Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Lavishly decorate my workspace

The general culture of our particular workplace is, mmm, perhaps more youth-oriented than some. (Boeing, say, or Safeco Insurance.) When we came into work the other morning, the place was festooned with posters for a new campaign designed to get internal people interested in Windows Live Messenger. The campaign is titled "Pimp your Office", and the idea is that you take a picture of your sorry office and upload it to a shared folder on WLM. Then people go have a gander and vote. Result: traffic. (I guess.) The winner has their* office "pimped" with stuff like a couch and big plasma monitor

Well. It didn't take particularly long for HR to get sucked into a controversy about the term pimp. Official dictionary definitions were bandied about and various people professed to be mortally offended.

Google currently gets 2.6 million hits for the phrase pimp your, although that might be false, since I think they don't actually index your. Certainly the first several pages of search results contain the phrase pimp your ... or pimp my ...". This includes the lifehacker.com site ("Pimp your Mac Mini"), and there are pages that will help your "pimp your blog," "pimp your Web page," and "pimp your MySpace." There's a page with a post titled "Pimp Your Tech Writer." (FWIW, the way I read that post, they're not using the term as I understand it.)

When does a term that's current in youth culture become widely acceptable? Some older people cringe whenever they hear the term sucks, as in This music sucks. The word suck has become a mainstream, if very informal, term. (There once was an irreverant magazine, I guess you'd call it, at www.suck.com.) I wonder what reaction we'd get from people who are objecting to pimp your office if there were a poster that said something like Does your office suck? And what about that classic Johnny Paycheck song "Take this job and shove it"?

Update I am reminded of some other terms that are in common (informal) use but that have nominally vulgar origins: snafu; fubar; that blows (synonymous with that sucks); putz; schmuck; the various forms of WTF (discussed here before); ballsy. Prolly plenty more.

For anything we do on our team (technical documentation), pimp is still on the "forbidden terminology" list, along with a truly impressive variety of Anglo-Saxon terms. I don't know whether the marketing folks have to adhere to the same rules. In this case, it's quite likely the hipness overruled that list, assuming it even occurred to the poster's producers that they had a controversy on their hands.

* Used deliberately. No grief, please; if you think that their cannot refer to singular antecedents, you are wrong, sorry.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Next: Opinionation

I learn second (or some subsequent) hand that George Bush recently said "all the sharp elbows being thrown and the people opinionating and screaming and hollering." Pundits debate. Jan Freeman at the Boston Globe asks "Is it legit?" In response to her own question, she says:
And 400 years ago, opinionate was standard English, though writers in need of a verb meaning "believe, express an opinion about" could also choose opine or opinion. "Pythagoras opinionated [the soul] a Number moving of it selfe," says a 1643 tract cited in the Oxford English Dictionary. Opine has since pulled far ahead in the popularity contest, but that doesn't mean opinionate is dead.
Well, whew for that. I thought for a moment there that we might have an illegitimate verb, and that would mean that ... uh ... well ... Well, someone's going to have to tell the President.

This kind of thing has a tendency to annoy those in the "we already have a word for that" school, which would hold that ipso facto the new word is illegitimate. As Freeman notes, the already-have word is opine. However, she comes to the defense of the "new" word by noting that it has a subtle distinction from opine; she notes the analogy of the subtle distinction between comment (what you and I do) and commentate (what people do who are paid to comment).

But words don't need to be justified by the lexirati to be "legit." Whether opinionate means exactly the same thing as opine or not, it's out there. One thing that Freeman does not mention is that opine is a stuffy word and probably not used much by ordinary speakers. And why should it be? The relationship between opinion and opine is hardly obvious, certainly nowhere near as obvious as the relationship between opinion and opinionate. It's not inconceivable that opinionate could even replace opine someday, and the latter could come to be seen as an archaic term. (Current Google count for opine: 5.2 million; for opinionate, a paltry 48,000.)

Extending nouns to verb them is a common enough occurence; we recently saw executionalize. And although the -ate suffix seems to really bug some people, it's a, you know, legitimate way to form new verbs. (hyphenate, disambiguate, etc.) When I was in the U.K., I picked up to orientate as a pretty common variant on to orient. I use it now and then, mostly for my own amusement, seeing as how it often gets a rise out of people. I did that the other day, and sure enough someone cringed. I could not convince them that it was a common usage in Britain.

Paul Niquette devotes a page to the topic of orient and orientate and, as he says, "marked the beginning of a personal effort to identify every potential 'misguided back-formation' -- verbs that might have been derived from English nouns ending in '-ation'..." And boy howdy, he does come up with quite a list: adaptate, administrate, admirate, adorate, ...

For laffs, we could ponder -- that is, we could opine -- on what other new verbs we might see some day:

evaluationate (Heh, wouldn't that be hilarious?)