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Not for the faint of art.
Complex Numbers

A complex number is expressed in the standard form a + bi, where a and b are real numbers and i is defined by i^2 = -1 (that is, i is the square root of -1). For example, 3 + 2i is a complex number.

The bi term is often referred to as an imaginary number (though this may be misleading, as it is no more "imaginary" than the symbolic abstractions we know as the "real" numbers). Thus, every complex number has a real part, a, and an imaginary part, bi.

Complex numbers are often represented on a graph known as the "complex plane," where the horizontal axis represents the infinity of real numbers, and the vertical axis represents the infinity of imaginary numbers. Thus, each complex number has a unique representation on the complex plane: some closer to real; others, more imaginary. If a = b, the number is equal parts real and imaginary.

Very simple transformations applied to numbers in the complex plane can lead to fractal structures of enormous intricacy and astonishing beauty.

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October 31, 2019 at 12:07am
October 31, 2019 at 12:07am

I thought about running this in one of my Comedy newsletters. Hell, I still might.

The mystery of what makes a joke funny – but only to some people

It's a fixed law of comedy that explaining what makes a joke (or any joke) funny makes it not funny. This, I think, is the central paradox of existence.

Also, don't post pictures of mimes.

How do you like the following joke from Sumeria in about 1900BC? “Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband’s lap.”

I've mentioned before that the oldest known joke in the world is a fart joke. This would be that one.

One consistent finding in scientific studies is that laughter is universal and predates humans, while humour seems to appear alongside modern humans – wherever there is a record of modern humans, one finds jokes.

That's because we are jokes. Keep throwing me softballs.

These themes also confirm some of the scientific theories of jokes and humour. For example, humour often involves the realisation of incongruity (mismatch) between a concept and a situation, violations of social taboos or expectations, the resolution of tension or mocking and a sense of superiority

See? Not funny. And it's not like someone who doesn't have a sense of humor (or, per this article, humour) would be able to craft a joke based on the scientific evidence. I bet they couldn't even tell us how many scientists it takes to screw in a lightbulb

(None - that's the grad student's job)

Even worse, one of the most successful comedians inspired by Chaplin, Benny Hill, is considered cringeworthy in the UK, despite him being one of the few UK comedians to break through in the USA. That’s because Brits like to think that they are a bit more sophisticated in their humour than a man being chased around by naughtily-dressed ladies.

It is true that a lot of people in the US love Benny Hill. I never did find it all that amusing, even though I enjoy British humour in general. Still, Brits... no, you're not actually more sophisticated; thinking don't make it so.

So what does make a joke funny? We have made great strides in understanding the scientific bases on laughter and humour processing – but until we can incorporate the social and cultural complexities of humour fully, we will remain mystified by how people can enjoy comedy we find lame.

And thus endeth the article without it having told a single worthy joke. Still, some of the insights are useful, if not amusing, and I'm left with the same thoughts I had going in; that is, something is either funny or it's not, and once you explain why it's funny, it's also not.

Or, in the immortal words of Dug: "I know a joke! A squirrel walks up to a tree and says, 'I forgot to store acorns for the winter and now I am dead.' It's funny because the squirrel gets dead."
October 30, 2019 at 12:05am
October 30, 2019 at 12:05am
Well, I've signed up for "30-Day Blogging Challenge [13+] again, for November, since I'm not doing NaNo this year. Once again, I figure if I'm going to try to write something in here every day, might as well mix it up with some prompts I wouldn't consider on my own.

Meanwhile, I still have a ton of blog fodder to get through. Here's today's:


The English Language Being Infuriatingly Confusing (39 Images)

By "images" it means "screenshots of tweets." I despise Twitter with the fiery passion of 10,000 suns, but sites like this (as clickbaity as it is) can sometimes present the best of the worst.

Since they're screenshots, copy/paste isn't an option, so I'll just pick a few amusing ones to highlight.

#8 It blows my mind that english has no plural for "you."

Ah, but it does, at least here in the South. "Y'all" is a perfectly good second person plural. It sounds more polite than "youse guys" (NY/NJ) or "yinz" (specific to the Pittsburgh area).

Incidentally, it's always "y'all" and never (as I've seen it) "Ya'll." An apostrophe stands in for missing letters, and the missing letters in this case go between the y and the a, not the a and the l.

And yet, even if you avoid regional dialect and think only of Standard English, the plural "you" still makes more sense than the French "vous," which can be either a second person plural, or a formal second person singular. How do you know when you can drop the formal "vous" and use the familiar "tu?" I guess I'll have to spend some time in France to figure this out. Awww.

#9 Defenestration

Still one of my favorite words.

#11 Why does my nose run but my feet smell?

You might wanna see a doctor. Or three.

#22 I before E except when you run a feisty heist on a weird foreign neighbour.

Yeah, okay, that one's an example of why English is frickin' weird.

#26 The fact that Kansas and Arkansas are pronounced differently bothers me way more than it should.

This might have been my introduction to the fuckeduppedness of the English language. To this day, I pronounce Arkansas "ar-Kansas" just to be funny. I also pronounce Missouri "misery" because it's Missouri.

#33 Why is a "w" called a "double-U" when it is clearly a "double-V"?

Not in cursive. Also, because in Latin, from which we derive our alphabet, V is U. Confused yet?

Anyway, those are just the short ones. The longer ones are worth reading, too. I'm now even more convinced that English has been dominating the world stage not because of British colonialism or because it's versatile, but because once you learn English you feel a sense of pride unmatched by learning any other language (except, perhaps, Mandarin, though I wouldn't know). Once you've learned to navigate its dark corners, there's no going back.
October 29, 2019 at 12:24am
October 29, 2019 at 12:24am

The 21 Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Series Ever

"Best" is usually subjective. They're still wrong about some of these.

We’ve done the hard work for you and rounded up the 21 best science fiction fantasy series of all time, in no particular order.

I'll give 'em credit for not putting it in a countdown-style slideshow to generate more clicks. As a reward, I'm sharing this and maybe they'll get a couple more clicks.

For the sake of tidiness (and our own sanity), we’ve limited this list to series that include at least three books, and that are either completely finished or have no further books currently planned (so, no A Song of Fire and Ice)

That's good, because I got bored with that bloated tripe about halfway through the fourth book. Okay, I'm being unfair - Martin is a good writer, but when I drop a book halfway through, it's for good reason: I just quit caring what's going to happen.

Couldn't watch the series, either.

Now. Some of the series in that list, I've read; some, I haven't. Unlike some people, I don't have an opinion on the ones I haven't read.

