Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Oxford English Dictionary, OMG! Wassup with these new entries?

The venerable lexicon has betrayed word-lovers everywhere, as well as its hallowed heritage, IMHO.

A few months ago I went on a little rant about how silly it was that the New Oxford American Dictionary was adding words like “BFF,” “zombie bank” and “nom nom” to its definitions. But really, it was the American version, the same country that produced the all-you-can-eat buffet, ’80s hair band Poison and Charlie Sheen, so it’s not as though I had high expectations from the start.

But England? I expect way more from the country that was home to my beloved Jane Austen and still has the Queen Mum and residents with the loveliest accents ever. (Admit it Americans: They could be speaking utter rubbish and still sound smarter than we do.)

So when the Oxford English Dictionary, the most authoritative lexicon anywhere, recently announced the new additions to its good book, I was a bit gobsmacked.

The first new entry that caught my attention: OMG! the abbreviated phrase for “Oh, my God!” They explain the addition by writing that online “initialisms” are quicker to type, giving those texters and tweeters even more time to text and tweet meaningless things to one another.

Keep in mind that the exclamation point is part of the package…so OMG alone didn’t make the cut, but OMG! pressed its way to the head of the line.

Another new initialism added to the hallowed book is IMHO, which stands for “in my humble opinion.” Problem is the same generation that uses these words is anything but humble. These are the kids who have been told by everyone from their mother to Cookie Monster that they are the most special person out there (do the math—not possible). This makes them deluded enough to think it’s important for their “audience” to keep up with their earth-shattering tweets, which consist of “I am at the vet with FuFu,” “Sad day for me ” or “Stomach flu—never good.”

Really, it’s not a matter of humility as much as it is just TMI. (TMI= “too much information,” incidentally; it’s also been added to the dictionary. Don’t get me started.)

Another new word? “Ego-surfing,” defined as the practice of searching for your own name on the Internet. (Please see section on “humility,” above.)

Perhaps the epitome of sloth (or brevity, depending on how you look at it) is the inclusion of the symbol ♥ to the dictionary. It’s a verb, by the way. The last time I checked, I thought each entry had to be a word, but now even Prince has a shot at getting his symbol in, the one that stands for “The artist formerly known as Prince.” All bets are off at this point.

This rant would not be complete without the most cringe-inducing entry: wassup, a corruption of the phrase “What’s up?”

I have no words…

I’m just certain that somewhere in England, Jane Austen is weeping in her grave (whilst playing the pianoforte, of course).

Hey, England! Wassup with this new edition of the Oxford English Dictionary? Let’s cut a deal: You can have Charlie Sheen. We want our dictionary back.

Eileen Burmeister lives, works and rants about language in Roseburg, Ore. She can be reached at burmeistereileen@gmail.com.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

When the wind beneath your wings deposits you in a three-star hotel

When we first moved to Roseburg 14 years ago, everyone told us how it had the lowest wind velocity in the United States. But after Sunday's storm, all I had to do was step outside and behold the huge oak tree precariously leaning against our crushed roofline and chimney to say, “Lowest wind velocity, my eye.”

The tree right outside of our bedroom window decided to give up the ghost while we were at the library for a piano recital. The piano recital was spectacular in and of itself, with the lights going off five or six times. True to form, however, the students played right through, the darkness only adding to the drama of their pieces. During one particularly “stormy” piano selection, there were lightning, thunder and branches flying past the window behind the piano. I kept waiting for Toto to fly by.

After the recital, we wove our way around branches and debris on the roads to come home and discover that our oak tree had pulled up its roots and decided to go in search of greener pastures. These apparently were found on top of our house, our chimney and the closets on the first floor. As I write this, the tree is propped against our crushed roof right over our bedroom, and incidentally, my side of the bed. I'm trying not to take that personally.

Back at Christmas the same tree dropped an entire branch right over our room in the middle of the night. When it came crashing overhead Craig woke up and asked, “Was that the cat?”

But that was nothing compared to Sunday's storm. After the tree cutter-downer guy (I'm pretty sure that's his technical term), a friend in construction, the KPIC news crew and firemen left our premises, we piled into the car and headed over to the Holiday Inn Express. When we checked in, we were informed that we were the third person with a tree on the house. I'm thinking we need to start a club.

“Hi. My name is Eileen, and I have a tree in my roof.”

“Hi, Eileen.”

