Which of These Word Crimes Have You Committed?
Thanks to “Weird Al” Yankovic, we writers now have our very own anthem. It’s called “Word Crimes.” Check it out:
“Word Crimes” covers a host of writerly pet peeves. And just when you think it couldn’t get any better, there’s a LOST reference (I happen to be a geek for the show Lost).
Is the Song Politically Incorrect?
The song “Word Crimes” was barraged with criticism from the moment of its release. Here are some of the criticisms it received:
- It’s mean spirited in ridiculing people who don’t know proper English.
- It’s nit-picking minor violations (for example, use of whom is on the way out).
- Some of the “word crimes” are not incorrect; they are colloquialisms or signs of a changing language.
- Blatant name-calling and humiliation: folks who commit word crimes are said to have been “raised in a sewer,” are called morons, and are invited to “get out of the gene pool.”
- Use of the word spastic also got some heavy criticism; apparently in British English, spastic is an offensive term for the disabled. But here in America, it means that somebody is hyperactive, obnoxious, and maybe a little bit nerdy. (Is anyone here NOT a little nerdy?)
While the criticism is warranted, it’s important to note that the piece is parody and satire. Much of Weird Al’s work is satirical. And satire is meant to poke fun and in some cases, offend. In 1929, Jonathan Swift wrote what has become a classic satirical piece called “A Modest Proposal,” which likened the English’s treatment of the Irish to eating their babies. Let me repeat that: eating their babies.
Satire provokes thought and dialogue by offending and making fun. And based on the criticism that “Word Crimes” has received, I’d say Weird Al has done his job. And in a most appropriate twist of irony, “Word Crimes” is also a parody of the song “Blurred Lines,” which was not a satirical song or a parody but was called “the most offensive song of the decade.”
Writing Forward’s Policy on Satire and Free Speech
Writing Forward advocates for free speech and opposes censorship (specifically, I oppose censorship by the government and through intimidation or acts of violence but support the rights of private parties to control content on their platforms). I believe that freedom of speech is a human right and is essential to all artists, including writers. People should be able to express themselves freely. But in doing so, they need to understand that they are opening themselves and their ideas up to criticism.
Conversely, people have the right to be offended. Considering the state of affairs in the world today, taking offense over a song that ridicules people who are bad at grammar is nit-picky itself, but if that’s what offends someone, then so be it.
As writers, it’s important for us to understand the tradition of satire as a way to make a statement and of using offensive ideas as a way to provoke dialogue and criticism. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately, depending on your personal preference), satire, along with shock and controversy, is becoming increasingly important as a tool for getting the public to engage in conversations about important issues.
Regardless of how you feel about “Word Crimes” or the song it was parodied from, I do hope you’ll agree that free speech is indeed a human right as is the right to be offended. We all have to live on this planet together and banning ideas and non-violent expressions of thought and emotion is a detriment to the future of humanity as is telling other people how they should feel.
What Do You Think?
Do you like the song and video for “Word Crimes?” Did you find it offensive? How do you feel about free speech and censorship? Have you committed any word crimes lately? Share your thoughts and ideas by leaving a comment, and may your writing be free of word crimes.
As for me, I really enjoy the song and the video for “Word Crimes.” We’re talking about language, and to anyone who’s up in arms over this song, I would say lighten up. We’re talking about words and grammar. The song makes this stuff fun and funny. If you really want to see something offensive, go back and study the song it was parodied on.