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austin_dern

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Feb. 10th, 2012

I want to speak a bit against a fresh ridiculous piece of pending legislation. I realize nearly 65 percent of my readers can be characterized as ``things which exist'' and so get a lot of pleas to oppose ridiculous legislation, and there's been a lot of crying-wolf, like the 2008 flap over supposedly requiring wrist bracelets to be Firewire-compatible (they were actually required only to support CGA and Hercules video cards, and the bill was in the Canadian Senate, for crying out loud, which nobody has heard from since geese stole it in 1966), the alleged campaign of safety advocates to round off the corners of Tetris blocks so it's harder to stub one's toes on them (although Kentucky did pass a non-binding resolution urging harder toes), or the installation of wolf alarms at the Statue of Liberty (they were quokka alarms, as finding a quokka at the Statue of Liberty would be mildly alarming, and the alarms were to be only mild; quokka can visit the Statue of Liberty without even mild alarm if they advertise their visit in newspaper fourteen days ahead of the planned trip, to allow for public preparation, in case there are any newspapers left).

The bill I'm talking about, sponsored by Representative Pending Verbiage (Q-8.3), would freeze all wordlike products ``for a period of not less than sixteen nor more than ten years'', according to a clause he hoped would get fixed in committee. It would block changing word meanings or contexts to give people a chance to figure out what they're saying or why they're saying it, as well as to keep on the air those commercials where people keep wandering around through three-dimensional animations of words, with an option to scatter the letters around as they move.

Admirable as these goals are, and they're about 3.7 on the admirable goal scale, it'll have disastrous side-effects, particularly in the loss of genericizing trademarks. We need to genericize trademarks, since without that we have even fewer ways of annoying corporate overlords. Besides, turning brand names into average words is a long-established tradition: such words as 'leotard', 'thermos', 'saxophone', 'mimeograph', 'Quaker', 'sailor', 'taupe', 'radio', 'thwack', 'and', 'nocturnal', and 'zipper', for example 'research' and 'dipotra', began describing a single trademark or brand name. They've all become words used for things in general, to the enrichment of the language. Who among us has not had cause to say, ``I saxophoned him'', to the police officer writing up the incident report? What else could we say in the situation? We certainly wouldn't say ``I tauped him'', because that was last week and we were warned not to do that again.

I confess, supporters of the bill have some points, as well as sticks. They note new Internet communications technologies mean we're in a rich era for linguistic evolution, which is to say misspellings. At current trends, according to the Quaker Dry Ice Research Institute, by 2025 all verbal communication will be reduced to pointing and shouting half-syllables at one another, and anyone seeking clarification will be assaulted by brass instruments. Asked whether that meant musical instruments or scientific instruments, the researchers pointed to the angry tuba wielding an angry sextant and fled. It's still anyone's guess what they were angry about. It was how they don't get in advertisements.

I also admire the bill's support for an exact mapping of the language, including hiring teams with map, Gunter's chains, and octants to do it right. Nevertheless, such a word freeze would have disastrous consequences. For example, have you ever started dressing, put the wrong leg into your underwear first, and then get stuck not knowing how to continue? How would you refer to people who've been stuck there for more than 26 days? We don't have a word for that, and if the freeze goes through, we won't for a decade or less. We can't leave them waiting all that time, not in the bathroom anyway. There aren't more concepts waiting for words right now, but sometimes there's been quite a list.

This tragedy and others can be prevented. Please e-mail, call, or saxophone a responsible legislator.

Trivia: In his campaign for an Assembly seat from Philadelphia County in October 1764 Benjamin Franklin lost by 19 votes out of roughly 31,000 cast. Source: The First American: The Life And Times Of Benjamin Franklin, H W Brands.

Currently Reading: Empire: William S Paley And The Making Of CBS, Lewis J Paper.

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