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Bear column: Are you a word nerd?

Does the spelling, grammar and punctuation in your friends’ Facebook posts make you cringe like a choir boy at an Ozzy Osborne concert?

Do you fire off sternly-worded letters to marketers about their butchering of the English language with slogans like, “Got Milk,” “Eat Fresh,” and “Leggo my Eggo”?

When a friend asks you for book recommendations, do you compile a detailed list categorized by genre that includes excerpts, bios on the authors, and disturbingly personal descriptions like, “I read this one while getting a foot massage in a hookah bar”?

Do you wander the aisles of Barnes and Noble just to experience that new book smell?

Then you just might just be a word nerd.

After years of hiding my literary tendencies behind sports pages, I’ve had my existential moment — I’m an ink-stained word nerd, and I’ve got the job to prove it.  

My official title at the Post Independent is Copy Editor, from the Latin editus exemplum, which roughly translated means, “Pallid person with permanently dilated pupils.”

Part of my job at the PI is editing the letters to the editor. I’ve noticed a pattern recently of letter writers taking short cuts. The “&” has all but replaced the word “and” these days, and “2” has become the numeral of choice for those who don’t have time to mine the complexities of “to,” “too,” or “two” usage.

I wasn’t always a word nerd. When I was young I wanted to be a rock star. But let me tell you, my friend, it’s a slippery slope from rock star to word nerd. It starts with you pondering the deeper meaning of some Bob Dylan lyric. Then you start experimenting with the poetry of Dylan Thomas. That’s your gateway to the harder stuff like Thomas Wolfe, Charles Bukowski or Hunter Thompson.

The next thing you know you’re in a trench coat, fedora and sunglasses perusing the pulp fiction aisle in some dimly lit, back-alley bookstore.

I was a lazy student in grade school, but for some reason I always did well on essays. We all have our gifts. Mine is the ability to write 500 words about almost anything and make it sound plausible, which I guess is a prerequisite for columnists.

You all remember that dreadful moment when some teacher assigned your class a 500-word essay on… for the purpose of my own indulgence let’s say “Why can’t the Rockies assemble a consistent pitching staff?” Remember the collective groan from the classroom? The navel-gazing expressions? Meanwhile, there I was in the back row scribbling a surprisingly coherent argument for legalizing the spitball.

The English language is constantly evolving, and has been since at least the 1990s when singer and celebrated etymologist Alanis Morrisette pioneered a new meaning for the word “ironic.”

Educators say that the average American reads at a 7th-to 8th-grade level. Meanwhile, high school dances are still, incomprehensibly, popular. This proves once and for all that high schoolers are more interested in antiquated mating rituals than how to modify a verb or prevent their participles from dangling.

Thank god Al Gore invented texting so America’s youth may now overcome their inherent lack of English skills by communicating in acronyms like OMG, BTW and ROTFL. I’m so old I remember when people would say “TGIF” with a snicker, like it was some kind of inside joke.

But the new emphasis on acronyms has caused untold collateral damage to the psyches of some of us… ahem… older folks whose pharmaceutically-infused brains have become as pliable as Silly Putty in recent years.

It’s disconcerting that now when someone says something funny I think “LOL” instead of actually laughing out loud. Of course, that may just be a product of my debilitating introversion — another common affliction among us word nerds.

But texting isn’t all that bad. At least it got us away from refrigerator magnets being the primary method of communication between parents and their children.

It also guarantees that we humans won’t be losing our opposable thumbs to evolution any time soon.

You may be tempted to write all this off as the ramblings of an aging wordsmith who has been sniffing the ink well for too many years. But I’m envisioning a literary revolution on the horizon — a veritable WordNerdapalooza — and it will not be televised, you’re going to have to read about it. So mind your Ps and Qs, my friends.

Jeff Bear is a copy editor and reporter for the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. You can reach him at jbear@postindependent.com.


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