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Friday Afternoon Confessional: the fallacy of conservatism

This is the fallacy:

“If this tradition was good for the parents then it will be good for the kids as well.”

There’s not a lot more to conservatism and – as much hatred this fallacy deserves – it is also by far the best conservatism has to offer. Because, at least, it looks like it might make sense as some kid of a default rule. “Why change something that isn’t broken?”, is the most offered conservative response to, well, anything. And it should give pause (including the middle and all that) because what we share is valuable because it is what binds us. It should not be changed just because somebody feels like it, that’s dictatorial. The fact is that change is the one tradition that binds every single culture together. So, in conserving, conservatism degenerates so quickly in dictatorial behavior precisely because conservatism strives to abolish the very change that makes us uniquely capable to cope with the unexpected. It’s no coincidence that the outer edges of conservatism are plagued with convictions such as creationism. As it isn’t coincidence that the outer edges of revolutionary progressives are plagued with totalitarians. And that the next generations of those revolutionary people quickly converge to conserve (showing how evolutionarily stable conservatism is).

So I confess to not merely hating conservatism.

Still, it is a fallacy so let’s inspect in some detail the fallacy of conservative conflation:

Continue reading

September 20, 2014 Posted by | Friday Afternoon Confessional, language, language acquisition, shameless self-promotion | , , , | Comments Off

Tuesday Hatred of Word Nerds

Jen Doll and Sarah Miller have been having a cute word nerd back and forth about “the worst word on the planet” and I know it’s in fun but it makes me want to claw my eyeballs out, then chew them up, then spit out one of them and swallow the other one so I can throw it up in my mouth a little. Miller hates literally. Doll hates actually. I hate the discussion. Welcome back to Tuesday Hatred.

In fact, Tuesday Hatred has been here before, with respect to “literally.” Literally is a specific kind of intensifier–I like this explanation, from the OED via Language Log, “that some conventional metaphorical or hyperbolical phrase is to be taken in the strongest admissible sense.” For the current anti-“literally” campaign I blame David Cross, who worried that when you said you laughed so hard you literally shit your pants, that you then had to dispose of said pants. “You should stop using the word forever until you fucking figure it out,” says Cross. This was a funny routine! But it’s completely fucking wrong.

Like most language-nerdery, it’s not just factually wrong, but it’s riddled with status anxiety. Continue reading

August 7, 2012 Posted by | language, syntax, Tuesday Hatred | , , | 23 Comments

Sunday Stories: Information Fluidity

The question was left hanging in the air. ‘What is our mission?’ Only it wasn’t hanging at all but laying there in the middle of the table like a giant potato-shaped bundle of clothes – wet with sweat. It reeked of things you had to wade through to get to a place where you didn’t want to be but which at least did not stink – as much.

We were twelve.

Steve voiced a mission. It had 40 something words out of which 10 something verbs. Dissent was immediate: “That is not a mission but a vision.”, John said. Duh, there we went. The sum total of our travel miles was greater than the earth’s circumference. The question morphed into the black hole of all entrepreneurial discussions. ‘What is a vision and what is a mission?’ Continue reading

July 15, 2012 Posted by | language, Sunday Stories | | 1 Comment

Second-degree idioms

Recently, The Girlfriend claimed that she needed to “get her ducks in a row” with regard to a large project. As she worked on that, I periodically checked in to see how her “duck alignment” was going, which she found pretty funny.

It occurs to me that second-degree idioms of this kind have great comedic potential. Perhaps we can think of more.

August 19, 2010 Posted by | language | 11 Comments

A Monger Proposal

The suffix -monger should be used more often. In the US, it’s mainly limited to the idea of a “warmonger,” but one also finds such things as a “fishmonger.” I believe that these two usages point toward two directions we could take things:

  1. Append -monger to insults — so, for example, one would have “douchemonger,” “assmonger,” “fuckmonger,” etc. The Girlfriend and I have given this a testrun, and it does provide that baseline level of satisfaction of being fun to say that we expect from insults.
  2. Rename every type of store to be a -monger form — Walgreen would then become a “drugmonger,” for instance. The loss of specialized stores for different types of foods might seem to limit the scope of this direction, but one could easily envision going to the “meatmonger” area of a larger “grocerymonger.”

Please begin implementing both immediately. Thank you.

December 7, 2009 Posted by | language | 14 Comments

In Russia, tasks eat YOU!

