Does Word Crimes cross the line?

One of my favourite words in the Spanish language is aguafiestas. It’s used to describe someone who ruins a good time. In English, the closest equivalent would be “party pooper.”

I mention that because I’m about to be an aguafiestas.

I’ll tell you up front: if you’re an actual person who actually lives under an actual rock, what I’m about to say will make little sense. But then again, you’ve chosen to set up shop with spiders and bats and pervasive dampness, and you’re willingly reading the dreck I shovel out, so I think we’ve established that sense isn’t your strong suit.

HOWEVER. If you have managed to somehow hotwire your literal man cave into a wifi-enabled zone, perhaps you are familiar with the phenomenon that is Weird Al Yankovic‘s latest video, Word Crimes. It was released yesterday and has taken the internet — by which I mean my personal Facebook feed — by storm.

It has its fans. It has its detractors. And it also has me, a Fourth Degree Pedant and Charter Member of Aguafiestas Internacional. And here’s what I’m finding so irksome — one little word in a sea of many, one rhyme that is perfect (in the rhyming sense) and horrible (in the words-we-use-to-describe-other-humans sense). Here is the section I’m talking about:

Saw your blog post
It’s really fantastic
That was sarcastic
‘Cause you write like a spastic

Really? Spastic? That’s the best you could do, Weird Al?

I have a lot of feeeeelings about the use of that word, but here’s the short version. It’s akin to using — at least in North America — the word “retard.” It’s an “othering” word, a pejorative, one used to mock and deride people with physical disabilities. It wasn’t always so; its meaning derives from a word for “pulling” or “drawing in” which can be used to describe the muscular differences seen in some individuals. In common usage, though, it’s … it’s not a good word to use.

Most commonly, it would be used to describe people living with cerebral palsy, a disorder that can have dramatic physiological effects but doesn’t necessarily have an impact on intellectual functioning (which is implied by the “write like a” line).

Don’t believe me on that last point? Check out my friend Katie’s website. Katie has cerebral palsy. And she writes a blog. And it really is fantastic.

I should probably leave it at that, but as a part-time editor, I feel duty-bound to offer up a few alternative word choices. Here are some other words that Weird Al could have — should have — used:

That was sarcastic / ‘Cause your writing is bombastic
Bombastic is a great word. It means inflated, pretentious. Suits pretty much every blog post I’ve ever read. Or written.

That was sarcastic / You think you’re so scholastic
The best part of using a word like scholastic is that you know you’re going to have listeners who only know it as a brand: “Scholastic? Like the book order people?”

That was sarcastic / No wonder you’re monastic
Okay, it’s a cheap shot to go after someone’s sex life. But surely no cheaper a shot than perpetuating the myth that a body’s physical challenges also limit the mind’s ability to appreciate — and celebrate — language.

Anyway. That feels like enough agua for one day. Apparently my daughter’s cadre of Hello Kitty dolls are having some kind of birthday party, and I’ve been invited to attend the fiesta. Bring on the cake.

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