Bay Reflections
 Vol. 10, No. 5

January 31 - February 6, 2002

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A Number of Words
by Pat Piper

The American Dialect Society, a collection of English professors who obviously have too much time on their hands, is out with its Word of the Year for 2001: 9-1-1.

(Now here is where I have to be up front. I slept through most of my English classes. I did wake up to read Great Expectations, but when the topic turned to diagramming sentences or spelling, I was elsewhere even though I was in the room. Filling out an application for MENSA has never been a concern, if you get what I’m saying here).

The last time I looked, 9-1-1 was a number to signify a date. Or it is a number we dial when there’s an emergency? It isn’t a word, and the three numbers don’t spell anything.

7-Eleven, however, is a word because it’s a proper noun identifying where you can get a 108-ounce Slurpie at 7 in the morning.

But the English professors are trying to tell us the numbers we use for the date September 11 are actually a word. No wonder that verbal SAT scores are tanking.

Using the American Dialect Society logic, we have invented a word, 9-1-1, to replace a date, September 11. I also slept through history class, but we were never taught about “12-7,” when Pearl Harbor was bombed. I was in class on “11-22,” when President Kennedy went to Dallas, but everyone just called it November 22.

Are we in such a hurry that we can’t say September? If this is the case, then the burden is on the American Dialect Society to provide more single-syllable words. We’ll just forget September and call it nine. The extra time that results from not having to use all those long words can be used to find Osama bin Laden or fish the puppy hole off Tangier Island.

I should mention this is the same group that decided Y2K was the Word of the Year for 1999. Back then, we didn’t have enough time to say two thousand because we were concerned that government computers would explode and lose track of social security payments. But back then, we couldn’t even agree as to when the new millennium actually began — January 1, 2000, or January 1, 2001, — much less argue whether the date was either a word or a number.

We live in a hurried society. For whatever reason, each of us is using a few letters (SUV, AOL, DVD) to describe some kind of thing. (I have been known to use a combination of letters to describe Redskins fans, but that’s a separate issue.) So it probably shouldn’t come as any news flash that we are following the same routine when speaking of that horrible September day.

But despite the speed at which we travel, most of us can still tell the difference between a number and a word.

Parents, if your kids this evening say he or she want to join the American Dialect Society, make them watch television — a Redskins-Chicago game or Kathie Lee reruns — for 10 hours and then ask if they are ready to reconsider that idea.

See what too much Charles Dickens will do to a child?

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly