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February 27, 2002
Joshua Clegg Caffery recently moved up in the world from The Times’ cultural writer to cultural editor. Luckily I don’t perform in his one-man pony show, so I haven’t had to see him drunk on his new power. I know it’s happening, though. His office is right next door to mine and I’ve been hearing his insane, blood-curdling cackle.
Since his reign began, Caffery has issued a few edicts that everyone has ignored. Despite his insistence, we have all vowed to never refer to him as “Ambassador Caffery.” Whenever he speaks, we all smile politely and nod our heads. Then we ignore him. It’s the only thing that seems to work. But recently he went too far, and his once harmless, senseless babbling now threatens the very fabric of Acadiana’s culture.
Caffery now believes that the word zydeco needs to be capitalized. Cajun is always capitalized and the word zydeco isn’t. When the words are placed together, as in “Cajun and zydeco music,” Caffery says that it just doesn’t look right. I agree with him. It doesn’t look right, but it is right. His solution to the problem? Begin capitalizing the word zydeco.
I wondered what writers had done in the past about the word zydeco. I consulted the following books: Barry Ancelet and Elemore Morgan Jr.’s Cajun and Creole Music Makers, Ann Savoy’s Cajun Music, John Broven’s South to Louisiana, Michael Tisserand’s The Kingdom of Zydeco and Ben Sandmel and Rick Olivier’s Zydeco! Only when the word zydeco was part of a title or the first word in a sentence was it capitalized. Perhaps all those folks are wrong and Führer von Caffery can correct them.
While capitalizing zydeco may look right, it’s still wrong. Cajun is capitalized at all times, whether you’re describing music, food, humor or anything. It refers to a group of people. Zydeco, on the other hand, does not. It refers to a type of music. Now, if you’re talking about Creoles, then it’s capitalized. The musical styles of jazz, punk, folk, big band, blues, rock, classical, hip hop, rhythm and blues, new age, bluegrass, world music, polka, alternative, swing, salsa, new wave, soul, easy listening, heavy metal, country, funk, gospel, rap, reggae, swamp pop, etc., are not capitalized because they are not proper nouns. The words refer to a particular style of music, not the people performing the music. If you’re talking about a style of music that is also associated with an ethnic group, such as African or Celtic, then it is capitalized since it refers to a group of people foremost.
Now, His Majesty’s whole “it doesn’t look right to me” argument isn’t completely without merit. I’ve been giving it some thought and even though I think it is extremely volatile, I also believe that it just might be used for good instead of evil. Rarely do I think what I’ve written looks right, so I’m making a few alterations to the English language, just a few tweaks, to adjust the language to my whims. Bear with me. Once you understand the new rules, I think you’ll agree that my way is certainly better that the standard, accepted way of millions of other people.
INSTEAD OF USING WORDS THAT CONVEY A SENSE OF URGENCY, I’VE DECIDED IT’S BETTER TO CAPITALIZE EVERYTHING. THAT WAY YOU WILL KNOW WHEN I AM SERIOUS. WHEN I REALLY WANT YOUR ATTENTION, I WILL MAKE THE WORDS BOLD. AND IF NONE OF THESE TACTICS WORK, I CAN ALWAYS RESORT TO THE EXCLAMATION POINT! TO DENOTE ECSTACY, I WILL RESORT TO SEVERAL OF THEM SO THAT YOU, TOO, CAN FEEL THE EXCITEMENT!!!! (You see? It’s working already.)
I alsew dont lik how we spel thangs, sew Im considrn speln evrethang lik it sownz 2 me sew that wa yal wil no wat Im talkn bout an it wil mak mor cens 2 u.
At times my writing lacks grace. I’ve decided that when I want my sentences to be fancy, I won’t go digging for no fancy words, I’ll just make them look fancier. You won’t notice the awful writing. You’ll be too mesmerized by my use of italics.
Now I know at first glance all of these changes may appear to be drastic, but rest assured that with time and some study, you can achieve a new perception of how the English language should work, according to me.
Traditionally language has evolved when a group of people agrees on its common usage. That doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. These days all it takes is one court jester masquerading as the new emperor and his profound sense of noblesse oblige.