For the past week or so, the Internet (and even television) has been abuzz with Weird AL Yankovic’s new parody, “Word Crimes,” a grammar takeoff on Robin Thicke’s twerkable hit, “Blurred Lines.”
If you haven’t heard it, click here!
I love it! I think it is funny—and Weird Al’s grammar is right on. However, not all people in the “grammar world” agree with me. There seem to be two objections to the video:
1. It is insulting. It puts down those who may not be good at grammar for whatever reason.
2. It is full of grammar rules, which it claims is “the right way to do things.” Now that is fine for us prescriptivists, but not okay with descriptivists. Huh?
Prescriptivists are those who believe there are rules, those rules should be followed, and that correct grammar occurs when one follows those rules.
Descriptivists believe that language is a living thing (okay, true, or we would still all speak like Shakespeare), that there are standard grammatical forms and those that are less standard (but not wrong), and that if something becomes commonly used, it becomes part of the language.
I personally lean more toward prescriptivism, but I certainly see the role of descriptivism as well. But that is another whole blog post.
I have gone through the song with a fine-toothed comb and have found about 11 insults, 14 grammar rules, and two slight errors on Al’s part. (Oh, yes, I think that was another criticism of the song: it isn’t accurate.)
So let’s begin:
Everybody shut up – insult right at the start of the song.
If you can’t write in the proper way. . . you flunked that class – another insult
People mock you online – another insult
He’ll try to educate us in the nomenclature – that is a set of rules and terminology that belongs to a certain field of study, such as grammar
Lesser and fewer – a lesson: he shows us the correct way: fewer is used for countable items and less for “mass” nouns.
People raised in a sewer – insult
I could care less, versus I couldn’t care less – another lesson: if you say I could care less, you must care at least a little, so that probably isn’t what you mean.
Don’t be a MORAN – insult, but kinda funny
Use the right pronoun; show the word you’re no clown – another insult
It’s versus its – lesson: it’s is a contraction, and its is possessive
There’s no X in espresso – lesson: true, it is often misspelled and mispronounced
I don’t want no drama; leave out that Oxford comma– lesson: yes, you can leave out the Oxford comma (that comma before the and at the end of a series)
Don’t write words as letters (CU) – comment on texting, I guess
Don’t write words as numbers (Me2) – another comment on texting
Unless you’re 7 – insult, but what 7-year-old is going to take offense?
Or your name is Prince – well, that was really a symbol, not a letter or number. And Prince won’t care.
Dum mouth-breather – OK, this might be offensive and isn’t quite politically correct. According to the Urban Dictionary, a mouth breather is someone who is so stupid he or she doesn’t have the ability to breathe out of his or her nose.
Find a cunning linguist – you gotta give that one to Al for cleverness!
Learn your homophones – lesson: lightning versus lighting; your versus you’re;to, two and too; and a whole bunch more
Diagram sentences – a good idea, but hardly anyone does it anymore. It is, however, an excellent way to figure out the structure of sentences and what’s what.
Always say to whom and never to who – lesson: he is correct there!
Never use quotes for emphasis – lesson: pretty much true. Many writers now use the structure of their writing to show emphasis, but sometimes italics are used.
Good and well: doing good versus doing well (correct) – lesson: a common error
Irony is not the same as coincidence – lesson: he is right there; they are totally different. Irony is when you die of thirst while floating in the ocean. Coincidence is finding your long-lost-cousin, whom you haven’t seen in 12 years, also floating in the ocean.
Don’t confuse figurative and literal! If you literally cannot get out of bed, that means, for example, you are tied down.
It makes me want to stick a crowbar through your head – insult? oh, maybe
In e-mail your grammar’s errant – insult
In your blog, you write like a spastic – insult
Your prose is dopey – insult
You should only write in Emoticons – Al’s mistake. Should be You should write only in Emoticons (misplacement of only).
You’re a lost cause – insult
Go back to preschool – insult
Get out of the gene pool – Ouch! But c’mon, people take Weird Al for what he is – Fun!
Try your best to not drool – That’s pretty insulting and probably not PC. Also, Al has split his infinitive: Try your best not to drool.
Never mind I give up – insult: just a teeny one
Weird Al has a big Dic-tionary….another clever one
Go away – the final insult at the very end.
Weird Al – Ya gotta love him! I have actually seen him in concert, not once but twice! Years ago. Pretty funny.