A Word With Weird Al Jankovic

I feel a bit said that Weird Al Jankovic is probably not a fan of Wordability. The noted creator of parody songs has just released his new album, Mandatory Fun, which contains the song Word Crimes, a musical diatribe against the breaking of the rules of grammer and what is generally regarded as correct English.

I am in two minds about this song. On the one hand, I am a stickler for correct English, and have been noted for my pedantry over correct English over the years, especially when working in professional media organisations with my sub editing hat on. So I agree with the song’s sentiments when it comes to the written language in formal and published contexts.

On the other hand, Wordability‘s brief has always been to applaud the new words which come into English and make a difference, while to also acknowledge that as a living, breathing entity, English is changing, and the rules which people have worshipped for many years may ultimately be ripped up by the language’s users. Changes which are increasingly prevalent in spoken and digital language will almost inevitably be accepted into the grammatical and lexical rules of the future. Weird Al’s support for apostrophes and the alleged misuse of literally suggest he would have have disagreed with my postings on the subject.

But a small part of me wonders whether Weird Al really is as prescriptive as his song makes out. Word Crimes is a pastiche of Blurred Lines, the 2013 hit by Robin Thicke described by some as the most controversial song of the decade. The song describes apparent ambiguity in the way that men read women’s signals, but the lyrics have been interpreted by many as date rape, while the accompanying video has been accused of sexism, and the song has been banned in many places.

If Weird Al had truly wanted to stand up for grammar’s rules, might he have picked a less ambiguous and controversial song to use as the backbone for his apparent tirade? Or does his choice of song suggest that while he wants to get his grammar beefs off his chest, an element of him is trying to suggest that the situation is not as straightforward as might first appear?

I may be completely wrong. All of the commentary on this song suggests that it is a straightforward diatribe against bad English, and celebrity support from luminaries such as Kelsey Grammer, whose Twitter feed is dedicated to grammatical issues, would suggest I have a minority interpretation.

But we are dealing with a performer whose stock in trade is pastiche, and who has chosen a vehicle for his diatribe whose own meaning has been debated to death over the last 12 months. Perhaps Weird Al is not quite as obsessed about his rules of grammar as appears to be the case.

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