The Random Comic Strip

The Random Comic Strip

Words to live by...

"How beautiful it is to do nothing, and to rest afterward."

[Spanish Proverb]

Ius luxuriae publice datum est

(The right to looseness has been officially given)

"Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders," wrote Ludwig von Mises, "no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others. And no one can find a safe way for himself if society is sweeping towards destruction. Therefore everyone, in his own interest, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle."

Apparently, the crossword puzzle that disappeared from the blog, came back.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Plain (or Plane) English

I was reading this story and the comments that went with it when it dawned on me that we have a funny way with words. By "we", of course, I mean humans... the only species with a written language... here's the headline:

Meteor had other near-misses before exploding over Russia in February

I confess, it was I who added the bold-face to the hyphenated word. I did it so we could concentrate on it.

I believe it was George Carlin who first brought that phrase/word to my attention...

“Here's a phrase that apparently the airlines simply made up: near miss. They say that if 2 planes almost collide, it's a near miss. Bullshit, my friend. It's a near hit! A collision is a near miss.
"Look, they nearly missed!"
"Yes, but not quite.”

Obviously, he was not talking about meteors but the principle is the same. He made sense... if you nearly miss something, you hit it. As someone who has hit more than a few things in my life, I can assure you that is the case. But it would seem strange to call a miss a "near-hit", wouldn't you say? This is why our use of language is so weird. We have other phrases that would work: "almost hit", "just missed", "snuck by", "may have grazed", and, of course, "zoom" (while passing one's hand over the top of one's head.. though this pertains to people understanding something, like a joke, rather than one physical object coming into close proximity of another).

Years (decades, actually) before, Bob Newhart pointed out the silliness of "getting on a plane"... Like me, he would rather be in the plane than be on it. Yet we have no trouble understanding the meaning, just as we have no trouble understanding "near-miss" as meaning "just missed."

I am also puzzled why both "yes" and "no" are proper answers to the question "Do you mind if I...?" Both are taken as meaning "I do not mind if you..." Yet, obviously, the correct answer is "No" if you don't mind and "Yes" if you do.

"Do you mind if I come in?"
"Yes" and the person enters.
or "No" and the person enters.

Therefore, I have decided that communication is completely fouled up but we simply do not care.

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