A bad week for words

If you were in Hawaii last Saturday, you may have suffered 40 minutes of uncertainty when someone accidentally pressed a button warning that a ballistic missile was heading your way. I suppose it must have been horrible, but screw you! You were in Hawaii! Have you see the weather here?

The message people saw on their phones read as follows:

Clearly, this is a distressing message to read, but in my opinion not distressing enough.

I appreciate the all-caps, like an office worker complaining via email about the purloining of clearly labeled lunchroom snacks, but where are the exclamation marks? Or rather, where are the exclamation marks! If ever there was a call for exclamation marks, imminent destruction by a hostile foreign power is one.

People throw around exclamation marks like crazy. They’ve become virtually standard. You can no longer answer a text with a simple “Thanks.” It has to be “Thanks!” Otherwise, people are going to think you’re a selfish, ungrateful jerk-face. But more on Donald Trump later.

“Have a nice day!” “On sale now!” “Put some pants on!” All these are occasions when we happily apply one if not multiple exclamation marks. So clearly the emergency alert people should have capitalized on the drama with “THIS IS NOT A DRILL!!!”

And plain black Arial? No. This is no time for the blandest, least deadly of all the fonts. Cooper Black, Franklin Gothic Heavy, maybe even break out the Copperplate Gothic. “Comic Sans is the last font I want to see,” people would say, and in this case they might be right.

And it should be flashing like an early 2000s MySpace page. That’s how you get people’s attention just before they “take shelter” (as if that’s going to help.)

Incidentally, around here, I don’t think we have an emergency alert system. Instead, you just tell someone at the post office and in half an hour everyone knows.

But back to Hawaii (I wish!), it turned out not to be a real emergency, so in a way it was lucky this lacklustre, punctuation-starved alert had such little visual impact, otherwise there might have been real panic. Shortly after, a second alert was issued:

Again, lack of enthusiasm, poor punctuation. It should be “Repeat: False alarm.” Sloppy all-clears like this make me want to… EXPLODE! Like an intercontinental ballistic missile! And why can’t I go to Hawaii!!!

Also, I’m not sensing any real remorse in that second alert, no “whoops, our bad.” Surely it wouldn’t have hurt to add a ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ?

No one can explain how that first text got out, but the same can’t be said for President Trump. He knew exactly what he was doing last week when he described certain countries using a word that I can’t write in this family blog. Instead, I’ll write “sith-hole,” which, let’s say, is a place where Star Wars bad guys hang out, though I know you’re saying the actual word in your head right now, and for that I’m sorry. I’m sorry your brain has a filthy mouth.

There are no good substitutes for the word Trump used, no effective euphemisms. (Crumb-bum countries? Anus nations?) Consequently, news media were forced to break protocol and use the profanity, over and over and over. Outwardly, the standards people probably struggled with this decision, but the journalists themselves were undoubtedly delighted, since it is well know that journalists are the least mature of all professionals. Except maybe clown-fart inspectors. And humour writers.

But more disturbing than this breach of decorum — and, honestly, at this point, what is there left to breach? — is the spelling. I keep seeing it written as one word. That can’t be right. There has to be a hyphen in there, or two words. Otherwise, there’s the risk of running the T and the H together, making it sound like “shy thole.” And who among us hasn’t had a shy thole at one time or another?

And, yes, I’ve checked: “sith-hole” (the real word, the one I made you think again, written as one word) is not acceptable in Scrabble. But after this week, it might soon be.

So what do we take away from all this? 1. Hawaii is too close to North Korea. 2. If I were in charge of emergency alerts, Armageddon would really “POP!” 3. Language and how we use it are changing all the time. 4. Donald Trump is quite the sith-head.

