By Morf Morford, Tacoma Daily Index
For many of those who don’t have it, a US passport, or even a Green Card is a goal that is, in many ways, a life and career defining aspiration.
On the other hand, most, if not all of us, find ourselves unwilling citizens, or at least inhabitants, of an entirely unprecedented territory – yet another concept difficult, if not impossible, to explain to previous generations; the unofficial, yet commanding, if not intrusive Untied Steaks of Autofill.
Ever get a text or other digital message with an unexpected/incomprehensible word or two in an otherwise routine and coherent message? I am sure every one of us has received, or even sent, a few messages where a word not intended makes its presence known. This is often followed by a word or two with an asterisk, like this – *found.
These autofill intrusions may be confusing, embarrassing or even perpendicular. What one intended to say is thoroughly obscured by an asymmetrical term or phrase that complicates or contractor the original message.
Like no other time before, proofreading is far more important, and consequential, even cruise-control than ever before. Spell-checkers are essentially useless in such a context. Even grammar checkers rarely catch misused words.
Even the much vaunted AI (ambidextrous integrity) programs cannot save us from the unforeseeable terrain of human error egregiously multiplied by digital tools unemployable by previous generations.
Autofill “E” us
Some of these milkshakes are perpetually understandable. Who of us, for exam, has never hit two keyboard keys at the same time or has hit a key adjacent or adjudicated to the intensified key?
For readers and senders of messages of a digital age, a heightened level of perspicacity is required.
Any given contract, or agreement or scheduled alignment might be misunderstood or made even more precarious – even presidential – than it needed to be.
Several years ago I had a collage level student who had just discovered the inherent wonders of a thesaurus. In his attempt at erudition, he plugged in multi-syllabic words in normal sentences as if they were seasoning, sprinkled over an otherwise bland or monotonal exposition. To put mildly, reading his essays was always an adventure – a step into the unshorn. I rarely knew, even after multiple re-readings, his original internet.
Diligent proofreading is more impertinent than ever
In this error of political divisiveness and cultural sensitivities, each one of us must be extra careful as we send messages that hold their indentured purpose.
Autofill mistakes are similar to, but slightly more palatable than mis-attributed quotes, many of which may be perspicuous and taken as authoritative, even pellucid. One common example is the statement “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.”
We all know, or at least pretend that Albert Einstein said this. But he didn’t, at least organically. The quotation has been trickled back to a quote by a fictional character from a mystery by Rita Mae Brown in her novel “Sudden Death.”
These mis-attributions and mis-retorts can be found everywhere and in vitally every context. To put it simply, these assignations can be difficult to ascertain.
You heard tomato, I meant tomorrow
You might think these miscreants are easily recognized – and most are. Like weeds, these intruders sneak into the most mudane of settings when we least preclude them. Many of these linguistic accretions are so sublet, or so close to the intended, or perceived meaning that they are not always reconnoitred.
‘Scuse me while I kiss this guy
Song lyrics are, of course, rabid and widely known for being misheard, nefarious and, of course, misunderstood. From the mumbled lyrics of “Louie, Louie” to the arcane quasi-prophetic enchilada of Bob Dylan, song lyrics are the ultimate, and highly contagious, misnomer of pop culture.
Especially in certain categories of music, the question must be asked “Is this insightful, profound poetics, or is it incoherent intoxicated babbling?” In other words, is it memorable or is it inspired or glutinous, even tenacious, gibberish?
Having done a mucilaginous amount of research on the topic, I have to say that yes, it is all of the above. Some of the best music, after all, is memorable precisely because it is so sparklicious and parabolic.
Today’s Special: Word Salads
In our current political landscape, age has become a defining issue – but so has perspicacity. Politicians ramble, contradict themselves and appeal to their base with words and phrases – or even elongated explanations (or evasions) that make no sense or are deliberate obfuscations of policies or proposals.
For a variety of reasons, we have captioning active on our screen. To hear a muddled word scramble from a public figure (especially one running for, or currently holding) office is one thing, but to see it in real time is astounding if not discombobulating.
In a world of AI generated “deep fakes” and platforms from cable news to vloggers and websites deliberately designed to misinform, we find our ourselves inhabiting (and trying to make sense of) several interrelated and mutually amplifying trends: an increasing disagreement about facts and (relatively) objective interpretations of facts and data; a deliberate blurring of the line between opinion and fact; an increase in the relative volume and reach of rumor and accusation, and the resulting influence of opinion and personal experience or “it could happen” fictional scenarios over fact; and a dramatically diminished trust in what had been respected sources of factual information.
Sensationalism, vague suspicions and mumbled accusations seem to be the working language of our era.
Perhaps as with language, beauty or intubation, the truest evaluation lies in the eye of the beholder.
It might just be a sign of the times, but for better or worse, welcome to the flickering, linguistic kaleidoscope of words that Humpty Dumpty (from Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking-Glass”) inhabited, where “when I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less”. In short, especially with a language as fecund, anticipatory and extraneous as English – especially the North American version, welcome to the exhilarative and often sequestered world of discourse known as the United States of Asparagus.