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Posts Tagged ‘pedantry’

The Frustrated Pedant

Saturday, February 27th, 2016

In prior posts I have suggested simply retiring words or phrases because they are so frequently misused as seriously to call into question their value to convey meaning versus their tendency to invite misinterpretation.

Some words, however, cannot simply be cut from the roster. They represent worthwhile concepts and they are atomic, i.e., irreducible, i.e., they cannot be dumbed down any further, i.e., if you still don’t understand, then you would likely be happier if you stopped reading now. So it’s up to me to explain what these words mean and it’s up to you to get them right. Don’t feel bad. I hear people who pass for professional journalists botch these on a regular basis. They’re getting paid to write or talk and here I am asking you, a schmuck, to get them right for free.

Let us examine cynicism, pessimism and skepticism. Similar to socialism, communism and fascism, these words actually mean different things, feigned (I hope) ignorance of political candidates notwithstanding.


In modern usage, cynicism is the belief that people (especially public figures) are often motivated by self interest rather than by unselfish reasons such as the public good. So, given the following statement:

Political Candidate: If I am elected I will cut taxes on corporate earnings for businesses generating $3 billion or more in annual revenue. These job creators are the cornerstone of our economy and they are committed to fostering a strong middle class.

A cynic might ponder different underlying motivations such as:

Political Candidate: This tax cut will peg that portfolio sitting in my “blind trust”. Oh, and Steff Stockoptions, CEO of HalliBabyMulchCo, totally knows where that Poughkeepsie hooker we double stuffed that time is buried and lately all he does is bitch about how Elon Musk has a bigger summer yacht than he does.


Pessimism is probably the simplest of the set to understand, because pessimists are largely simpletons. They fixate on the worst aspects of a thing or anticipate that the worst outcome will be the one that occurs. Pessimists (similar to their optimist brethren) make for lousy statisticians. Given a 50/50 probability, a pessimist will expect the less attractive prospect to occur 95 percent of the time, which is probably why I find them so tiresome. Generally speaking, pessimists tend to shit all over everything while contributing little or grudging effort toward achieving the preferred outcome.

My experience is that while there is overlap between cynics and pessimists, a lot of cynics (myself included) self-identify as frustrated optimists. It’s funnier that way, because when people’s slavish devotion to their baser impulses is inevitably revealed, the fresh sting and accompanying bitterness felt by the cynic are all the more poignant.


The most neutral of the bunch. All that skeptics demand is evidence, regardless of the popular credence around a topic. They can, however, be a snarky lot.

Credulous Rube: Homeopathy is medically beneficial.

Skeptic: Prove it. And, like Tim Minchin observed, please explain, “whilst [water’s] memory of a long lost drop of onion juice is infinite, it somehow forgets all the poo it’s had in it.”

Credulous Rube: The Zika virus was sent by God to punish promiscuity.

Skeptic: Wow, that would make this God fellow a monster, wouldn’t it? Since all bets are off the moment that anyone invokes the supernatural into rational discourse, I won’t ask you to prove anything. But I would like to know what you recommend doing in light of the stated cause (this God monster of yours). It doesn’t seem right for us to pursue treatment or prevention options on account of the wrath and the punishment and all. It feels too much like arguing with a judge after the verdict. Shall we simply wail?

Credulous Rube: Vaccines cause autism.

Skeptic: Prove it. Wait, instead how about you jump up your own ass and die for spreading dangerous misinformation with zero basis in fact to the other credulous rubes, putting at risk the children from whom immunization was withheld in addition to the most frail members of our society. Why not take a day off from propagating this garbage and go to Disneyland? Your contribution to public health is like pantyhose’s contribution to finger banging.

Credulous Rube: The ‘69 Moon landing was faked.

Skeptic: Actually, that one is true. But the set where they shot it was on Mars.

Credulous Rube: Really?

Skeptic: Really!

Credulous Rube: Prove it.

