The Language Police

mag21.gifPeople often get to the part of the Mercantile Library brochure that says “literary center” and their eyebrows adopt a “V” formation like geese heading south, as if to ask what exactly makes us think that we’re a literary center. There are, of course, the literary events, the writing seminars and the visiting authors, the busts of venerable, literary old men and a woman, and of course, the loads and loads of books. But what really makes us a literary center is the literary work that we do. Sure, we ponder the proper locations of commas and semicolons, the inner workings of Microsoft Word’s ™ spelling and grammar check (that’s how you spell atwitch?), and what’s gone and gotten jammed in the pencil sharpener this time that sounds like ball bearings in the insinkerator? But the literary work here at the Mercantile Library goes far deeper than all this. In this venerable old hall, serious research is conducted, aimed at furthering the public good.

The Mercantile Library serves as a watchdog organization, policing the public sphere for faulty literariness—its license plates, its periodicals, its speech. A headline in that bastion of investigative journalism, The Downtowner, included the phrase: “CITY STEPS PROVE STEEP IN HISTORY”. We immediately launched into debate as to whether use of the conventional “steeped in history” would have been more effective. This raised the question of whether perhaps the break from convention was intentional, to bring attention to the terrible pun. We then debated whether perhaps the terrible pun better remain buried. While the debate lacked a firm resolution, you can see that we at the Mercantile Library are paying very close attention to the headlines of our local papers—attention to be feared and respected indeed.

Another subject of intense scrutiny in the laboratory of the Merc is the bumper sticker “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Respect.” The problem here is that, rapidly viewed as bumper stickers often are, and from a distance, the commas are difficult to see, resulting in a misreading. One might come to the erroneous conclusion that the driver of a vehicle bearing this bumper sticker desired his or her fellow beings to “Reduce Reuse” and to “Recycle Respect.” Now certainly there’s no reason to reduce reuse in our takeout, disposable society, and who wants recycled respect? Second-hand respect is practically an insult. We, the staff of the Mercantile—or at least a quorum of one-fourth—conclude that the bumper sticker and its imperative language would gain strength by replacing the comma with the firmer, more resolute period. And so you see, the work is never done. We invite vigilant members to join us in bringing attention to such matters as require rectification.

-E. Scripsi

Published in: on May 4, 2007 at 6:08 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Mr. Scripsi (if that IS your real name), I’ve been trying to figure out some good examples to show you how wrong the steep/steeped thing is. I finally came up with some:

    It’s like if there were a place called Eckhart’s Hardware, and their slogan was “We carry nails, screws, hardware, Eck cetera.” You must have noticed how many people say “Ec Cetera” instead of “Et Cetera”.

    Or an irrigation company whose slogan was “The best in irrigation, irregardless.” Irregardless is, of course, a made-up word.

    Or a bait and tackle shop that announced “the sale you’ve been waiting for with baited breath.” Every schoolchild will tell you that it’s supposed to be bated breath.

    As you can see, the joke only works if you use a real figure of speech, and use it properly.

  2. I, for one, counter-misunderstandamate your point earregarterlessly of whether I agree. But this statement gave me instantaniously bulbous pausepitpaktions (the ‘k’ is silent):

    “Or an irrigation company whose slogan was ‘The best in irrigation, irregardless.’ Irregardless is, of course, a made-up word.”

    You may have to research this a bit further; nonetheless, I am fairly certain most of the words we generously spread around–spread around like corruption in the White House–are um… ‘made-up’. Of course, there are some exceptions such as our assigning letters to body gases and screams and motors that make their own noises. I’m not sure that’s the same sort of process as trying to find a suitable word for something smaller than an electron, for instance.

    I know it’s no big deal, but that’s what toads do best, bitch about little deals. :)
    Carry on!

    Hoppie Toad

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