Does Word Crimes cross the line?

dictionary_grammarOne of my favourite words in the Spanish language is aguafiestas.  Its direct translation is “water parties” but it’s used to describe someone who ruins a good time.  In English, the closest equivalent would be “party pooper.”

I mention that because I’m about to be an aguafiestas.

I’ll tell you up front: if you’re an actual person who actually lives under an actual rock, what I’m about to say will make little sense.  But then again, you’ve chosen to set up shop with spiders and bats and pervasive dampness, and you’re willingly reading the dreck I shovel out, so I think we’ve established that sense isn’t your strong suit.

HOWEVER.  If you have managed to somehow hotwire your literal man cave into a wifi-enabled zone, perhaps you are familiar with the phenomenon that is Weird Al Yankovic‘s latest video, Word Crimes.  It was released yesterday and has taken the internet — by which I mean my personal Facebook feed — by storm.

It has its fans.  It has its detractors.  And it also has me, a Fourth Degree Pedant and Charter Member of Aguafiestas Internacional.  And here’s what I’m finding so irksome — one little word in a sea of many, one rhyme that is perfect (in the rhyming sense) and horrible (in the words-we-use-to-describe-other-humans sense).  Here is the section I’m talking about:

Saw your blog post
It’s really fantastic
That was sarcastic
‘Cause you write like a spastic

Really?  Spastic?  That’s the best you could do, Weird Al?

I have a lot of feeeeelings about the use of that word, but here’s the short version.  It’s akin to using — at least in North America — the word “retard.”  It’s an “othering” word, a pejorative, one used to mock and deride people with physical disabilities.  It wasn’t always so; its meaning derives from a word for “pulling” or “drawing in” which can be used to describe the muscular differences seen in some individuals.  In common usage, though, it’s … it’s not a good word to use.

Most commonly, it would be used to describe people living with cerebral palsy, a disorder that can have dramatic physiological effects but doesn’t necessarily have an impact on intellectual functioning (which is implied by the “write like a” line).

Don’t believe me on that last point?  Check out my friend Katie’s website.  Katie has cerebral palsy.  And she writes a blog.  And it really is fantastic.

I should probably leave it at that, but as a part-time editor, I feel duty-bound to offer up a few alternative word choices.  Here are some other words that Weird Al could have — should have — used:

That was sarcastic / ‘Cause your writing is bombastic
Bombastic is a great word.  It means inflated, pretentious.  Suits pretty much every blog post I’ve ever read.  Or written.

That was sarcastic / You think you’re so scholastic
The best part of using a word like scholastic is that you know you’re going to have listeners who only know it as a brand: “Scholastic? Like the book order people?”

That was sarcastic / No wonder you’re monastic
Okay, it’s a cheap shot to go after someone’s sex life.  But surely no cheaper a shot than perpetuating the myth that a body’s physical challenges also limit the mind’s ability to appreciate — and celebrate — language.

Anyway.  That feels like enough agua for one day.  Apparently my daughter’s cadre of Hello Kitty dolls are having some kind of birthday party, and I’ve been invited to attend the fiesta.  Bring on the cake.

Earnest vs. Ernest

Just over a year ago, I had a semi-awful day and wrote all about it: Five things I hated today.

It was one of my typically wordy whinging posts, which made it perfect for this week’s writing challenge, Papa says get economical.

SWEDEN - 1990: Ernest Hemingway, Nobel Laureate in LiteratureIt’s been more than a year since I last read Hemingway, so I have no real sense of whether I’ve self-edited in an appropriate style, and I know that the changes I made were much broader than what the challenge calls for (detail, meet window).  It was a fun exercise, though, and entertaining enough that I rewrote the entire post.

Let me know which version you prefer!

At time of writing it is only 5:30 p.m.

Still plenty of time for items six through 10 to show up on my doorstep.

Night falls; the day remains.

1. People who wait to take your parking spot.
I hate these people.  We had one stalking our spot at the zoo today. Admittedly, we had a really incredible spot, thanks to the (imaginary) kid who threw a temper tantrum so egregious that his caregivers followed through on their “I don’t care if we’ve only been here for half an hour, if you don’t knock it off we will leave RIGHT NOW,” threat.  In other words, as close as you can get without authorization.  It was a peach of a spot.  Too bad those bum biters had to wait for me to pack up the kids, sort through our gear, fold up the stroller … and clear my voicemail, email and Facebook queue while they waited.  In retrospect, they shut their car off so as to avoid idling.  I should have let it go at voicemail and email.

I hate them. One wanted our parking spot at the zoo. It was a good spot. A family departed early, perhaps, leaving us the good spot, and a short walk. I lingered on leaving, to my regret.

2. Sunscreen.
Okay, so I don’t hate sunscreen — I am, in fact, profoundly grateful for its existence ever since that time when I was 16 and I stayed up all night making out with a (as it turned out, married) man on a beach in Japan, and ended up looking something like this.  In case you’re curious, the sun does set at night in Japan — he was just that hot (a har har).  No, what I hate is that I need it, that my kids need it, that anyone needs it.  I am by nature heliophobic and it’s God’s own wonder why I’m not already safely ensconced in one of our coastal cities, blessed as they are with a damp and moldy, near-daily hug of fog.  Having to wear sunscreen makes going outside feel like a bother, and staying inside with two mobile children like the precursor to a suicide pact.  So I wear it.  But I hate it.

I appreciate sunscreen. It reminds me of misspent youth. I do not like its necessity; fog is preferred. While annoying, sunscreen is better than death. Compromise.

3. Ruffles Sour Cream ‘N Bacon chips.
I am convinced that their deliciousness is tied exclusively to their salinity.  They could be rebranded as Sour Cream ‘N Saltlick without stepping afoul of Health Canada labelling laws.  I hate that they are so delicious I ate the entire bag — save for, literally, one handful that P managed to liberate — and I hate that I spent $2.99 plus tax on a bottle of water at the zoo because the combination of sun, mild breeze and gut full of SC’NBS made me feel like Lot’s wife after a good looky-loo.

Salty snacks are best. No warning needed. Gluttony begets profligation.  I am salt incarnate.

4. That I committed to five hates.
When only four things have really pissed me off so far.

Anger deficit.

5. Rubber gloves with holes in them.
I suppose I could just hate doing dishes, but really — that’s too easy. What I hate is when your rubber gloves, which  you must wear because you are delicate flower with little orchid fingers too sensitive for the harsh elutriative power of Sunlight OXI Action (TM), get a pinhole in them, which through continued use grows to a sizeable wound.  I hate that, because then a small amount of stagnant water eventually accumulates at the injured site, where it sets up Camp Stank, and you spend a good half hour of your life obsessively sniffing your left thumb and wondering just what the hell is that smell, anyway?  And I hate that these gloves died not because of a defect, but just sheer overuse, and I hate that these gloves, while expensive, are at the very same time irrefutably cheap.

I dislike manual labour. Tools are needed, but their failure leaves a bad smell. Hatred compounded by expense.

Vote for your favourite below, and view more examples of self-editing here.

If you think I’m talking about you here, yeah, you’re probably right.

If you think I’m talking about you here, yeah, you’re probably right.