The Timely Pedant

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

With the completion of another pointless Daylight Saving Time cycle upon us, I offer two more time-related gaffes (previously) that make me want to kick a goddamn puppy.

The first I usually see in business correspondence during the summer months. In an attempt to convey the time at which something will occur, the writer states something like, “the server will be rebooted at 4:00 A.M. EST.” Provided that it is not a career limiting move, my invariable and unswerving policy is to reply, “You meant ‘EDT’ (Eastern Daylight Time), jackass.” Confident that I have now obtained the offender’s attention (like using a koan), I go on to recommend simply using “ET” all year long and be done with it.

On to:

“4:00 A.M. in the morning.”

This also acts like a koan, but instead of enlightenment I get an aneurysm. I do not even attempt to educate the utterer, just as I would not think to coach a donkey on its braying. I instead take the opportunity to sit back and quietly muse over how a person who could say something so monumentally stupid somehow managed the hat trick of getting clothed, fed and into the office that morning. I envision things like shoes on hands, yogurt in the toaster, head caught in the steering wheel, etc.

When you’re a friendless, pedantic asshole, you have to make your own fun.

The Helpful Pedant

Saturday, March 31st, 2012

Comparing my fellow persons’ command of the English language to the earnest efforts of a fifteen-year-old boy fumbling to unclasp a brassiere swollen with promise and, um, tits, is great fun and all, but the voices in my head keep insisting that conveying criticism without offering compensating guidance makes me a dick. *

Therefore, today’s and future roundups of linguistic sins will come with handy mnemonic cues, lovingly crafted to aid my bretheren and sisteren in our mutual quest to communicate clearly and competently.

Here goes:

Think of “nauseous” as a cause. Something that is nauseous has the effect of being nauseating. If you say “I feel nauseous,” you are stating that you have the effect of nauseating others. Fine and well if true (perhaps it’s time to rethink the spandex?), but be sure that’s what you mean. An easy way to keep this straight is to substitute “noxious” (as in “noxious fumes”) for “nauseous” in your skull before opening your fool mouth.

See? Helpful.

Healthy versus healthful. Exercising is healthy. Nutritious foods are healthful. Therefore, stating that a carrot is healthy implies that it is watching what it eats and that it works out at the gym while doing its best to ignore you staring at its butt. I don’t really have a handy mnemonic for this one other than proferring the image of trying not to get caught staring at a carrot’s butt. Make it your own.

Compliment versus complement. I am reluctant even to bring this one up because people getting it wrong never fails to make me smile. “Compliment” means “to express praise,” whereas “complement” means “to enhance or complete.” So, it’s fine to say, “This wine complements the meal,” or “Asif complimented my dècolletage before ejaculating enthusiastically upon it.” To get this right, I offer this joke:

A man walks into an empty bar. While drinking his beer and munching on bar snacks, he hears a little voice say, “Nice tie.” Initially startled, he dismisses it as drifting noise, perhaps from a radio in the back. A short while later another voice says, “Love your haircut,” to which he replies, “What the hell is going on here?” The bartender comes out and asks, “Is there are problem?” The patron says, “Yeah, there’s a problem. I keep hearing little voices and they’re saying, um, nice things to me!” The bartender says, “Oh. That’s the pretzels. They’re complimentary.”

* I don’t want the voices to think I’m a dick. **

** I don’t care what you think.

Nobody Likes a Goddamn Pedant

Sunday, March 11th, 2012

It’s been a while since I bled off some of the bile that periodically threatens to bubble over as a result of the seemingling enthusiastic and willful dumbing down of the English language that assaults me on a constant basis. Today being my favorite occasion, Daylight Saving Time (not * savings time, you inbred mouthbreathers), I thought I would focus on some time-related boners that really chap my ass.

