Adventures in Rhetoric: Gish Gallop and the Trump Torrent

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Although most rhetorical terms are based on Greek words (eg, aphaeresis, anabasis, catachresis, and dieresis), a few are eponymous — like the Gish gallop. The Gish gallop is a rhetorical device utilized in a debate when the speaker uses a rapid-fire approach, presenting a torrent of arguments (regardless of their strength or accuracy) and changing topics quickly to overwhelm an opponent, thus preventing an effective rebuttal of the arguments. The term was coined in 1994 by Eugenie Carol Scott (born 1945), a physical anthropologist and executive director of the National Center for Science Education. Scott named the term after Duane Gish (born 1921), a biochemist and leading member of the creationist movement that rejects scientific explanations (eg, Big Bang Theory, evolution) for the origination and development of the universe, the planet, and all life forms. Creationists believe that the universe and all life forms were created by God, consistent with a literal interpretation of the Book of Genesis, the first book in the Hebrew Bible (Christian Old Testament). Although an entire library can filled with books about the history of the Bible, most Biblical scholars believe that the Book of Genesis was an interweaving of fragmentary texts from three separate authors (Yahwist: 950 BC; Elohist: 900-750 BC; and Priestly: 5 BC) drawing on creation myths passed on through generations by oral tradition that began as early as 1,500 BC. These legends are hardly scientific or historical fact — they are age-old myths that were created by people from ancient civilizations (eg, the Sumerians, Babylonians, and Persians) to explain some of the world’s mysteries. But we digress…

Journalists keenly noted that Gish relished the confrontations of formal debates with well-known evolutionary biologists at college campuses because he would eschew formal debate principles and consistently overwhelm his opponents with the Gish gallop. Moreover, creationists recruited as many sympathetic students to create a friendly, rally-type audience for Gish to frustrate and demoralize his opponents. In an essay titled, “Debates and Globetrotters” (July 7, 1994), Scott wrote: “Now, there are ways to have a formal debate that actually teaches the audience something about science, or evolution, and that has the potential to expose creation science for the junk it is. This is to have a narrowly-focused exchange in which the debaters deal with a limited number of topics. Instead of the ‘Gish Gallop’ format of most debates where the creationist is allowed to run on for 45 minutes or an hour, spewing forth torrents of error that the evolutionist hasn’t a prayer of refuting in the format of a debate, the debaters have limited topics and limited time. For example, the creationist has 10 minutes to discuss a topic on which creationists and evolutionists disagree (intermediate forms, the nature of science [with or without the supernatural], the 2nd law of thermodynamics disproves evolution, the inadequacy of mutation and selection to produce new “kinds”, etc.) The evolutionist then has a 5 minute rebuttal, followed by a 2 minute reprise from the creationist. Next, the evolutionist takes 10 minutes to discuss an agreed-upon issue, with the creationist taking the next five minutes, and this time the evolutionist gets the final 2 minute follow-up.”

If you watched CNN’s Town Hall (New Hampshure) with former President Trump on May 11, 2023, you had a first-row seat into the master of the Gish gallup. During the 70-minute broadcast, Trump unleashed a torrent of lies, half-truths, disinformation, insults, and boasts — egged on by an adoring and cheering audience on stage and encouraging advisors backstage. Axios reported, “Backstage during the first commercial break, Trump adviser Jason Miller — as if psyching up a boxer in his corner or egging on a bully — showed Trump moments-old tweets from Democrats blasting CNN and saying Trump was winning… Adviser’s advice to Trump in break: Keep doing what you’re doing.” CNN’s host, Kaitlan Collins, who tried to factcheck him in real time in front of a hostile audience, was overwhelmed, and judging by the expression on her face, clearly frustrated.

Critics of the broadcast were not kind, viewing the Town Hall as a disaster for the network and the country. CNN’s media reporter, Oliver Darcy, wrote: [It was] hard to see how America was served by the spectacle of lies that aired on CNN… Trump frequently ignored or spoke over Collins throughout the evening as he unleashed a firehose of disinformation upon the country, which a sizable swath of the GOP continues to believe. A professional lie machine, Trump fired off falsehoods at a rapid clip [textbook example of Gish gallop!] while using his bluster to overwhelm Collins, stealing command of the stage at some points of the town hall.” Linda Qiu, a journalist for The New York Times, wrote: “Former President Donald J. Trump almost immediately began citing a litany of falsehoods Wednesday night during a town hall-style meeting in New Hampshire broadcast on CNN.”

In addition to a wide range of criticism about the disastrous Town Hall from American journalists and media pundits — British journalists were also alarmed. The Guardian’s Martin Pengelly wrote: “CNN bosses have defended their decision to host a primetime town hall with Donald Trump, after triggering widespread outrage by allowing the former president to spout lies and disinformation on subjects from sexual assault to his attempt to overturn the 2020 election.”

Given this extraordinary performance, the term Gish gallop should be updated with a synonym that is truly fitting: the Trump torrent. Although Scott was clearly going for alliteration, the metaphor — the galloping of lies — is not as powerful or evocative as a torrent of lies. Perhaps this term gets some traction during the 2024 Presidential election.

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: Adventures in Rhetoric: Adianoeta
What is a Pleonasm?
What is a Rhopalic?

For further reading:

What is the Origin of “Close, But No Cigar”?

alex atkins bookshelf phrasesMost people have heard the idiom, “close, but no cigar” or its variant “nice try, but no cigar” and instantly understood its meaning: to fall just short of accomplishing a goal or getting something nearly, but not completely, correct. The idiom is a contraction of “close, but you do not win a cigar.” So when you stop to think about it — while smoking a cigar is largely frowned upon for health and social reasons, why would someone want to win a cigar? That is a very good question, indeed. Let’s take a brief journey through history to learn how this idiom came about.

When we step into the time machine, let’s set the destination to the late 1700s to arrive in London, England where we will first meet the two men who share the title “father of the modern circus”: Philip Astley (1742-1814) and Charles Dibdin (1745-1814). In fact, Dibdin coined the word “circus,” derived from the Latin word circus, derived from the Greek kirkos, meaning “a circle, a ring.” The Romans used the term to refer to enclosures  without roofs that were used for races and performances. Both Astley and Dibdin built very popular shows around elaborate equestrian demonstrations and performances, eventually adding other forms of entertainment. Astley, for example, was inspired by the acts that appeared at fairs and pleasure gardens of London and Paris; so he added clowns, jugglers, rope dancers, and acrobats to his shows in the late 1700s. Because these shows were inexpensive, they drew huge crowds which was great for business. By the mid 1800s, there were hundreds of circuses in England. The traveling circus (or the “tenting circus”) was introduced in the late 1830s. The development of the railroad allowed large circuses to travel further and reach the remotest towns. By the end of the century, British and American circuses were touring across Europe and the United States. By the late 1800s, circus owners began expanding their entertainment and added games of skill and chance that were held in side stalls. These included games like ring toss, tossing games, target-related games (dart games, shooting galleries), etc. that looked easy to win but were actually very difficult. The next person we will meet will shed some light on the type of prizes that participants won.