About rossmurray1

I'm Canadian so I pronounce it "Aboot." No, I don't! I don't know any Canadian who says "aboot." Damnable lies! But I do know this Canadian is all about humour (with a U) and satire. Come by. I don't bite, or as we Canadians say, "beet."
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37 Responses to A bad week for words

  1. I argue back and forth with myself about the power of language and those exclamation points. Having an aversion to emoticons and over-excitement, I find that in today’s world, if you don’t use an exclamation point, you sound like Eeyore in print.
    Also, people really got distracted by the whole “poop circle” comment, as if context weren’t measurably worse. Very irritating. I absolutely agree that at the very least, the missile alert should be flashing and red!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Yesterday, in Canada, one of our federal ministers referred to some policy or other as “bullshit,” so this language is increasingly acceptable, so I’m of the thinking that “Emergency Alerts” should simply be headed “HOLY SHIT, EVERYONE!!!”

      • While a fan of well-placed profanities, I find myself shrinking in the face of so much public vulgarity by people in positions of power – those who are supposed to be leaders. They are really taking the fun and effectiveness out of swearing. Maybe it will lead to more creative words.

        • rossmurray1 says:

          English swearing has a lot to do with shame of the body. It’s part of our cultural hangup, and maybe this is the start of getting over it. You probably know this, but here in Quebec, all the swear words are based on religion. To each his shame.

  2. Melanie Thomson says:

    Good post!! A bit of appropriation from Seinfeld, perhaps? but good nonetheless.

  3. Carrie Rubin says:

    Ha, I think your #4 takeaway is indeed spot-on. Thanks for a great morning laugh. 😄

  4. Thank you, a nice start to the morning! (I mean, !!!)
    I appreciate a worldview (no hyphen!) in which incoming nuclear warheads are less important than grammar. We stand armored in our Copperplate Gothic.
    “Colonel, before you initiate all that complicated anti-ballistic missile stuff, let us address the inappropriateness of your poorly-phrased alert. “From whence did this projectile and our imminent annihilation originate?” might be one approach. Take up your pencil, and write that out one hundred times.”
    This Hawaii kerfuffle does seem to have stressed out people suffering from radioactivity intolerance, and in another irritating side effect, it caused my parents to reminisce about their school days. My sister and I never have any idea what they’re on about. “Parsing,” “caning,” “grammar,” “chalk,” no idea, we’ve just learned to tune this weird stuff out. But it’s kind of entertaining when they talk about air raid drills, getting under their desks, and then under the covers with a duck, or something, and pretending to swallow iodine pills. I posted a few pictures last year, from a visit to the “Diefenbunker.” Rest secure (rest securely??), in the deepest, most secure vault, originally designed for Canada’s gold reserves, there were hermetically-sealed crates of semicolons.

  5. We have alot of healthcare issues alright!!! 😨

    Thanks for the great laugh about the orange tinted sithhole to the south.

  6. byebyebeer says:

    Clown fart inspector! (I’m on the comment page so can’t check if that’s what you wrote, but I hope so.) I wondered about the shelter thing too. Didn’t think hiding in a basement would make much difference. Hawaii probably doesn’t have a lot of basements anyway.

  7. I’d have gotten the Star Wars call-out. We all would’ve. Trust your audience.

    I have a friend who’s an editor with NBC news and she said the staff discussion as to whether or not they should actually use the word was raucous and like no other meeting she’s attended. In the end (ha), the used it.

    One should never use exclamation points in writing. It is like laughing at your own joke.
    -Mark Twain

  8. ksbeth says:

    it appeared less urgent than a quick text to a spouse -“AND DON’T FORGET THE MILK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” OR ELSE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! – TEXT ME BACK SO I’M SURE YOU GOT MY TEXT!!!!!!!!!!!!”

    as for t-dump, there are no words.

  9. Language is indeed very powerful- for instance, to simply describe the missile alert in Hawaii as ‘someone accidentally pushed a button,’ adds weight to a non-fact, an assertion with no more evidence than the ballistic missile attack itself. In order to make a judgement about whether this warning was indeed an accident, one would expect to see a description of how it happened and who did it, neither of which have been forthcoming. A moderately skeptical person might consider doubting this narrative, although it is conveniently comedic. Similarly, the ‘sith-hole’ narrative has been denied by others present at the meeting, but it is now an accepted media ‘fact.’ But to point these things out is tedious, right?

  10. pinklightsabre says:

    That one’s a wiener.

  11. pinklightsabre says:


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