May 25, 2008


Filed under: pedantry, pointlessness — Brian @ 4:07 pm

I had my first Snickers in a while today, and on the wrapper it said, “Substantialiscious.” Hmm. Inside was this definition: “(noun). The weight of something when you weigh it with your tongue.”

Via Google, I find that Ryan G also noticed the mis-classification-iscious-ness of it: clearly this would be an adjective and not a noun. By the way, Mr. G is #2 at Google for this term, a position he should value for its addition of the objective weight of algorithm-driven authority to his opinion, which opinion I am proud to share.

But I must go further. If “substantialiscious” is truly “the weight of something when you weigh it with your tongue,” then it isn’t even a relative term. I propose this to be implicit in declaring it to be a noun. Nouns are not relative. They just are. Any given “substantialiscious” shares core traits with any other such person, place, thing, or idea.

We are further left to assume that anything one weighs with one’s tongue becomes forevermore a “substantialiscious,” merely by the act itself. Unanswered is the question of whether it retains whatever character it brought with it to the tongue-based determination of mass-times-the-force-of-gravity or whether “substantialiscious” also effaces any previous reality. “That was a bite of pizza, but no longer. It is now and forevermore a substantialiscious.” If this were true, then one’s stomach is, at all times, filled to varying degrees with substantialiscious and nothing else, save perhaps stomach acid and bile. This strikes me as unlikely.

Or – is “when you weigh it with your tongue” meant to indicate a single, passing point in time, after which things return to their previous state? Does, “when,” equate to “while,” here? That is, while one weighs a thing with one’s tongue, that thing transforms into a thing called a “substantialiscious” and, upon its removal from the tongue, or tongue-based weighing instrument, returns to being “a beet” or what have you?

In my opinion, the confusion implicit in this new word far outweighs (whether weighed by the tongue or any other means) the word’s potential utility. It will not find a home in my vocabulary.

The Snickers, though? There’s room for more of those.


May 23, 2008

Not Even Wrong

Filed under: pedantry — Brian @ 7:30 pm

An apparently scientific argument is said to be not even wrong if it is based on assumptions that are known to be incorrect, or alternatively theories which cannot possibly be falsified or used to predict anything.

Very nice.

June 14, 2007

The Bible on Pi

Filed under: pedantry, pointlessness — Brian @ 7:36 pm

I found this post today in the WordPress Dashboard, making what at first almost appears to be a Good Argument that the Bible Is Wrong In This One Case Someone Pointed Out Here in I Kings 7:23, which says,

He made the Sea of cast metal, circular in shape, measuring ten cubits from rim to rim and five cubits high. It took a line of thirty cubits to measure around it.

The argument is that the Bible says pi equals “3. Also known as 3.00 or 3.0.” Well, 30 divided by 10 is 3, so it sounds like he’s got a point. Pi never ends, so if you say “it’s 3,” you’re really kind of wrong.

But you’re still wrong if you say it’s 3.14159. There is no string of numbers you can point to and say, “that’s pi!” and be correct. Even if the Bible used digits instead of words, here, there is no way it (or any other text) could state pi “correctly.” Sure, you can state it with more digits, and be less wrong. But it is not possible to state pi with any number of digits and be correct.

But his argument immediately goes off the rails in another direction, too. “3.00” is not at all the same thing as “3”. “3” could be anything from “2.50” through “3.49.”

In math, you cannot get a result that’s more precise than its least precise input. Said another way, the maximum allowable precision in an output is equal to the lowest number of significant digits in any of the inputs. And “ten” and “thirty” are the only inputs, and they each have one significant digit. So the output cannot have more than one significant digit.

And pi – to one significant digit – is three. That is, 3. Not 3.0, nor 3.00.

So the Bible implies that pi, to one significant digit, is 3. Which it empirically is.

To be clear, I’m nothing close to a Biblical scholar. But you can spot the holes in this “scientific” argument 1.609344 kilometers away.

February 7, 2007

Superfluous Obfuscation

Filed under: english, pedantry — Brian @ 7:42 pm


Meaning: “clarify”

January 18, 2007


Filed under: fatherhood, pedantry — Brian @ 4:41 pm

I’m on the CPSC’s e-mail list. They send out recall notices and such. It’s amazing to me how often children’s toys are recalled for things like being made of lead. Go here and search for “lead” to see what I mean. I thought we were beyond that, but clearly we’re not.

Anyhow, last spring, the Magnetix line of toys was recalled. The danger? The tiny little magnets (smaller than a pencil eraser) can come out of the plastic holders. If you swallow one at breakfast and another at dinner (once the first has left your stomach) they can attract each other in your intestines, pinching them, and eventually perforating them. This, I understand, kills you.

