Pirates of the Common Media
September 18, 2003 1:27 AM   Subscribe

It's OK to Talk Like a Pirate, Just Don't Pirate Words!
from Dan Gillmor and David Weinberger, found via The Boingers, who disabled comments.
posted by wendell (19 comments total)
I should note that they'll let just anybody add items to their database, as proven by these entries for Fair and Balanced and Reality TV (semi-self-links, but hey, I was surprised nobody had submitted these two yet!)
posted by wendell at 1:30 AM on September 18, 2003

I'll bear this in mind tomorrow.
posted by chill at 3:51 AM on September 18, 2003

Oh My gosh.
posted by Keyser Soze at 3:56 AM on September 18, 2003

Racist idiots
posted by Keyser Soze at 3:57 AM on September 18, 2003

One bad apple ruins the bunch.
posted by will at 6:40 AM on September 18, 2003

Keyser Soze: As a black man, I found that entry incredibly hilarious, oh well.
posted by delmoi at 6:42 AM on September 18, 2003

Before this morning, the artificial (and some argue dead) language esperanto didn't have a word for "MetaFilter" per se. I'm now coining one: traduku: Meti Filtrilo. It may not catch on, but my point is this happens in living language every day.

I'm sure there were eskimoes and woodsmen long ago quite upset with usage of the phrase "shiver me timbers" as it makes absolutely no sense even to most pirates. Yet the phrase has persevered. English is a fluid, living language. To insist it not be allowed to morph and grow and change is to take it one baby step closer to latin.

For example. A couple centuries ago the word "nigger" was utilized by a light-skinned culture of short-sighted and emotionally retarded people, who cultivated this need inside them to belittle and torture those of the same species who differed from them in skin color. Originally it was an insult. Today, the word is used by the descendants of those who had been belittled and tortured. It is now seen as a term of befriendment or even endearment among darker-skinned individuals, whose descendants have risen above the pettiness of their ancestors' captors. The word was embraced by those it once insulted, and now the meaning has changed and evolved to suit them.

Corporate interests do the same thing. So do intimate social groups. Any concentration of human beings who interact with language as a form of communication do this. They take a language among which all share a common ground, and utilize it as a tool to convey thoughts to one another. When a new thought requires a new word or phrase, such is built upon the foundation already laid down: it's "qwerty." If you have a phrase you say to your friends, and they laugh and you laugh and the strangers around you look at you funny? You're taking a piece of the established language and using it to suit your needs. That's why language exists. To communicate with other human beings. Saying you're going to "take back the language" because "they're our words dammit" is short-sighted and emotionally retarded. They're not yours or mine. They're ours, and theirs, and everyone's. Everyone who uses the language owns that language equally. It's why "ain't" is now a word, whether snobbish scholars like it or not.

There's the illusion that such changes cause the language to schism, but that's only when one culture using the language refuses to incorporate into its usage the concepts that other groups initiate. Americans now occasionally use terms like "lift" (for elevator) and "flat" (for an apartment or domicile) because they've "grokked" (aquired knowledge) that from fellow english users who are.. like, you know... English. Today, sombrero can be a synonym for "a large hat" in english, even though the word was originally spanish. Most english speaking people today understand what kindergarten means, even though the literal translation from the original german is "garden where you grow human children." The word has become accepted in regular english, though that's not its native derivation. In fact with latin, greek and other roots and suffixes, english is the culmination of many languages throughout the world. This includes not only words themselves but even sentence structure. Again looking at spanish, it's acceptable to have double negatives in that language because a double negative can mean something different than a straight positive. Common english usage (although scholars presently still deny this) is learning to accept that.

I am going to the store.
I am not going that store any longer.
I ain't goin' to that store no more.

The third sentence conveys a similar sentiment to the second sentence. However the third sentence conveys a greater immediacy which the second sentence does not convey. Scholars would argue it also conveys a lack of education, but common parlance today will find that third choice of words used even by college graduates, because there's an emotional intensity and even a poetry to that third phrasing which the second one does not convey.

When a language cannot progress bilaterally with the culture it serves, it ceases serving its culture and gets replaced by another language which better serves its needs. Some argue this is a bad thing, and others encourage artificially attempting to usurp other languages for one that will serve everybody. Ultimately it is necessary to encourage the use of english in rural, urban and suburban social climates throughout the world and even let other languages dramatically affect how it grows and evolves.

