World Wide (Weird) Web

The comedy singer Alfred Matthew 'Weird Al' Yankovic has taken on some tough customers in his time, including rappers Coolio and Eminem. And though a fan of Al's oeuvre, Sir Paul McCartney apparently refused to allow him to parody 'Live and Let Die' with 'Chicken Pot Pie'.

But when Weird Al recently uploaded his parody of Robin Thicke's 'Blurred Lines', 'Word Crimes', to the youtubes, he obviously didn't realise exactly whom (whom, not who ... or does it really matter?) he was taking on: editors and our ilk. That's right. Al became the man who kicked the hornet's nest.

To make a long-ish story short, 'Word Crimes' ostensibly mocks anyone who uses English incorrectly. Whatever that means. Here's some discussion in the Independent.

Understandably, not everyone finds the song funny, and some are offended by it. In a post on his blog Sentence first, 'The Problem with Weird Al's "Word Crimes"', editor Stan Carey says that the song involves 'language shaming' and promotes prescriptivism (and as his links to sites such as Grammar Girl demonstrate, he isn't alone).

For those who might be inclined just to laugh all of this off, here's a concluding statement from Carey:

That it's satire doesn't make it harmless. Some find the video funny; not everyone has to. Weird Al's intent is not the issue, which is that his song helps legitimise the kind of misinformed linguistic intolerance that can hurt, mislead and discourage language learners, people with learning difficulties or language disorders, people using non-standard dialects, and anyone not blessed with the same access to formal education. I'm not OK with that.

But what does the man behind the song really think? In interviews, Weird Al really does seem to offer uncritical support to prescriptivism. Of course, the truth is that although he's musical comedy's equivalent of Madonna in terms of successful metamorphoses, Alfred Yankovic is a 54-year-old wealthy white American man, so he might not be all that weird after all...