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For Abuse of the English Language: The 2014 Acid Martini Awards

For Abuse of the English Language: The 2014 Acid Martini Awards

As you may be able to deduce from the fact that I spend so much time writing, I love language. (You little Sherlock Holmes, you!) I love my native language of English, and appreciate the little ticks and quirks that go with being able to use it well. English is considered a difficult language to learn, and there’s no better example of that than the fact that so many of the people who want to officialize English as our country’s national language have the linguistic capabilities of a seven-year-old. Maybe it’s an empowerment thing for immigrants; you know, trying to motivate them to learn to speak English better than they do? In any case, though, every now and then, little new words, suffixes, and slang terms pop up that lack the subtle sophistication of good English and come out sounding like Alice in Wonderland’s White Rabbit is trying to say them with a severe case of the mumps? Yeah, a lot of the more communal terms used in English drive me crazy, because it’s communal slang which slowly works its way into the common lexicon and changes the language. While I’m not against linguistic evolution, there are just some terms which should never, ever be used, for any reason. To honor the worst of the English language, I’ve created the First Annual Acid Martini Awards, named in honor of the drink I would like to offer anyone I catch using the following terms.

Apparently, this became a shorthand way of saying “totally” sometime while I wasn’t looking. It doesn’t make any sense. It’s inefficient, doing away with the finality of the S at the end of the adjective. Therefore, it can trip people up, and so it comes off as less shorthand and more of a way to blow out your windpipe at an early age if trying to use it in rapid succession. And that’s not even getting into the larger problem that exists with this term: A tote is a freaking bag!

Cray Cray
Here’s another adjective which can easily be mistaken for a noun. It can also be mistaken for a cutesy, precocious children’s nickname. Oh, look, here comes Cray Cray! A shorthand for the word “crazy,” cray cray is a failure because the most dominant letter in crazy doesn’t appear in cray cray: You don’t get that Z sound, and that makes for a term which hold less impact than the original version. So what tries to be a shorthand term for a mental condition just ends up perpetuating a bunch of negative stereotypes about people whose craziness isn’t obvious from the outside, and people will continue to mistake real crazy people for loud frat douchebros.

Speaking of loud frat douchebros, here’s a term which we’ve started using in our craze for short, convenient acronyms which go well in cell phone texts. It’s the acronym for “you only live once,” that eternal excuse for frat douchebros to do supremely stupid things with complete disregard for the safety of themselves or those around them.

This is a concept as old as time itself, and it’s not something I’m objecting to. My objection here is strictly with the way the millennials apparently felt the need to create a word which basically hijacked the concept and made it seem like something new and original which they thought up all by themselves. Maybe they felt the need to make the concept feel fresh and exciting, perhaps? I don’t know. What I do know, however, it that the whole idea of spending your week off from work sitting on your ass at home worked just fine when it was actually called spending your week off from work sitting on your ass at home.

This is a case where I’m not objecting to the word in itself so much as I am what the word morphed into. Literally has turned into a qualifier which is used to emphasize a greater point. This demeans the original meaning of the word, which is supposed to mean something that has to be taken as it was said. For example, if you stood in a line that was 30 miles long, you only stood in a line that was figuratively 30 miles long. If you literally stood in a line that was 30 miles long, it would have meant you physically stood in a line that physically stretched the entire length of Western Avenue. I hope whatever was at the end of that line was worth that kind of wait. I want to say I’ll literally lose my mind if people keep misusing literally like this, but I’ll only figuratively lose my mind.

Om Nom Nom
This is what Pac-Man kept saying as he gulped dots, isn’t it? It still only makes sense as the sound he makes when he eats.

Now that I thought of this, strictly adding “totes” up there was shortening that list by quite a bit, although I do remain adamant that “totes” is by far the most vile offender. I guess I overlooked the other upscale truncations, like “amaze,” “obvi,” “whatevs,” and all the others.

I can at least feel like this one is justified. People taking pictures of themselves on their cell phones is a relatively new phenomenon, and I abide by the belief that there’s a legitimate difference between selfies and real photographs. But that doesn’t make the word any more pleasant, and I’m hoping a better term eventually comes along that replaces it. I’m not holding my breath, though, especially not after that essay James Franco wrote about selfies.

I hope these words eventually end up going the way of other offenses of the English language like “jiggy” and that ridiculous “-izzle” suffix. Remember, language is very important. Little words can have a huge impact on people and events. We want language to be something that gets taken seriously, and the words on the list above are actively dumbing it down. So I think it’s time to start fending off these terms with a (figurative) pointy stick before the Germans start taking pity on us.


Happy Thoughts

Happy Thoughts

We live in a very sorry world which bombards us with bad news coming out of all orifices. So there are times when it helps to make a small list of the things in the world to be grateful for.

1 – Paris Hilton hasn’t been in the news lately.

2 – No movies based on Saturday Night Live sketches have been made in years.

3 – The Stanley Cup Playoffs are going in full swing.