Ah, that ever elusive mistress the apostrophe. For fuck’s sake, it’s ’70s, not * 70’s. The apostrophe serves two purposes, truncation and possession (and never pluralization). “Can’t” is the truncation of “cannot.” “Bob’s” indicates that Bob possesses something, like a sombrero. “It’s” is a bit tricky. It’s (see what I did there?) a truncation of “it is”, while “its” indicates possession.

So, ’70s is a truncation of (usually) 1970s. One is lopping off the reference to the century to save time (see what I did there?), presumably to focus on hassling Muslims in airports. Writing 70’s indicates that the decade possesses something, which, like wearing bellbottom trousers or sporting collars large enough to be capable of generating lift, is very silly.

Intermission: “past experience.” A bit like “male sperm,” i.e., yes, as opposed to what other kind?

Finally, “within the hour.” People say this because it sounds fancier than “within an hour.” The two, however, do not mean the same thing, unless the time is at the top of the hour, which is actually a handy mnemonic to avoid sounding like a knuckle-dragging hominid putting on airs. Back in olden times when few people had watches and relied instead on the chimes of clocks and clock towers to keep track of time, “within the hour” was used to indicate that something would occur before the bell indicating the top of the next hour rung. So, if it’s 11:54 and one says that something will occur “within the hour” one is indicating that occurrence will be within six minutes. However, since it is time-consuming (see what I did there?) and potentially insulting to inquire whether or not the person speaking is a knuckle-dragging hominid putting on airs (unless it is of immediate concern or funny) every time someone says “within the hour,” it’s probably simpler if everyone ceases using the phrase entirely.

And that reminds me of what a shame it is that Michael Jackson is dead. I’ve had to mothball the joke, “How do you know it’s bedtime at the Neverland Ranch? When the big hand touches the little hand.”


Sunday, October 12th, 2008

Okay, so I’m going to get this out of my system in one throw. While I have no intention of turning this blog into an Andy Rooney-esque, pedantic rant about word misuse, I nevertheless have bile to purge:

“Disinterested” means “a neutral party.” It’s a legal term and, like many legal terms, it sounds fancy, so those putting on airs seem drawn to it like a Senator to an airport lavatory. “Uninterested” by comparison, means, um, not interested. As in, “I am uninterested in watching the video of your colonoscopy, Bob.”

“Presently” means “in the immediate future,” as in, “Lady Funbody will be down presently, sir. May I take your hat?” It does not mean “now”, as in, “Thank you, but it’s presently covering my erection.”

“Actionable”. Another legal term. It means “affording grounds for legal action.” This one pains me particularly, since it has been assimilated into corporate-speak (meaning that I have to listen to it every day) and twisted to mean “realistic to execute,” as in, “Our strategy to enhance shareholder value has actionable objectives.” If you worked for Enron then it’s applicable. Otherwise, just stop.

“Begging the question”. This term describes a specific logical fallacy (in Latin, petitio principii). Unless you’re using it in that context, just say “inviting the question” instead. I recommend practicing this in front a mirror, reinforced with head slaps, for as long as necessary.

“Imply” versus “infer”. To imply is to suggest indirectly. To infer is to form a conclusion. However, the transposition of these terms is frequently hilarious, so feel free to continue.

“Literally”. Come on. We all know what “literally” means. So when you say, “I was literally slaughtered in that meeting,” I can only infer (see what I did there?) that you are a tease.

To respond preemptively to the useless argument that language evolves, and therefore if the majority of a given population uses a word in a particular way then that usage becomes correct – stop. You fail. Language does and should evolve. We require new words to describe new concepts and things. Trotting out this argument to excuse plain ignorance, however, is pure postmodern laziness, and people who do so should be bred for food.