Saying a language can't evolve to serve the needs of whomever uses it unfair to everybody. Yeah I hate how Fox News used the phrase "fair and balanced" and is decidedly neither, but over time that phrase will come to be compared to this recent incident. Al Franken called them on it. His book is now on the bestseller list. Lord only knows what the phrase will actually come to mean a decade or two from now.
posted by ZachsMind at 7:27 AM on September 18, 2003

Saying a language can't evolve to serve the needs of whomever uses it unfair to everybody.

Uh... who exactly was saying that?

The language changes for all sorts of reasons. Some of them are good for it, and some of them are destructive. As users of the language, it's our inevitable obligation to influence the direction of its evolution, so I don't see why we shouldn't be explicit about our motives for doing so.
posted by sfenders at 9:44 AM on September 18, 2003

Talk like a pirate?
posted by piskycritter at 9:50 AM on September 18, 2003

"who exactly was saying that?"

The progenitor of the original link said that, instigating this thread. I do not mean Wendell. He's the progenitor of the thread. However, it is easy to misunderstand my intent, because of how I worded the first sentence. This is why we have guidelines for word usage and sentence structure: to increase comprehension and clarity. However, if one's point gets across, who is truly harmed? No one.

In the Word Pirates FAQ the author explains that "The aim is simply to raise our awareness of the way in which important words are being taken over for selfish reasons." but who is to say which words are important and who is to define a reason as selfish? Technically, all uses of the english language are selfish: one is trying to convey a thought inside the self to the outside world. Therefore, it's a selfish act, whether it's you or me or AOL/TimeWarner

"Some of them are good for it, and some of them are destructive."

Who is to decide when usage is useful and when it's destructive? If word or phrase usage conveys what the speaker intended, then it's a success, whether or not the listener takes issue with syntax or context. The word "irregardless" does convey an intent to the listener, even though some argue it's not a word. Even though there is the potential that the word can cause confusion and lessen comprehension or clarity, if the point does get across then so much the better. As the FAQ points out, many examples being given at the site are "misusage" and not "pirated-usage." However, I see no important correlation.

"Who put [them] in charge of the language police?"

Who indeed? Linguists and dictionary publicists be damned. Language can police itself, and does quite well.
posted by ZachsMind at 11:01 AM on September 18, 2003

(boingboing Quicktopic discussions continue in the sideblog, including this discussion of where the main blog QT discussions went to)
posted by carter at 11:24 AM on September 18, 2003

ZachsMind, your intentions are good and I agree with your overall point, but I don't think you have the faintest idea what "scholars," "linguists," and "dictionary publicists" (lexicographers?) do and think. Believe it or not, they're generally on your side (depending what you mean by "scholars," of course; I'm assuming you're talking about linguists, because specialists in, say, fluid dynamics aren't particularly relevant here). It's the amateurs—the William Safires and John Simonses—who try to defend the imagined purity of the English language.
posted by languagehat at 11:58 AM on September 18, 2003

As of the time of this post, goatse.cx warning. Don't click on that link at work!
posted by mr_roboto at 12:10 PM on September 18, 2003

The progenitor of the original link said that, instigating this thread.

I don't think that was the intention, although you might get that impression from looking through the submitted entries. Most of the words seem to have been submitted by people failing to make the distinction between words evolving into new and (to those who haven't yet adopted them) ugly uses of words, and the "cynical manipulation" of the language by those with access to the mass-media that the site was supposed to be about.

I do think it's a useful distinction. The most blatant example I can think of is a recent series of television ads. Their sole purpose appears to be to convince us to think of unauthorized decoding of satellite signals as "theft". They're spending millions of dollars to expand the definition of a word -- I don't see why you'd think someone wrong to spend a few bucks on a website to point out and make fun of the practice.
posted by sfenders at 12:55 PM on September 18, 2003

I'm arguing for corporate usage of the language as much as individual usage. Although I can't believe I'm defending corporate mentality in any arena, here it's part of the first ammendment. If Nike wants to take the words "just" "do" and "it" and sell shoes with them, it's a free country.

LanguageHat you're absolutely right, I was generalizing to get unrelated points across, when I should have also been PC and quantify that not all scholarly individuals are snobs. An example of a common miscommunication. I meant more specifically those who are short-sighted purists and did not mean to condemn more mature-minded language pundits along with them. I believe the one who started this word pirate concept may have meant well, but miscommunicates (except in fine print in his FAQ which I can't link to right now cuz of the darn goat thing) that what he calls abuse is actually clever steps in the evolution of the language.

