Mum’s the Word


“Needless to say, it goes without saying.”

Now, I suppose I should explain. But if it’s needless to say… why bother?

Funny thing is when people use either of these phrases they go ahead at say what goes without saying or is needless to say anyway. Yet nobody gives them any guff for it though it really makes little sense to preface what you’re about to say by saying it doesn’t need saying.

Perhaps what they’re really saying is what they’re about to say is obvious, so obvious it shouldn’t need saying, but you’re so stupid they’ll say it since you wouldn’t know the obvious if it bit you on the ass.

Filed 12/10/09

No Pain and no Gain


velleity (və lē′ ə-tē) noun, 1. The lowest level of volition. 2. A mere wish not accompanied by any action or effort to obtain it.

One might imagine this is basically laziness, but I don’t think quite so. Laziness is not doing something you don’t want to do. Valleity is not doing something you do want to do. Or at least that’s my take on it.

Filed 11/17/09

Hollywood Goes Off Script


“Can you tone down the subtlety?”  —Studio executive to director Harold Ramis.

Now, Hollywood bigwigs have been straining the English language for a long time. Most famously by Samuel Goldwyn who is purported to have uttered the likes of…

“In two words, impossible”

“I had a great idea this morning, but I didn’t like it.”

“An oral contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.”

“Gentlemen, listen to me slowly.”

“I’m willing to admit that I may not always be right, but I am never wrong.”

“Anyone who goes to a psychiatrist ought to have his head examined.”

“I’ve gone where the hand of man has never set foot.”

“If I could drop dead right now, I’d be the happiest man alive.”

Whether he actually said all the things he’s supposed to have said is debateable. As Yogi Berra cautioned the public about many quotes attri­buted to him, “I never said half the things I said.”

Filed 10/31/09

Good Humor, Man


The picture above makes sense when you are familiar with the old-time idea of good health being a balance of the four humors. These ancient humors are bodily fluids, namely phlegm, blood, yellow bile and black bile. An imbalance of any of these was thought to cause a disposition and where we got the following words:

phlegmatic (fl mă′-tĭk) adj. Lazy. [phlegm]

sanguine (săn′ gwən) adj. Happy. [blood]

bilious (bĭl′ ē-əs) adj. Irritable. [yellow bile]

melancholic (mĕl ən kŏ′-lĭk) adj. Sad. [black bile]

Another word for bile is choler, and so we get another word for bilious:

choleric (kō lêr′ ĭk) adj. Irritable.

To choler you add melan, which means black, and you get melan­cholic. The others don’t make for good com­binations. There is no phleguine, sangcholic, melan­phlegmic, phlegm­cholic or even melansangmatic.

Filed 10/15/09

Election Returns


“Every election is a sort of advance auction sale of stolen goods.”

This cynical gem is credited to our favorite curmudgeon, H.L. Mencken. Though writing almost a century ago his observations of political claptrap and folly are just as pertinent, and impertinent today.

Below are a couple more examples. Like some are wont to say, the more things change the more they stay the same.

“Civilization, in fact, grows more maudlin and hysterical; especially under democracy it tends to degen­erate into a mere combat of crazes; the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.”

“The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule.”

Filed 9/17/09

A Real Beute


cutieful (kū′ tē fŭl) adj. Characterized by being both cute and beautiful.

OK, I might have made that up. Actually I heard it used on sports radio. At least I may have heard it. That’s what is sounded like at any rate. Though I’ve not heard it again. Per­haps it was an unintentional spoon­erism on the speaker’s part. Still, I think the coinage might be useful.

For instance, puppies are cute, not beautiful. Sophia Loren in her heyday was beautiful, but not what I’d char­acterize as cute. I would say Marylin Monroe was the quintessential example of cutieful. Now-a-days I might offer Cote de Pablo as an example of cutieful.

Of course, this is a subjective matter of taste or perception. Some folks think pugs are cute, I think they’re pug-ugly. That’s why they’re called pugs after all.

Filed 9/11/09

Nobody Expects a Parodox


paradox (pâr′ ə-dŏks) noun. 1. A seemingly contradictory statement that may nonetheless be true. 2. A person, situation, or action exhibiting inex­plicable or contradictory aspects. 3. An assertion that is self-contra­dictory, although based on accepted premises.

Sometimes people speak of para­doxes in science or medicine. For instance the French paradox, where the French eat the most saturated fat but have the least heart disease in Europe.