Since then, though, I’ve seen the same toys for sale in the same stores. I figured they’d made a change to make them safer.

I got another e-mail of recalls today, and it listed another brand of the same kind of toy.

The MagneBlocks(tm) magnetic building sets were sold from January 2004 through November 2006 for between $20 and $120, depending on the size of the set. Sets currently for sale have improved warning labels.

So, the recall isn’t to get the toys off the shelves or (better yet) made so they don’t fall apart. It’s to get a warning label printed.

Now, I’m not one to say the government should protect us from ourselves, but if you’re going to recall something for what amounts to a manufacturing defect that can kill children in completely non-obvious ways, shouldn’t the resolution be to fix the problem?

There are other brands of similar toys that are built well enough that they don’t fall apart, so it’s not an unsolved problem…

October 26, 2006

New Cliches

Filed under: pedantry — Brian @ 7:42 pm

I get tired of overused cliches.

“To run roughshod over” — of the people who use this, how many know what “roughshod” means? And isn’t the utility diminished when nobody normally speaks of being “shod” at all? Rough or otherwise?

“To avoid like the plague.” Yes, indeed. Like that plague we had last week, which everyone assiduously avoided, to their enduring credit and the benefit of their heirs.

“Sick as a dog.” In my experience, dogs are healthier than people.

Surely some were once useful. Somewhere, far back in our history, these phrases elicited a clear and useful picture in our minds, substituting vivid and potent imagery for a workaday description of a matter. But no more. I’m not among the first to point out that these have become (or always were) crutches for the inarticulate, spoken or written as though they were one word in many cases. A hand wave over an idea. The written equivalent of ending a poorly constructed sentence with, “you know what I mean.”

So I was thrilled to find this new one the other day, after wandering (in a way) around Midland, Texas.

“As useful as a uranium-enriched chocolate teapot.”

Such a thing is at once both useless and anti-useful. A chocolate teapot would simply fail as a teapot, but could be something else. Something cute. A confectionary novelty. But a radioactive one – now we’re talking. This is a thing that not only fails at its intended purpose, but brings with it entirely new and vastly more significant problems. Not only can you not use it to prepare that relaxing hot drink you may want, but simply being near it long enough will kill you.


This, from the fourth paragraph of this. Four paragraphs being about as far as I can get reading anything that’s glowing white text on black background.

April 25, 2006

A Few Corrections

Filed under: pedantry — Brian @ 7:35 pm

Hindsight is not 20/20. A person with “20/20 vision” can see, at 20 feet, what a “normal person” can see at 20 feet. “20/20 vision” is normal, not perfect. Hindsight is closer to 20/1, but that sounds like “21,” so maybe “hindsight is 20/10.” Or how about “gosh, it’s obvious, now that it’s already happened.”

When you “turn a blind eye (or a deaf ear) towards” something, you do not simply ignore it. You give the impression of paying attention without doing so. You’re looking at it but with an eye that cannot see. This is different from just plain ignoring it. You can ignore out of ignorance or inattention, but “turning a blind eye” requires some degree of trickery.

Just about everything that can be done is, I propose, “easier said than done.” See tautology.

Don’t say, “Eastern Standard Time” unless you mean it. And you probably don’t mean it, except by chance during winter. If you tell me the meeting is on April 25 at 11AM Eastern Standard Time, and you show up when the clock says 11:00, don’t be surprised if I’m not there.
Summer is “daylight time” in the Eastern time zone. (Now a valid blanket statement, since Indiana has finally relented)
Just say, “11:00.” Or, if the time zone is at all in question, say, “11:00 Eastern.” Leave it at that, and you’ll be understood at any time of the year. If you live in Arizona, be sure to explain the independent will of your legislators when scheduling meetings. If you live in Hawaii, please translate for your invitees. Nobody knows how far away you are out there.

“Decision” is a noun. “To decide” is the verb. Do not say, “we have to decision this request,” say, “we have to decide on this request.” (This is a new one on me, and I assure you I’m not making it up. It’s related by more than the rhyme to “provide” and “provisioning.” They use “provisioning” to mean “delivering to the mobile device the software it needs in order to access the service” — that is, “provisioning” is used where “providing” is meant. Like “use” and “utilize,” only much worse.) I can’t concentrate for a good long time after hearing one of these two.

Unless you’re reading a contract out loud, don’t ever say, “includes, but is not limited to,” or, “includes, without limitation…”. That’s what “include” means! If you want to say, “includes these and only these,” then the word you want is, “comprise.”

That is all.

For now.

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