The Vorkosigan Saga (1986-ongoing) by Lois McMaster Bujold

I like this series a lot, but I really hate Bujold because she got her first novel published on, from what I've heard, the first try. Bitch.

The Wheel of Time (1990-2013 by Robert Jordan (with Brandon Sanderson)

This series ain't all that. Remember how I said if I quit a book halfway through, it's because I just don't care? Well, I got about 1989 pages into the 2000-page first book of this series, right when things are supposed to be all climax-y, when the book's plot is being wrapped up and the stage set for the next 89 books, and threw the thing at the wall.

When Jordan died and I heard Sanderson was going to wrap things up for him, I thought about going back and trying again - I like Sanderson's writing a great deal, and I figured if he cared enough to do the work I should at least see what all the fuss was about, but... you know... squirrel!

The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955) by J.R.R. Tolkien

Come on, do we really have to include this one?

His Dark Materials (1995-2000) by Philip Pullman

Let me not mince words, here: this series is indefensible. About the only good thing about it is: bears in armor. I mean, that's epic. But everything else about the series actually sucks. Unlike some of the other books I mentioned, though, I actually finished it. That's 24 hours of my life I'm never getting back.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Series (1979-2009) by Douglas Adams

Two of my favorite things are science fiction and comedy. When someone combines the two and does it well, it can be amazing. Also, these books are so ingrained in pop culture that you're lost if you don't read them - kind of like Star Wars.

Mistborn (2006-2008) by Brandon Sanderson

I'd pick The Stormlight Archives over Mistborn when it comes to Sanderson, but apparently the list is about completed series (even though the status of the Vorkosigan saga might make the Bujold entry an exception). Still, Mistborn is a fine series by an excellent author who is amazing at crafting epic fantasy.

There are also three fantasy series that are conspicuously absent from this list:

Amber by Roger Zelazny

Zelazny, like Jordan, was taken from us too soon. Unlike Jordan, he pretty much finished the Amber novels - though I think he wanted to write another set in the series. There are ten books in all, and the first book, Nine Princes in Amber, served as my personal introduction to fantasy.

The Vlad Taltos novels by Steven Brust

I've read this series so many times it's pathetic. The first book, Jhereg, contains what I consider to be the greatest opening line in all of fantasy (at least all that I've read). Again, though, the series might not be actually concluded.

Chronicles of Alera by Jim Butcher

Butcher is better known for the Dresden Files, a modern fantasy series. But it's definitely still in progress. Alera is a five-book (if I recall correctly) high fantasy series that's just a great read.

Anyway, that's my opinion, which of course you can take as truth.

I'm kind of surprised Harry Potter didn't make the list. Like Pullman's crappy series, it's targeted at a younger readership, which is fine. The first book was kind of painful to read, but the author got better as she went along. And like Hitchhiker's, it's part of pop culture now and there's no going back from that.
October 28, 2019 at 12:57am
October 28, 2019 at 12:57am

Why do I keep going back to that website? It is not aligned with my lifestyle - you can tell from the name.

However, this is an interesting article.

We've Reached Peak Wellness. Most of It Is Nonsense.


Across the country, everyone is looking for a cure for what ails them, which has led to a booming billion-dollar industry—what I’ve come to call the Wellness Industrial Complex.

Some time ago, the phrase "[whatever] Industrial Complex" became played out. Everything today relies on marketing; everything is a "*-Industrial Complex."

The problem is that so much of what’s sold in the name of modern-day wellness has little to no evidence of working.

In the entire history of selling shit, the one thing that never matters is whether something actually works or not; the only thing that affects the popularity of a product is how you can brand it.

For instance: one sure way to improve one's health is to eat more vegetables. But vegetables have a problem; they're not a "product." So they're not advertised. So instead people turn to what is marketed, which are multivitamins and supplements.

Once someone’s basic needs are met (e.g., food and shelter), scientists say that wellness emerges from nourishing six dimensions of your health: physical, emotional, cognitive, social, spiritual, and environmental. According to research published in 1997 in The American Journal of Health Promotion, these dimensions are closely intertwined. Evidence suggests that they work together to create a sum that is greater than its parts.

Step 1: Artificially create divisions within the human psyche.
Step 2: Study each arbitrary division.
Step 3: Realize that the divisions are arbitrary and call their interactions "a sum that is greater than its parts."

Unfortunately, these basics tend to get overlooked in favor of easy-to-market nonsense. That’s because, as many marketers (including in the self-help space) are fond of saying, “You can’t sell the basics.” I think that’s naive. We’d be much better off if we stopped obsessing over hacks and instead focused on evidence-based stuff that works. Here’s how to get started.

You want people to buy into evidence-based science? hahahaha.

Another simple way to think about physical activity comes from physician and physiologist Michael Joyner. “Move your body every day,” he says. “Sometimes very hard.” Based on a new study published in the online journal Scientific Reports, I’d add: try to do at least some of it outside.

No. Outside is where spiders live.

The other aspect of physical health is nutrition. Here again, the best advice is the simplest: ignore diets and supplements and, instead, just aim to cut out junk like processed and fried foods.

Everything you eat constitutes a "diet," so this is misleading. Also, no one has adequately defined "processed" for me. Lots of people swear by smoothies, for example, which, as far as I can tell, are just a bunch of whatever mixed together in a blender. Baby food, basically, only runnier. Point is, blending veggies like that is processing, and yet people who whinge about "processed" food don't get all snooty about smoothies.

The roots of a redwood tree only run six to twelve feet deep. Instead of growing downward, they grow out, extending hundreds of feet laterally and wrapping themselves around the roots of other trees. When rough weather comes, it’s the network of closely intertwined roots that allows the trees to stand strong. We are the same.

Nice cherry-picking there, hoss.

In 2010, researchers from Brigham Young University completed a comprehensive study that followed more than 300,000 people for an average of 7.5 years and learned that the mortality risks associated with loneliness exceeded those associated with obesity and physical inactivity and were comparable to the risks of smoking.

Yeah, that's interesting and all, but again, we face a marketing issue. No one - and I mean NO ONE - wants to be around someone who's lonely. That leads to a never-ending spiral of loneliness. The only way to break out is for the lonely person to somehow stop acting lonely, which might cause them to become more attractive to others, but to do that they have to be fundamentally dishonest with themselves and others. And dishonesty is a crap basis for any sort of human relationship. (You can probably get away with it with dogs.)

If the world made sense, loneliness and depression would be attractive qualities.

And when you are working on something, regardless of what it is, eliminate distractions so you can give it your full attention. An app called Track Your Happiness has allowed thousands of people to report their feelings in real time.

