Thursday, May 13, 2010

Let's get it on

For a week or so, we've all been hearing about the alleged evidence that early humans and Neanderthals interbred. Like the millions of others who once read "Clan of the Cave Bear," I wasn't as surprised as I might have been. It was possible then, it's possible now, and nobody knows for sure.

But I was taken aback when, a couple of hours ago, I heard the WBUR tease for the 7 p.m. repeat of Tom Ashbrook's show, and the announcer said there was genetic proof that  "humans made it with Neanderthals."

Whoa, I thought -- that's a bit slangy (and racy) for a straight program tease, no? And yeah, it would have been, if that's what the man had said. But the next time it aired,  I heard what I think he was really saying: "humans MATED WITH Neanderthals."

The same thing, to be sure -- and yet, how different. After all, "making it" is what specific couples do, and it doesn't necessarily leave permanent DNA evidence. "Mated with" is a species-wide activity, and it implies the existence of offspring. (And as I listen to the broadcast, Tom seems to be using "interbred" instead of "mated with," a better choice both for auditory clarity and for accuracy.)

I'm going to blame John McIntyre for my mishearing, since he wrote so recently about the necessity for a copy editor to have a dirty mind, ever vigilant for the double entendre. I haven't been on dirt patrol for years, but I guess it's like riding a bicycle -- you never forget the fundamentals.


Jed Waverly said...

Next word: "scored"

Talk about reading dirty into it....

David Fried said...

Whether it was "made it" or "mated," the headline rather missed the point of the discovery. . . which is that Neanderthals were human. If the new guys mated with them, and children resulted, and we still carry their genes, then Neanderthals and the newcomers were both human.

I would call this deeply unwarranted prejudice against Grandpa "Neanderthalism," but 7,000 people ahead of me on Google have apparently decided that "Neanderthalism" means something like "paleoconservatism." Any suggestions?

Urbane Legend said...

Interesting that the hard T in 'mated' in British English would have obviated this amiguity.