Tag Archives: writing

The Most Ridiculous Lines From ‘True Detective’ Season 2

Season 2 of True Detective isn’t exactly terrible, but it’s definitely a big step down from the near-perfection of season 1. Largely, this is due to the writing: the plot is horribly complex, some of the characters are not written for the actor playing them — most notably, Vince Vaughn’s, who just doesn’t work as the gangster philosopher — and generally, a lot of the dialog is just stilted. Below, some of the most accidentally funny, cringe-worthy examples of 7th grade writing:

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From Yahoo!

Pleonasms: Redundant Idioms

Quite often people speak in phrases, not words, because a couple of words strung together usually carry a more precise or nuanced meaning. These phrases or idioms are extremely common because they’re the shortest way to communicate certain details, which means they’re very efficient — and living things, like people, love efficiency because it affords us to be lazier and waste less energy. Some examples: saber rattling, name dropping, facing the music, backing down.

 

But, as with everything, there’s a dark side: idioms that are the epitome of inefficiency because they come with extraneous words which waste a couple of seconds every time we use them — words that are completely unnecessary to getting the point across. These redundant idioms — known as pleonasms — made their way into the common tongue, and now they’re used by everyone, without thinking about what their constituent words actually mean. Everyone, that is, except the Grammar Nazis at Mental Floss, who came up with a list of some common ones that other Grammar Nazis can now use to feel superior. But you can also use it for good, to speak with brevity and enlightenment, and feel superior for that reason alone:

  • Nape of the neck: there’s no nape of anything else, so just say “nape”
  • False pretense: is there a true pretense? Maybe technically, but no one’s going to say that “John is doing that under a true pretense.” Pretenses are false all the time, because pretentious people suck.
  • Frozen tundra: all tundra is frozen — that’s the definition of it.
  • Gnashing of teeth: you can’t gnash anything else, because then it wouldn’t be gnashing. Teeth are an integral part of gnashing, so this phrase is like “blinking of eyelids.”
  • Head honcho: the term honcho comes from Japanese, where it means “group leader”. But even in English, there’s no head honcho and assistant honcho — there’s only one honcho.
  • Bleary-eyed: face it, no one has any idea what “bleary” means: that you’re tired and foggy. But you can’t be bleary-nosed, or bleary-eared so you can safely say you woke up “bleary”.
  • Veer off-course: ever heard of veering on-course?
  • Safe haven: what kind of haven would it be, if it weren’t safe? “Dangerous haven” is an oxymoron. There’s a woody forest and wet stream near that safe haven.
  • Ford a river: this phrase realistically has no use outside of The Oregon Trail, but you can’t ford a lake, or a forest or a mountain or anything but a river.

Keep in mind that if your purpose is efficiency, which is why idioms exist, then using even these redundant ones is in your best interest: if you start talking about a girl’s nape or that your friend was gnashing, you’re going to get into a longer discussion about why you’re speaking like a weirdo. But if your purpose is to prove how smart you are, then that discussion will do wonders.

Of course, there’s also the nerd’s purpose: to make things more efficient in the long run. Sure, it’ll take longer to have that discussion a few times, but in a few short years, speaking will be so much more efficient that all the  time invested in lengthy discussions about idioms will be paid back in spades. AND you get to look like a Renaissance man while changing the world for the better. Win/win/win!

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From Mental Floss, via Neatorama

Why The Serial/Oxford/Harvard Comma Is Important

The serial comma is the comma that comes before the “and” in a list. Its use can drastically change a sentence’s meaning and among writers, the issue is like flag burning in politics. So here’s something to fan the flames:

 

NPR had a good article on the serial comma in June of 2011, when people mistakenly thought that Oxford was changing its guidelines to drop its namesake comma.

From imgur and NPR

Socrates Was Against Writing

Miami University has an excerpt from The Phaedrus, a dialog between Socrates and someone named — wait for it — Phaedrus, that Plato wrote. Presumably, Plato didn’t misrepresent Socrates’ ideas in these dialogs, and Socrates did not seem to write anything down: pretty much all we know about his philosophy comes from Plato. In the excerpt, Socrates makes a case against writing by saying that the words themselves are not a complete representation of knowledge, but rather words are to knowledge as pictures are to their subjects.

That is to say, Times Square can be photographed; but someone only seeing the photograph will only know what the Square is in the vaguest of senses. The reality of being there is lost by the photograph, and no picture or even video can truly capture what that experience is like. However, to someone that has been to Times Square, a picture will help them reminisce about it and in some ways evoke that knowledge of the place. Socrates saw writing in the same way: writing cannot be used as a sort of standalone memory bank because people who read a text will only have a partial understanding of the author’s meaning, and therefore should not be taken seriously. However, writing can be used as as entertainment, for example to help someone reminisce about something they wrote down. In other words, if you’re not already familiar with the real knowledge that’s written down, you can no more learn it from a text than you can know what it feels like to be in Times Square from a photograph.

The beginning of Phaedrus in Codex Clarkianus, transcribed in 895 AD

 

Real knowledge, Socrates said, can only be gathered via dialog: a give and take of questions and answers where ideas are interrogated until the knowledge is truly understood. But with a book, that cannot be done unless one has access to the author. In the excerpt, he says:

[Writing] will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.

What’s interesting to think about is whether throughout human history, if it actually has been the case that all knowledge has been passed down via dialog — in universities and other discussion forums — with books being only an interesting aid. In other words, if a child grew up alone with a Kindle containing all of the books in the Library of Congress, could he gain the same kind of knowledge which a normal person gains via social interaction? Or more pragmatically, could you understand the true, intended and complete meaning of the words you are now reading if we didn’t share the same knowledge?

Bust of Socrates at the Louvre

 

Gizmodo has an interesting article bashing Bill Keller, the head of the New York Times, for saying that technology will make people dumber because we won’t have to think for ourselves — that we are “outsourcing our brains to the cloud”. The article’s take is that Socrates was wrong and writing didn’t make us dumber, ergo Twitter and Google won’t make us dumber either; also, the outcome depends a lot on how we use the technology. Both arguments seem to hold water, with the exception of the part about Socrates being wrong.

If it’s true that for all of these centuries we have been using text as merely an aid, not as a source of knowledge, then we have been doing exactly what Socrates blessed. And if we use the Internet and the Cloud in the same way, then Bill Keller should be proven quite wrong, because while we may rely more on Google to look up where Namibia is, Facebook and Twitter allow us to have more dialogs more with people than at any other time in history. And if alive today, Socrates would probably be a prolific email, IM, forum, Facebook, and Twitter user.

From The Miami University of Ohio, via Gizmodo