Use our app to avoid distractions! Sheesh.

Look, almost everyone is trying to sell you something (for the record, I am not). Sometimes the things are contradictory. This is beneficial to the sellers, because buying into one thing creates a void that you can fill by buying into another thing, and so on. Keep in mind that one of the things people are selling is religion / spirituality, as seen in a section in the linked article (the section involved has entirely too much to unpack for me to have quoted it here).

And there's nothing wrong with buying stuff. I'm a big fan of consumerism in general, because it lets me be lazy. But for fuck's sake, stop buying into "wellness" fads.
October 27, 2019 at 12:02am
October 27, 2019 at 12:02am

Note the timestamp on this blog post. I don't know if that qualifies as irony, but it might qualify as comedy.

How to Turn Yourself Into a Morning Person, Backed by Science
Even if you're convinced you're a night owl, and hate waking up early.

Backed by SCIENCE!

First things first: Getting up early is not a prerequisite for success.

As much as I want to believe that, it is if your job starts... wait for it... early. If it does, and you don't get up early, I predict you will not be successful.

Even though The Wall Street Journal says that 4 a.m. may be the most productive time of the day, the most successful people wake up and start work whenever the (heck) they decide is the best time for them.

4 am might very well be the most productive time of the day; if so, I stay up for it pretty regularly.

But still: Even if you're a committed night owl who loves to wake later in the day and work late into the evening, you may not have that luxury. Maybe you have clients in other time zones. Maybe you run a business that requires you start your day early.

Or maybe you're a peon with no control over when work starts and ends. Remember yesterday I talked about working for a surveyor? If it was light out, we'd work. And if you recall, it was a summer job. The accursed daystar rises disgustingly early in the summer.

But it was good experience for my later career.

If tomorrow is your first day of shifting to an earlier start time, don't try to go to bed early tonight. Just go to bed when you normally do. Sure, you'll be tired tomorrow, but that's OK. Natural fatigue will help you get to bed a little earlier that night, or the next night.

In time, your body will adapt -- as long as you don't shift back to your night owl ways on the weekends. Shifting back and forth results in an endless cycle of sleep schedule resets.

I'm... not sure this is the best advice.

2. Exercise first thing.

Wait... wake up early AND exercise?

My dad used to wake me up with "Rise and shine!" I'd spit from underneath the warm covers: "Pick one!"

"Moderate intensity aerobic exercise improves mood immediately and those improvements can last up to 12 hours," says one of the researchers. "This goes a long way to show that even moderate aerobic exercise has the potential to mitigate the daily stress that results in your mood being disturbed."

Can't argue with that. My anecdata agrees.

6. Start every day with something you really want to do.

This directly contradicts #2.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I am absolutely not convinced that becoming a morning person is the key to superiority. Maybe the key to feeling superior; I wouldn't know. But we only have about 16 hours to get stuff done that isn't sleep, and to me it doesn't matter when those 16 hours occur.

But if you have to shift your sleep schedule, the best way I know to do that is not to work backwards. That is, don't just try to go to sleep at 10 and get up at 6 (for an eight-hour sleep cycle). Instead, take some time, if you can, and work it forward: go to bed an hour later, and really try to sleep for exactly 8 hours. Stay up for 17 hours, not 16. Repeat the following night, and again until you have the schedule you need.

So, like, if you're used to going to bed at midnight and getting up at 8, and you need to start getting up at 5 for a shitty commute or some such, you can't just try to sleep at 9 and call it a night (pun intended). No, find a way to take the time to shift forward. First night: Hit bed at 1, set alarm for 9. Make yourself stay awake until 2. Set alarm for 10. Stay up to 3 am. Set alarm for 11. And so on, until you hit your 9pm-5am target.

Of course, lots of people can't take the time off to do that, what with family and work commitments. But it's still the best way I know to reset one's clock.

"But Waltz, you just said you're a night owl!" Well, yeah, but when I travel I like to wake up earlier, use the daylight. It's not my natural schedule, but I'm adaptable. To an extent.
October 26, 2019 at 12:01am
October 26, 2019 at 12:01am
I pick these links at random from a fairly long list of potential things to talk about. Today's link fortuitously coincides with the release of Western Stars, the Springsteen concert movie. But it's not about new music - it's about something that hit the record stores (for such things existed then) half of Bruce's lifetime ago.


What Does 'Born In The U.S.A.' Really Mean?

In the summer of '84 I was working long, arduous hours, outdoors, as a surveyor's assistant. This is probably where I got my utter hatred of unenclosed spaces from; it certainly wasn't the farm I spent my childhood on. Getting covered with poison ivy and stung by angry yellow jackets can do that to a kid.

But that was the summer that Born in the USA was released, and I was a Springsteen fan even then. I thought about asking my boss for the day off so I could buy the album - in LP format, of course - but he wasn't the type who would understand. In one of the many lucky coincidences involving me and Springsteen-related things, though, it rained that day so I wasn't working after all.

So I went to the shopping mall (80s, remember), bought the album, and went home to listen to the thing. That's how we did things back then, pre-internet.

If you're listening closely, the lyrics of "Born in the U.S.A." make its subject pretty clear: The 1984 hit by Bruce Springsteen describes a Vietnam War veteran who returns home to desperate circumstances and few options. Listen only to its surging refrain, though, and you could mistake it for an uncomplicated celebration of patriotism. You wouldn't be the only one.

This was about the time I first started realizing that most people don't listen to music the way I do. The big "hit" from that album was "Dancing in the Dark," a decent enough song, but all anyone else could talk about was the music video. I felt it was the weakest song on the album, though - everything else sounded like it was done in two or three takes, but that one song suffered from typical 80s overproduction. I found out later that I was right - the rest of the album was basically live.

But that asshole Reagan - he talked about the title track, all right. And got it entirely wrong.

By playing on the hope, Reagan seemed to overlook the despair.

That's a... generous way to put it.

"After it came out, I read all over the place that nobody knew what it was about," [Springsteen] said before performing "Born in the U.S.A" to a crowd in 1995. "I'm sure that everybody here tonight understood it. If not — if there were any misunderstandings out there — my mother thanks you, my father thanks you and my children thank you, because I've learned that that's where the money is."

See? Still a capitalist.

Maybe the meaning of "Born in the U.S.A." is the distance between the grim verses and the joyous chorus. It's the space between frustrating facts and fierce pride — the demand to push American reality a bit closer to our ideals.

The title of this blog is "Complex Numbers," with the mathematical definition front and center, but it's actually a multileveled play on words - "numbers" also refers to pieces of music, and I'm fascinated by the emergence of complexity from simplicity.

