"New sun, new air, new sky. A whole universe teeming with life. Why stand still when there's all that life out there?" -The Doctor
"Asking a linguist how many languages they speak is like asking a doctor how many diseases they have." -Unknown

Friday, April 9, 2010

Have you reached your daily excitement quota today?

"Doctor Who has a tradition of thrilling title sequences but the new version exceeds all previous excitement quotas!"

The entire, sickeningly cheerful article is here, complete with a video of the aforementioned title sequence that I can't watch thanks to what I affectionately call the BBC's You Shall Not Has policy. (Read that out in your best impression of Gandalf facing down the Balrog.)

Okay, first of all, this means that the BBC's definition of "thrilling" is some combination of the following:
(1) floating heads in a kaleidoscope vortex;
(2) taxi signs in a tube vortex, or
(3) lightning and fire in a colon.

Iconic? Yes, at the risk of using a word so much that it simply falls apart at the seams (like "swansong" around the end of last year...argh!) and all of its meanings escape and hop away. Epic? Yes. In a very Who-ish sort of way. But thrilling? Um...not really. Especially not the new sequence, which, although thankfully without the taxi-sign logo, was not what I would call thrilling. The fire improved it significantly, but still...just no.

Second: "previous excitement quotas"? Really? Was this blurb automatically generated by a bizarrely enthusiastic yet incompetent computer? Or did the BBC just unwittingly create a new Serenity House in-joke?

From the Latin of the same form, English "quota" is apparently a shorter version of the phrase quota pars, meaning "how large a part," from quotus meaning "which." So, not exactly the right wh-word.
Dictionary.com has two relevant definitions for "quota":
  1. the share or proportional part of a total that is required from, or is due or belongs to, a particular district, state, person, group, etc.
  2. a proportional part or share of a fixed total amount or quantity.
My personal intuition goes with (1) here, a phrase like "daily quota" meaning "the recommended/expected/required amount per day." So that means that a "previous excitement quota" would be something like the amount of excitement that you are required to have based on previous experience. So, what, does that mean that since I find the new theme mostly unimpressive, that I should go top off my excitement quota by dodging cars on the freeway or something?

My feeling is that the writer meant something like "expectations" or "levels" and it just came out all wibbly-wonky. Admittedly, though, "previous excitement quota" is a lovely nugget of linguistic absurdity, one that I'm going to stuff away in this blog to bring out and giggle over again in the future.

Of course, it could just be that we Americans simply don't speak "Propah English." ;)

P.S. Shout-out to my good friend, the Online Etymology Dictionary. If I were you, I'd seriously consider spending an hour or so just wandering around there. Your life will be better.

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