There are several business quasi-jargon phrases that I believe warrant further study, such as “to touch base” and “to be on the same page.” Today, however, I’d like to focus on the notion of “having a lot on your plate.” Sometimes one hears that a task is being taken off someone’s plate, but normally the metaphor is limited to having a full, and indeed overfull, plate.

Presumably this plate is full of food, since there is not much else that is normally stacked on a plate. Now you might have a lot on your plate after taking a trip to an all-you-can-eat buffet, for example. In these cases, the plate’s fullness results from an act of will. The implication, however, is that normally your portion size is out of your control. I thus picture a kind of sadistic all-you-can-eat buffet where they don’t just take your word for it — instead, they aggressively push food on you to see for themselves what the true level of “all” you can eat is. You might be able to ask that a particular food item be taken off your plate if there is another diner willing to take it, but that is only a stop-gap measure — the force-feeding will continue, and you will have gained at best a few seconds of breathing room.

Continuing the metaphor, we might think of weekends and vacations as bathroom breaks — though they feel good in the moment, their ultimate purpose is solely to clear out our system sufficiently to allow further force-feedings. (Staying connected to e-mail, etc., on the weekend might then be likened to bringing a snack into the bathroom.)

I leave further extension of the plate metaphor as an exercise for the reader.

October 28, 2009 Posted by | language | 6 Comments


An experiment: in the absense of a clinical diagnosis, avoid the word “depressed” as a self-description. In its place, use words such as “unhappy” or “sad.”

August 23, 2009 Posted by | language | 37 Comments

Term Revival

This evening, The Girlfriend and I watched I Vetelloni, and I remarked that one of the characters was a cad. Shortly thereafter, the subtitles confirmed my view, and “cad” became a regular part of the movie’s vocabulary. The Girlfriend became fascinated with the term and, after toying with it for a while, decided that we needed to revive it as a replacement for “douchebag.” They cover much the same territory, after all, and “cad” doesn’t require one to constantly refer to a not-recommended feminine hygene tool.

This latter point is important because it’s never clear to me exactly what we’re extracting from the literal term “douchebag” to get to the metaphorical application to certain men. Is it that the process for which “douchebags” (the men) are used (sex) is bad for women in the same way as in the case of “douchebags” (the feminine hygene tool)? I suppose such an etymology is possible, but it seems optimistic — knowing American popular culture, it seems safer to assume that the term trades on the supposed ickiness of anything related to “women problems” rather than to medical professionals’ consensus about the harmfulness of the process referred to.

Anyway, yeah: cad. Feel free to debate the point in comments.

July 26, 2009 Posted by | language | 18 Comments

Family Vocabulary

My maternal grandfather uses many idiosyncratic turns of phrase. The two most prominent are “cotton picker”* and “sap sucker.”** “Cotton picker” could be altered to the adjectival form “cotton pickin'” and the interjection “cotton pick!” “Sap sucker” took on the adjectival form only very seldom, if at all, but was sometimes deployed as “sap suck!” Both of these phrases were normally used in situations of frustration or potential frustration.

An affectionate insult was “turkey.” My grandfather sometimes altered this to “turn-key,” for emphasis. There is another variant that I mainly associate with my aunt: “turkey-lips.”

My immediate family’s dog is named Chloe. When my sister and I were young enough to be watching Saturday morning cartoons, there was a thematic sequence introducing commercial breaks on a particular network that featured a lazy dog named “Loafy.” Making the connection with our dog’s laziness, my dad called her “Cloafy.” Over a decade later, he is still sometimes heard to call her by that name.

On Saturday mornings growing up, my dad usually got donuts for us. At a certain point, my two younger cousins (sons of the “turkey-lips” aunt) started coming over for Saturday morning donuts as well. My dad was going by Dick at the time (his reasoning was that it was a name before it was a vulgar reference, but he has since given up and rechristened himself Rich), and so one morning my more mischevious cousin started calling him “Dickie Donut-Head.” In the last few years, this cousin has attempted to deploy the name on a few occasions, but his mother has scolded him, believing it to be disrespectful.


* Apparently a racist reference, though it’s unclear how conscious that was on his part.
** Origin unknown.

August 20, 2008 Posted by | family values, language | 7 Comments

The hell?

I notice many people saying “the hell” when they seem to mean either “what the hell?” or something along the lines of “the hell they did.” They need to stop doing that, because it’s ridiculous.

They also need to stop saying “natch.”

August 16, 2008 Posted by | language | 1 Comment



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