October 25, 2019 at 12:15am
October 25, 2019 at 12:15am
A rare "numbers" entry today.


How to Understand Extreme Numbers

One of the many things that bug me but probably shouldn't is when someone uses the expression "almost infinite." This grates like "very unique," which is different in that it's an unnecessary intensifier, while "almost infinite" is utterly meaningless.

There are, of course, things that might as well be infinite for all that we're ever going to be able to count them individually, such as the number of atoms in the observable universe. A huge, immense, unbelievably large number in our experience - but just as far away from infinity as the number 42.

You know what else bugs me a lot? Pedantry. So I'll shut up about this now.

Not a lot of research has been done on how our minds perceive and comprehend large orders of magnitude—big differences between the size of, say, a cell and our sun.

One of the things I appreciate most about science communication is when someone gives relative sizes, such as "an atom is as much smaller than a human as a human is to the visible universe." (Note: I didn't look this up, so I may be a bit off on the actual relative sizes; don't quote me on this.) Such comparisons make things that are very hard to visualize slightly less hard to visualize.

But about 35 percent of people in the study used what the authors call a “segmented linear heuristic.” That means they correctly distinguish between numbers within the millions or billions, but assume that “million,” “billion,” and “trillion” are equally spaced on a number line. They were generally great at comparing the relative sizes of numbers like 2 million and 800 million, but many treated 980 million and 2 billion as nearly identical.

Well, we're used to logarithmic scales on big-number charts, so that doesn't surprise me much.

Of course, our ancient human ancestors didn’t live among billions of people, or incur trillions of dollars of debt. The orders of magnitude in their immediate surroundings were limited to what they could experience firsthand. It’s not surprising that we can intuitively visualize a 6-inch or 6-mile distance, but 93 million miles to the sun seems…super far.

Ah, yes, the inevitable and unsupported-by-evidence "evolutionary psychology" nod. I wish they'd stop that shit. (I'm not saying they're wrong; just that it's basically guesswork.)

So how can we make large numbers more easily graspable? A group at Microsoft is working on it.

And then you, too, can grasp the concepts of large numbers, for a low subscription price of $79.99/year. If you ever forget how to do it, just turn your brain off and then on again.

When scientists navigate their way through extreme numbers in their daily work, they aren’t constantly comparing enormous or miniscule measurements to units of everyday life. Instead, their fields have their own perspectives relative to different units.

You know what I learned today? Well, technically yesterday. You know what I learned yesterday? I learned that quantum physicists have a name for the amount of time it takes for a photon to cross the distance of the width of a proton. I shouldn't have to tell anyone this, but that is a mind-bogglingly small amount of time. So instead of saying, like, 10-24 seconds (or whatever the actual value is) they call it... a jiffy.

I'm not kidding. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jiffy_(time) (Other disciplines use the word for other measures of time, apparently.)

Same kind of reason why cosmologists measure distances in parsecs or light-years instead of kilometers, only in the other direction.

“Things that are so far removed from our daily experience—like quarks, and dinosaurs, and Kim Kardashian—are inherently hard to understand,” extreme numbers included.

Oh, look, a funny guy mathematician.
October 24, 2019 at 12:37am
October 24, 2019 at 12:37am

A New Refutation of Time: Borges on the Most Paradoxical Dimension of Existence

"Most paradoxical dimension of existence," my ass. I mean, yeah, it's different from the spatial dimensions, but the only "paradox" is that we can't move freely in both directions of time. And, maybe, that it's not discontinuous; there's no "wall" or barrier to time. That's not really a paradox; that's what time is, and how it's distinguished from the other aspects of spacetime.

Sometimes, philosophy and science collide. This is one of those times.

Time, in other words — particularly our experience of it as a continuity of successive moments — is a cognitive illusion rather than an inherent feature of the universe, a construction of human consciousness and perhaps the very hallmark of human consciousness.

Steaming pile of bovine excrement.

Time proceeded to do time stuff before we evolved, and will continue to do so until the heat death of the universe (because, literally, time stops when entropy stops).

Borges begins by noting the deliberate paradox of his title, a contrast to his central thesis that the continuity of time is an illusion, that time exists without succession and each moment contains all eternity, which negates the very notion of “new.”

Yeah... no. I'm not going to get into light cones and other features of relativity, but, with due respect to the philosopher, this "each moment contains all eternity" crap is crap.

Time, Borges notes, is the foundation of our experience of personal identity...

It is the case that personal identity depends on time. That is, we remember the past but not the future; time is asymmetrical. This, again, is a feature of time. But that's what makes it real, not illusory.

Look, I'm not saying the essay excerpted in the article isn't worth reading. It's always good to gain new perspectives (I've heard that weed assists with this effort). But... I know I've said this before, but if time is an illusion, then space, too, is an illusion, along with everything in it. And if everything is an illusion, while the only things that are "real" are constructs of the mind such as "eternity" or "love" or "the present moment," then this switches the definitions of "real" and "illusion."

Deny the existence of objective reality all you want, but you don't get to make up stuff and then call it real; that's the worst kind of hubris. Sure, there's a lot we don't understand, but any philosophical examination of the universe has to start with something like "the chair I'm sitting in is real," or the entire edifice is built on - quite literally - an illusory foundation.
October 23, 2019 at 12:17am
October 23, 2019 at 12:17am
After yesterday's foray into illusionary metaphysics, I think I'll return to the joys of language.


38 Wonderful Words With No English Equivalent

And the header image is a stock photo of bacon. Can't go wrong with that!

Sometimes we must turn to other languages to find le mot juste. Here are a whole bunch of foreign words with no direct English equivalent.

English, as I think I've mentioned before, is an immensely powerful and nuanced language. But it's far from exhaustive when it comes to describing some things.

1. Kummerspeck (German)
Excess weight gained from emotional overeating. Literally, grief bacon.

Hence the reason for the header image, I suppose. Though I think keto followers would disagree with any link between bacon and excess weight. On the other side, vegans' heads have probably exploded by now.

2. Shemomedjamo (Georgian)
You know when you’re really full, but your meal is just so delicious, you can’t stop eating it? The Georgians feel your pain. This word means, “I accidentally ate the whole thing."

This, however, can definitely be linked to excess weight.

5. Backpfeifengesicht (German)
A face badly in need of a fist.

Lots of these around these days. Some of them were inspired by certain Germans of the last century, so... karma?

7. Pelinti (Buli, Ghana)
Your friend bites into a piece of piping hot pizza, then opens his mouth and sort of tilts his head around while making an “aaaarrrahh” noise. The Ghanaians have a word for that.