A paradox can’t really exist in reality, but only in the mind. Forces of nature can’t act against their own properties. An unexpected result can’t be an incorrect result, but rather an incorrect expectation. Which means either the test was flawed or the under­lying premise was wrong. So if you change your expectation the paradox vanishes even though the results are the same.

Filed 8/3/09

Running Gerund By You


gerund (jâr′ ənd) noun. In English, the verbal form ending in ing when used as a noun, while conveying the mean­ing of the verb.

Examples: “Cooking is a talent” and “I have no talent for cooking.” Both of those are gerunds. This isn’t: “I am cooking dinner tonight.”

Lots of words can be both a verb and a noun without being gerunds. The word run for instance has many verb and noun meanings while running can be a verb and an adjective. For instance in baseball you run around the bases to score a run while running up the running total until running out of runners and outs.

A creek is a run which can run cold or run deep where the salmon run. Colors can run and a stocking can have a run in it. You can run it up the flagpole or run an idea by someone and let them run with it. You can have a run in card games and a run of good luck could put your opponent on the run until running out of cards.

A person can run and so can an animal, and a car can run but not in the same way. Running cars roll rather than run though they can run over you unless run right or maybe run out of power if running wrongly. You can run a run of wire to hook up a motor so it can run. Unless you run short or run out which amounts to the same thing. A show can run long, or can run fast. If well run the show can enjoy a long running sucess like the running of the bulls where I do my best running. Those last two being gerunds.

I think this runaround of run-on sentences has run its course. At least now you’ll know a gerund when you run into one. Gotta run.

Filed 7/7/09

Worth Saving?


“The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools.”
—Herbert Spencer

When fools don’t learn from their mistakes, have you helped or hurt by saving them from themselves time and again. Might it encourage them to even greater folly? Sometimes it takes tough love to straighten out the mis­directed. Or as Shakespeare put it, “you have to be cruel to be kind.”

Maybe bailing out failure, over­paying and risky investing might seem to many a necessary evil, but perhaps we’d better not to make a habit of it or… read the quote again. To put it another way, can you say moral hazard?

Filed 6/30/09

Lubricate This


lubricity (lū brĭs′ ə-tē) noun. 1. Lewd­ness, salaciousness. 2. Shiftiness, trickiness. 3. Slipperiness.

Lubricity is word you hear rarely now-a-days. I seem to remember the Surrealists and Dadaists liked using it. If memory serves Marcel Duchamp used it in describing his The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even, aka the Large Glass. Duchamp dis­played this piece unfinished, which he described as “a successful state of incompletion.” That is until dropped by someone thus breaking the glass. At which point Duchamp declared it finished.

Duchamp’s descriptions often were quite bizarre and funny. Here’s a bit more of his description of the Large Glass.

The bride secretes “love gasoline”, or “automobiline” which powers the “sex-cylinder”, the heart of the Bride’s desire. Floating across the top the “cinematic blossoming of the Bride” contains three windows called “draft pistons”. Below left is the Bride’s “desire magneto,” which triggers the whole operation of the Bachelor Machine. These are nine figures which “cast the gas into their own forms: gendarme, priest, cuirassier…”

Filed 5/21/09

Say What Again, Sam?


People often like to quote, misquote or paraphrase from the movie classic Casablanca. “Round up the usual suspects.” “We’ll always have Paris.” “This could be the start of a beautiful friendship.” “I’m shocked, shocked to find gambling going on here.” And of course, “Play it again, Sam.”

But my favorite quote comes from Humphrey Bogart’s character, Rick, when asked by the young bride-to-be, "What kind of a man is Inspector Renault?"

“He’s a man like any other man, only more so.”

I assume this came from one of the Epstein brothers who wrote much of the best dialog for this Warner Brothers classic.

Filed 5/19/09

Got the Urge to Splurge?


splurge (splŭrj) int. 1. to indulge in an extravagant expense or luxury. 2. To be showy or ostentatious. tr. To spend extravagantly or wastefully. noun. 1. An extravagant display. 2. An expensive indulgence; a spree.

Not exactly a word you never heard of. Still, a pretty weird one. Weird sounding that is. Quite an odd com­bination of sounds in a single syllable. Say it aloud, and go ahead and spit when you do. One of those words if you keep saying over and over it eventually sounds like nonsense. “Splurge.” Like a combination of splash and urge. Though I doubt that’s where it comes from.

The word reminds me of the old Monty Python bit of the Hollywood script meeting where the underling pressured for a response by the big boss blurts out the nonsensical, “splunge.”

Filed 4/24/09

Arrrgh, Decimatie


decimate (dĕs′ ə-māt) tr. verb. 1. To destroy or kill a large part of. 2. To select by lot and kill one in every ten of.

