Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Blurred Lines of Grammar

In my next life, I want to be Weird Al Yankovic. Really.

Well, not really.

But I want his job. For the past few decades, Weird Al has made a living writing parodies of pop songs. An accordion-playing nerd (and high school valedictorian), he produced his first homage, "My Bologna" (to the tune of "My Sharona") in 1979, and he hasn't let up.

In fifth grade, my now teenage daughter's teacher (a bit of a frustrated rock and roller), rewrote lyrics to pop songs to help the class remember science and math. The fact that the original songs were from the 70s and 80s (and the children were all from the late 90s) didn't seem to matter. The kids had a blast and soared through their tests.

I myself have been known to rewrite a lyric or two. In one of my earliest jobs as a copywriter, I penned spoof Broadway musicals for a cable company's annual marketing meetings. These included "Cable Cabaret," "Little Shop of Cable, and "Installer on the Roof."  ("Dr. Ruth, Dr. Ruth, find me a man ...")

Of course, while I may have dabbled, Al has made quite the successful career. He pretty much owns the genre. According to celebritynetworth.com (also known as surf-and-make-yourself-feel-even-worse-about-your-savings-account-than-you-already-do-dot-com), Weird Al is worth $16 million. 


Thanks to some savvy Internet marketing, his new album is already the talk of the town. "Tacky," based on Pharrell's "Happy" is cute and was featured on all the morning news shows. "Foil," a conspiracy-theory send-up of Lourdes's "Royals," is hysterical. But, my favorite is "Word Crimes." For two very good reasons.

First of all, I couldn't be happier that Weird Al chose the song he did to poke fun at. Robin Thicke's catchy anthem builds on the idea that when a girl says "No," she really means "Yes."

"You're a good girl. I know you want it. I know you want it."

Well, suffice it to say that women's organizations have been up in arms about how the song celebrates rape culture. And, to their credit, several colleges have banned it from campus parties. (This doesn't stop my Zumba class — which is 99% women — and countless others, no doubt, from using it every week. But, that's another issue.)

The other reason I'm enjoying "Word Crimes" so much is because it showcases all the ways that people (especially our teens who live online, texting and tweeting and tumblring — and avoiding at all costs anything remotely resembling punctuation, grammar or spelling) murder language.

The English major in me can only say "How wonderful!"

Leave it to Weird Al to make being a grammar geek cool!

"Word Crimes"
(Sing this to the tune of "Blurred Lines" or — better yet — watch Weird Al's awesome animated video here.)

Everybody shut up, WOO!
Everyone listen up!
Hey, hey, hey, uh
Hey, hey, hey
Hey, hey, hey

If you can't write in the proper way
If you don't know how to conjugate
Maybe you flunked that class
And maybe now you find
That people mock you online

Okay, now here's the deal
I'll try to educate ya
Gonna familiarize
You with the nomenclature
You'll learn the definitions
Of nouns and prepositions
Literacy's your mission
And that's why I think it's a

Good time
To learn some grammar
Now, did I stammer
Work on that grammar
You should know when
It's "less" or it's "fewer"
Like people who were
Never raised in a sewer

I hate these word crimes
Like I could care less
That means you do care
At least a little
Don't be a moron
You'd better slow down
And use the right pronoun
Show the world you're no clown
Everybody wise up!

Say you got an "I","T"
Followed by apostrophe, "s"
Now what does that mean?
You would not use "it's" in this case
As a possessive
It's a contraction
What's a contraction?
Well, it's the shortening of a word, or a group of words
By the omission of a sound or letter

Okay, now here's some notes
Syntax you're always mangling
No "x" in "espresso"
Your participle's danglin'
But I don't want your drama
If you really wanna
Leave out that Oxford comma
Just keep in mind

That "be", "see", "are", "you"
Are words, not letters
Get it together
Use your spellchecker
You should never
Write words using numbers
Unless you're seven
Or your name is Prince

I hate these word crimes
You really need a
Full time proofreader
You dumb mouth-breather
Well, you should hire
Some cunning linguist
To help you distinguish
What is proper English

One thing I ask of you
Time to learn your homophones is past due
Learn to diagram a sentence too
Always say "to whom"
Don't ever say "to who"
And listen up when I tell you this
I hope you never use quotation marks for emphasis
You finished second grade
I hope you can tell
If you're doing good or doing well
About better figure out the difference
Irony is not coincidence
And I thought that you'd gotten it through your skull
What's figurative and what's literal
Oh but, just now, you said
You literally couldn't get out of bed
That really makes me want to literally
Smack a crowbar upside your stupid head

I read your e-mail
It's quite apparent
Your grammar's errant
You're incoherent
Saw your blog post
It's really fantastic
That was sarcastic (Oh, psych!)
'Cause you write like a spastic

I hate these Word Crimes
Your prose is dopey
Think you should only
Write in emoji
Oh, you're a lost cause
Go back to pre-school
Get out of the gene pool
Try your best to not drool

Never mind I give up
Really now I give up
Hey, hey, hey
Hey, hey, hey
Go Away!

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