"Friend." Right.

19. Bakku-shan (Japanese)
Or there's this Japanese slang term, which describes the experience of seeing a woman who appears pretty from behind but not from the front.

I'm the furthest thing from an expert at Japanese, but this sounds like one of those words that they stole from English and made their own, like "waifu." Sometimes, things come full circle.

20. Seigneur-terraces (French)
Coffee shop dwellers who sit at tables a long time but spend little money.

Funny, haven't covered that in Duolingo yet.

29. L’esprit de l’escalier (French)
Literally, stairwell wit—a too-late retort thought of only after departure.

Nor this - but because I am who I am, I've known this one for some time. Why do you think I'm only amusing in writing?

34. Bilita Mpash (Bantu)
An amazing dream. Not just a "good" dream; the opposite of a nightmare.

Had one of these yesterday. Ever have a dream that was so good you were depressed that it ended when you woke up? Come to think of it, I haven't been plagued by sleep paralysis lately. Maybe it's the daily exercise, or maybe it was waiting for me to realize this before it came back.

36. Luftmensch (Yiddish)
There are several Yiddish words to describe social misfits. This one is for an impractical dreamer with no business sense.

37 & 38. Schlemiel and schlimazel (Yiddish)
Someone prone to bad luck. Yiddish distinguishes between the schlemiel and schlimazel, whose fates would probably be grouped under those of the klutz in other languages. The schlemiel is the traditional maladroit, who spills his coffee; the schlimazel is the one on whom it's spilled.

These are far from the only great expressions in Yiddish. "Luftmensch," by the way, can, if I remember correctly, be loosely translated as "airhead," though I think its literal translation is "air person," which makes little sense in English. Some other great Yiddish words have already been stolen by English, such as "chutzpah," "schnoz," and "glitch." In fact, if you want to expand your vocabulary and sound like a yenta, here you go: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_English_words_of_Yiddish_origin
October 22, 2019 at 12:11am
October 22, 2019 at 12:11am
Buckle up.


Religion for the Nonreligious

Rarely has a domain name been so appropriate. "Wait but why?"

You go to school, study hard, get a degree, and you’re pleased with yourself. But are you wiser?

"Wiser" is an unmeasurable comparative.

You get a job ...[long list of career-related crap]... But are you happier?

Other things matter besides happiness. Take care of those and the happiness emerges naturally.

You do all kinds of life things—you buy groceries, read articles, get haircuts, chew things, take out the trash, buy a car, brush your teeth, shit, sneeze, shave, stretch, get drunk, put salt on things, have sex with someone[citation needed], charge your laptop...

Yes. We get it. We all do stuff. If we don't, we sit around and do nothing. While that's nice from time to time, even my cats get bored if they're not chasing something for at least a few minutes a day.

But as you do these things day after day and year after year, are you improving as a human in a meaningful way?

Going back to my cats, I don't see them being concerned about improving as a cat in a meaningful way. But okay, I'm human, and I think things and have some concern about the future beyond when someone is going to give me my next bowl of kibble, so I'll play along.

In the last post, I described the way my own path had led me to be an atheist—but how in my satisfaction with being proudly nonreligious, I never gave serious thought to an active approach to internal improvement—hindering my own evolution in the process.

That sounds like a personal problem to me. Even when I realized I was an atheist, I never stopped trying to improve myself (though I slowed down a lot when I was depressed). In fact, I worked harder at it because I realized that without accepting a higher power, it's all the more important to improve oneself. Also, stop confusing people with the "evolution" thing; it's distracting.

Society at large focuses on shallow things...[citation needed]

Considering that the human mind is an ocean of complexity that creates every part of our reality...[citation nee- oh, hell, there's going to be more of these assertions without evidence, isn't there?]

And then the author gets into some really weird and possibly misleading graphics about consciousness and enlightenment or whatever. Obviously, I can't reproduce them here; you're just going to have to go to the link to see what I'm talking about.

Suffice it to say that atheism in itself isn't any guarantee of intelligence or understanding. Neither, of course, is religion. Or spirituality. And this seems to be a weird kind of spiritual atheism, which is fine, but then they talk about "truth" and present speculation as fact.

I have to admit, I started skimming and looking at the MS Paint drawings. It seems to delve into New Age-y etheria, though, with all kinds of metaphors presented as fact.

Remember a few days ago when I found an article that asserted that the thing that most differentiates us from other animals is our ability to dive deep into metaphor? This is the dark side of that.

Thing is, though, I think the author makes some decent points. I'm sure you can find them yourself if you're up for it. But then he comes up with stuff like:

There are really two options when thinking about the big, big picture: be humble or be absurd.

Bit limiting, isn't it? I'd pick "be curious" or "be open-minded" as alternatives; neither are absurd or require particular humility. I mean, maybe in the sense that to realize you don't know everything is a kind of humility, I guess? Or it's just a facing of reality.

To me, complete rational logic tells me to be atheist about all of the Earth’s religions and utterly agnostic about the nature of our existence or the possible existence of a higher being. I don’t arrive there via any form of faith, just by logic.

Then you're not atheist; you're agnostic. By most accepted definitions of those two words. You even said the word. I mean, I don't care, either way, but this is confusing to people.

Labels sometimes just get in the way. So do bad MS Paint drawings.
October 21, 2019 at 12:12am
October 21, 2019 at 12:12am

A Harvard Linguist's (and Bill Gates's Favorite Author) 13 Simple Tips for Becoming a Great Writer

Is one tip not doing weird things with possessives and parentheticals in a headline? No? Oh well.

Writing well is hard, but Steven Pinker managed to boil the essentials down to just 13 tweet-length tips.

There are several reasons I don't do Twatter. One of them is that it caters to short attention spans. Another is oh crap I'm out of characters I'm just going to continue this in another Twit.

Obviously, when it comes to turning a correct and compelling phrase, the guy knows what he's talking about. And thankfully, he's willing to share.

Obviously, it would be wrong of me to snark on the advice of a guy with those kind of credentials, right? That would make me, like, the most arrogant asshole, wouldn't it?

I mean, that's what I usually do, but in this case, I think the advice is worth reading for writers. Give it a shot.
October 20, 2019 at 12:25am
October 20, 2019 at 12:25am

I've been learning French, but that doesn't mean I can stop learning English. Or anything else for that matter. And when it comes to describing emotions, I can use all the help I can get.

15 Obscure Words for Everyday Feelings And Emotions

Fortunately for me, some of these are actually from French, so... win?

I'll just highlight a few of my favorites, none of which are French.