4 – New Star Wars movies are in the works.

5 – The Polar Vortex is over, or at least the worst part of it is.

6 – Original basic cable television programs are better than ever, and truly worth watching.

7 – Johnny Depp, Robert Downey Jr., and Samuel L. Jackson.

8 – Keeping a food diary is the easiest way to control your weight, and it’s cheap.

9 – Masturbation. It’s sex with someone you love.

10 – A lot of creative and thoughtful podcasts are free.

A Farewell to Roger Ebert

A Farewell to Roger Ebert

My all-time favorite Roger Ebert moment didn’t have anything to do with movies. There was a certain sportswriter for the Chicago Sun-Times since the 90’s who was known as a real windbag. This sportswriter was verbose as hell, yes, but he was also bombastic, loudmouthed, egotistical, and petty. Upon first reading his columns, I assumed it was simply a public personality, but after he quit the newspaper in 2008 (giving an interview to the rival Chicago Tribune in the process), the stories which popped up out of the Sun-Times offices revealed a man who was small and a classic bully. I refuse to write down his name because he doesn’t deserve the extra attention and because he really is a rotten enough person to bomb me through email if he ever read this blog. It was Ebert who gave this guy the most pointed goodbye message when he wrote in a public note “On the way out, don’t let the door bang you in the ass.” Exact words.

That moment was important because it sort of solidified Ebert’s mentality as an everyman critic. Said sportswriter was widely hated in Chicago, and in that one statement, Ebert – a former sportswriter himself – was speaking for hundreds of thousands of people dying to tell him that exact same thing.

As a writer, Roger Ebert was one of my bars. Every time I wrote something which I thought was on a level as good as he could be, he would end up raising it, and much to my madness, he would also make it look very easy. While Ebert never learned of my existence, this was a kind of game I was playing with him in secret as a way of challenging myself to be a better writer. The trick was that Ebert always WROTE like an everyman while still maintaining the influence of the literature he loved. That made Ebert come off as witty, brilliant, passionate, educated, and observant while still being accessible at the same time. That’s not an easy trick to duplicate. I like to think that I pull it off when I’m at my very best, but it takes a hell of an inspiration for me to get there. It’s still asking me to write above and beyond my normal level. The trick is that Ebert never came off as mechanical, which is something I tend to struggle with.

Ebert spoke to me through one of my most beloved escapes from reality: The movies. It’s hard to think that anyone, anywhere, could hold so much influence over an entire generation of writers through the simple task of reviewing movies. But when you give it some real thought, this actually makes perfect sense. Movies are one of the ubiquitous forms of media in society. They’re everywhere – aside from the regular theaters, it’s easier than ever to access movies on television and online and through the countless places that sell DVDs. A lot of the expressions we use from day to day had their origins in a movie scene. Has anyone ever made an offer you couldn’t refuse? They just quoted The Godfather. Movies speak to everyone in some form or another, whether that be famous quotables, famous scenes or characters, or even parodies of popular films.

Growing up in Buffalo, I was a frequent reader of Jeff Simon, the film critic for The Buffalo News. A lot of the things that can be said about Ebert could easily be applied to Simon. It was Simon’s columns that taught me to think more about what I was seeing, and Simon is a promoter of small indie films that would otherwise go ignored in Buffalo. Simon is a great critic, by all means. I disagreed with him a lot, like everyone does with film critics. But Simon’s own way of writing his interpretations of movies could easily come across as pompous and, at times, even insulting, so I wasn’t able to appreciate his work as a kid the way I do now. Ebert changed the way I thought of movie reviewing. He had a talent for slicing through four or five layers of allegorical depth in any given movie and challenging the way I looked at it. When I started reading Ebert’s work, I started taking a more critical look at movies myself, and asking myself upon shutting off a movie, “What’s REALLY going on here?” How many critics can say they turned people into better movie watchers? He was never snide or condescending about the way he looked at movies. (He could sometimes be pretty insluting, though. His review of Atlas Shrugged, Part I is a delightfully venomous attack on objectivism, and his review of Fanboys relied on stereotypes so tired that every popular geek franchise fanbase bombed him with letters to the point where he was forced to apologize.)

My one complaint about Roger Ebert was that he was never able to quite accept the changing times as we would have liked. He seemed to take the popular mantra about age 30 being the new 20 a bit too seriously, though there’s truth in it. He hated the idea of video games being considered a form of art and passionately campaigned against it long after the idea was pretty much set in stone. (And despite not knowing very much about video games.)

I got a lot of Friday yuks from reading Ebert’s reviews for the Chicago Sun-Times. In my line of work, they were always a wonderful way to pass through the long wait times between runs. While riding through The Loop, I always made sure to keep a couple of books on me, but when the movie reviews rolled in through the Friday editions of the Sun-Times, I rarely needed them. Except if the book I was reading happened to be one of the many authored by Roger Ebert. Then it was fair game. Farewell, Roger Ebert. Everyone gives you a thumbs up, even on the occasions we disagreed with you.