Robert Machray wrote about life in London at the turn of the century. In his book, The Night Side of London, published in 1902, Machray describes the side stalls games located in London’s East End. In a chapter titled “Not In Society,” Machray writes: “All around the capacious yard, except on the side where stands the menagerie, and the other side which drives the hobby-horse arrangement, are ranged various devices for extracting pennies from your pockets. They are mostly of the three-shies-a-penny variety, and a spice of skill (or would you call it luck?) enters into them all. If you are successful, a prize rewards you. You are anxious to enter the spirit of the thing, and you begin by investing a penny in three rings, which you endeavor to throw in such a way to land them round the handle of a knife stuck in a wall. It looks easy, and you go into the business with a light heart. But — you don’t succeed. Another penny — you try again, and again you are defeated. What O! Another penny — and this time you accept defeat, and move on to the next stall, where another penny gives you the privilege of trying to roll three balls into certain holes with numbers attached thereunto. Should you score twenty you will win a cigar. But you do no more than score nine. Undiscouraged, or perhaps encouraged by this fact, you spend another penny, and another, and another — but you don’t get the cigar, and it is well for you that you don’t! For there are cigars and cigars. On you go, and next you try your hand at the cocoa-nuts, or the skittles, or the clay-pipes, or in the shooting-alleys. And so on and on—until your stock of pennies and patience is exhausted.” What Machray is alluding to here is that circus owners knew that the most lucrative circus games were the ones where players overestimated their chances of winning. Those who experience a near miss (or almost win) will continue to play believing that a win is inevitable, which is completely irrational in a game of chance. In modern psychology this is known as the “near miss effect.” Several studies have indicated that gamblers who experience a near miss in a game interpret that as a sign that they should keep on playing because a win is “just around the corner.” Brain scans (PET and MRI) of gamblers show that a near miss activates the same reward systems in the brain as an actual win. Moreover, studies show that even though gamblers perceive near misses as more aversive that traditional losses, the near misses are more encouraging for continued and prolonged play. The near miss effect can be increased when the time to placing a bet and starting a new game is decreased. In short, the more you lose, the more you believe you will win soon. The near miss effect is not only employed in games of chance at gambling casinos, circuses, and carnivals — it is a key ingredient in video games. But we digress…

Let’s return to Machray’s description of the circus games in London’s East End, specifically his description of the game prize: “If you are successful, a prize rewards you… Should you score… you will win a cigar.” Naturally, the followup question to this is:  why a cigar? Let’s hop back across the band and visit young America. The practice of marking important occasions with unique gifts was adopted by early American settlers in the early 17th century. This practice, known as potlatch, was borrowed from the indigenous people of North America who bestowed gifts to one another on special occasions. One such gift was the primitive version of the cigar. Over time, this tradition become widely accepted both in American and Europe. During the Victorian era, smoking a cigar was a way of celebrating not only a birth but any achievement, like winning a tournament, or celebrating an important personal or business milestone. And compared to the cost of other circus prizes like liquor, hats, or chalkware (porcelain dolls), cigars were relatively inexpensive (a few cents) and easy to store (cigars could be packed in boxes of 200).

It is very likely that about this time, circus workers would use the phrase “close, but no cigar” when a contestant came close, but failed to win the cigar as a prize; however, there is no written documentation about when the phrase first began being used. On the other hand, because the actual idiom does not appear in print in the U.S. until the early 1920s, many sources on the web mistakenly assume that this idiom originated in America and there are conflicting origin stories. For example, there is this entry from Wiktionary: “Apparently from the practice of giving cigars as prizes at carnivals in the United States in the 20th century; those who did not win would fail to receive a cigar, even if they came close.” In 2009, idiom and quotation detective, Barry Popik, wrote: “A cigar was traditionally one of the rewards at carnivals for winning at games of skill or chance. Coney Island offered many such games in the early 1900s. Most people did not win a prize; for them, the carnival barker would declare: ‘Close, but no cigar!’” An article on the website Today I Found Out (September 2013) states the following: “This popular idiom, which means ‘to fall short of a successful outcome’ or ‘close call,’ was first coined in the United States in the late 19th or early 20th century. While it can’t be proven definitively, it’s likely that the phrase originated at fairgrounds around this time.”

Conflicting origin stories also exist printed idiom reference works. Take a look at this entry from Brewer’s Dictionary of Modern Phrase & Fable (2nd Edition) by John Alto & Ian Crofton: “The allusion is to the Highball, a fairground “try-your-strength” machine with a pivot that the contestant hits with a hammer in the hope of sending a projectile up high enough to hit a bell. Those who succeed are awarded a cigar by the proprietor. The expression, like the machine itself, derives from US carnivals.” Turning to the authoritative Facts on File Encyclopedia Word and Phrase Origins (Fourth Edition) by Robert Hendrickson provides this entry: “Not quite correct. This appears to be an American phrase from the late 19th century, possibly of carnival origin, where the mike man running a game of chance advises that a player has not won the cigar prize.” The Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins (Second Edition) by William and Mary Morris states “[The idiom] originated at traveling carnivals and sideshows. When the barker spun the wheel of fortune, the winner was customarily rewarded with the gift of a cigar. When he wheel stopped just short of the player’s number the carney barker would offer as consolation: ‘Sorry. Close — but no cigar.'” Allen’s English Phrases by Robert Allen writes: “a good but unsuccessful try; a near miss; a metaphor from US fairground games in which the prize was a cigar. Late 20th cent.” And finally, The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable by Elizabeth Knowles simply defines the term but offers no origin story.

So we see that there is little consensus around the origin story and certainly no definitive evidence about its origin — either in the UK or in the US. Since Machray’s book is the first to discuss the stall games and the prizes, it is more likely that this idiom originated in England and traveled across the pond, since many British circuses traveled throughout America (and vice-versa). Nevertheless, the first time the idiom appears in print is in the headline of an article in the Long Island Daily Press (Jamaica, NY), dated May 18, 1929: “Close, But No Cigar” about an individual who lost a two consecutive presidential races. The next printed reference is from The Princeton Alumni Weekly (July 2, 1929): “The long distance trophy, an appropriately inscribed silver cigarette case, was awarded to Em Gooch who had made the trip from Lincoln, Neb. for the occasion. Several other members came close, but no cigar, and we trust that all those in New York and Philadelphia who failed to show up, without reason, will read these lines with a quiver.” Interestingly, using Google’s Ngram Viewer, we see that the use of the word “cigar” steadily rose from 1820, peaked in 1908, and started a sharp downward trend that lasted until 1979.

Thus, it is reasonable to conclude that the phrase probably originated in England in the late 1800s, was used by barkers at traveling circuses in Europe, and through cross-pollination, made its way to America, but was not popularized, for whatever reason, until the early 1920s. Since cigars are no longer popular, perhaps the phrase should be updated to replace “cigar” with a more generic term, for example: “close, but no prize”; or “close, but no reward”; or “close, but no jackpot.” What would you suggest?

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. Cheers.

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For further reading:
The Night Side of London by Robert Machray

To learn more about Alexander Atkins Design please visit

Banished Words and Phrases for 2023

alex atkins bookshelf wordsBack in 1976, W. T. “Bill” Rabe, who was director of public relations for Lake Superior State University (LSSU) published a tongue-in-cheek list of banished words (inspired by a conversation at a New Year’s Eve party the previous year) as a way to promote the university and to distinguish it from it earlier association with Michigan Tech. (LSSU is located in Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan, one of the oldest European settlements in the American midwest.) The list, should really be titled “words and phrases from the previous year that are overused or misused and should be retired.” The list was a hit around the globe, and the tradition of publishing a list of banished words on December 31 of each year. After Rabe retired, the university copyrighted the concept in order to “to uphold, protect, and support excellence in language by encouraging avoidance of words and terms that are overworked, redundant, oxymoronic, clichéd, illogical, nonsensical—and otherwise ineffective, baffling, or irritating.” Amen.

Throughout the year, the university invites the public (apologies to the Statue of Liberty) to send us your tired, your hackneyed, your annoying, horrible words, yearning to be excised from the modern lexicon, the wretched refuse of the English language. And the public responds generously: LSSUThe university receives tens of thousands of nominations. LSSU recently published its list of Banished Words for 2023 along with its rationale for inclusion.

1. GOAT (Greatest of All Time)
This acronym gets the goat of petitioners and judges for overuse, misuse, and uselessness. Ironically, “goat” once suggested something unsuccessful; now, GOAT is an indiscriminate flaunt.