1. Croochie-Proochles

The superb Scots dialect word
croochie-proochles means the feeling of discomfort or fidgetiness that comes from sitting in a cramped position (like, say, on an airplane).

Honestly, the list could have stopped here and I'd be happy. I mean, can you come up with a better word than croochie-proochles? For anything? No? I didn't think so.

11. Lonesome-Fret

That feeling of restlessness or unease that comes from being on your own too long is
lonesome-fret, an 18th/19th century dialect word defined as “ennui from lonesomeness” by the English Dialect Dictionary.

Huh... never felt that, myself. Now I want to be on my own long enough to see if I experience it. Bet I won't.

12. Fat-Sorrow

“Sorrow alleviated by riches”—or, put another way, sadness alleviated by material things—is
fat-sorrow. It’s a term best remembered from the old adage that “fat sorrow is better than lean sorrow.”

This seems like one of those phrases that would sound better in French, or at least Latin. Douleur-gras, maybe? French does almost everything backwards. Or, maybe English does. Whatever. Anyway, I've been saying for years that I'd rather be rich and unhappy than poor and happy, and this describes that pretty well.

14. Crapulence

When the word hangover just won’t do it justice, there’s
crapulence. As the OED defines it, crapulence is a feeling of “sickness or indisposition resulting from excess in drinking or eating.”

And this is the one entry on the list that I was already aware of - for reasons that should be obvious to regular readers.
October 19, 2019 at 12:08am
October 19, 2019 at 12:08am

How the internet was invented

In 40 years, the internet has morphed from a military communication network into a vast global cyberspace. And it all started in a California beer garden

You will note the prominent feature of the subhead is the phrase "in a California beer garden." Remember a while back I posted on the link between bars and invention?

In the kingdom of apps and unicorns, Rossotti’s is a rarity. This beer garden in the heart of Silicon Valley has been standing on the same spot since 1852. It isn’t disruptive; it doesn’t scale. But for more than 150 years, it has done one thing and done it well: it has given Californians a good place to get drunk.

And it hasn't achieved National Historic Monument status because...?

It doesn’t seem a likely spot for a major act of innovation. But 40 years ago this August, a small team of scientists set up a computer terminal at one of its picnic tables and conducted an extraordinary experiment. Over plastic cups of beer, they proved that a strange idea called the internet could work.

As far as proof of concept demonstrations go, I've seen worse.

If you had walked into Rossotti’s beer garden on 27 August 1976, you would have seen the following: seven men and one woman at a table, hovering around a computer terminal, the woman typing.

Typical 1970s scenario. It's always the woman typing. That's what they're for, don't you know?

The fact that we think of the internet as a world of its own, as a place we can be “in” or “on” – this too is the legacy of Don Nielson and his fellow scientists. By binding different networks together so seamlessly, they made the internet feel like a single space. Strictly speaking, this is an illusion. The internet is composed of many, many networks: when I go to Google’s website, my data must traverse 11 different routers before it arrives. But the internet is a master weaver: it conceals its stitches extremely well. We’re left with the sensation of a boundless, borderless digital universe – cyberspace, as we used to call it. Forty years ago, this universe first flickered into existence in the foothills outside of Palo Alto, and has been expanding ever since.

And so the internet, like civilization itself, owes its existence to beer.

Okay, so I had to do a search on Rossotti's. Turns out it was recently restyled.


Zott's may have new floors, clean bathrooms, free WiFi and artisan wood-fired pizza, but the spirit of the place largely lives on.

Heh. Free WiFi. And so we come full circle.
October 18, 2019 at 12:20am
October 18, 2019 at 12:20am
Another Cracked article today. This one's from David Wong, who usually has some good perspectives on things.


How Our Pets Have Evolved To Emotionally Manipulate Us

To be fair, we, too, have evolved to emotionally manipulate us. Don't believe me? Okay, what do you do when you hear a crying baby? (Well, I get as far away from it as possible until it shuts the hell up, but I'm told that actual human beings try to comfort it.)

It's easier to love a dog than it is to love a spider or a cactus because dogs have adorable facial expressions. The nonverbal pleas for food and love, the dopey smiles, the heartbreaking, almost teary disappointment -- it's all there. But the reason they can make those expressions is that, after evolution split dogs from wolves to begin their partnership with humans, they evolved facial muscles to make "expressions" that humans would respond to. They grew little eyebrows.

It is true that, for most people, our love for something is proportional to its cuteness. Sure, you can convince yourself that a snake is adorable, but mostly that means you're trying to be metal.

"But cats don't have those expressions, and we love them just the same!" you may object. "If anything, cats look like they hate our guts!" Sure, but they just found another way to rope us in. Did you know that cats don't meow to each other? It's a sound they've developed specifically for humans, to get us to feed them. Even creepier, it may be specifically calculated to mimic a crying human baby. If anything, they think it's hilarious that we keep falling for it.

So remember a couple paragraphs ago, I mentioned that human baby screeches get on my very last nerve? I wasn't kidding (pun intended, as always). So, one time, I was in an airport - a setting guaranteed to enhance any slight annoyance and/or frustration to my breaking point - and I heard two things in close succession. First, a baby wailing; I noped right on out of there. Second, someone had a cat in a carrier and it emitted that frightened yowling wail that only cats can manufacture - and all I wanted to do was reach in and comfort it, regardless of any scratching it might do if I tried.

Consequently, I'm not sold on the "cat cries mimic human baby blurbling" theory.

This would, of course, mean that it's entirely possible to pour all of your love into something that is in fact coldly sending back just enough validation signals to keep you doling out the food and shelter. It would open the possibility that the kind of sweeping gooey sentimentality we think of as the Most Important Thing In Life will be seen by future societies as a weird, backward superstition. "These sick bastards went so far off the rails that they literally defied their most basic biological imperative and adopted pets instead of having children."

Yeah, look, I know a lot of people refer to pets as their "children," but again - I always wanted pets; I never wanted children (at least since I was old enough to physically help to produce them). My cats are my cats, not my "furbabies" or child-surrogates or whatever. Life isn't binary - it's not "kids, including surrogates" versus "a life of utter solitude." Anyway, point is, emotion is a biochemical process, and chemistry doesn't care.

What if all of our poetry and lyrics about "soul mates" and eternal devotion is one big weird cultural fetish?

What if water is wet and grass is green? Oh, but this author thinks I'm being cynical. I'll show you cynical, Wong.

But the gooey sentimentality, it turns out, is just as easy to defend with cold logic. If love isn't real, then nothing is. "But it's just an idea!" So's the law, and democracy, and money. If you can argue away love as just hormones and brain chemicals, then you can argue away the sun as being just a bunch of hydrogen and helium molecules. Figuring out how a thing works doesn't invalidate its existence.

