The Weblog

Home for the heteronomous

Sunday Quought: Language as Progress

It’s odd to talk about progress these days when everything seems backwards. We are given every reason to become pessimists and end up like Stefan Zweig. That these reasons are given by cultural pessimists might push us to withstand only because we want to deny them that victory too. Revenge, however, is their way so    whatever victory that kind of resistance would lead to would not be really ours.

There is, then, no other option then to find a basis for our optimism in reason.

“(..) the whole (society) is prior to the part (the individual), not the part to the whole; and the part is explained in terms of the whole, not the whole in terms of the part or parts.” G.H. Mead, “Mind, Self & Society”, 1934, The University of Chicago Press, p. 7.

Society is the soil and the individuals are the flowers. The flowers are not there just to fertilize the soil but the soil isn’t something we can leave unfertilized either. Staying on-metaphor: language is the fertilizer. It’s allowing the soil to bring forth better flowers but takes, without coercion, from those flowers to make for an even better soil.

Nothing can be further removed from current opinion. If only because it is dynamic – and this world of now hates anything that is elusive; anything that can’t be decomposed in parts and reassembled in the whole we (think we) need. We live in anti-Darwinian times where we think we can make leaps without evolving.

But aren’t our cultural pessimists the ‘owners’ of the primacy of the whole (society)?

Continue reading

November 22, 2015 Posted by | language, life of the mind, Tuesday Quought | , , , | Comments Off on Sunday Quought: Language as Progress

My wife dislikes … Kind of implies there’s more … Specifically more to do … Needing to guess what’s that … About.

I have been reading Juan Goytisolo’s Don Juliàn. He looks ferocious. The book is. It’s hard not to think this … Open, I guess. Open to the front, closed to the back. I don’t know. Just guessing. Writing words. I’ll need to get back at it. Find the thread. Use the needle. Knit a sock.

Gass brought me to Goytisolo. After Don Quixote it is the first book in Spanish I want to finish. It’s a break from Finnegans Wake as well. Halfway through it, it kind of lost me (after the Russian revolution if I recall well). I’ll get back to it. I consider it a …

altivo, gerifalte Poeta, ayùdame : a luz màs cierta, sùbeme : la patria no es la tierra, el hombre no es el àrbol : ayùdame a vivir sin suelo y sin raìces : móvil, móvil : sin otro alimento y sustancia que tu rica palabra : palabra sin historia, orden verbal autónomo, engañoso delirio : poema

Juan Goytisolo, Don Juliàn, p. 118

This bloody keyboard doesn’t even let me put the accents in the right direction! Never mind. Let us stay a bit positive in this world which is fixed to its past and therefore closed to its future. Continue reading

August 2, 2015 Posted by | books, language, Sunday Stories, syntax | , , | Comments Off on …

Friday Afternoon Confessional: on ‘that’

I confess I feel somewhat different. I further confess that I am different from people who are really different in not being really – perceptibly – different. If I would do my life over, I would not be be bothered to do anything different except what I will do from now onwards. What I did was all fine; what I’m going to do just doesn’t cut it. I confess I’ll continue to live in the future where I know the right thing to do is to live in the past.

It’s complicated.

What I’m going to do is to think about writing a treatise on the word ‘that’. What I’m not going to do is just that. I confess that I admire this thing called language. Mainly because it isn’t anyone’s to call ‘That’s mine!’ (or ‘ours’ for that matter because ‘ours’ is the chicken shit way of saying ‘mine’).

Language starts with ‘that’. That’s what I think at least and I confess I’d like to convince you of it.

Continue reading

June 5, 2015 Posted by | Friday Afternoon Confessional, language, language acquisition, life of the mind | , | Comments Off on Friday Afternoon Confessional: on ‘that’

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 on Friday Afternoon Confessional: the fallacy of conservatism

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