Thursday, March 4, 2010

Logistical Linguistics

I love language. I have no delusions about my ability to use it. Hell, I love the piano outro in Racing in the Street but cannot play a note of it - or any other song for that matter - on Mr. Steinway's fabled invention. If only enthusiasm and ability were meted out in equal measure.....

Last Friday one of the lawyers in my office and his wife welcomed their second child. His wife has an impeccable sense of timing, mind you, going into labor in the middle of Snowmageddon Part II, which I am certain made the trek to the hospital almost as fun-filled as what awaited them once they arrived and got down to the task at hand. If you work presently or have ever worked in an office than you know that the artifice of occasion is one of the preferred methods of communication in such an environment - and since one cannot be be held hostage to the ebb and flow of the health of one's fellow office dwellers - news of a baby being born somewhere within the extended work family primes the celebratory pump quite nicely.

My colleague and his Missus had a little girl in early morning hours on Friday. I suspect that I am giving him more due than he deserves vis-a-vis the division of labor involved in....well, in labor but he is a good kid. Proving that good news travels as quickly as fast, by Monday morning the refrigerator in the kitchen on the Firm's 3rd floor (a/k/a "the cool kids" floor) was adorned with an announcement of the birth.

Remember way back when at the top of this piece I noted my love for language? While I have done precious little to express that love since then, I do indeed love it. That is why I find the incredibly inane usage of language that appears as if by rote on announcements such as the pink-papered proclamation du jour so damn infuriating. First, across the top in large print are the words, "IT'S A GIRL!" which always seems to me to be a curious use of the pronoun "IT". I am not interested in touching off a debate on the whole "moment life begins" issue because while you have an opinion (as do I) I promise you and ask you to accept on faith that no one walks the Earth has less interest in yours than I do. I simply mean that given the limited options available in gender of newborns, "IT" has a feeling of someone just not trying very hard.

As I see it, ye little bundle o' joy is going to come out one of two ways (as a general rule anyway) and he or she is going to be born a human irrespective of gender. The notion of someone else's child as an "IT" is a puzzlement to me particularly since I presume that both for general purposes and in the specific case of my fellow employee the gender of the baby had been established by the time the sign was created. In the specific example of my co-worker, the end of the cited sentence "GIRL!" suggests to me the reader that at its beginning the author knew "IT" made little sense grammatically and nevertheless punted away the chance to write something accurate and a tad more heartfelt. Something such as, "SHE'S A GIRL!" or "A GIRL!" Candidly, as long as the exclamation point remains visible the pronoun is unnecessary. Here is an easy to follow rule for said sign makers everywhere: as soon as there is one reported case of a woman giving birth to a puppy, a giraffe or a waffle iron, feel free to employ "IT" as your pronoun of choice. 'Til then, not so much.

While on the subject of birth announcement proclamation posters and such items, it is also a puzzlement to me why it is that at birth humans have "length" and not "height". Consider this, once you pass from the womb to the room they measure you from head to toe. You most likely are in a prone position - or a reasonable facsimile thereof - when that occurs. So what? Is it because of your body position when the measurement is taken that you are "long" and not "tall"? Does lying prone rob us of our humanity and render us the equivalent of doorway openings or pieces of living room furniture?

What an unimaginative species we bipeds seems to be. We lack the ability to record the measurement taken of the baby while he or she is lying down as height merely because the baby is not standing up when the measurement is taken. It is ludicrous. Here's to declaring "No More!" on the use of length as a measurement on the baby's chart. Let us show a bit of faith in the maturation process and agree that given the way in which we have evolved and our longstanding preference to walk on not more than two of our appendages (thus freeing the ones emanating from our shoulders to do fun things such as throw a snowball, carry a slice of hot pizza or hold our sweetheart's hand) we the people grow taller and not longer. "Length" implies we are submarine sandwiches.

It occurs to me - ruminating for a moment on the utter joy that is the submarine sandwich - that under certain circumstances our sloppy use of language could lead to difficulty separating the deli from the nursery. For instance a sign declaring, "IT'S AN ITALIAN AND IT IS 24 INCHES LONG!" could be subject to at least two separate and very distinct interpretations.

If only we could all channel our inner Horton - even if just for a little while. Then items such as signs would make way more sense than they do now.

So many battles, so little time.

-AK

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