2. Inflection point
Originally a mathematical term, it is a pretentious way to say turning point.

3. Quiet quitting
A very misleading term: the definition is not an employee who quietly resigns, but rather an employee who completes the minimum requirements for a position. This is nothing new: older words are burnout, ennui, boredom, disengagement.

4. Gaslighting
The term is often misused as incorrect catchall to refer generally to conflict or disagreement.

5. Moving forward
Related to the term “going forward” that was banished in 2001.

6. Amazing
It is a worn-out adjective from people short on vocabulary.

7. Does that make sense?
The term with — its demand, for clarification or affirmation as filler, insecurity, and passive aggression — annoyed many people. “Why say it, if you must ask?

8. Irregardless
Let’s begin with the obvious: this is not even a word. At most, it’s a nonstandard word, per some dictionaries. Take ‘regardless’ and dress it up for emphasis, showcasing your command of nonexistent words.

9. Absolutely
Why not simply say “yes.” It is often said too loudly by annoying people who think they’re better than you or it sounds like it comes with a guarantee when it doesn’t.

10. It is what it is
Whether you call it tautology or a verbal crutch, the phrase is absolutely useless, pointless. Of course it is what it is; what else would it be? People who use it are being dismissive or borderline rude.

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. Cheers.

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Word of the Year 2021
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For further reading:

To learn more about Alexander Atkins Design please visit

You May Not Know It, But You Are Quoting Shakespeare

alex atkins bookshelf shakespeareAs many scholars have noted, Shakespeare had an enormous impact on the English language. In his book, The English Language (1929), British philologist Ernest Weekley (best known for his seminal work, An Etymological Dictionary of Modern English) wrote: “Of Shakespeare it may be said without fear of exaggeration that his contribution to our phraseology is ten times greater than that of any writer to any language in the history of the world.” What is astonishing is that due to the influence of his writing, people don’t even need to read Shakespeare to quote it. As Michael Macrone notes in Brush Up Your Shakespeare: An Infectious Tour Through theMost famous and Quotable Words and Phrases from the Bard, “Whether they knew it or not, people had been quoting Shakespeare piecemeal for hundreds of years. Indeed, we have derived from Shakespeare’s works an almost “infinite variety [Antony and Cleopatra] of everyday words and phrases, many of which have become so common that we think of them as “household words [Henry the Fifth].”

Of course, the question of the size of Shakespeare’s vocabulary has fascinated scholars for centuries. To answer that question, all scholars turn to The Harvard Concordance to Shakespeare by Martin Spevack (1968, 1974) based on the Riverside Shakespeare (G. Blakemore Evans, 1973). The concordance lists every word used in the published work of the Bard — a grand total of 884,647 words. Spevack also machine-counted 31,654 different words in 1968 and revised that to 29,066 different words in 1974. Using those numbers, different experts use different approaches to estimate the number or words that Shakespeare knew.

According to lexicographer and Shakespeare scholar David Crystal, the entire English vocabulary in the Elizabethan period consisted of about 150,000 words. Turning to the Harvard Concordance, Crystal notes that although Spevack machine-counted 29,066 unique words, that includes variant forms of words (eg, take, takes, taking, took, taken, takest) that are counted as different words. By removing those grammatical variants, the total of different words is reduced to 17,000 to 20,000. Therefore, Crystal believes that Shakespeare had a vocabulary of about 20,000 words (13.5% of the known lexicon). Compare that to the size of the vocabulary of the average modern person (high school-level education) that is 30,000 to 40,000 words (about 6% of the 600,000 words defined in the Oxford English Dictionary). Other lexicographers estimate that Shakespeare’s vocabulary ranged from 18,000 to 25,000 words.

But alas we digress — let us return to the original discussion of quoting Shakespeare even though we may not be aware of it. I was what recently exploring the maze of bookshelves at a quaint antiquarian bookstore and came across this poster, featuring the text of British journalist Bernard Levin [1928-2004], a fan of the Bard and one of the most famous journalists in England, that eloquently and succinctly makes this argument in a single sentence containing 369 words. The essay, titled “On Quoting Shakespeare,” appears in his book Enthusiasms, published in 1983.


If you cannot understand my argument, and declare it’s Greek to me, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you claim to be more sinned against than sinning, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you recall your salad days, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you act more in sorrow than in anger; if your wish is father to the thought; if your lost property has vanished into thin air, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you have ever refused to budge an inch or suffered from green-eyed jealousy, if you have played fast and loose, if you have been tongue-tied, a tower of strength, hoodwinked or in a pickle, if you have knitted your brows, made a virtue of necessity, insisted on fair play, slept not one wink, stood on ceremony, danced attendance (on your lord and master), laughed yourself into stitches, had short shrift, cold comfort or too much of a good thing, if you have seen better days or lived in a fool’s paradise -why, be that as it may, the more fool you , for it is a foregone conclusion that you are,as good luck would have it, quoting Shakespeare; if you think it is early days and clear out bag and baggage, if you think it is high timeand that that is the long and short of it, if you believe that the game is up and that truth will out even if it involves your own flesh and blood, if you lie low till the crack of doom because you suspect foul play, if you have your teeth set on edge (at one fell swoop) without rhyme or reason, then – to give the devil his due – if the truth were known (for surely you have a tongue in your head) you are quoting Shakespeare; even if you bid me good riddance and send me packing, if you wish I was dead as a door-nail, if you think I am an eyesore, a laughing stock, the devil incarnate, a stony-hearted villain, bloody-minded or a blinking idiot, then – by Jove! O Lord! Tut tut! For goodness’ sake! What the dickens! But me no buts! – it is all one to me, for you are quoting Shakespeare.

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. Cheers.

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To learn more about Alexander Atkins Design please visit

Adventures in Linguistics: Clitic

alex atkins bookshelf words

Every day in your writing and speech you use clitics. “Hold on there,” you respond indignantly, “that’s a word that sounds really lewd. I’m not sure what clitics are, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never used them.” I hate to sound accusatory, but you just used four of them. You see, a clitic is a morpheme that functions like a word but is not spelled or pronounced completely. The morpheme is always phonetically attached to a word, known as its host. If the morpheme is attached before its host, it is known as a proclitic; if it is attached after its host, it is known as a enclitic. The word clitic is derived from the Ancient Greek word klitikos meaning “inflectional” from enklitikos meaning “lean on.” For the purient-minded or linguistically curious, you might be asking: “Hmmn, is klitikos also the origin of the word clitoris?” That’s a very good question. The word clitoris is actually derived from another similar-sounding Ancient Greek word kleitoris, from klieo (“shut, to encase”) or from kleis (“a latch or hook” used to close a door). Those Ancient Greeks were so clever.

One of the most famous proclitics appears at the beginning of Clement C. Moore’s poem, “A Visit from Saint Nicholas,” published in 1823. The first line of the poem is considered the best known verse ever composed by an American poet: “‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house.” ‘Twas, of course, is a contraction —albeit archaic and rare — of “it was.” More common examples of proclitics are: c’mon (come on); d’you (do you); ’tis (it is); and y’all (you all). Enclitics are far more common because they occur in contractions that are used quite frequently; examples include: can’t (cannot); haven’t (have not); he’ll (he will);  I’m (I am); I’ve (I have); they’re (they are); and we’ve (we have).

So there you have it — this fascinating, arcane linguistic gremlin that is lurking in everyday speech and writing. Unlike you — now that you have been enlightened — people who use them are blissfully oblivious to its name, nuances, and etymology. So the next time you encounter a person using clitics, casually ask him or her “Are you aware you use a lot of clitics?” You will be pleasantly amused by the bewildered expression on their face. And if you are feeling devilish, you can add with a smirk, “Speaking of clitics, have I ever told you about the etymology of clitoris?”