But... the sun is a bunch of (primarily) hydrogen and helium molecules, and its goal is to give us cancer. I'm not saying love isn't real; I'm saying it's an emergent property of consciousness, which itself is an emergent property of biology, which is essentially a long, sustained chemical reaction. But as with everything else, we can make of that whatever we will.

Being willing to believe in things, to buy in, to put yourself out there, that's what takes real courage.

Sure, Wong, and I believe I'll have another beer.
October 17, 2019 at 12:26am
October 17, 2019 at 12:26am

Time for some physics!

How Black Holes Nearly Ruined Time
Quantum mechanics rescued our understanding of past and future from the black hole.

Is there anything a black hole cannot ruin?

As exotic structures of spacetime, black holes continue to fascinate astronomers, physicists, mathematicians, philosophers, and the general public, following on a century of research into their mysterious nature.

And don't forget nearly a century of science fiction authors getting the science wrong and thus contributing to the general public's misunderstanding of black holes.

The most striking feature of a black hole is its event horizon—a boundary from within which nothing can escape.

No, the most striking feature of a black hole is the singularity at its heart, a place where relativity breaks down and strange physics takes over. Without the singularity, there's no event horizon - and the event horizon isn't anything physical; it's a mathematical boundary, albeit an important one.

But, okay, I'll grant that the opinion of an actual physicist is probably more relevant than my own.

Entropy and the Arrow of Time

The article goes into some depth about how the second law of thermodynamics defines the arrow of time. I've been reading up on this sort of thing recently, and I have to say, the explanation leaves me unsatisfied. This is not to say that I think it's wrong - again, this was proposed by people way more knowledgeable and intelligent than I am - just that it's either a) a failure on my part to understand or b) a failure on their part to explain it well.

Basically, to me it sounds like a circular argument: Entropy can never decrease over time; therefore, time is the direction of non-negative entropy.

But, to be fair, I've never heard a better definition of time. After all, it may be something we can measure, but it's not exactly something we can touch, like a rock or a tree. So maybe there are just things we still don't understand. That's cool.

So, after that (necessary) detour into entropy, the article comes back around to black holes.

The resolution to this problem is to add quantum physics into the mix.

You know, back when the British were doing their colonial empire building thing in India, they had a problem with malaria. It turned out that an effective treatment, if not cure, for malaria was quinine, which is found in tonic water. The difficulty is that quinine tastes a lot like ass, so they added gin to it to make it more palatable - and threw in a lime for scurvy while they were at it. Thus was born one of the greatest inventions of history, the gin and tonic. The point here is that it's rare that you find phrases like "the resolution is to add gin" or "the resolution is to add quantum physics."

Anyway, I thought the essay explained things well and is largely accessible, so if you ever wanted to know shit about black holes, time, and entropy, well, it's a good introduction.

Might help to have a gin and tonic first.
October 16, 2019 at 12:25am
October 16, 2019 at 12:25am

The Coolest Scientist In History (You've Never Heard Of)

Okay, I'll grant "cool," but I wasn't ignorant of this guy's existence. Still, there's no harm in learning more, right?

Imagine that it's the late 1800s, you're living in some godforsaken Russian backwater, and as far as your barely educated ass knows, the greatest technology in human history is vodka.

To be fair, at that point, the greatest technology in human history was vodka.

Meanwhile, the teacher down the road is mumbling to himself about elevators to space, flights to the moon, and mankind achieving blissful immortality among the stars. And here's the kicker: He's not even drunk yet! Who the hell is this guy? He is Konstantin Tsiolkovsky.

There you go, the name. Now you don't have to visit the article, but you still should; I'm not going to quote the whole thing because copyright and such, and Cracked is funny.

After three years of study, Tsiolkovsky passed a teacher's exam and, assigned to a village that made the middle of nowhere look luxurious, began the profession that would sustain him for the rest of his life. When not teaching, he tried writing his own science fiction, but he kept getting distracted by the accuracy of the "science" half.

I feel yah, Konstantin. Every time I write science fiction, it goes something like this: *science thing as a plot device* "Wait, that can't work." "But can it?" *hours of wikiderp* "Just write it, Waltz." "But it's implausible!" "Just. Write. It. Waltz." And Tsiolkovsky didn't have Wikipedia.

Never forget that the future will always be a bizarre mix of the predictable and the baffling.


But good ideas can come from anywhere at any time. And that's how someone born 162 years ago played a big part in developing both real-life technology and many of the sci-fi tropes you enjoy today.

One thing the article doesn't mention: Arthur C. Clarke, whom I'm certain you have heard of, stole from Tsiolkovsky for one of his early novels, detailing the construction of a space elevator, or, as those of us who did know about dead Russian scientists call it, the Tsiolkovsky tower. You might recall that Clarke, too, was a visionary, probably most famously for either proposing the idea of geosynchronous communications satellites, or saying "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

There are technical issues about space elevators that continue to make them impractical, but I have no doubt that if we don't nuke ourselves back into the stone age, one day we'll have the technology to build a tower into orbit.
October 15, 2019 at 12:12am
October 15, 2019 at 12:12am

Uncertainty Isn't Always a Problem—It Can Be the Solution

Many areas of technology—from pacemakers to space missions—deliberately create controlled amounts of uncertainty to make devices and processes work better.

We D&D players have known about the joys of uncertainty since the mid-70s.

In 1978 my wife and I, with our two sons, then aged 2 and 4, were traveling home after a year in Connecticut...

Writing 102: Start your article with a personal anecdote. Just... make it an interesting one. I skipped most of the first paragraph.

Life is a lottery. Uncertainty often breeds doubt, and doubt makes us feel uncomfortable, so we want to reduce, or better still eliminate, uncertainty.

Nah, bring it on. It's nice to be able to predict, say, eclipses, but wouldn't it be cool if they happened at random intervals? Okay, maybe not "cool" because that would eliminate the entire foundations of orbital mechanics. But interesting.

Uncertainty isn’t just a sign of human ignorance; it’s what the world is made of.

I've been saying this for years. Nothing is 100% certain. Once you embrace that, everything becomes easier.

Random numbers—more precisely, the pseudorandom numbers that computers can be told to generate—can be really useful.

Especially if you've managed to fight your way to the bottom of the dungeon and are now facing the final boss.

Biologists make a big song and dance about evolution being inherently random.

I follow biology blogs. My housemate is a biologist. I have never heard a biologist claim that evolution is inherently random. Perhaps some do; I can't follow everything. There are random, or at least semi-random, inputs, sure, but evolution is a deterministic process in the sense of reactions to semi-random events.

