Back in 2006, anybody with an ounce of social skills understood that Weird Al Yankovic was a figured to be respected and admired. His eloquent lyrics were undeniable (it’s a shame that “nerdy in the extreme and whiter than sour cream” was never a phrase that caught on) and his hair inspired confusion and awe in middle schools across the country. And now, after a long hiatus (3 years), the King is back, and with a song that is suitable for the radio and English classrooms. His single “Word Crimes” outlines a handful of common grammatical errors and vocab deficiencies, but to a tune, so kids won’t be scared away by the prospect of actually learning something. Because I apparently haven’t tormented enough people with this video this past week, I’ve decided to delve into the topic in more detail and break down my favorite references from Al’s word-filled extravaganza.
Whinge (v.): complain persistently and in a peevish or irritating way
I’m going to put the most far-fetched item on the list first so we can get all the complaining out-of-the-way early. No, he did not specifically mention this word in the song, but he does include it on the fake spelling test that shows up 25 seconds into the video.
The whole scene struck me as odd, not only because I didn’t recognize the word “whinge” right off the bat, but because I can’t bring myself to believe a teacher would include the word “whinge” on the same test as “conjugate.” One is known universally by children starting at age 7. The other is exclusive to the British vocabulary and rarely used. On a separate note, I’d also like to appreciate The Simpsons reference to Ms. Krabappel at the top of the test. (We all know The Simpsons as a series has a history of word wizardry, so I’d like to think that’s why it was included.)
Nomenclature (n.): a system of names for things
Nomenclature is one of those words that I think I know until someone asks me to explain the definition, at which point all of the feelings that grow inside me when a professor calls on me out of the blue resurface at once, and I throw out a jumble of technical-sounding words in the hope that they are also unaware of the definition and will believe the nonsense that I’m spewing. (You know what’s also fun? Run-ons.) Aside from sounding like a Roman ritual, nomenclature can be used to describe a system of labels, as in “I couldn’t construct my IKEA cabinet because I didn’t understand the nomenclature in the 500-page furniture instruction manual.”
Spastic (n./adj.): a clumsy person; characterized by spasms
After researching the origins behind this word, my affection for Weird Al dropped a few thousand notches. Originally, spastic was a medical term used to describe people with cerebral palsy, who constantly suffer from spasms. But terrible people with terrible humor exist in this world, so the term is now used to describe people who are clumsy or, in this case, write so badly, it looks like they were having spasms. Thanks for your insensitivity, Weird Al.
The singer was not all about the words, though. He also had some basic writing rules for all the grammar fanatics out there.
The Oxford Comma
The foundation for most of my relationships depends on the other person’s philosophy on the Oxford comma. That is, whether or not they believe it is the single most important grammar rule in the history of the English language because if not, then they don’t qualify for a spot in my life or on my imaginary MySpace Top 8 list. (That’s right. They aren’t worthy for a spot on my nonexistent list of digital best friends on an outdated social media site. Earth scum would be more qualified. That is how important the Oxford comma is.) The Oxford comma rule stipulates that a comma should be placed before the “and” at the end of a list. A simple rule, yes, but it can make all the difference when you’re describing your morning meal or making your acceptance speech at an award ceremony. Saying “I want to thank my friends, God and my puppy” creates the impression that your only friends in the world are a celestial spirit and an animal, which isn’t the worst thing in the world. It’s just probably not what you were going for.
Irony vs. Coincidence
As much as I want to point fingers and chastise the general population for conflating these two terms, I really can’t, because I can think of more than one occasion where I described walking home in the rain the day I forgot my umbrella as “ironic” when really, it was just poor planning. Put simply, irony is “the opposite of what you’d expect.” Coincidence is “a remarkable occurrence of events without apparent causal connection.” If Steve Buscemi slips off his balcony onto your head right after you say “I wish I could meet Steve Buscemi,” that’s a coincidence. It might be unexpected, but it’s not the opposite of what you’d expect. It’s just weird.
What “word crime” that Al mentioned was most noteworthy? Which ones did he forget? Here, watch the video again (for the millionth time) to refresh your memory.
(Featured image via YouTube)