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: Adventures in Rhetoric: Adianoeta
What is a Pleonasm?
What is a Rhopalic?

What is the Imposter Syndrome?

Ialex atkins bookshelf culturen a recent interview conducted for Time magazine former First Lady Michelle Obama asked inaugural poet Amanda Gorman, who wrote the stirring poem “The Hill We Climb,” “No matter how many speaking engagements I do, big audiences always trigger a little bit of imposter syndrome in me. Can you talk about how you’ve learned to deal with that…?” Gorman responds, “Speaking in public as a Black girl is always daunting enough… that in itself is inviting a type of people that have not often been welcomed or celebrated in the public sphere. Beyond that, as someone with a speech impediment, that imposter syndrome has always been exacerbated because there’s the concern — is the content of what I’m saying good enough? And… is the way I’m saying it good enough.”

Here we have two gifted, intelligent, and accomplished women — albeit in different parts of their life journey — revealing a very deep-rooted fear that millions of people share, regardless of gender, age, and level of achievement: the imposter syndrome. So what exactly is the imposter syndrome?

The term imposter syndrome is actually know by many names: fraud syndrome, imposterism, imposter phenomenon, imposter experience. The initial term imposter phenomenon was introduced by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes in their paper “The Impostor Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention” published in Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice (Volume 15, Fall 1978). The researchers defined imposter phenomenon as “an internal experience of intellectual phoniness which appears to be particularly prevalent among a select sample of high achieving women.” Many of these individuals are unable to internalize their success and thus dismiss their abilities and achievements, attributing them to luck, timing, help of an individual — or even error. These individuals may experience doubt, rumination, stress, anxiety, or depression. Clance notes thats imposter syndrome is not a pathological disease that is inherently self-destructive, but rather interferes with the psychological well-being of a person. Despite the doubt and stress they may feel, individuals are able to fulfill their work requirements. In contrast to the imposter syndrome, consider the Dunning-Kruger Effect which is a cognitive bias where a person who is incompetent at something is unable to recognize their own incompetence. Moreover, that individual has a false inflated sense of confidence about their supposed competence.

In their clinical experience during the 1970s, Clance and Imes found that the imposter phenomenon occurred with much less frequency and with less intensity in men. To address the prevalence of the phenomenon in women, they wrote: “Certain early family dynamics and later introjection of societal sex-role stereotyping appear to contribute significantly to the development of the imposter phenomenon. Despite outstanding academic and professional achievements, women who experience [this] persist in believing that they are really not bright and have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise. Numerous achievements, which one might expect to provide ample objective evidence of superior intellectual functioning, do not appear to affect the imposter belief.” The psychologists present the four factors which contribute to this phenomenon: (1) gender stereotypes, (2) early family dynamics, (3) culture, and (4) attribution style. Subsequent research over the decades by other psychologists has shown that the imposter syndrome is widely experienced by men and women. In a study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Science (Volume 6, 2011), researchers Jaruwan Sakulku and James Alexander note that an estimated 70% of people will experience at least one episode of imposter syndrome in their lives. Additional research has also identified a wider range of factors including: family expectations, overprotective parents (take note helicopter and tiger parents!), racial identities, perfectionism, low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety.

In 1985, Clance developed the first scale to measure the characteristics of the imposter phenomenon: the Clance Imposter Phenomenon scale (CIP). The scale measures three levels of fears: (1) fear of evaluation, (2) fear of not continuing to be successful, and (3) fear of not being as capable as other people. Clance also identified the six dimensions of the imposter phenomenon: (1) the imposter cycle, (2) the need to be the best, (3) characteristics of superman or superwoman, (4) fear of failure, (5) denial of ability and dismissing praise, and (6) feeling guilt and fear about success.

Over two decades later, in 2011, educational leadership expert Valerie Young published The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer From the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It. After extensive research, she identifies five subgroups that experience imposter syndrome:
(1) The perfectionist: “It isn’t done yet, it could be done better.”
(2) The super person: “I should be great at everything.”
(3) The natural genius: “If I were actually good at this, it would not be so difficult.”
(4) The soloist: “I should be able to figure this out on my own.”
(5) The expert: “I can never know enough.”

In an article for Time titled “How to Deal with Imposter Syndrome” (June 20, 2018), journalist Abigail Abrams interviewed psychologist Audrey Ervin to find out how to deal with imposter syndrome. Ervin made these recommendations:
1. Acknowledge the negative thoughts and put them in perspective: do they help or hinder?
2. Reframe the thoughts and value constructive criticism.
3. Share your thoughts and feelings with trusted friends or mentors.
4. Do not let doubt control your actions.

Have you ever felt like an imposter?

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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Read related posts: What is the Barnum Effect?
What is the Pinocchio Effect?
What is the Dunning-Kruger Effect?

For further reading:
“Unity with a Purpose” Inaugural Poet Amanda Gorman in Conversation with Former First Lady Michelle Obama, Time Magazine, February 15/22, 2021.

What is the Cupertino Effect?

alex atkins bookshelf phrasesOn any given day, we have all experienced the Cupertino Effect. It’s just one of those annoyances of everyday life in the modern world, like Spam email and robocall voicemails. Imagine a team member typing what should be a rather innocuous email, like: “I am looking for full cooperation from all the members of the team.” He hits send, and then suddenly, his eye catches a word that he didn’t intend to use. The actual message reads: ” I am looking for full copulation from all the members of the team.” His face turns red with embarrassment and anger; he shouts, “Damn you, Autocorrect!” Within seconds he frantically types out a new message, attempting to salvage the situation: “LOL. DYAC! The word is COOPERATION. I am looking for full cooperation.” You have just witnessed the Cupertino Effect — when a spellcheck program automatically “corrects” your spelling using an unintended word. This is also referred to as an “autocorrect fail.” The substituted word is known as a “Cupertino.”

The term was coined in 2013 by Tom Chatfield, a British tech philosopher and author of Netymology: From Apps to Zombies. Chatfield chose that name because an early spellchecker he used had the tendency to substitute “Cupertino” when he mistyped “cooperation.” As you may know, Cupertino [California] is the location of Apple’s headquarters. These spellcheckers errors are the result of programming idiosyncrasies. That is to say that for every spellchecker, a Cupertino occurs only when a particular typo is made or the spellchecker makes an incorrect assumption based on contextual words. Chatfield cited two other examples of his spellchecker’s autocorrect tendencies: “Freud” was changed into “fraud” and “soonish” was changed into “Zionism.”

Mark Liberman and Geoffrey Pullum, founders of The Language Log and the spin-off book, Far From the Madding Gerund and Other Dispatches from the Language Log (2006), featured some notable Cupertinos under the heading “Artifacts of the Spellchecker Age.” Here are a few eyebrow-raising examples:

An article from The New York Times (October 26, 2005) misstated the name of University of Alabama’s linebacker DeMeco Ryans as Demerol Ryans.

Also in The New York Times, a review of The Colbert Report (Oct 25, 2005) states that Colbert’s word of the day was “Trustiness.” The actual word was “Truthiness.” Colbert coined this word which means “the quality of seeming to be true, even though it is not necessarily true.”

A menu from an upscale San Francisco restaurant listed a menu item as “warmed spring salad greens with prostitutes” as opposed to “… greens with prosciutto.”

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: What is a Mondegreen?
There’s A Word for That: Mumpsimus
What is a Malaphor?

