Tuesday, April 15, 2008


I love words. Primarily in English, although other languages are fun too.

I like to write as well - although typing, it really has to be said, isn't my forte. Actually, what I originally typed there was that 'typing isn't my frote' which has an entirely different, although not entirely incorrect, meaning. This sort of proves my point.

Sometimes, my poor typing, when compounded by a lack of spell-checker, can get me into serious trouble. Imagine, if you will, the repercussions of missing the final 'o' from the sentence: I tried to talk to her but she was out for the count. Actually, even the linguistic airbag and seatbelt combo of the spell checker failed to save me on that one.

Happily, however, the results of my mistyping are frequently creative and sometimes informative. The best typos are those which look like they should mean something, but really aren't 'genuine' words. For example, it was in this way that I 'invented'[1] the word 'confustion' a good few years ago. At the time it didn't show up on any web searches but, more recently, it has appeared in the urban dictionary. Happily, the first definition attributed to it is pretty much exactly what I thought it should mean: a cross between confusion and frustration. (In which respect it adequately describes my day job.)

Some time later, a similar happy accident resulted in the apparent birth of the word 'scrobble'. Obviously, before 'laying claim' to it and giving it a meaning I had to Google it to see if it was already in use, but I thought it sounded like a friendly sort of word. The name of a over sized but amicable ginger cat, for example. Or maybe it should be a verb - some kind of well meaning, bumbling searching activity. As in, "She scrobbled in the depths of her handbag and managed to extract a mint humbug - miraculously still protected from the pocket-fluff that lived there by its rustling cellophane wrapper." You can imagine, then, my disappointed horror when the Google search threw this up:

Urban Dictionary: Scrobble
To scrobble is the action of shaving ones testicles with a rusty blade.

My nice friendly word has been hijacked to describe a bizarrely unpleasant activity. What would the neighbours have thought If I'd stood on the back doorstep of an evening calling in the cat... 'Scrobble! Scrobble! Din-dins!' Doesn't bear thinking about. I didn't bother to search any further, and certainly didn't click on the link.

Fast forward a couple of years to the point where the Grumbler is now a podcaster as well as a blogger and interested in all things to do with music. A friend recommended to me that I should check out last.fm as a source of legitimate music and inspiration. And indeed it is, but I nearly had heart failure when it advised me to download a piece of code which, it said, would scrobble my music collection! It brought to mind quite horrific images which I have spent weeks trying to forget, and frankly I don't think many of the artists would have reacted well to the prospect. Its doubtful that Ian Dury, for one, would have reacted positively to the idea that he attempt to deforest his family jewels with the aid of a tetanus encrusted pen-knife, and I really don't think its something Melissa Etheridge would take lying down. I'm not prepared to guess how Iggy Pop would view it, but there's always one dum-dum boy.

There are two possible morals to this story.
  • Either Last.fm should have been more careful with the naming of this practice,
  • or it really doesn't matter what someone else thinks a word means, as long as you know what you mean when you use it.

I strongly suspect that latter approach is how a lot of the people in the company I work for treat language - they will clumsily raid the craftsman's toolbox of language, and happily use an expensive chisel to undo a two cent screw. Bloody Philistines.

Still, if you cant beat 'em, join 'em. So you can hooptiously drangle me with crinkly bindlewurdles, Or I will rend thee in the gobberwarts with my blurglecruncheon, See if I don't![2] Know what I mean?

[1] No, of course I didn't invent it. But I hadn't seen it before, and I couldn't find any use of it on Google at the time.
[2] With apologies to the great Douglas Adams who, being dead, probably doesn't give a toss.


Rowley said...

Heh heh, scrobbling is cool, no matter what you call it :)

Anonymous said...

So, the drunken sailor line of "shave his belly with a rusty razor" is more in tune than "scrobble him with a rusty razor" ?

Meg Bear said...

what are you trying to say about me Paul? ;-)

"I strongly suspect that latter approach is how a lot of the people in the company I work for treat language - they will clumsily raid the craftsman's toolbox of language, and happily use an expensive chisel to undo a two cent screw. Bloody Philistines."

The Grumbler said...

Hey Meg, not a snipe directed at you at all, but thanks for the "updation". Aaaaaargghhhh....