Weird Al Yankovic is here to educate you in the proper use of language. Well, actually, he’s here to sell you his record, but his “Blurred Lines” parody focuses on English and its improper use. My linguistically-minded friends love it. My English teaching friends love it.
I hate it. Here’s why – and here’s what I suggest language lovers can watch instead.
Reason One: Four Prescriptive Minutes
“If you can’t write in a proper way…” – this is how the song begins and this is how it will continue. Weird Al is defending what is proper, correct and governed by rules. He is here to ridicule those who stray away from the linguistic order – to mock the people whose language is aberrant and abnormal.
Good job, Weird Al. If the song was longer, you’d perhaps find time to mention that rules change and evolve – that usage is just as powerful in creating norms as dictionaries – and that English no longer belongs to those who write, spell and pronounce it “properly.”
But the song wouldn’t be so short, punchy and hilarious then.
Which leads me to my next point…
Reason Two: I Ain’t Learnin’ Nuthin’
Three minutes and forty-six seconds of pointing a prescriptive finger, listing various “word crimes” and mocking them in turn. Sure, the video is well-designed and would be fun to use in class, I guess – but then what?
You’d have to do some research on dangling participles and the Oxford comma.
You’d have to hit the dictionary for those spellings, meanings and variants.
The song and the clip does not teach you anything – just like the legendary “WROOOONG, DO IT AGAIN!” cry of Pink Floyd’s horrible “certain teachers” failed to teach in the end. It moves too fast to convey anything in a meaningful way – other than saying “this is wrong, this is wrong, and this is just silly.”
Of course – you can use this clip as inspiration for your learners, and probably this would work short-term. But if your inspiration for being “proper” and achieving accuracy is a white dude mocking you on YouTube, then two things drive you really: either you fear being mocked yourself, or you want to learn better so you can go on mocking others. I see very little middle ground here – again, the song is too short to include it.
Speaking of mockery –
Reason Three: Weird Al Yankovic uses the word “spastic”
I don’t care that it’s not that offensive in the US of A. I don’t care that the original version of this song was even more offensive than this. I don’t care that “this is only a joke” – the rape allusions in Thicke’s original were apparently meant as a joke too.
Weird Al Yankovic compares grammar and spelling mistakes to “writing like a spastic” in his short, funny video called “Word Crimes.”
That is all.
Three videos you can watch instead of “Word Crimes”
Watch Maysoon Zayid. She is what Weird Al would describe as “spastic.” She is also funny, inspiring and original.
Watch Jamila Lyiscott. She is a poet and an educator, and will teach you more about how language actually works.
Watch Stephen Fry. He is an actor, comedian, writer and a lover of languages: he is also here to tell you what’s wrong about Weird Al’s attitude.
Let me have it.
I’m not going to apologize for hating “Word Crimes” with a passion – but I’m ready to talk about it if you are 🙂
Let me know what you think in the comments.
(Photo Credit: @pysproblem81 / ELTpics)
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