Local Origins of the Next Great Exclamation

The English language sees countless new words and expressions coined each year, as human needs and experience shape and alter our common vocabulary. Far away, in distant England, in a musty study, there’s a learned British lexicographer who probably tracks so many of these new expressions as he can.

The old Oxford don likely spends all day, and well into each night, thinking about the evolution of the English language. America, a large and dynamic place, must contribute many of his new finds.

When a person first spoke or wrote the expression, ‘WTF,’ I’m sure that clever British academic soon learned of it, and recorded its provenance. I don’t know where the expression was first used, but I bet that he does.

Here, in small-town Whitewater, we may soon find ourselves part of his latest discovery, that of the next great exclamation of shock, surprise, puzzlement, and irritation. Every expression begins somewhere, and the next great exclamation may well begin right here. We may even be able to identify the first cause of that new exclamation. I think this will prove that first cause, from the November 5th Weekly Report of Whitewater’s city manager:

Beginning this week, I will begin featuring the quotes that will be inscribed on the walls of the new Whitewater Innovation Center. These quotes are intended to capture the entrepreneurial spirit and ambition that all are hoping to facilitate in this new business incubator facility.

“If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative.”

-Woody Allen

Well, there’s the kindling of the next, great exclamation of utter exasperation. Some might read this quotation and its intended use and mutter ‘WTF,’ but others are likely to find that current expression wholly inadequate to the choice of this inscription.

At least one of those others probably coined something new, already, on first reading the Weekly Report.

Woody Allen as explicator of the entrepreneurial spirit — that’s possible only if one defines the entrepreneurial spirit such that the definition could apply to anyone, at anytime.

That’s the problem with the whole Innovation Center: a wasteful project, where a few proud officials simply offer one empty or false declaration after another, relying on absurd contentions in the place of real accomplishments.

Where officials substitute words for accomplishments, it was only a matter of time before one of them thought the insights of Woody Allen worthily described an entrepreneurial culture.

Allen’s a noted film-maker, but he’s no one with special insight into entrepreneurial life. Actually, he’s someone sadly, morbidly obsessed with death and the supposed meaninglessness of existence. Allen’s recent interview with the National Post on May 15, 2010 about life is more a cry for assistance than insight:

I have a very grim, pessimistic view of it. I always have since I was a little boy. It hasn’t gotten worse with age or anything. I do feel that it’s a grim, painful, nightmarish, meaningless experience, and the only way you can be happy is if you . . . deceive yourself.

On the contrary, there’s profound meaning to life, Allen’s false and bleak view notwithstanding. It’s almost a parody of reasoning — disguised as youthful insight — that the septuagenarian Allen holds to a feeling that is — by his own account — nothing but the unchanged, morbid perspective of a boy.

By the way — If ‘not failing every now and again’ means one’s ‘not doing anything very innovative,’ then does failing time and again mean that one’s supremely innovative? I don’t think so, but if such should be true, then our municipal administration would have quite the Innovation Center after all.

I can think of no more fitting inscription for the Innovation Center than one that’s as odd as the project itself.

There’s a bonus in this, too.

Somewhere in England, our language’s finest scholar will have a new word to mark, an exclamation for a new decade, courtesy of our small city.