For further reading: Netymology: From Apps to Zombies, Tom Chatfield, 2013
Far From the Madding Gerund and Other Dispatches from the Language Log, Mark Liberman and Geoffrey Pullum, 2006

Adventures in Rhetoric: Hypozeuxis

alex atkins bookshelf wordsYou are probably familiar with the hypozeuxis but just don’t know it. Don’t worry — it is not a medical condition. A hypozeuxis (pronounced “hi PUH zook sis”) is a rhetorical term for a series of brief parallel clauses, where each clause has its own subject and predicate. The word is derived from the Greek word hypozeugnynai that means “to subjugate or to put under the yoke.” Perhaps the most famous hypozeuxis is Julius Caesar’s proclamation to the Roman Senate, reporting his victory at the Battle of Zela (47 BC): “I came; I saw; I conquered.” If you studied Latin, you will recall that early lesson: “veni, vidi, victi.” In Ecclesiastical Latin, that phrase is pronounced “vee-nee, vee-dee, vee-kee”; however, in Classical Late Latin, the “v” is pronounced as a “w”, so Caesar would have pronounced it “wee-nee, wee-dee, wee-kee.”

Another well-known hypozeuxis is from British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s famous speech to the House of Commons (often referred to as “We shall fight them on the beaches” speech) on June 4, 1940 regarding the successful evacuation of more than 300,000 soldiers during the Battle of Dunkirk in France (May 26 to June 4, 1940): “We shall fight on the beaches. We shall fight on the landing grounds. We shall fight in the fields and in the streets. We shall fight in the hills.”

If you’re curious, the opposite of the hypozeuxis is the zeugma, also referred to an a syllepsis. In a zeugma (pronounced “ZOOG muh”), a single word is used with two other parts of a sentence that are understand differently in relation to each. An example of a zeugma is: “He took his hat and his leave.” The verb “take” is understood in two different contexts: “he took his hat” and “he took his leave.” Another example of a zeugma is: “He held his breath and the door for me.” Here the operative verb is hold and understood in two different ways: holding one’s breath, and holding a door open.

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Read related posts: Adventures in Rhetoric: Adianoeta
What is a Pleonasm?
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The Wisdom of Cornel West
Why “I Have a Dream” Speech Endures
The Wisdom of Martin Luther King
Martin Luther King and the Suicide Letter
The Singer Who Inspired Martin Luther King’s I Have A Dream Speech
Quotes Mistakenly Attributed to Martin Luther King

For further reading:

The Racist Origins of the Phrase “Social Distancing”

alex atkins bookshelf phrasesThe COVID-19 pandemic has not only changed human behavior, it has introduced a number of new words and phrases into the English lexicon. Perhaps the most prevalent phrases is “social distancing.” Unfortunately that phrase implies the wrong message because interpreted literally, it means separating socially from people — practiced in the extreme, it prescribes social isolation — something that is very harmful to human beings. A more appropriate and accurate term would be “physical distancing” that refers to the distance (at least six feet) people need to maintain from one another to reduce the risk of passing or getting infected with the highly contagious coronavirus. And as millions of people around the globe have discovered, you can be perfectly social standing six feet apart, or thanks to the internet, being thousands of miles apart. But the most insidious aspect of this phrase is that it is steeped in racism. Let’s take a closer look at the history of this insidious phrase.

This rather odd phrase captured the interest of Lily Scherlis, an English doctoral student at the University of Chicago, who wrote a fascinating article, titled “Distantiated Communitie: A Social History of Social Distancing” for Cabinet magazine (April 30, 2020). As she traced the phrase in its proper historical context, Scherlis discovered that not only is the phrase not accurate for its current usage — it is, disturbingly, based on racism. Scherlis elaborates: “[Social distancing] materialized as if from nowhere: a scientific coinage, a spontaneous naming of a systematized set of behaviors miraculously devised by presumed experts. ‘Social distancing’ has actually lived several lives. It and its precursor, ‘social distance,’ had long been used in a variety of colloquial and academic contexts, both as prescriptions and descriptions, before being taken up by epidemiologists in this century. In the nineteenth century, ‘social distance’ was a polite euphemism used by the British to talk about class and by Americans to talk about race. It was then formally adopted in the 1920s by sociologists as a term to facilitate the quantitative codification that was then being introduced into the nascent study of race relations. In the second half of the twentieth century, psychiatry, anthropology, and zoology all adapted it for various purposes. And it was used in the 1990s [during the AIDS crisis] in the United States to analyze what happened to the gay community when faced with straight fears of contagion. It was only in 2004 in a CDC publication on controlling the recent SARS outbreak that the term ‘social distance’ was finally deployed for the first time by the medical community.”

The earliest use of the phrase appears in the 1831 translation of Louis Antoine Fauvelet de Bourrienne’s memoirs of his friendship with the famous French military leader Napoleon Bonaparte. Bourrienne describes how when Napoleon entered the room after a successful military campaign that he could no longer address Napoleon in an informal manner: “His position placed too great a social distance [distance sociale] between him and me not to make me feel the necessity of fashioning my demeanor accordingly.” Scherlis adds, “This use, referring to the social rank of individuals and thus the etiquette demanded between persons, was common in anglophone culture throughout the nineteenth century, especially with regard to class.” This concept of social inequality becomes woven into the fabric of culture in the 19th century in Great Britain as well as the United States, where slavery was an entrenched part of society. Scherlis continues: “[In the U.S.] social distance was a palatable way for whites to describe how to continue practices of white supremacy after abolition. The term’s softness glossed over the realities of slavery and later anti-black violence, as well as the challenges formerly enslaved people faced in making a livelihood. In 1850, an abolitionist British Baptist church condemned US whites for ‘keeping your most injured brethren in Christ at so great a social distance.’ A pro-secession article that appeared in the Richmond Enquirer in 1856 describes the anxiety of poor working whites who might soon be competing with formerly enslaved farmers, while ‘the rich, owning the lands, might keep the negroes at a greater social distance.’ An 1869 article accuses Frederick Douglass, among other black emissaries appointed to represent the United States abroad, of aspiring to ‘increase their social distance from the African.’”

Perhaps the most egregious form of racism with respect to this phrase occurs in the wake of the Chicago race riots of 1919. Scherlis explains: “Following the 1919 Chicago race riot, the nascent sociology department at the University of Chicago convinced a ‘wealthy Chicago heiress’ to fund research into the budding field of “race relations.” Faculty member Robert Park had studied with Simmel in Berlin, and hoped to apply the figure of the stranger and its associated concepts to racial dynamics in the United States. It was in this new incarnation as a sociological concept, then, that social distance found its ‘first notable empirical application’ in the codification and quantification of how people belonging to one race felt about those of another. For Park, this project represented ‘an attempt to reduce to something like measurable terms the grades and degrees of understanding and intimacy which characterize personal and social relations generally.’ Importing Simmel’s term in order to describe this measurement, Park used ‘social distance’ as a structuring concept in his large-scale survey of Asian Americans living on the Pacific coast. Park asked Emory S. Bogardus… to assist him in the project. It was for this occasion that Bogardus devised a ‘quantitative indicator of social distance.’ His statistical measure would go on to have a “profound impact” on US sociology, becoming “one of the most celebrated historical social psychological tools in American intellectual history.” It is called the Social Distance Scale, and is still in use today. The scale equates ‘distance’ with prejudice, which it calculates based on a group of given respondents’ agreements or disagreements with five to seven statements. The statements are designed to gauge the willingness of each member of that particular social grouping to ‘share certain situations’ with members of other social groupings.”