The second definition explains the origin of this word, from Latin deci­mus, one tenth. It was a practice of the Roman army to punish units for cow­ardice in battle by decimating it. That is, taking one in ten and executing them.

Historically, a military unit losing around one tenth of it’s strength in combat renders it useless for further fighting. Mostly a morale thing, it loses the will to fight. In which case decimating your opponent as per definition two might deci­mate them as per the common usage as in utterly destroy.

Seems to me you can decimate a group, but not an individual. You can’t be 10% dead, or kill yourself 10%. Death is either/or, never an incomplete success.

Filed 4/2/09

The Mismanagement Apologizes for Any Confusion


“Doing it right is no excuse for not meeting the schedule.”

Or so said a plant manager for Delco Corporation. Yessiree, bob, people say some mighty strange things. This came from a list of real-life Dilbert manager quotes. My dad had another version of this idea when clients seemed obsessed with dead­lines above all else:

“There’s never time to do it right, but always time to do it over.”

The winner of the dumbest real-life Dilbert manager quotes comes from Microsoft’s Fred Dales:

“As of tomorrow, employees will only be able to access the building using individual security cards. Pictures will be taken next Wednesday, and employees will receive their cards in two weeks.”

Makes you wonder if these people have a good grasp of time manage­ment. Or of time, period.

Filed 3/17/09

Now and Then


presently (prĕz′ ənt-lē) adverb. 1. In a short time; soon. 2. At this time or period; now.

Either the word means real soon or right now. Which seems rather at odds with itself. As The Man in Cool Hand Luke said, “What we have here is failure to communicate.” So, if you don’t understand it presently, read on and you might understand it presently. Make sense?

It all depends who you ask. Three quarters of usage authorities prefer the first definition. While about 50% say the second is OK. Which adds up to 125%. I can only suppose what we have here is failure of arithmetic or some kind of Einsteinian Relativity.

Which calls to mind an exchange between Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra.

Mantle: “Yogi, what time is it?”

Berra: “You mean right now?”

Filed 3/4/09

Monkeying Around


“We’ve all heard that a million mon­keys banging on a million typewriters will eventually reproduce the entire works of Shakespeare. Now, thanks to the Internet, we know this is not true.”  —Robert Wilensky

Filed 3/2/09

Just Because You’re the Scum of the Earth Doesn’t Mean Folks Won’t like You


“I never met a man I didn’t like.”

…As Will Rogers is often quoted. What does it really mean? Was Rodgers a bad judge of character or naive? Did Will Rodgers never meet a bad man? Unlikely. Notice he never said “I never met a man I didn’t trust.” But if and when he did meet a baddie, he liked them personally. Which only shows scoundrels, rascals, and horrid people can be charming.

I suggest the quote is a warning not to confuse personal likability with character. That being one of the big themes of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. It’s the mistake the populace of Netherfield made with Mr. Wickham.

The full quote was Rogers on Leon Trotsky in Saturday Evening Post of November 6, 1926. “I bet you if I had met him and had a chat with him, I would have found him a very inter­esting and human fellow, for I never yet met a man that I didn’t like.”

Filed 2/10/09

The Happy Accident


serendipity (sâr ən-dĭp′ ə-tē) noun. The faculty of making fortunate and unexpected discoveries by accident.

This is sort-of the positive flip side of contretemps, accidents where good things happen. Something in the way Jed Clampett got rich “while shootin’ at some food.” Or maybe how “you got peanut butter on my chocolate” created Reeses peanut butter cups.

Still, Jed Clampett in the show was supposed to be able to shoot the wings off a fly, right? So, why did he ever miss his target and accidentally strike oil?

Filed 2/12/09

Begging the Question


Many people use the phrase “begs the question” incorrectly as though it means the same as “raises the ques­tion.” Begging the question is a sort of evasion, an unproven assumption, a type of fallacy logic.

Begging the question: the premises are as questionable as the conclusions reached.

Like saying if pigs could fly they’d be faster than cheetahs. Then everyone debates if pigs or cheetahs are faster completely ignoring whether pigs can fly or not.

Filed 1/16/09

Believing Everything and Nothing


doublethink (dŭ′-bəl thĭnk) noun.  The ability to simultaneously know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies. To hold simultan­eously two opinions which cancel out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both.

Doublethink comes from George Orwell’s great dystopian novel 1984. These days we use the phrase cognitive dissonance, but doublethink is better in my opinion.

Filed 1/12/09

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