Joe Lavin

December 30, 2003

The Award of the Year Award

It's official. "Embedded" is the word of the year, and the phrase of the year is "shock-and-awe." Each year, the folks at list the top ten new words and phrases of the year. Past winners include "chad" of hanging chad fame and "misunderestimate," President Bush's recent addition to our lexicon. Why exactly do they do this? I don't know, but, if you ran a dictionary web site, you'd probably have to find something to pass the time as well.

Personally, I'm thrilled that "shock-and-awe" won. It's one of my favorite phrases, and I think that just about every news anchor in the country agrees with me. I love repeating that phrase, though I think that it should also be considered for the Phrase That Sounds Most Like an Indian Reservation and Casino Award, as in "Hey, we're going down to play the slots at Shakinaw." Or maybe that's just me.

At any rate, 'tis the season for wacky end-of-the-year awards. One of the most famous, the Bad Sex in Literature Award, was recently presented in London. Each year, Literary Review gives this award for the worst description of sex in a novel. Aniruddha Bahal won this year's prize for his novel "Bunker 13," which featured this stunning passage:

"Your RPM is hitting a new high. To wait any longer would be to lose prime time... She picks up a Bugatti's momentum. You want her more at a Volkswagen's steady trot. Squeeze the maximum mileage out of your gallon of gas. But she's eating up the road with all cylinders blazing. You lift her out. You want to try different kinds of fusion."

Interestingly enough, Bahal was also a finalist for the Bad Automotive Reviews in Literature Award, an equally prestigious though oft-ignored prize. Another passage contains this bewildering line: "Her breasts are placards for the endomorphically endowed." I don't even know what that means, but I bet it's got all those people over at really turned on.

My favorite awards are the Ig Nobel prizes (Full title: "The 13th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony") which were given out at Harvard this past October. These awards were created in order to "celebrate the unusual, honor the imaginative -- and spur people's interest in science, medicine, and technology." Much like the Nobel Prize, awards are given in several categories. Past prizes have been offered in Literature (Vicki L. Silvers and David S. Kreiner for "The Effects of Pre-Existing Inappropriate Highlighting on Reading Comprehension"), Medicine (Peter Barss for "Injuries Due to Falling Coconuts"), and Peace (Viliumas Malinauskus for creating an amusement park in Lithuania called "Stalin World").

This year, there were some equally inspired winners. John Culvenor and several other Australians won the Physics prize for their ergonomic study "An Analysis of the Forces Required to Drag Sheep over Various Surfaces." They received a nice award, which seems a little unfair because the sheep did most of the work and seemed to have received nothing at all except perhaps a little mint sauce with some rice on the side.

The Engineering Prize went to George Nichols, John Paul Stapp, and Edward A. Murphy Jr. for discovering the following engineering principle in 1949:

"If there are two or more ways to do something, and one of those ways can result in a catastrophe, someone will do it."

This is better known as Murphy's Law: "If anything can go wrong, it will." It's somehow fitting that Edward A Murphy Jr. is now dead and couldn't be there to collect his award.

Finally, the strangest winner of all was C.W. Moeliker of the Netherlands who received the Biology Award for "documenting the first scientifically recorded case of homosexual necrophilia in the mallard duck." It's an impressive accomplishment, though I really don't want to know what else he has been documenting. Really, C.W. ought to watch out. That's the sort of documentation that can get you arrested.

Luckily, I haven't read his report, but with just a little help from Mr. Bahal, I wonder whether it might be considered for next year's Bad Sex in Literature Award. I hear it was one "endomorphically endowed" duck.

©2003 Joe Lavin

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