The Social Distance Scale, published in 1925, lists seven degrees of intimacy as representative of the spectrum of possible human relations, in essence quantifying an individual’s level of racism:
To close kinship by marriage
To my club as personal chums
To my street as neighbors
To employment in my occupation in my country
To citizenship in my country
As visitors only to my country
Would exclude from my country

During the late 20th century, the Social Distance Scale was applied to map just about any context by mental health experts, sociologists, anthropologists, economists, housing experts, law enforcement experts, zoologists, and finally epidemiologists. Scherlis points to the AIDS crisis in 1990 as a critical turning point for the phrase “social distancing.” Schelis elaborates: “This moment becomes a hinge between the term’s sociological legacy and its reincarnation as a public health protocol. ‘Social distance,’ as it pertained to the AIDS crisis, was often used to analyze the phenomenon of stigmatization, as it had been in psychiatry. At the same time, the notion of ‘distance’ took on a new physical literalness, as well as an unprecedented association with public health. With the AIDS epidemic, stigma palpably attached to (false) anxieties about contagion: an HIV-negative public suddenly became wary of even casual touching of those profiled as likely to be HIV-positive, fearing that the virus could leap simply from epidermis to epidermis… Suddenly, social distance was not only a way to distinguish degrees of prejudice against populations, but also a description of the physical distance to be kept from other individuals for one’s own protection… Two incompatible discourses collide here: social scientists aspiring to close the gaps of animosity between populations, and those trying to increase the space between people’s bodies from fear of what toxicity might pass between them.”

In an interview with Time magazine, Scherlis discusses how shocked she was to learn of its history and impact on American culture. When asked about what surprised her the most, Scherlis responded: “I think the Social Distance Scale undergirds our way of subconsciously thinking through issues of identity and inequity. It makes it seem like people obviously fit very neatly into these groups that obviously hate each other and that that hatred is simple enough that it can be turned into a number and counted and averaged across a population. It’s just this huge reduction…” Scherlis   felt it was important for people to really understand the dark history of this phrase that is used so casually today: “I just think it’s really important to remember how much institutionalized government-sanctioned language is weighed down with racism. When you use the term and see the term used, it’s good to hold in our heads how much the term has been used to justify elites sequestering themselves from pretty much most marginalized or disenfranchised folks in the U.S. across 200 years.”

As of July 2020, the Black Lives Matter movement has already made several reforms; it stands to make many more in the months and years ahead. Thanks to Schelis’ brilliant research, educating Americans about the racist roots of the phrase “social distancing” immediately and replacing it with “physical distancing” or some other more generic term should be one of those reforms.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

Read related post: Why “I Have a Dream” Speech Endures
The Wisdom of Martin Luther King
Martin Luther King and the Suicide Letter
The Singer Who Inspired Martin Luther King’s I Have A Dream Speech

Quotes Mistakenly Attributed to Martin Luther King

For further reading:

What is the Origin of “No Man is Above the Law”?

alex atkins bookshelf phrasesIn the case of Trump v. Vance, the Supreme Court established that “In our judicial system, ‘the public has a right to every man’s evidence. Since the earliest days of the Republic, ‘every man’ has included the President of the United States.” The majority decision affirmed the well-known maxim that “no man is above the law” by rejecting the sweeping claim of immunity and anti-democratic conception of the American presidency advocated by Donald Trump and his attorneys. Speaking to the Washington Post, constitutional scholar Joshua Matz elaborates: “These opinions offer a resounding, definitive rejection of President Trump’s claims to monarchical prerogative. They affirm in the clearest possible terms that the president is not above the law — and that he is subject to state criminal subpoenas and congressional investigation under appropriate circumstances.”

The phrase “no man is above the law” represents a fundamental concept of a constitutional democracy — that the law applies equally to all citizens in a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” The concept is on the opposite end of the spectrum of a monarch or oligarchy where rulers are above the law. Interestingly, most people are familiar with the phrase and understand it, but few know the person who originated the phrase.

For the answer to that question, we must step into a time machine and travel back over a century to arrive in Washington, D.C. on December 7, 1903. On that date, President Theodore Roosevelt delivered his Third Annual Message to Congress. The complete phrase that Roosevelt used was “No man is above the law and no man is below it.” An excerpt appears below (paragraph breaks added for ease of reading):

“The consistent policy of the National Government, so far as it has the power, is to hold in check the unscrupulous man, whether employer or employee; but to refuse to weaken individual initiative or to hamper or cramp the industrial development of the country.

We recognize that this is an era of federation and combination, in which great capitalistic corporations and labor unions have become factors of tremendous importance in all industrial centers. Hearty recognition is given the far-reaching, beneficent work which has been accomplished through both corporations and unions, and the line as between different corporations, as between different unions, is drawn as it is between different individuals; that is, it is drawn on conduct, the effort being to treat both organized capital and organized labor alike; asking nothing save that the interest of each shall be brought into harmony with the interest of the general public, and that the conduct of each shall conform to the fundamental rules of obedience to law, of individual freedom, and of justice and fair dealing towards all.

Whenever either corporation, labor union, or individual disregards the law or acts in a spirit of arbitrary and tyrannous interference with the rights of others, whether corporations or individuals, then where the Federal Government has jurisdiction, it will see to it that the misconduct is stopped, paying not the slightest heed to the position or power of the corporation, the union or the individual, but only to one vital fact–that is, the question whether or not the conduct of the individual or aggregate of individuals is in accordance with the law of the land.

Every man must be guaranteed his liberty and his right to do as he likes with his property or his labor, so long as he does not infringe the rights of others. No man is above the law and no man is below it; nor do we ask any man’s permission when we require him to obey it. Obedience to the law is demanded as a right; not asked as a favor.”

Roosevelt’s memorable maxim is based on the ancient concept of the “rule of law,” defined as “The authority and influence of law in society, especially when viewed as a constraint on individual and institutional behavior; (hence) the principle whereby all members of a society (including those in government) are considered equally subject to publicly disclosed legal codes and processes” by the Oxford English Dictionary. The concept was introduced by the Ancient Greeks, including Plato and Aristotle. In his seminal work Politics (written circa 350 BC), Aristotle wrote: “It is more proper that law should govern than any one of the citizens: upon the same principle, if it is advantageous to place the supreme power in some particular persons, they should be appointed to be only guardians, and the servants of the laws. (3.16)” Over two hundred years later, Roman statesman and philosopher Marcus Tulles Cicero (106-43 BC) who was instrumental in the establishment of the Roman Empire, argued that we are all servants of the laws in order to be free: “The magistrates who administer the law, the judges who act as its spokesmen, all the rest of us who live as its servants, grant it our allegiance as a guarantee of our freedom.” [from Murder Trial, speeches from his most celebrated murder trials between 80 and 45 BC.]

According to the OED, the phrase “rule of law” was first used in 1500 by English politician John Blount: “Lawes And constitutcions be ordeyned be cause the noysome Appetit of man maye be kepte vnder the Rewle of lawe by the wiche mankinde ys dewly enformed to lye honestly.” A century later the phrase appears in a petition from the House of Commons to James I of England in 1610: “Amongst many other points of happiness and freedom which your majesty’s subjects of this kingdom have enjoyed under your royal progenitors, kings and queens of this realm, there is none which they have accounted more dear and precious than this, to be guided and governed by the certain rule of the law which giveth both to the head and members that which of right belongeth to them, and not by any uncertain or arbitrary form of government. 

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

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Origins of Talk Turkey
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For further reading:

What is the Gruen Effect?

alex atkins bookshelf phrasesEver find yourself completely lost at an Ikea store wishing you had brought a bag of breadcrumbs so you could retrace your steps to find a way out of the retail labyrinth? It’s enough to drive you to madness (just like those novel-length, wordless furniture assembly guides they produce, where you end up with extra hardware and you wonder: did I build this correctly?). It is not uncommon to see people of every age wandering aimlessly among the aisles with a glazed look in their eyes. Where’s the freaking exit?

This abomination of retail design, that exasperates millions of consumers each year, has a name. It is known at the Gruen effect of Gruen transfer. The Gruen effect is defined as the feeling of confusion and distraction experienced by a consumer when placed in a shopping center or store that is confusing and maze-like, forcing the consumer to be exposed to more products (displayed in an enticing manner or in large quantities) and thus be more susceptible to make impulse buys. This form of psychological manipulation is named after the Victor Gruen, the Austrian architect who designed the very first open-air shopping mall (Northland Mall in Southfield, Michigan in 1954) and the first enclosed shopping mall (Southdale Mall in Edina, Minnesota in 1956). Ironically, Gruen was very much opposed to this type of behavior manipulation. Gruen designed some of the first window shops filled with beautiful, dazzling displays designed to lure customers into the store. But Gruen stopped there. Retailers like Ikea, department stores, and grocery chains took the Gruen effect to an entirely different level. He believed that his ideas were “bastardized.”

