18 Jan 2009

A new word to hate

I've just come to the realisation that I hate, hate, HATE the verb "humble", particularly as used in the passive voice and referring to oneself, though with a number of related variants. I hate it because the word in that context has become utterly meaningless; it is now the word that anyone recently nominated or elected or selected for a position feels that they are expected to use: "I am humbled by this appointment." And yet it is quite clear, at least in most of these cases, that they are nothing of the sort. They feel great! They're thrilled! And they should be, most of them, as the appointment in question is usually an achievement that is the result and recognition of talent and hard work.

You can see where it came from, I guess: a sense of, wow, those people wield a great deal of power over this major decision point in my life—I better not let my head get too big. And the early users of phrasing like "I am honored and humbled..." probably even meant it. Some current users might even still mean it. But the word, the phrasing, has become so bleached of meaning, so formulaic, and it has been used by so many people who haven't a humble bone in their bodies, that it now connotes almost the opposite: wow, I have such little regard for y'all that I'm giving you a form-letter for my acceptance speech.

So I hate it.

"The Book of Revelation reads like it was translated from Aramaic to Greek by someone who spoke neither." --Jack Collins

Posted by blahedo at 5:19pm | Comments (2)

13 Jan 2009


The patio outside the Gizmo was built thirty or so years ago, a low wooden deck built immediately atop an older concrete patio that doubled as an outdoor ice rink. It's a bit of an unusual construction; unlike a typical wooden deck, it is so low over its substrate (the joists are laid on the concrete) that it reverberates, echoing a bit differently depending on just where you step. Like a typical wooden deck, it ages, and though individual boards are occasionally replaced, the overall structure has settled and popped and now creaks just enough to be charming.

In the last few days, we've had a bit of snow, just enough to provide a picturesque groundcover without requiring outrageous amounts of snow clearing. And now it's super cold, currently 2°F according to the bug in my menubar, so that even trodden snow doesn't do its usual melt-freeze thing, but rather just compacts and crunches with every step, as if thousands of pounds of cornstarch had been spread evenly across the ground to a depth of two inches..

So back to the Gizmo patio. The line diagonally across it, from the Gizmo door off in the direction of GDH, is a path that is low-traffic enough that nobody shovels or plows it, but high-traffic enough that it is reliably trod into a level walking surface. The cold weather has left all the crunch in the snow; and the percussive thunk of my walking step mixes with the fricative creak of the shifting boards, all three sounds reverberating in the echo chamber below. Walking across the Gizmo patio has become, for a brief little while at least, a rare and peculiarly musical experience.

"If we read the Koran as a totality rather than pulling out random verses or half a line, that opens all kinds of possibilities for sexual equality." --Asma Barlas

Posted by blahedo at 5:40pm | Comments (0)

9 Jan 2009

Innumeracy in the media

It's such a little thing, but I get just completely infuriated when media use numbers to sound like they're saying something, without actually saying anything at all. For instance, these lines from BBC article:

While [the Juan Valdez icon] has ascended, winning various advertising awards, Colombia's coffee industry has declined.

In the 1950s, it made up 80% of the country's exports.

Today, Colombia produces less green coffee than Vietnam and only a quarter as much as Brazil.

They give three numbers in an effort to show the decline of the Colombian coffee industry, but in fact they are incomparable: the numbers they present for Vietnam and Brazil are entirely consistent with the possibility that coffee still make up 80% of Colombian exports. We just don't know. Similarly, given only these data it's entirely possible that 1950s Colombia produced less than Vietnam or Brazil.

I'm not sure which bothers me most: that the journalist might not understand that the numbers are not comparable, that the journalist might think his readers won't notice, or that he might be right in such an assumption.

"Chicago enjoys a myth about itself---tough, brawling, but also amiable---that's grounded in a certain amount of bad behavior. A lot of people here like the legend of corruption, if not the actual practice. Corruption makes good stories." --Mary Schmich

Posted by blahedo at 3:01pm | Comments (0)