I was also using the words you cited (scholar, linguist, dictionary publicist) in rather synonymous context, but you are correct in saying there are both subtle and dynamic differences. I should have spent several paragraphs clarifying these differences, but I'm longwinded enough as it is and have to cut somewhere. =)
posted by ZachsMind at 1:12 PM on September 18, 2003

Oh. As for the rest: Buyer Beware. I mean, yes I'm still ticked off that "cheese food" is just barely cheese by a majority, and "cheese product" contains no actual cheese. They shouldn't be allowed to call something cheese anything if it's just 51% cheese. But they do. That's how language works. No use crying over at least 20% milkfat.
posted by ZachsMind at 1:20 PM on September 18, 2003

Yeah, it's a free country and all. I still don't see why you think the right of Corporate Advertiser, Inc. to manipulate the language is more worthy of defense than is the "Word Pirates" attempt at the same, unless it's that the latter is too honest about it.
posted by sfenders at 2:14 PM on September 18, 2003

It's OK to Talk Like a Pirate

Now look what you did, wendell. You know No. 1 is the suggestible type.
posted by soyjoy at 9:17 PM on September 18, 2003

No, I dare not take credit for Matt's Pirate Day logo, but I have to ask him: Where'd you get the font? Did you have to pay for it? 'Cause I've searched high and low for a free or cheap version of Bookman Italic (with "Swash", as it's usually called, appropriately for pirate print)... It has flourishes on both the upper and lower case W's that I would die for...

As I noted in my initial comment, "they'll let just anybody add items to their database", which resulted in offensive posts, dumb posts, posts without any explanation, anonymous posts, and, along with the use of the compact (but low-security if used in this manner) blogging tool Blosxom, probably made the re-direct hack real easy. I'm kinda (a non-dictionary word like 'ain't') surprised that two high-profile web folk like David "Jono" Weinberger and Dan Gillmor (who actually gets paid to blog) would've set themselves up for all this mischief (They do attempt to explain themselves here. Yes, "Buyer Beware", but if this site does anything good, it'll be as a linguistic Consumers Union to help remind us what to beware of. (It should be noted that the offending-to-many "nigger" post on Word Pirates has been deleted by the site owners... that should give an indication what they consider "beyond the pale")

But, I must digress, (I do, don't I?) a few years ago, I subsribed to Dan Gillmor's e-mail letter, and I had to point out to him that, in the manner which the e-mails' title was laid out in plaintext:
"D A N G I L L M O R O N T E C H N O L O G Y", it could be easily mis-interpreted as "Dang Ill Moron Technology"... Such are some of the dangers of playing with words.

ZachsMind, I feel honored that you chose my thread to come out and make a major contribution to MetaFilter for the first time (that I've seen) in a lo-o-o-ng time. You are one of my all-time favorite MeFites for what you write, even when I disagree with you. Ass-kissing, done, I have to say I think you really overreacted here. It's hard to believe the founders of this site actually expect it to make them the "Word Police of the Web". I would expect that, left as open as it is, it could be a tool against PC speech, as well as commercial language hijacking. There is also the danger, that, left as open as it is, it could become a forum for "Word Vigilantes" with neither credentials nor credibility to promote strange agendas... It should be interesting to see what this experiment does evolve into, but I just don't see it as a threat.

For something that could be accused of "Word Policing", may I reccommend the tiny midwestern college that gets publicity for its annual list of "Banished Words", as well as Matt Groening's yearly "Life In Hell" comic of Forbidden Words (link goes to copyright violating scan of comic; don't know how - or why - Groening is so successful at keeping his Hell comic off the web) Now, while it is to me very hostile to First Amendment principals to suggest "banning" or "forbidding" words, even in jest, I like the idea of pointing out new cliche's or overexposed/overused words and phrases... enough so that I was in the process of creating a blog as part of my free trial of TypePad that, as soon as they have domain mapping set up, I was going to name clichestadium.com (I already own the domain; no, I'm not planning on having it as open as Word Pirates; now everybody will think I stole the idea from David & Dan, when I really stole it from Lake Superior State)

As for creating words, I've frequently tried to do so myself, with very little success... Example: I have long felt the phenomenon of a small site getting overwhelmed by the attention given to it by a link from a big site needed a unique word of its own, not just the 'verbification' of the site that did it ("MetaFiltered", "Farked") or of the name of the site where that phenomenon was first observed ("Slashdotted"). I have repeatedly tried to wedge the word "SlashDOSed" (referring to both the historic Slashdot AND the Denial Of Service effect) into web conversations, and have been consistantly ignored. I guess I'm just not a meme builder (except for that goatse-esque site 't-----l' I accidentally introduced to MeFi a few months ago - please don't mention that, I am so ashamed).
posted by wendell at 11:24 PM on September 18, 2003

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