Monday, 2 February 2004

"Malfunction": 2004's "ironic"

I think the RIAA should kick in to buy every recording artist under contract a dictionary. The latest illiterate is Justin Timberlake, who infamously declared his little stunt at the Super Bowl was a “wardrobe malfunction.” WordNet defines “malfunction” as follows:

malfunction. n : a failure to function normally. v : fail to function or function improperly; “the coffee maker malfunctioned” [syn: {misfunction}] [ant: {function}]

For something to malfunction, it must actually fail to function properly, regardless of whether or not there was intent for it to carry out that function. Janet Jackson’s chestplate/boob-holder was designed to come off if pulled hard enough (there were snaps). Ergo, it did not actually malfunction.

Another example: assume a handgun has a safety. If the safety is off, and the trigger is accidentally pulled, causing the weapon to discharge we don’t say the gun malfunctioned. The gun would only malfunction if the gun went off while the safety is on.

Yet another example: assume your car has its ignition running. If the car is in drive, and you accidentally hit the pedal, ramming your car through the front wall of your garage, it didn’t malfunction. If the car is in park, however, and you still manage to ram your car into your laundry room, then you may claim your car malfunctioned.

And, no, Ms. Morrissette, none of these scenarios constitutes irony (although a genuine malfunction might).