Sunday, August 28, 2016

The WORD Escapes for Season 21


(Copy editor colleagues: How would you guys spell that klaxon noise?)

The call came out from the control station on the island containing the St. Mumbles Home from the Terminally Verbose, eight miles off the northern California Coast. The friggin’ @#$%^&*%$#@#$%^&* WORD had escaped again to torment the world with its daily harangement about the press, politics, words, free expression and thought.

During Election 2016, the Year of The Drumpf, such discussion may be completely extraneous. After all, such Big Thinkers as Jon Stewart abandoned his pulpit before this %^*(*&^ hit the fan, and he’s a much happier man for it. Stephen Colbeeeert seems compass-less, and John Oliver has blood running out of his ears. And let’s not even go to Sean Hannity and his ilk.

Sure enough. The sneaky WORD had slipped overboard during a “therapy” on a rowboat from the St. Mumbles facility where it had been incarcerated — in theory, in high security — since late May. As everyone knows, the WORD is a highly incinderary daily spam of quotes about the press. This year, the darn thing could set off worldwide idiocy. 

Wait. We already have that. Well, it could get worse.  

The officers in charge of security and bakery at St. Mumbles hard nothing to say. It's the 21st year that the WORD, its worse recidivist escapee, has gotten away to torment the world. Just up the coast, Pelican Bay — a maximum-security prison for some of the country’s worst marijuana offenders — seems to be able to hold onto its inmates. Chief of Verbosity Containment Phil O’Shaddup, the disgraced former Guantanamo interrogation chief, reshuffled his size-14 regulation golf shoes in discomfort. The WORD is out. 


The WORD — formally “Today’s WORD on Journalism” — a pesky and recidivist quoter (some say misquoter) of pithy phrases on journalism and the “lamestream press,” language, politics, and the role of public engagement in an informed civil society (OK, OK, perfesser, move it along . . . !), today did what GOP presidential candidate The Don and thousands of crack TSA staff have said was impossible. 

“We will build a moat around that place,” The Drumpf declaimed of the island facility. “And the prisoners and alligators will pay for it!”

Since 1995, The WORD has tormented an already uneasy planet with statements on the press. Since first apprehended, edited and sent in to the feared hammock-strewn and Scrabble-laden maximum security facility, St. Mumbles Home for the Terminally Verbose, in 1996, The WORD today celebrated the new school year by slipping away (again. did we mention this is the 21st year?) from the remote sanitarium (or is that sanitorium?) on a remote luxury rock miles out in the Pacific Ocean 370 miles north of San Francisco.

This season is the first that WORDmeister — who really should have a better grip on his creature — is no longer a professor. “I don’t care,” he said. “ I’m retired. You’re on your own.”

The St. Mumbles staff wasn’t even  embarrassed. “We really thought we had clamped down on the SOB this time,” observed St. Mumbles High & Mighty Censor and Comma Queen Mary Norris. Brought aboard after an embarrassing 2014 escape and multiple conjunction, apparently involving friendly borking sea lions, it became Norris’s job to keep The WORD “in his goddam footnote cell.

“Apparently, there, were, Oxford, commas, involved” in this year’s escape, Norris said.

While some in the Drumpf campaign spinned — “Could be bad, but maybe not,” many in the larger WORD community, which has swelled to nearly 2,000,000,0000 worldwide in recent years, cheered.

“YAY!!!” yelled misguided 13-year WORD subscriber Conn Jugate of Haybale, Iowa. “We’ve lost Colbear and Jon Stewie. How can we have a campaign embarrassment without good old WORDie?”

According to a thin-lipped report from O’Shaddup’s spokesperson, delivered after the failed lexicographer had flung himself into the surf, the WORD apparently spent the summer on the St. Mumbles’ veranda knitting a rubber Zodiac-style raft, and made a 6-horsepower outboard in the arts and crafts program.

“He said he was knitting an afghan for his Twitter editor,” said watch commander Mia Opia as attendants rescued a burbling sanitarium director from the froth. “Like anyone edits Twitter!

The WORD, whose daily doses of “wisdom” on matters journalistic, political, social and cultural have afflicted decent folk on five continents since 1995, had been a, er, “guest” at St. Mumbles since May, when white-jacketed attendants collected the blathering serial quoter and the contents of his office from its refuge in the redwoods of northern California.

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.

The WORD was first admitted and first escaped from St. Mumbles in 1996 after a ground-breaking opening season quoting wise guys on journalism. Since then, the WORD’s, um, “influence” has spread worldwide, and last year the International Bloviaters League and Tribune of Hairbrained Editors & Reporters (IBLaTHER) honored the serial email pest with its coveted Electronic Junkmail Award. History on the WORD and its storied 21-year tradition is below. Full archives are at

Anyway, the WORD is out again, gentle and unsuspecting readers. Brace yourselves.

Per tradition, we launch this season with the ever-useful wisdom of the genial colonial Royal High Potentate of the Virginia Colony, whose high regard for both education and the press rings with an increasingly popular fervor today. New WORDs begin tomorrow, and will continue through the 2016-2017 season, or until you come to your senses. Enjoy!

• • •

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

• • •

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, 2,000 (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. (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

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