After earthquakes, hurricanes, new Cheney book,
16th WORD season drives some over the edge
LOGAN, Utah—While U.S. news media breathless focused on non-stop “team reporting” of calamities that did not strike the East Coast (“center of everything”), a true calamity befell the planet from he other side of the country. After stuffing a laundry bag full of used aphorisms and adages on the press to create a comatose “reader” dummy, the nation’s most dreaded recidivist quoter escaped St. Mumbles Home for the Terminally Verbose—again!—over the weekend and by Monday morning had started spamming the hundreds of victims of his insidious daily quotes on the press.
“He did it again!” a frustrated sanitarium attendant was heard yelling as he kicked the WORD's decoy, scattering used verbiage and Mark Twain citations across the patio of the world-renowned hospital for the excessively erudite on the Redwood coast of northern California. “Just last week he was spouting couplets of Brian Williams and Ann Coulter. I should have known he was off his rocker.”
Williams, who anchors the mammothly self-congratulatory NBC/MSNBC news operation in New York, breathlessly reported in an artfully rumpled mauve button-down L.L. Bean Oxford cloth shirt from his beloved Jersey Shore, where the weekend’s frightening Huricane Irene didn’t do a damn thing. “This storm could have been just monumentally destructive,” Williams intoned. “Let’s turn to our own crackerjack team of 16 storm-weary reporters, beginning with the painfully slim Al Roker on the Outer Banks of Asbury Park, New Jersey, where there was some wind. Al?”
Under cover of this kind of myopic news media focus on the nothingness that is the East Coast, Today’s WORD on Journalism apparently evaded his equally alert minders at the West Coast lexographic storage facility at St. Mumbles Sunday night or early Monday morning to launch a 16th season of daily pithy “wisdom” on journalism, the mass media, and a nearly extinct superannuated institution, the press.
Reaction from college campuses, lexicographers and the handful of surviving newspaper newsrooms from Melbourne to Shanghai to Ames, Iowa, was muted—mostly because the students and addled professors who flock back to classrooms like the buzzards returning to Hinckley, Ohio, at this time of year weren’t awake yet.
But by sunrise, a growing wail could be heard echoing across the Quad at Utah State University, where the half-cocked professor who created the WORD in 1995 locked himself in his office as frothing students and faculty gathered outside with pitchforks, AP Stylebooks, and 12-pound Oxford English Dictionaries, hoping to give the Wordmeister a solid whack.
“OED’s going online, so the 2009 edition will have to do,” explained one English lecturer, hefting a tome threateningly. The underemployed Stanford modern lit PhD had a child's wagon in tow, stacked with reference books she was offering for sale to others interested in "booking" the journalism Wordmeister into drooling insensibility.
“Shouldn't take much,” she growled.
A St. Mumbles spokeswoman said Today's WORD on Journalism normally is confined in a padded maximum citation cubicle, but had somehow been left in a wheelchair on a rocky crag overlooking the Pacific last night. An attendant was found tongue-tied nearby. Apparently the attendant had passed out after hours of listening to the WORD’s quotations on free expression.
“When he started on the 19th set of Federalist Papers, alternating with Jerry Seinfeld, I was a dumb as a Wikipedia post,” the rueful staff member confessed, clutching his head.
Contacted in his crypt, former President Thomas Jefferson rescinded his famous edict—“No government ought to be without censors & where the press is free, no one ever will”—saying, “I take it back. If the WORD is this generation's version of truth and wisdom, then we deserve Rush Limbaugh and ‘Dancing With the Stars.’”
Over recent weeks, snoozing uneasily beneath stacks of Bartlett’s, Brainy Quotes and Marvel comics, St. Mumbles officials reported, the WORD has been thrashing in an uneasy sleep, muttering partial quotes from John Stuart Mill and Vonnegut epithets. Taking a page, literally, from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s prescription, “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath,” the WORD seems to have escaped St. Mumbles by sea. A capsized canoe, the “Parsing Peas,” was found swamped on a rocky beach two miles away.
“There is some slim hope that he fell overboard and drowned,” one officer at the scene said. But that fond dream was as fleeting as actual news on network TV, and the following just rent the peace of morning cyberspace:
TODAY’S WORD ON JOURNALISM—The Perennial Season Opener
“I thank God we have no free schools or printing, and I hope that we shall not have these for a hundred years. For learning has brought disobediences and heresy and sects into the world; and printing has divulged them and libels against the government. God keep us from both.”
—Sir William Berkeley
Governor, Virginia Colony, 1671
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Back-story: The WORD was originally concocted (“conceived” is, I think, altogether too grand) as a way to get journalism students to pay attention to their email. Strange as it may sound, email was a new and unpleasant disturbance of the general peace back in 1995, and many students did not then spend 16 hours a day online. As a professor hoping to get and keep their attention while also instructing them, my object was that the WORD would give them something to think about before class. Hope, like the WORD, springs eternal.
I think it’s fair to say that this strategy was a dismal failure. Most of my students continue to ignore their daily WORDs and gaily accept point reductions on their quizzes for not knowing the day's wordish wisdom from philosophers ranging from Soren Kierkegaard to Brian Williams to Lisa Simpson.
But the WORD has become rather frighteningly popular with non-students—purported grown-ups, mostly, who actually ask to be afflicted or who send email addresses of unsuspecting friends/colleagues/parents/bosses, so that they might be victimized as well.
When the WORD was trundled by those nice white-jacketed men into St. Mumbles last spring, about 1,800 (mostly volunteer) victims subscribed to the direct email WORD list. More got the WORD by checking the website, whence it was linked and forwarded like a pox to many more unsuspecting victims by so-called “friends.”
As usual, we launch this season with the ever-useful wisdom of the genial former colonial Royal High Pontentate of the Virginia Colony, whose high regard for both education and the press still rings with an increasingly popular fervor today. Enjoy!
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TODAY'S WORD ON JOURNALISM is a free “service” sent to the 1,800 or so misguided volunteer subscribers around the planet. If you have recovered from whatever led you to subscribe and don't want it anymore, send "unsubscribe." Or if you want to afflict someone else, send me the email address and watch the fun begin. (Disclaimer: While I just quote 'em, I don't necessarily endorse 'em. All, in theory, contain at least a kernel of insight.)
Ted Pease, Professor of Interesting Stuff
Utah State University, Logan, Utah
To receive Today's Word on Journalism, send "subscribe" to firstname.lastname@example.org
“Words are sacred. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones, in the right order, you can nudge the world a little.” —Tom Stoppard