Grammarians, public divided over Weird Al’s “Word Crimes”


Weird Al Yankovich is back with a new album called Mandatory Fun. To promote it, he’s releasing a new single and accompanying video every day this week.

“Word Crimes” is so far and by far the most popular. His grammar-and-usage send-up of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” has over six million views in the three days since its release.

Among those six million are a great many positive reactions: the song (and the rest of the album) have both drawn praise the likes of which Weird Al hasn’t seen since his “Amish Paradise” heyday.

In fact, the video has officially gone viral. Though exactly what that means anymore is almost anybody’s guess.

Among the less-than-enthused, though, are a slew of language experts who take issue with the surprisingly negative tone of some of the song’s lyrics.

For example, at various points in the song, Weird Al calls people who use improper grammar “morons” and “mouthbreathers,” says that they have “stupid heads,” and suggests they are “clowns” or were “raised in a sewer.”


 Weird Al live


Lauren Squires, a professor of English at the Ohio State University, worries that the song and video “[put] speakers whose native language variety does not approximate “Proper English” at an immediate disadvantage in society.”

Mignon Fogerty, better known the woman behind the popular Grammar Girl website, calls the video “catchy, and well-done, and charming in many so many ways.” But she also points out that the tone of Weird Al’s approach distorts his message, and that many of the things he says are mistakes are actually acceptable usage, albeit for reasons more complicated than the song explains.

And noted University of Michigan linguist Stephen Tyndall offered this observation:

The focus on ‘correct’ prescriptive grammar (which is considered standard not because it’s superior in any way to other varieties of English, but because it’s the variety spoken by educated white Americans) reinforces class boundaries and mocks the underprivileged in a way unusual for Weird Al.

All of which are measured, considerate responses. Squires in particular worries about the potential effect the video will have in the classroom, as many teachers have expressed with great jubilance their intention to use it as a teaching tool.

Furthermore: it is perhaps worth pointing out that Weird Al looks decidedly militaristic on the album cover. On the one hand, he’s striking an ironic pose: the disc is called Mandatory Fun, after all.

But on the other, everyone calling him a Grammar Nazi has a bit more ammunition to lob than they would have otherwise.


 Mandatory Fun


So: what do you, the viewers at home, think? Is “Word Crimes” just harmless fun? A clever and unexpected parody of last summer’s most popular song? Or has Al gone too far; does the song’s execution outweigh its intent? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

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