disk abort
then the socket packet pocket has an error to report!

He says he composed it in an hour, after his four-year-old grandson and the boy's older brother had "significantly rearranged" the resources on his Macintosh.

"This poem has probably received more attention and circulation than anything I have ever written," he said.

"It was originally a gift to internet friends and was passed from person to person, and posted on newsgroups and web sites in several countries. It has since been published in NetGuide Magazine, March 95, and in the Seattle Times, August 13, 1995, and has generated more than 1000 fan messages and requests to post.

"Unfortunately, the internet being what it is, some scoundrel whose editing skills exceeded his or her ethical standards edited the poem, reduced it by half, removed my name, and recirculated it under the title If Dr. Seuss were a Technical Writer, attributed to the ever prolific 'Anonymous.'"

Dr. Zseuss, "the real Dr. Seuss impersonator" (Ziegler's alter ego) responded with "Hang the Information Highwayman!", a poetic appeal for respect for another's written words. It should be brought to the notice of all webmasters.

Writing programs and teachers' groups around the world often quote the two poems to teach internet publishing ethics.

Ziegler told us: "The original poem has been set to music twice, once by a rapper and in the second case made into a Gilbert & Sullivan-like opera by a music teacher in Bangkok, who had his students sing it at graduation.

"It's been made into a brass plaque and sold in a gift shop in Dallas, recited on an Australian talk show and for the closing moments of a Vancouver TV show, Data's Cafe."

A search of the internet shows that despite all that publicity, Ziegler has good reason to feel cranky and forgotten. When we googled his memorable phrase "socket packet pocket" we found about 11,500 references. We checked out some of the websites. In nearly every case, the original poem has been cut in half, and posted without the author's name.

He says on his webpage:

When I first discovered what had happened to my original poem, I did a web search and found more than 200 copies of my poem posted, most of which were the edited and unattributed version.

Over the years I have written to two score webmasters pointing them to the Clocktower site and asking them to remove the offending version. Most have been gracious and cooperative with my request. One woman scolded me for my claim and said that the true author was a close friend of hers and that I should be ashamed of myself for claiming her friend's work.

I gave up trying to track down all of the forged postings because it was spreading faster than I could write, and have taken comfort in all of the fans who have seen and recognized my original work and who have taken the time to write to me and express their appreciation.


Dr. Jerrold H Zar http://www.bios.niu.edu/zar/zar.html

Hang the Information Highwayman! http://people.cornell.edu/pages/elz1/clocktower/Highwayman.html


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