Sunday, September 30, 2012

“Are you in?”—How to Write Gibberish

By Margaret Curtis, PhD

Commercial and political writers now perform the latest version of “The Cool Jerk” by asking that question: “Are you in?” According to that paragon of wisdom Wikipedia, "Cool Jerk" “is a popular song written by Donald Storball and originally performed by The Capitols. Released in 1966, it reached No. 2 on the American R&B chart and No. 7 on the pop chart. An entertaining song, now available on numerous websites, it continues to hypnotize dancers on YouTube. It repeats the three-word title as often as possible so you won’t forget it. In politics, we call these lyrics “Talking Points.”

In English, however, we call this habit “gibberish.” First, this question conveys no meaning. This lack derives from an incomplete prepositional phrase, leaving the listener dangling, to supply his own object for the preposition “in.” This omission betrays similarity to another bit of gibberish in the expression “She was there for me.” In this case, too, the audience receives no clue what “there” means.

This kind of diction relies on a game of pretend: IF you are a pal of the speaker, of course, you are supposed to be “in the know,” too, when translating gibberish to English. You are also supposed to guess correctly what on earth that character is talking about, because he really couldn’t tell you, could he? Shhhh! With such words we enter the world of code-speak. In fact, gibberish, otherwise known as “slang,” depends completely on secrecy for correct translation. Either you are in the “In Crowd,” or you don’t understand a word of its meaning. In this case, the meaning declares an assault on the English language.

As a preposition, “in” implies “inside,” as opposed to “outside.” The geography of these locations needs to be specified, or even a map won’t get you to your destination. “In” does not serve the same purpose as that other preposition “into.” In other words, you are “in the dark” when you are “inside” a closed location, but you still have a chance to see the light when you are on your way “into” that same location. A door may get you there, IF one comes with the property. A vote or purchase price may also do the trick IF you qualify, either by possessing or not possessing money.

Obviously, now that we have pursued “in” this far, we must recognize that “in” implies “out,” as well. Thus we arrive at the latest gibberish related to the old gibberish explicated above. Here, Wikipedia again does its best to keep up with non-English speakers. It provides two terms carrying “in” and “out” to the geopolitical realm:

“An enclave is a territory entirely surrounded by another territory.
An exclave, on the other hand, is a territory legally or politically attached to another territory with which it is not physically contiguous.”

Just substitute “in” for “en” and “out” for “ex,” and you 
get the idea. If you belong to an “enclave,” you are 
“surrounded.” If you belong to an “exclave,” you get to 
be in “ex-ile” from your home base. 

Just how weird can English get? That capacity depends 
on how familiar you are with Westerns, maybe. IF you 
are an “in-law,” you are already in trouble. If you are an 
“outlaw,” you know what trouble means. It means an 
election is underway, and somebody’s always trying to 
sell you something.
Pardon me now. I must take a break. I will go “out” for a while. Then, I will come “into” this blog again, after my head clears of gibberish. Dancing to “The Cool Jerk” supplies good exercise for the First Presidential Debate of 2012. Don’t miss it! All the mental mush accumulated during the last few years must go "out" some door or window. All of us on the “inside” must prepare to go “outside,” or vice versa. Does Google offer a map for this tango? Or is that one of those apps that leads everyone to road rage on their way “out” or “in”?   

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