So the organisms keep improving, step by tiny step. That way, evolution simultaneously constructs the peaks of the fitness landscape, finds out where they are, and populates them with organisms. Evolution is a stochastic hill-climbing algorithm, implemented in wetware.

This is what happens when you step out of your wheelhouse. Organisms don't "keep improving;" they adapt. Sometimes they don't adapt fast enough and a species dies out. That can be seen as an improvement from a distance, but to the species involved, it's kind of the opposite.

Randomness comes in many forms, and chaos theory tells us that a butterfly flap can radically change the weather.

The "butterfly effect" is famous, and it's a decent way to get thinking about chaos theory, but the general understanding of it is wrong. What I mean is, not every butterfly ends up causing a hurricane, and even the flaps of a butterfly's wings are deterministic - just not predictable.

Snark and criticism aside - and keeping in mind that I'm hardly infallible on these points, either - it's a good article with interesting points about how we're figuring stuff out. I'm just not motivated to buy the guy's book.
October 14, 2019 at 12:05am
October 14, 2019 at 12:05am

Self-made millionaire: This is the greatest paradox of wealth—and most people fail to recognize it

I think the author and I have different ideas of the meaning of the word "paradox."

*gratuitous photograph of Warren Buffett*

It's remarkable to me how many internet articles about wealth will use stock photos of Warren Buffett. Buffett is undeniably rich - he was once the richest man in the world, and I believe he's still in the top five - but he got that way through diversified investments, not traditional focused wealth-building. And, more importantly, he has nothing to do with the points made in this article; he's known to live a relatively modest lifestyle.

"Oh, I just got back from the grocery store," he said.

After a quick pause, I asked, "Have you ever considered having someone else do your grocery shopping?"

He looked at me like I was crazy. Pay to have someone do his grocery shopping? What kind of elitist would do that?

*raises hand* Me. This kind of elitist right here. The benefits of having groceries delivered, for me, are manifold. Here are a few:

*Donut4* Driving to the grocery store, finding a parking spot, dodging around people, having to come face to face with other people, and trying to make small talk with the cashier are all annoyances to me.

*Donut4* Schlepping the groceries the thirty feet from my car to my door is an even bigger annoyance, especially when I have to make more than one trip.

*Donut4* Done right, it's not much more expensive than doing my own shopping. Instacart Express for the win.

*Donut4* A grocery store is a den of temptation and iniquity. The last time I went into one, because I had to, there was an Oreos display. Resistance was futile. Now, I'm not averse to occasionally indulging, but if I'm shopping every week, well, do the math.

*Donut4* If I go to the store, I will buy beer and wine (VA doesn't do private liquor sales, just fermented beverages). Again, I indulge occasionally, but I have a fine selection of beer and wine (and scotch and gin and tequila and...) here at home, and I don't need to buy any more.

*Donut4* With these last two points, I'm actually saving money in the long run. I buy exactly what I want to buy, no extraneous psychological temptations, and since I'm choosing to eat healthy foods these days, that's a big plus.

Your experience may vary, of course. I understand some people actually enjoy (shudder) going out and mingling with people with all their germs and whatnot, but not this introvert. And some people are better at resisting temptation.

Here was an adult earning $750,000 a year, but behaving as if he still earns $50,000.

That's generally how you save money. It doesn't matter how much money you make; if you spend it all, you're boned.

This is a huge paradox of earning more money: Many people claim they value time over money, but if you look at their calendars, you'll find that the opposite is true.

Again, not a "paradox." Cognitive dissonance, maybe.

I used to scoff at people who flew first-class and think, Why would anyone spend an insane amount of money something so pointless? We're all getting to the same destination.

Because I actually fit in the seats, and because there's nothing more satisfying than sipping on your first complementary gin and tonic whilst watching all the harried passengers struggling past to get to steerage.

If you're making more money than ever, aim to save at least one hour per week. Think about all the responsibilities that you hate (e.g., doing the laundry, grocery shopping, managing your finances) where there are great solutions available to outsource or systematize the work.

Despite my snark above, I think the author makes good points. For myself, I'd rather spend a lot of time up front automating a task - or contracting someone else to do it, like I do with my lawn care - than do the task myself, especially if the task is repetitive. That's how I got good at spreadsheets.
October 13, 2019 at 12:02am
October 13, 2019 at 12:02am
We turn today to the literary world. Of course, by "literary" I mean "science fiction."


Ursula K. Le Guin on Being a Man
A journey to where the semicolon meets the soul.

Okay, so, that whole thing is, I will admit, too dense for me. And by "dense" I mean "impenetrable." Like a New Yorker article.

And I'm not even going to tackle gender issues in this blog, because I still haven't figured out what the hell is meant by gender issues.

But Le Guin is, indisputably, a great writer. Not just because she helped give science fiction respectability, although that's part of it, but because she can put things into words that most of us find inexpressible.

Still, I'm at a loss to see her point, here, or that of the author who is excerpting her work. Maybe someone else can make some sense out of it and explain it to me.
October 12, 2019 at 12:03am
October 12, 2019 at 12:03am
It's Saturday morning (technically) and I'm feeling oppositional, so...


25 Words That Are Their Own Opposites

English, as I've noted before in here, is weird. I say this as someone with very limited exposure to other languages, so I may be way off base, but as a nearly-lifelong speaker, reader, writer, and punster of the language... it's weird.

Here’s an ambiguous sentence for you: “Because of the agency’s oversight, the corporation’s behavior was sanctioned.” Does that mean, "Because the agency oversaw the company’s behavior, they imposed a penalty for some transgression," or does it mean, "Because the agency was inattentive, they overlooked the misbehavior and gave it their approval by default"? We’ve stumbled into the looking-glass world of contronyms—words that are their own antonyms.

I gotta admit, those two words - "oversight" and "sanction" - confused me for the longest time. I can only imagine how an ESL person can deal with this sort of thing.

4. Dust, along with the next two words, is a noun turned into a verb meaning either to add or to remove the thing in question. Only the context will tell you which it is.

Wait... wait... "dust" can be used as a verb?

23. B**ch can derisively refer to a woman who is considered overly aggressive or domineering, or it can refer to someone passive or submissive.

Really? Do we really have to self-censor "bitch" on Mental Floss? I'm going to rethink my occasional visits to their articles and, clearly, I could never work there.

Anyway, just a fun thing to think about. The article gives some etymology where appropriate. It's way too late at night for me to think of other contronyms, but I'm sure others will come to mind when I'm not expecting them.

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