Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Pirates, Stereo, Mad Cows, and The Power of Words

In a time before personal computers and AIDS, I was told to come in after class by my English teacher in high school. She wanted to talk to me about some words I had used in class. These didn't include the F word, the S word, or any on George Carlin's list. They included pissed (as in "pissed off") and bitch (as in "bitched out").

She was probably in her forties, and probably considered herself hip to these kids, but was undoubtedly raised in a time when there was little wiggle room in school on the concept of "proper" language. She wanted me to say "ticked off" instead of "pissed off", and my concept was that words were free and shouldn't be constrained, while I pointed out that I kept myself from using the F word and the S word in school, because I was smart enough to know the rules and consequences on cursing. I considered her attitude prissy and closed, but I made the choice to follow the herd...

The media in general (I'm not demonizing the media, but I probably will be throwing the good in with the bad, in this case),

is using some words that are just plain wrong. They are taking the easy way out, not thinking this through, and probably in some cases (I'm not singling out Fox News) choosing words to sensationalize a concept.


Pirates. To pirate something was to steal something, derive income from it, and deprive income from it to the previous owner.

People who pirated were called pirates. The word pirate is from
Middle English (from Old French, from Latin prta, from Greek peirts, from peirn), to attempt, from peira, trial. It's generally accepted that the term was applied to criminals-at-sea because to live, they would attempt or try anything, presumably anything out of the accepted ethical and moral ways to live their lives. Current usage of pirate for someone who trades a file on the internet came by way of pirate radio stations, famously operating from waters off British shores, that didn't submit to government fees and regulations; pirate was a cute way to refer to these stations. These stations made no profit, but played music that the BBC wouldn't play, and besides infringing on legally assigned radio frequencies, caused little trouble.

Now, people who have an MP3 image of a music recording on their hard drive are called pirates. Where's the profit to this sharer? Where's the deprivation of potential profit or deprivation of use for the owner (let's assume that the potential marketing value of this availability is at least equal to the potential for loss). People selling mixtapes or bootlegging copies of other peoples' property to sell at flea markets or on the streets of Shanghai are certainly pirates. To call these people pirates provides the media with a way to stir peoples' emotions and give their audience a hook to remember this attractive issue from one relevant story to the next. To call them infringers (if this file sitting on their hard drive is indeed a copy of the copyright holder's intellectual property, or if this file is indeed a performance, both of which would be an infringement of the copyright holder's exclusive rights), would be more accurate wouldn't be as sexy. To call them file traders would be even less sexy, but if the file is sitting on their hard drive, are they even trading it?


The definition of Stereo: A combining form meaning solid, hard, firm, as in stereochemistry, stereography.

Origin: Gr. Stereos solid. See Stare to gaze. From the Greek "stereos" meaning "solid" - having three dimensions.

Two-channel, 5.1, 10.2, etc., are all examples of stereo audio. Our purpose and intent is to present music and sounds so that they appear as a solid audio image to the listener. Two channels have been in common use for half a century, but this limitation to two speaker was chosen mostly for marketing reasons: the consumer audio companies recognized the appeal of stereo sound, but chose to believe that people would only be willing to accept the addition of one other speaker (and amplifier channel) in their living rooms. Stereo sound had first been presented, in theaters, using three channels across the front. The three-channel stereo approach persisted in theater settings and in professional music production, and is thankfully finding its way to homes.

Six-speaker (or more) systems will of course never be accepted or applicable in every listening situation, but peoples' willingness to install these speaker systems in their homes for movie presentations has shown that there is a substantial market for music presented in better stereo than two channels can provide.

It's time to take back the word "stereo" and apply it any time a solid sonic-image presentation is desired, and not limit this word's usage to two-channel.


Mad Cow! The chance of getting Mad Cow disease is less than being struck by lightning six thousand times in your life. The media, needing something to talk about and again to hook people into coming back for more thrills tomorrow (same bat time, same bat channel), call this bug Mad Cow instead of BSE, the abbreviation of the real name of the disease. People get rabies every year and die; people put things up their rear end and die, yet nobody gets Mad Cow, and we could choose to completely avoid the issue by not eating beef if we wanted, and we still hear stories about Mad Cow every day.

The power of words ebbs and flows. Whether it is with great thought or casual indifference, the words we choose affect the impact and clear communication of our ideas. When we speak of the presentation of ideas we have to care to choose our words wisely. It is unwise in the popular media to choose inflammatory words which distort the impact of the described condition.

My high school English teacher should be proud of how I observe the power of words, and their effect on us.