01 April 2011

My Vestigiality Campaign

They say paper is becoming obsolete. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. The issue has advanced beyond my influence. But I did ask if They would say that neckties are obsolete, and while They are at it, I have a few other recommendations.

Not so fast, said They. It turns out They have specific guidelines, and there is a procedure involved. Obsolescence has to follow an intermediate step. Just like Sainthood first requires beatification, for something to become obsolete it has to first become vestigial.

vestigial - Of or pertaining to a vestige or remnant; like a trace from the past.

Then They told me that if I had a candidate in mind, I should start by popularizing the notion of vestigiality. Fair enough. So today, I present my first set of candidates:


Neckties are like nuclear bombs. They are horrible and nobody likes them, but you've got to have them because the other guy does or else you're at a disadvantage. Aside from the madness of the formality race, I see no function whatsoever.

Neckties don't provide warmth when it's cold, but they do increase discomfort when it's hot. Most intuitively, a scrap of cloth hanging from the neck ought to be useful if you needed to wipe your nose. And yet, that is exactly the sort of thing you aren't "allowed" to use it for (or so They say).

I recommend that a collared shirt and jacket be considered adequate for business attire. For some occasions, we can continue to use bow ties: Bow ties look snazzier, they are associated with pleasant celebratory events (like weddings and Academy Awards) and they're good for social bonding because it's usually the men who wear them and it's usually the women who actually know how to tie them.

If anything, the necktie can be retained in its vestigial form and trotted out for funerals, when everyone is supposed to be miserable anyway.

The word dial

Once upon a yesteryear, telephonic communication was initiated by spinning a wheel-- hence, "dial my number". Radios and televisions were tuned by rotating a knob-- hence, "Don't touch that dial!" (as the broadcasting station would often say). Both have been replaced by digital interfaces. Telephone numbers are keyed in, typed in, or punched in. That's three replacement terms! Don't need that 'dial' anymore, do we?

I haven't anything against the word, by the way. It just seemed like something kinda 'hip' to include in my list and give me some notoriety.

So let's reserve the term in vestigial form as a reference to antiquity enthusiasts who play with bona fide dials. Hopefully, ten years from now when some guy is tinkering with a ham radio and says he "dialed in a frequency", his audience will be amazed by the (presumed) talent necessary to accomplish such a delicate task normally reserved for computers.

mile markers

I'm not referring to those vaguely helpful signs that display things like "Spokane: 96 miles". Let's call that a miles-to-go sign.

Mile markers are different. For those who aren't familiar with the U.S. highway system, these markers are placed once every... wait for it... mile, with incremental numbers of mysterious derivation. For most people, this provides two bits of information: First, it tells you exactly the same thing your odometer could have told you, but with some clunky additional calculations required; Second, it tells you that '76' comes after '75', which comes after '74', etc.

The derivation, to satisfy your curiosity, is this: If the highway terminates within the state, then the number indicates the distance to the highway's termination (at which point it usually continues anyway, but with a different name); and if the highway continues past the state's border, the number indicates the mileage to the state line.

If you've seen such markers all your life and didn't know that, then I think I've made my point. The only purpose they might serve is to give children something to watch for on long road trips. But until a comprehensive study proves otherwise, I'm going to assume that the markers (1)Make children more impatient, and (2)Distract them for the glorious scenes of rolling grain and grazing/pooping cattle that deserve their undivided attention.

But a long series of posts on the side of the road is still filled with potential. I suggest we move the numbers to the back side, just in case some surveyer with a broken GPS unit has need of them. Replace the front side with puzzle games for the kids.

The 'at' in 'Where is that at?'

Alas, how best to explain the complete meaningless excess of this dangling preposition? It's like the word gollum in "They stole it from us, gollum!" Or the word gollum in "We wants it, gollum!" It's just a nasty little sound that indicates a malfunctioning language center. And it perpetuates ridiculous jokes of a form you might recognize:

A: Where's my coat at?
B: You shouldn't end sentences with a preposition.
A: Where's my coat at, [crude insult].

Ha ha. First, dumbass, no respectable grammarian thinks that prepositional endings are always disallowed. Second, adding an address afterward doesn't correct the mistake. The preposition needs to point to an object noun.

The only acceptable vestigial use is as a rhyme for "Love Shack".

And speaking of old jokes...

light bulb jokes

Most of us still have light bulbs in our home that require changing. But don't count on that being true for long. Incandescence is becoming more advanced, with exceptionally long-lasting bulbs. And even those that do need changed might soon be swapped out with a slide-and-click instead of the traditional (and joke-supporting) screw-in.

More to the point, the act of changing a light bulb was once the lowest common household maintenance task that involved some kind of technology but everyone still did themselves. Surely, we can find a new candidate to support some new jokes. Let's leave the existing light bulb jokes as vestiges of nostalgia, and create new material with... say... disc changing jokes.

A: How many WSU [or insert your rival school's name here] students does it take to change a disc?
B: How many?
A: Nobody knows. They won't hit 'eject' until it stops spinning.

A: How many lawyers does it take to change a disc?
B: How many?
A: You aren't licensed to alter that content!

You get the idea.



Hart Johnson said...

Have I said, lately, that I love you, Jason? Well it's true. I do. Your humor always hits home, whether it is the nudist, anti discomfort me, or the youthful Idaho Vandal. And I've never met a nice person in a necktie... and YES, I blame the tie...

I was going to argue vociferously on the mile markers, but the fact of the matter is, it was only as a child passenger, and I WOULD have enjoyed a puzzle more (though I still use them navigating Chicago because those are in 10ths of miles, which my car doesn't do, so it is a sort of odd fascination for me...

ViolaNut said...

I vote for the creation of a new repository for disc-changing jokes. ;-) Although "screw" is such a lovely flexible word... and I DID change two light bulbs this morning... ;-)

Charmaine Clancy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Charmaine Clancy said...

Totally with you on the neck ties - I never quite got what they were for.

Wagging Tales - Blog for Writers

Charmaine Clancy said...

Totally with you on the neck ties - I never quite got what they were for.

Wagging Tales - Blog for Writers