Monday, March 29, 2010


Ghost word (one that appears in the language for a time, but may just as quickly disappear):

Tipperware, n.: The means, methods, or technology of labeling items, in order to apprise consumers of the content within.

Originally applied to record albums, the systemology has since been extended to other categories of items, such as alcoholic spirits, tobacco and food.

On this day in 1990, record companies agreed to carry warning labels on the albums they produced. That innovation came about largely through the efforts of Mary Elizabeth "Tipper" Gore, wife of the future Nobel Prize winner.

As a teenager and college student back in the heyday of vinyl, I would certainly have appreciated warning labels on record albums. Buying one was often a hit-or-miss proposition, and a label along the lines of "Warning: There's only one decent song on this entire album -- the one you heard on the radio," or "Warning: There are some dirty words on this album but the music is so loud you can't understand them" would have been helpful.

I don't know why Tipper Gore didn't go after books, which can be just as seditious and corrupting as music.

Someone could have done an inestimable service to adolescents everywhere by labeling books. I remember spending a couple of feverish hours paging through my mom's copy of Lolita, searching for the titillating stuff. A label like "Warning: Kids should not expect to find any tawdry sex or filthy language in this book, as it is literature" would have saved me, and many others like me, I'm sure, a lot of disappointment.

And what about labels like this: "Warning: This book may induce headaches or extreme drowsiness in underage persons; read at your own risk." They might even have made our teachers think twice about administering too-heavy doses of the classics.

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