Weird Al Parodies

Weird Al Yankovic videos seem to be everywhere. To promote his new album, "Mandatory Fun," Yankovic partnered with seven different producers and released a video each day. The producers, which include College Humor and Funny or Die, paid for the video and keep the ad revenue generated.

Two videos are relevant to business communication. The first, "Word Crimes," a parody of Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines," reminds audiences of proper grammar.

John McWhorten, at Columbia University, explains the linguist's dilemma:

Linguists have been trying forever to get the public to stop looking down on casual speech, including the words and expressions often condemned as "mistakes." It's not that we don't understand that you need standard English too, but we cherish the idea that people can speak that way in public and the casual way with their intimates.

The Word Crimes video, skewering people who neglect the "Sunday best" grammar as degenerates, is one of an endless stream of indications that linguists are fighting a losing battle. When I myself pitch in from the linguist's corner on such matters, I get to savor reams of indignant correspondence, including frequent declarations that I should not be teaching at a university.

And it's time linguists admitted that part of the problem is with us. When a songwriter is clever enough to remind America to distinguish less from fewer "like people who were / never raised in a sewer," it won't do for linguists to say one more time that people should be able to talk however they want to-especially since that's not really what even we mean ourselves.

The second video, "Mission Statement," pokes fun at corporate cliches and jargon, some of which you'll read in Chapter 5 of the text.

In Rolling Stone, Yankovic describes his inspiration for "Mission Statement":

"'I wanted to do a song about all the ridiculous double-speak and meaningless buzzwords that I've been hearing in office environments my entire life,' Yankovic said. 'I just thought it would be ironic to juxtapose that with the song stylings of CSN [Crosby, Stills, & Nash], whose music pretty much symbolizes the antithesis of corporate America.'"

My favorite of the Yankovic series is "Tacky," a parody of "Happy," particularly the lyrics: "I would live-tweet a funeral."

Discussion Starters:

  • Watch the "Word Crimes" video, and describe Yankovic's choices. Why did he choose the examples he did? What other common errors would be appropriate to include?
  • Look at five or ten corporate mission statements online. How many of Yankovic's "Mission Statement" examples do you see?
  • These are popular videos, with more than 10 million views of "Word Crimes." Do you think they will make a difference in how people speak and write?