We got in the car to go find somewhere to have dinner and passed restaurant after restaurant closed due to power outages. However, our luck finally struck when we saw a big red apple gleaming through the darkening sky as we drove toward Applebee's.

The hostess met us at the door and said, “Welcome. I just need to tell you that we lost power and sent our staff home, and now that it's back on we only have half of our staff as usual. You'll get your food, but it may not be as quickly as you'd like.”

I smiled and said, “Look, we have a tree in our roof, so pretty much anything you can offer us is uphill from that.”

There were a few silver linings in the mess. A volleyball that had been trapped up in a tree was blown down during the storm. And our 15-year-old son was thrilled that he doesn't have as many leaves to rake next fall. So we've got that going for us.

Saturday evening I was bemoaning the fact that I didn't have a good topic for this weekend's column to my friend Jennifer. Shortly after she heard of our situation she sent me a message that read, “You did say you needed a column idea … ”

She's a funny one, that Jennifer.

Our 9-year-old daughter, Lily, took in the hotel and said, “I think this is at least a three- or four-star place. Can I go swimming now?” So she was handling the upheaval rather well.

As the night wound down, I looked at Craig and said, “If I had to be displaced, there's no one I'd rather be displaced with.”

And with that, we hunkered down for a night of rest with the wind still blowing outside … me and my favorite three people in the world … an island in the storm.

Eileen Burmeister lives, works and has a tree in her roof in Roseburg. She can be reached at burmeistereileen@gmail.com.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Why I just despise the AP Stylebook

In his own private axis of evil, Tom Curley is slowly trying to drive me mad. What? You’ve never heard of Tommy?

Trust me, you have. In fact, you probably use his book regularly if you’re a writer. That’s because he is the CEO, president and chief villain of The Associated Press, publishers of The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law.

Being an English major, I never really had a need for an AP Stylebook until I landed a gig in a communications department.

Suddenly, stupid and seemingly meaningless rules started being spewed at me by a legalistic editor whom I’ll call Eva Braun. Eva was disgusted that I had actually earned a degree without knowing this stuff. I reminded Eva that I have other plans, like writing a novel, or a screenplay or a blurb in the Laughter is the Best Medicine section of The Reader’s Digest, and that this writing job is just a steppingstone on my garden path of life.

Fourteen years later, I’m still here, and although Eva is gone, I now have a well-worn copy of my own personal AP Stylebook. Not worn from use, however, but from the way I drop kick it across my office when it pisses me off.

Take this ridiculous rule, for example. “Spell out numbers less than 10, and use Arabic numbers for numbers 10 and above.” This rule results in sentences that look like this:

When we hired the 24 new employees, who knew that six would embezzle funds, 10 would arrive for work with electronic monitoring anklets and four would test positive for steroids?

Now I ask you, is this kind of mishmash necessary? I mean, how did the AP Stylebook people come up with this rule? I picture a bunch of them, way back when, at a pub, scribbling out the rules, and one slurs, “Let’s see how many shots it takes for Bitty to fall out of her chair, and that’s where the cutoff will be.” Bitty, a good sport and a hearty gal, doesn’t tumble until her ninth shot, hence the rule.

Then there are the caveats. “Yes,” the manual continues, “do spell out those numbers except in the following cases: addresses, ages, cents, dollars, dates, dimensions, highways, millions and/or billions, percentages, proportions, speed, temperature and times.” Honestly, who can keep it all straight?

Call me paranoid, but I know who can keep it all straight … the little arrogant pinheads at The Associated Press Stylebook publishing house. And they keep pumping out these new editions to keep us abreast of earth-shattering additions, like “Finland,” “Rolodex” and “jihad.” Oh, where would we be without you, AP Jedi masters?

Perhaps the most ominous sentence is in the foreword, where the CEO writes, “Part of the Stylebook’s mission is to sort out right from wrong.”

OK, so we have a lot of justice-hungry lawyer wannabes who couldn’t score high enough on their LSATs, so they decided to go into communications, and their great Uncle Olaf is the publisher of a small-town newspaper with a desk just waiting for them. Voila! A newspaper reporter is born. Got it. I want out as quickly as possible. Keep an eye out for my name in The Reader’s Digest.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

In quest to mark Grammar Day, words don't fail them

A whimsical foray into the creation of the most majestically sublime press release a gaggle of lexicographers ever perpetrated.

In the corporate offices of Merriam-Webster Dictionary, President W. Wordsworth Webster is gathering his workers into the boardroom for an important meeting. Topic: National Grammar Day. Webster wears a pair of khaki pants and a T-shirt that reads, “To infinitives, and beyond!”

“OK, folks, it’s almost National Grammar Day, and seeing that we are the go-to book for logophiles, I think the first thing we need to do is send out a press release stating that we will be celebrating on Friday, March 4. I want this press release to be a collaborative process. Thoughts?”

“I, for one, think the press release needs to be clear, concise, well-written and reflective of the abject seriousness of what we do here,” said Angela Adjective.
Connie Conjunction broke in, “I do agree that it needs to be done, but we need to put a lot of thought into it before we go off half-cocked and make a mess of things while trying to get it done quickly. “

Ellie Ellipses began, “We do need to be the first to announce our celebration, however, seeing that …”

Silence prevailed as everyone looked toward Ellie, waiting for her to finish. As usual, however, she just drifted off.

Kurt Capital took over, “WE NEED TO BE SURE THAT ALL OF OUR CAPITALIZATION IS CORRECT. WE ARE, AFTER ALL, THE EXPERTS ON SAID SUBJECT.”

“Why are you yelling at us Kurt?” asked Marty McQuestion.

“I’M NOT YELLING. I’M JUST BEING MYSELF.”

“Besides, why are we doing this press release?” asked McQuestion. “Do we really want people to know that we exist? Are we sure we want the lower peons of the world to have our address? The very same people who can’t get ‘there,’ ‘their,’ and ‘they’re’ correct?”

“OK, I wasn’t going to tell you this way, but we either get on board or we’ll end up with a whole lotta downsizing,” Eugene Euphemism added, with a bang of his fist on the board room table.

“I think we need to start by naming the day ourselves, giving it a certain over-the-top moniker that will draw the proper attention,” Harry Hyperbole began, getting that dreamy, creative look in his eyes. “How about National Grammarcopolis Day? Or Grammarpalooza?

“Wait—how about Supergrammarfragilisticexpialidocious?” continued Harry Hyperbole. “It will be the most amazing day of the year.”

Ira Irony chuckled in the corner. “Wouldn’t it be amusing if the release went out, and we spelled Grammarpalooza wrong? Oh, the irony of it all.”

“We’re grinding here, people,” said Eulalie Understatement.

“Really? Ya think?” Sarah Sarcasm chimed in, rolling her eyes.

“Come on folks. We need to work together like a well-oiled machine,” said Susie Simile. “Honestly, so far, writing this press release with you yahoos is like swimming upstream without a paddle. Let’s be honest here: We don’t work well together. Each of us thinks his work is way more important than the others’. It’s like the 1,000-pound gorilla in the room.”

“Oh, I don’t ‘think’; I KNOW, my role is more important!” said Xavier Exclamation. “Think about it! Where would you be without me!?! Perish the thought! You’d be stuck sending out boring press releases with ho-hum news items. But with me you get excitement! You get to exclaim the news, not just report the news! I’m amazing!!! Did you see that? A triple exclamation point? I know! That’s how cool I am!!!”

Al Alliteration cut Xavier off: “Xavier, enough! How can’t you see that you’re haranguing is causing headaches, heartburn and horrendous hair loss?”

A.F. Acronym, MBA, Ph.D., interrupted: “Let me pull this together for you all, especially since I have more letters after my name than anyone else in this room. Ahem. What we need is a plan. Let’s find out what the AP has already picked up on this day, and get on this PDQ. I will set up a timeline ASAP with a deadline TBA. Until then, let’s just IM each other with ideas. K?”

“You know, on second thought,” Webster piped up. “I’m going to HTOOMO.”

Looks of confusion circled the table until A.F. Acronym, crestfallen, explained, “He’s going to handle this one on his own. TTFN.” With that, he left the room abruptly.

“Well! I never!” Xavier Exclamation exclaimed as he energetically exited the room.

Harry Hyperbole left the room mumbling, “But I really like Grammarpalooza.”

“Nice, boss,” Sarah Sarcasm said as she passed Webster. “REALLY nice. So glad we had this time together.”

Kurt Capital yelled, I mean said, “JUST CALL ME IF YOU NEED ME.”

Webster walked to his office, closed the door and opened a new document.

Subject: National Grammar Day

For immediate release: March 4, 2011

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary staff wishes you a very Happy National Grammar Day.

Period.

“Thank goodness for periods,” he mumbled. “I thought that would never end.”