the proper spelling of fish head
January 21, 2002 10:51 AM

When Alanis Morissette was on Nickelodeon and they started the idea of doing on television what you could not (which was, basically, to drop green slimey stuff on people). There was a song about fish heads.

Someone told me to send fish heads or flowers to someone I know. It's apparently another iteration of the diaryland public diary. Fish heads are bad and flowers are good. It's bouquets and brickbats, or any other odd pair of objects with names of apparent little meaning.

But I know the song. And fish heads are good. They're roly and poly, or rather roly-poly, as neither the former nor the latter are words and the combination is therefore wholy made up, wholy sing-song. And probably has a distant attachment to plague, slavery, or sex. As most childhood words seem to have.

Today I'd pass out your unpleasant object of choice to all the communications media. The number of times people (self included) have been forced to repeat the same sentence with different words and intonation today.

The Sprint PCS people let me down with their advertising. One of my dearest friends and I had a "what?" conversation, hingeing largely on our tendency to say "okay..." (meaning, yes, go on) and the phones' penchant for delivering this as "hey!?" (meaning something entirely different). We're smarter than the people in the commercials, so I doubt we'll run off and follow any bizarre advice we thought we heard. But still. Having to ask.

That's annoying, isn't it?

And the internet has always been an imprecise medium. Too much of communication is subtracted from it, and the complexity of connotation is completely lost without face and voice.

I propose an internet vocabulary. Maybe five hundred words. Maybe less. With rigid definitions sanctioned by the W3C, a standard set of prefixes (see 1984) and no subtlety allowed. And your pages are either internet vocabulary compliant or not (the latter meaning, of course, that the reader cannot trust that her perception of what you write is what you meant to say at all).

Then we never guess. We don't seek clarification; either we don't need it, or we accept that we won't get it. I'm tired of guessing at what words to use to have a sentence read the way I intend it.

This page, as one might imagine, is not IV compliant. There is no guarantee that you and I are having the same conversation, reading the same words, or even thinking vaguely the same thing.

Read at your peril. Or mine. And pass those brickbats.

By the way, Webster has this to say on the topic of brickbats. It apparently has no opinion on the spelling of fishhead or fish head. I'm at a loss.

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