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Saturday, May 7, 2016

The Word

I have been engaged this week in philological research.  That is why I tried to weigh our big dictionary on the bathroom scale. I thought it would be easier to quantify the English language by weight than content. It is an old dictionary that I have used since 1962 and very heavy --so big I couldn't read the dial. I checked the scale to see if it was working properly. It was not.
Technology is a transient thing, a novelty. Obviously it had reached its limit and I could rely on it no longer. This demanded a measure I am seldom driven to anymore: thought. Thought may not always resolve enigmas but, when thought is absent, action becomes mindless --which can be fun in private but not in traffic or politics. The current competition among presidential candidates suggests itself.

So far the process has hoarked up a champion born and raised downwind of Rancho Seco in the faintly glowing (radium-green at night) western frontier town of Bleeding Scrotum, California. I know this because I looked up the word, Kakistocracy, in the dictionary and made the rest up. But I'm sure there are newer words, if not better words, to describe the calamities of our times. For that, I recommend Global Language Monitor, an organization that has kept count of English words since 1999 (after which a new millennium  dawned over an administration --2001-2009-- that at least tripled our Kakistocratic adjectives).

In fact, Global Language Monitor calculated the million-word count was exceeded in June of 2009 and now stands over 1,026,000, representing a new word being added to our language every hour and a half. When I first got my dictionary, as a young teen, new words were not so frequent as that. In fact, the musical giants of our time were called upon to herald each new word into communal lexicon with artistry and dignity. I remember the excitement caused by worldwide consensus that we should create a word for feathered things that fly --this example, if listened to enough, will bring  tears of nostalgia and ear-damage: 

Bird Is The Word

Although it was filmed in black and white, I've always imagined this stage glowing green. 



25 comments:

  1. You must have taken some enormously satisfying drugs when you were younger. "The Trashmen" really? You are the enigma dear friend. I like that in a person..I am enriched by knowing you! thanks.......

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    1. Most kind. I shied away from drugs back then because I didn't think they'd be good for me --world was strange enough already.

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    2. I am much obliged that all you highfalutin intellectual folks letting an old hillbilly hang out with you all.. I'm trying to keep up!

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    3. Mohave, I was raised a hick, 1st on a truck farm, then cattle country. My best childhood friend was named Floyd, yes Floyd! We still see each other --having both settled in the vineyard area for the usual reasons.

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  2. Thank you for a couple of firsts. I will endeavor to use my new word kakistocracy. Though I have heard Surfing Bird countless times over the decades I had never seen that video performance. Wow! If I had seen it earlier it could have changed everything!

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    1. Surfing Bird made it into the top 10 and helped broaden pop-performance art. So maybe it did at least help change everything.

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  3. After watching that video I had a sudden urge to fly away. My cats watched (the video and me) with cautious excitement.

    The great tragedy is that there are so many words but nobody uses them. The average American has a vocabulary of about 50 words (I made that up but it's true).

    That's why I enjoy your blog, Geo. You're not afraid of words - - and we learn things.

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    1. Thanks Jon. Words are fun --even a song about one word is fun-- but too many, delivered by a circular tantrum like "Bird" can traumatize cats.

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  4. I love that video. Am I all right?

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    1. Of course you're all right, John. I like the video too and I'm all...you're all right.

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  5. Papa-ooh-mow-mow will always be "the word".

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    1. Emma, in my research I found the Rivingtons and Trashmen had to fight it out in court over whether that or Bird was the word. Must have been a strange argument.

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    2. I seem to recall that papa-ooh-mow-mow lost out for being too composite, but I could be mistaken.

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    3. As I understand it, writing credits were revised and a workable compromise reached. Bird vs. Oohmowmow still stands as precedent in law and equity.

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  6. I also have dictionaries by my desk. I don't know how many, but I use them. It is too much work to check out a word on line.

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    1. Susan, it may throw me into disrepute but I consider paper and print books far superior to digital editions --reference books, like dictionaries, especially so.

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  7. Oh dear. I do so wish you hadn't brought this song up, Geo. I 'performed' it at the senior 'talent' show, maybe November '63, at my high school. A big school, regional, perhaps 3K students. My friend Craig McCarthy did the guitar, Steve Holloway did drums. A month later we took a month off to take Craig's '57 Ford to Santa Barbara for a lark. Another story.
    Anyway, my performance inspired.....how can I put it kindly...silence, then confused
    looks. We left quickly and discussed joining the military immediately. Decided that was premature.
    Anyway,
    Mike

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    1. Mike, you were braver than I at that age. But the true tests of courage, resolve, love and work were yet to come. It was a time of experiment, of youth. Had I been in the audience, I would have been in awe --one of the clappers. Very quietly, I have just said "bravo" to my laptop screen, to you. My compliments and admiration.

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    2. Mike, that is truly awesome. Unfortunate that your audience was unenlightened, but awesome nonetheless. High five.

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  8. I've learned two new and very useful words, and am delighted to see that video, Geo.!

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    1. O Jenny, thank you. Glad you had fun with this post. I shall go to bed happy now.

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  9. Dear Geo., oh what a treat!!! Thank you! They played that music in Germany too - but I have never seen the video - absolutely hilarious! And he's so determined! (You see: only exclamation marks!)
    First, sorry, I thought that you intended to give a few political hints... how could I think of that? Now my Amy-Winehouse-eyeliner is laughed off - I don't dare to watch the video a second time - so I might cross over to Napoleon XIV - 'They're coming to take me away, haha" - but it is not as half as funny, though I might be a solution - for him (singer of contentless songs).

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    1. Dear Brigitta, you have hit upon the perfect direct object:"...he's so determined!" --determined to elevate BIRD to the position of logos for a time of such great achievement and possibility. Rockets had left Earth. Communication was outstripping cultural isolation. We sensed the beginnings of larger world. The bird composed an enthusiasm that nearly overpowered the singer --could not be contained in one stage or a single performer-- was sent flying into the future. Determined indeed!

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  10. Dude! What a terrific post. Words are a delight, and what you do with them is even better. As for the bird, bird, bird being the word... I hope none of my kids ever hear that song. I may have told them our music of the '60s was more musical and sensible to what they listened to in the '80s... (Well, most of it was!)

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    1. Susan, what made no sense in our formative years is understood perfectly by successive generations whose music also makes no sense. Nonsense is a mainstay of intergenerational understanding.

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