According to research, 50% of purchases are unplanned. Journalist Carlos Waters investigated how Ikea mastered the Gruen effect for Vox. He writes: “Ikea has mastered the Gruen effect using story layout to influence customer behavior. From the moment you enter an Ikea, layout designers nudge you onto a specific path through a maze of products. That path is the least direct route to the register. By the time you’ve finally picked up a shopping cart and selected your first item, you’ve considered the possibilities of purchasing many of the items on display. Researchers have found that increased exposure leads to impulse buys.” Vox presents a video developed by researchers from the University of Pittsburgh to show the path of a typical consumer in an Ikea store. When you see the path, you cannot help of thinking of a hungry lab rat desperately finding its way through a maze to find the desired piece of cheese.

So the next time you find yourself in a retail maze and feel exasperated you can focus your anger and curse “that damned Gruen effect!”

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

Read related posts: What is the Barnum Effect?
What is the Pinocchio Effect?
What is the Dunning-Kruger Effect?

For further reading:

Adventures in Rhetoric: Epistrophe

alex atkins bookshelf wordsAn epistrophe (pronounced “uh PI struh fee”) is a rhetorical device that involves the repetition of a word or phrase at the end of a sentence or clause. If you listened to Reverend Al Sharpton’s powerful, poignant eulogy to George Floyd on June 4, 2020, you will have heard a masterful use of epistrophe: “you had your knee on my neck.” Sharpton delivered his eulogy from an all-white podium that was a replica of the pulpit that Martin Luther King, Jr. used when he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech from the steps of Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963. Like King, Sharpton is a gifted orator who follows in the tradition of inspiring Baptist preachers who speak with commanding voices and fully connect with their audiences. Both men begin their speeches in a slow, measured pace to draw you in and then gradually build to a passionate crescendo, utilizing evocative language and rhetorical devices like repetition, alliteration, and metaphors. Here is an excerpt highlighting the use of epistrophe (italics added):

“People across economic and racial lines started calling and getting in and we flew out of here… and when I stood at that spot, reason it got to me is George Floyd’s story has been the story of black folks because ever since 401 years ago, the reason we could never be who we wanted and dreamed to being is you kept your knee on our neck. We were smarter then the underfunded schools you put us in, but you had your knee on our neck. We could run corporations and not hustle in the street, but you had your knee on our neck. We had creative skills, we could do whatever anybody else could do, but we couldn’t get your knee off our neck. What happened to Floyd happens every day in this country, in education, in health services, and in every area of American life, it’s time for us to stand up in George’s name and say get your knee off our necks. That’s the problem no matter who you are. We thought maybe we had a complex, T.I. [referring to an American rapper who was in attendance], maybe it was just us, but even blacks that broke through, you kept your knee on that neck. Michael Jordan won all of these championships, and you kept digging for mess because you got to put a knee on our neck. White housewives would run home to see a black woman on TV named Oprah Winfrey and you messed with her because you just can’t take your knee off our neck. A man comes out of a single parent home, educates himself and rises up and becomes the President of the United States and you ask him for his birth certificate because you can’t take your knee off our neck. The reason why we are marching all over the world is we were like George, we couldn’t breathe, not because there was something wrong with our lungs, but that you wouldn’t take your knee off our neck. We don’t want no favors, just get up off of us and we can be and do whatever we can be!”

The words on the page do not do justice to the extremely uplifting and powerful delivery by Sharpton: it’s breathtaking to behold. You will note that the speech It is interrupted by several standing ovations. You can listen to the speech here.

Sharpton returned to the pulpit a few days later on June 9, 2020 to deliver another passionate eulogy for George Floyd’s final memorial service in Houston, Texas. Once again, Sharpton employed the epistrophe several times, for example: “wickedness in high places!”

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

Read related posts: Adventures in Rhetoric: Adianoeta
What is a Pleonasm?
What is a Rhopalic?
The Wisdom of Cornel West
Why “I Have a Dream” Speech Endures
The Wisdom of Martin Luther King
Martin Luther King and the Suicide Letter
The Singer Who Inspired Martin Luther King’s I Have A Dream Speech
Quotes Mistakenly Attributed to Martin Luther King

Experience is the Mother of Wisdom and Other Idioms About Mothers

alex atkins bookshelf phrasesOne of the most recurring themes in literature is motherhood. It represents birthing, the creation of new life, the profound love of and care for another, or the development of feminine spirituality. Motherhood is also an enduring symbol, especially in religion and mythology: mothers are depicted as beautiful, powerful goddesses of creation that are often associated with the ocean, moon, nature, and safety of children. In Christianity, some of the most important figures are mothers: Eve (the Original Mother), Sarah (mother of Isaac), Rebekah (mother of Jacob and Esau), Jochebed (mother of Aaron, Moses, and Miriam), and Mary (the Madonna). In Eastern mythology, the mother is a creation goddess: in one tradition, the oceans were created by her uterine waters. As a fertility goddess, she rules over nature and controls the harvests. Generally speaking, however, a mother’s love represents the apotheosis of love (although, don’t write that in a Mother’s Day card, because it sounds like a COVID-related illness; incidentally the word apotheosis is form the Greek word apotheoun which means “to make a god of”); that is to say, it represents love as the ideal form: unconditional, pure, self-less, wise, comforting, unwavering — and at times it can be fierce and protective.

The concept of motherhood is not only intertwined with literature and mythology, it is also part of the English lexicon. We find that the word “mother” in many idioms that evoke the symbols and meanings we have discussed. For example, when we talk wisdom, learning from our mistakes, we say “Experience is the mother of wisdom” not “Experience is the father of wisdom.”

To honor of the mothers around the globe and through the generations who have exemplified the ideals of love for their children, for their families, for their communities — especially through the troubling trials and tribulations unleashed by the deadly coronavirus, Atkins Bookshelf presents the idioms about mothers that remind us of the eternal significance of their contributions:

at one’s/his/her mother’s knee

Diligence is the mother of good luck

everyone and his/their mother

expectant mother

Experience is the mother of wisdom

A face that only mother could love

He that would the daughter win, must with the mother first begin

Like mother, like daughter

mama’s boy

maternal instinct

mother country

mother hen

mother house

mother’s little helpers

mother lode

mother’s milk

mother of pearl

Mother Nature

The mother or all [something]

mother tongue

A mother has eyes in the back of her head

Necessity is the mother of invention

old enough to be one’s mother

swear on your mother’s grave

sweet Mary, mother of God

Tied to his/her/your mother’s apron strings

Tiger mother

You kiss your mother with that mouth?

Your mother!

What other idioms about mothers should we include?

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Read related posts: What is the Borgesian Conundrum?
What is an Abecedarian Insult?
Origins of Talk Turkey

What is the Meaning of Six Ways From Sunday?
The Most Annoying Business Phrases

For further reading: Oxford Dictionary of Idioms

What is Sealioning?

alex atkins bookshelf wordsWhen you initially hear the term sealioning, it evokes the image of a group of dedicate volunteers on a boat, somewhere in the ocean not too far off the coast, attempting to rescue sea lions or waving flags at passing ships raising awareness about the plight of sea lions. However the true meaning of sealioning is as noble: it is a form of online harassment or trolling. This is how sealioning works: the troll (the sealion) targets an individual (the target) and pretends to be ignorant about a specific topic or issue. The sealion repeatedly asks the target questions or to provide specific evidence, while remaining polite and pretending to be sincere. The goal is to provoke the target to lose his or her temper and write an angry response. At this point, the troll responds as the insulted or aggrieved party. And just like real sea lions, trolls often work together as a group. (Incidentally a group of sea lions is called a colony when they are on land; in the water, they are called a raft; during breeding season, they are known as rookery; a group of females in a male’s territory is called a harem.)

