What a delightful word is Whoops! It suggests a little blip, not to be taken seriously, a little trip of the feet, or slip of the tongue, a source of amusement rather than shame. It could happen to anyone. What larks!
In contrast, the word mistake, or mis-take, sounds sad, a word that hangs its head in shame, a source of regret, a blemish, or flaw, to be apologised for.
How different is a Whoops, as I discovered one memorable evening in the 1960s, at Ronnie Scott's famous jazz club in London. The legendary singer and pianist, Blossom Dearie, had just ended her set with her signature number, 'Peel me a Grape', and Ronnie Scott rose to speak over the applause. With a 'Wait a minute, Ronnie', Blossom interrupted him, and launched into a reprise of the song, misfiring spectacularly in the impulse of the moment. Without missing a beat, she caught herself with a 'Whoops' and zoomed in again with joy and exuberance to finish her set, to a standing ovation! What was a very special performance was made even more magical, and indeed memorable, by this spontaneous unplanned moment. Not a mis-take, but a joyful Whoops!
This got me to thinking, how would it be if we dropped the word mistake, and used Whoops instead? The plural could be Whoopses. Imagine!
"How did the performance go?"
"There were a few whoopses in the Bach, nothing to worry about."
Shrug of the shoulders.
Does not the very lift in the inflection of the word suggest something positive, something that can be learned from and sorted. Indeed, a mistake is an opportunity for improvement, but the word mistake does not carry hope within it, rather it seems to imply judgement.
"Mistakes are toothless little things if we recognise and correct them. If you ignore or defend them, they grow fangs and bite."
- Dee Hock
I vividly recall another 'Whoops' moment. Although the word was not uttered on this occasion, (probably because it was not in Rubinstein's vocabulary), there was definitely a Whoops uplift in a recital given in the 1960s by the great pianist, at which I was privileged to be present. Something went wrong just a few bars into the opening piece, a Brahms Intermezzo. Quite unperturbed, Rubinstein stopped playing, turned to face the audience, and said, with a twinkle in his eye, "Ladies and gentlemen, I think we would all be happier if I started again!" There was a roar of laughter from the audience, and we all settled down again to enjoy what proved to be a wonderful recital. A very special memory.
"Errors are our portals of discovery"
- James Joyce
"The person who never made a mistake never tried anything new"
- Albert Einstein
"We're supposed to make mistakes - we're human"
- Billy Joel