By Joe Diorio
A colleague was a cheerleader in college. Each year she and her squad would go to a weeklong preseason camp attended by cheer squads from other colleges and universities. One of the teams in attendance was from Penn State University. Every morning at breakfast, the camp cafeteria would erupt with the Penn Staters shouting, “We are … Penn State!”
A good showing of school pride, I suppose. But by the last day of camp all the other cheer squads had their fill of the cheer and would respond to that chant with, “We aren’t. Shut up!”
The “We are … Penn State” is a familiar chant in college sports and has been etched in stone as a part of Penn State University, which successfully filed a trademark for the cheer. Heaven forbid some other school hijack that ditty.
Before anyone rolls their eyeballs, consider that the trademark of a collegiate chant is not limited to a full phrase. On June 23, Ohio State University, after several attempts, trademarked the word “The.”
Yes, just the word “The.” After three years of trying to get a trademark, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office approved the school’s application.
“The” is deeply ingrained with Ohio State University alumni. In addition to the “O-H-I-O” chant, Ohio State fans can be heard yelling “THE Ohio State” during football games.
Now, no one should run to their laptop and start putting the trademark symbol next to every usage of the word. The trademark only applies to sales of Ohio State University clothing, so it’s a rather narrow trademark.
Gender neutral pronouns
I confess to not thinking much about using gender neutral pronouns until I was working in higher education, and someone explained their value this way, “it’s a show of respect.” That is good enough for me.
That said, it was disappointing to read that Argentina has imposed one of the world’s first bans on gender-neutral language. The argument is that this degrades the language.
Welp, I am not a linguist, and I am no expert in Spanish, despite three years of high school classes and one semester in college (I’m a slow learner). But I do know that language is an evolving thing. We would sound a bit off if our language never evolved. Consider this exchange between Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams) and a night watchman named Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) in the movie, “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian.”
Amelia Earhart: “Crimey, we’re jimmy-jacked!”
Larry Daley: “Jimmy-jacked?”
Amelia Earhart: “It’s the way I speak.”
Larry Daley: “Yeah, but that sounds made-up, even for you …”
Amelia Earhart: “’Oh, no, our path has been blocked by bad people.’ What’s the fun in that?”
Larry Daley: “Yeah, you’re right. We are …”
Amelia Earhart: “Jimmy-jacked.”
Change is the one constant in language. I won’t cry for Argentina. But I won’t applaud this decision either.
New Poet Laureate
Kudos to Ada Limón, who on July 12 was named by the U.S. Library of Congress as the 24th U.S. poet laureate, officially called the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry. “Poetry is a way to remember our relationship with the natural world is reciprocal,” Limón says. “It’s having a place to breathe and having a place to pay attention.”
Language talk reminder Remember, I will deliver an online talk on Saturday, August 13 at 2 p.m. at the National Museum of Language. My talk will be about writing, grammar, and how a love of words led to a book. Please join me. It’s via Zoom and I’d hate to feel like I’m talking to myself.
Let’s write carefully out there, people.
Joe Diorio is a writer living in Fort Myers, Florida. His double award-winning first book, A Few Words About Words, is available now.