Typo Eradication Advancement League

Monday, August 25th, 2008

Okay, so this kind of sucks. A fellow named Jeff Deck, founder of the Typo Eradication Advancement League (TEAL), quit his job at MIT and went with his friend Benjamin Herson on a cross-country journey to correct typos on public signage:

What started as a wacky, quixotic adventure, covered by NPR, the Chicago Tribune and others, went South, or, rather, Southwest, in a hurry. On March 28th, Jeff and Benjamin corrected typographical errors on a 60-year-old, hand-painted sign at the Grand Canyon National Park (corrections not depicted):

Christopher A. Smith, a National Park Service agent (so much more respectful than Cactus Fuzz or Tree Pig), stated in an affidavit that investigators discovered that Deck and Herson were responsible via Deck’s own blog, which chronicled their exploits. Deck and Herson pleaded guilty and were sentenced to a year’s probation, during which they are banned from entering national parks, or modifying public signs. They were also ordered to pay $3,035 to repair the sign.

Having a mild obsession with signage myself (previously, previously, previously), I salute Jeff and Benjamin’s philosophy and mission, but I wonder if they feel, in hindsight, that they crossed a line. Jeff’s blog is currently dark, only stating, “Statement on the signage of our National Parks and public lands to come,” but there is still a gallery depicting some of their accomplishments.

Whether or not one has a problem with what they did depends on how one determines the value of a thing. One might argue that the sign in question has intrinsic value as art, whereas a restaurant sign with movable letters does not. The woman who painted the sign was Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter, the architect of the Watch Tower that the sign describes.

One could also argue that certain typos make documents unique, such as is the case with the numerous typesetting errors that gave rise to some highly collectible (and amusing) editions of the Bible, or the typos in the United States Constitution.

Were Now Online

Tuesday, June 24th, 2008

were now online

Either the letter store was all out of apostrophes, or this dry cleaner is attempting the seldom-used past present imperfect subjunctive tense.



Monday, April 21st, 2008

I promise, this gets funnier.

When one develops a web form, like the MrPikes Contact Form, one chooses the means by which the form data will get from the user’s browser to the program on the web server that *does* things with that data – like sends an email, or writes a record to a database. One’s choices are GET or POST.

The GET method encodes the form data into the URL. If the MrPikes Contact Form used the GET method, the resulting URL would look something like this:

You tend to see long, ugly URLs like this on sites that dynamically nail their pages together based on database queries.

The POST method passes the form data to the web server in a way that is invisible to the user, i.e., the values are not encoded in the URL.

Each method has its advantages and disadvantages, but the rule that I always follow is that if a user input the data, always use POST.

This is to prevent URL hacking, which amounts to replacing values in the URL manually, with potentially devastating security implications.

It can also be hilarious.

CNN has a beta program which enables visitors to create t-shirts from headlines, available for purchase. The developers went with GET, meaning that users can hack the URL and make t-shirts that say whatever the hell they like. Since the program is still in beta, you cannot actually order the t-shirts, but that hasn’t stopped Gawker, Fark and numerous other sites from having a field day with the program.

My own contribution:

It's Raining Men. Hallelujah.

Discrete vs. Discreet

Monday, April 7th, 2008

Shopping for midget porn the other day, I came across an e-commerce site offering “Discrete Shipping”.

Discrete Shipping

A Google search on “Discrete Shipping” (over 63,000 results) suggests the problem is not isolated (but hilarious).

As a committed pedant, I thought I would take this opportunity to explain the difference between “discreet” and “discrete”, and even offer a mnemonic trick for remembering the difference.

Discreet – having or showing discernment or good judgment in conduct and especially in speech (Merriam-Webster Online), as in, “Max Mosley failed to keep his Nazi-themed orgy discreet.”

Discrete – distinct, constituting a separate entity or part (Princeton WordNet), as in, The five prostitutes that Max Mosley engaged for his Nazi-themed orgy were from five discrete agencies.”

So, taken literally, “discrete shipping” would mean that if I ordered three midget porn DVDs, they would arrive in three separate packages.

I’m glad that I didn’t order jelly beans.

The mnemonic trick is simple. Look at the “e”s in each spelling. Notice how the “e”s in “discrete” are separate, or discrete.

Isn’t learning fun?

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