Running Amok—The WORD escapes (again),
Defies (still) all reason in a troubled world
ST. GEORGE’S LIGHTHOUSE, California—It had been a quiet summer on the remote rock that supports the maximum security tower of St. Mumbles Home for the Terminally Verbose.
Too quiet, as it turns out.
The crash of waves and borking of sea lions in the late-August pre-dawn calm at the foot of the formidable St. George’s Reef Light, eight miles off Crescent City, Calif., was suddenly split today by the wail of sirens.
He spent the summer convalescing at the remote coastal rest home, a dark tower where Chas. Addams once vacationed, studying up on the 5,000 new words in the Scrabble dictionary, lounging on the porch and secretly collecting new quotes on the press to torment a troubled media world.
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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 Tweeted and forwarded like a pox to many more unsuspecting victims by so-called “friends.”
• • • • •Ted Pease, Professor of Interesting Stuff. email@example.com. (Be)Friend Dr. Ted, Professor of Interesting Stuff on Facebook
“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