This error nearly gave me an allergic reaction!

Honestly, dear reader: I don’t read books just to see what kind of copyediting errors have slipped through. In fact, I never pick up a book with the intent of looking for errors.

But I can’t help it that my eyes and brain have become tuned to detect print errors — it’s an occupational hazard, the same way that I imagine a professional violinist will hear each off stroke of the bow in a concert, or that a skilled seamstress will notice a dropped stitch in a dress at a glance.

I was reading a book recently and noticed a bizarre phrase. The author described herself (metaphorically) having an extreme reaction to something, and wrote that it was like going into “anabolic shock.” The phrase immediately seemed wrong to me, and after a couple of seconds I realized why: this phrase is a malapropism, mixing up the correct term (anaphylactic shock) with a wrong one (anabolic). It’s basically a nonsense phrase.

The correct phrase, anaphylactic shock, is used to describe a severe and sudden allergic reaction which may result in death. The incorrect phrase means…well, I have no clear idea. “Anabolic” is a word that describes the synthesis phase of metabolism; it’s that part of an organism’s metabolic cycle when simpler substances are turned into more complex ones. This can apply at the molecular level or at higher levels — for example, when amino acids are combined to produce proteins, or when osteocytes produce more bone, or when muscle cells grow or divide to generate more muscle mass.

There is, as far as I can tell, no physical state known as anabolic shock. I have a hard time envisioning what that would even involve. There is a nutritional supplement with the product name “Anabolic Shock” which claims to help users quickly develop muscle mass. But I hardly think that’s what was meant. In the context of the book, the writer was being over the top and attempting to be funny when the phrase was used. It’s fairly easy to see anaphylactic shock as an exaggeration for comic effect. But I have a hard time believing that anabolic shock was anything but an error that got past the copyeditor.

I seem to be on a run of noticing oddball errors that confuse two words which both begin with the letter “a” — this is the second one in less than a month. It’s purely coincidence, I swear!


About thebettereditor

Chris holds a BA degree in history from the University of Virginia and a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) Degree in writing from the University of Southern Maine (Stonecoast). He has worked extensively with professional and semi-professional writers and enthusiastic amateurs for about 20 years. He has several years experience in scientific publishing, but has also worked in information technology, insurance, health care, and education (he taught writing at the university level for a number of years). Since 2011, he's also specialized in helping small business meet their writing and editing needs on a budget.
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