“So what’s the real harms in asking a lot of detailed questions?” you ask. In an enlightening essay titled “The Multiple Harms of Sea Lions” included in Perspectives on Harmful Speech Online (2017) published by the Berkman Kelin Center for Internet & Society, a research center at Harvard University, Amy Johnson elaborates: “[A long series of questions] may seem like a well-intentioned search for answers. It’s not—it’s a simplified example of a rhetorical strategy called sealioning. Sealioning is an intentional, combative performance of cluelessness. Rhetorically, sealioning fuses persistent questioning — often about basic information, information easily found elsewhere, or unrelated or tangential points — with a loudly-insisted-upon commitment to reasonable debate. It disguises itself as a sincere attempt to learn and communicate. Sealioning thus works both to exhaust a target’s patience, attention, and communicative effort, and to portray the target as unreasonable. While the questions of the “sea lion” may seem innocent, they’re intended maliciously and have harmful consequences. [The responses from the target range] from lengthy explanations to pointing to logical fallacies in the questions themselves, from calling out the sealioning to ignoring it. It is these responses that the sea lion seeks to shape — and it is here that multiple harms occur.” The multiple harms can be minor, like short-term annoyance, wasted energy, and the opportunity cost of time spent. But there are larger social harms, like when the target is now skeptical of all future questioners and is likely to engage in online discussions. This results in reduction of constructive discourse as well as reducing the opportunities of individuals to learn from one another. Johnson argues that sealioning attacks informal teaching; she writes: “Informal teaching undergirds mediated communication. Informal teaching is an unacknowledged foundation of technoutopian dreams from telegraphy to the present: by learning through iinteractions with each other, we will achieve universal understanding and eliminate conflict And to some extent, this happens. At any one moment, informal teaching — about everything from platform norms and literacies to life experiences — bridges the hugely diverse skill sets and histories of people online.”

So now you understand the harm of sealioning, but we are left with one question: how in the world did this form of trolling end up being called sealioning? The term is based on a specific comic strip titled “The Terrible Sea Lion” (published September 19, 2014) from the web-based comic book Wondermark by David Malki. In the six panels of that comic strip a couple is discussing marine mammals and the wife mentions that she doesn’t care for sea lions. All of a sudden a sea lion appears and requests “a civil conversation about your statement.” And the seal lion is persistent: he shows up repeatedly: at their dinner, at their bedside in the evening, and at breakfast in the morning. The sea lion says, “I have been unfailingly polite, and you two have been nothing rude.” So there you have it: the worst form of sealioning — from an actual sea lion. What is the world coming to?

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

Read related posts: What is the Borgesian Conundrum?
What is an Abecedarian Insult?
Origins of Talk Turkey

What is the Meaning of Six Ways From Sunday?
The Most Annoying Business Phrases

For further reading:

Trump’s Response to Coronavirus Crisis and the Dunning-Kruger Effect

alex atkins bookshelf phrasesThe world was stunned on March 6, 2020 as President Trump toured the Centers for Disease Control  headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia and bragged about his incredible comprehension of science because he had a smart uncle, referring to Donald George Trump (1907-1985), an electrical engineer, physicist, and inventor. Standing next to real doctors and health experts who are earnestly working to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, Trump shamelessly said, “You know my Uncle was a great person. He was at MIT. He taught at MIT for, I think, a record number of years. He was a great super genius, Dr. John Trump. I like this stuff. I really get it. People are surprised that I understand it. Every one of these doctors said: ‘How do you know so much about this?’ Maybe I have a natural ability. Maybe I should have done that instead of running for president.” Remember, this is the same man who stated unequivocally: “I’m an extremely stable genius. OK?”

It is disturbing to witness this egregious example of braggadocio, one of the many indicators of pathological narcissism, from a poorly educated individual who doesn’t read and doesn’t believe in science and medicine, futilely attempts to brag his way out of one of America’s most devastating crises. As many experts have expressed, Trump’s steady stream of lies, misinformation, and provocative statements are simply worsening the coronavirus crisis. Moreover, and more significantly, it is frightening to realize that this is a classic example of the Dunning-Kruger Effect. The term was coined by David Dunning and Justin Kruger, psychologists at Cornell University, in their 1999 study titled “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments.”

The Dunning-Kruger Effect is a cognitive bias where a person who is incompetent at something is unable to recognize their own incompetence. Moreover, that individual has a false inflated sense of confidence about their supposed competence. And this, of course, is what makes these individual so annoying. Dunning points out the irony of the effect: “the knowledge and intelligence that are required to be good at a task are often the same qualities needed to recognize that one is not good at that task — and if one lacks such knowledge and intelligence, one remains ignorant that one is not good at that task.” Consequently, without appropriate management and training, such a person cannot improve because they are essentially clueless about how bad they are at a particular job. In subsequent research, Dunning has found the Dunning-Kruger Effect rampant among employees of high-tech firms and medical companies, professors at universities, and among drivers.

If you have been reading the news in the last few months, you know that the Dunning-Kruger Effect is alive and well in American politics. In an op-ed for The Washington Post titled “Trump has a dangerous Disability,” political commentator George Will wrote the following about President Donald Trump’s many egregious mistakes about American history: “What is most alarming (and mortifying to the University of Pennsylvania, from which he graduated) is not that Trump has entered his eighth decade unscathed by even elementary knowledge about the nation’s history. As this column has said before, the problem isn’t that he does not know this or that, or that he does not know that he does not know this or that. Rather, the dangerous thing is that he does not know what it is to know something [emphasis added].”

Yale psychologist Gordon Pennycock recently published a paper that explores the connection between the Dunning-Kruger Effect and the concept of reflectivity (a trait that can predict whether a person is likely to be highly deluded about his or her own knowledge). Pennycock found that the Dunning-Kruger Effect impacts a person ability to reason and reflect. Subjects in the study were asked to take a test of reflectivity and then asked to evaluate themselves. Most of the subjects who were unreflective believed that they did very well since they had no idea of what it meant to be reflective and thus were too incompetent to accurately evaluate their own behavior. Now think of Trump and his statements. Alarmingly, Trump lacks any modesty about his self-professed intelligence: in many interviews and appearances he has bragged that he is very well-educated, intelligent, and possesses a very high IQ. Is he highly deluded?

This leads us to our next discussion: what happens when a person who exhibits this cognitive bias is surrounded by enablers. And, in the case of Trump, this situation is amplified because he is the President of the U.S., the leader of one of the most powerful nations in the world. One is reminded of the famous fairy tale by Hans Christian Anderson, “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” In that story the emperor, who is very vain and a slave to fashion, is swindled by two crafty tailors who fashion the finest clothes with fabric that can only be seen by smart or competent people. The tailors, of course, made nothing at all and the emperor falls for the con and proudly dons his “new clothes.” The pompous emperor then walks around nude (or perhaps wearing underwear, the story is not clear) in his palace, and all of his servants bow down and praise his very fine new clothes. Eager to show off his new clothes to all his subjects, the emperor organizes a parade to walk through the town. Again, like his servants, the public praises the emperor’s fine (but invisible) clothes — except for one little boy, who sees this ridiculous sight and provides a vital reality check: “But he isn’t wearing anything at all!” However, it is a variation of that line that endures as an idiom: “The emperor has no clothes!” One can only hope that at some point, the elected representatives in Congress and parts of the American electorate should realize that the President has no clothes.

Interestingly, long before there was any formal, scientific research, many philosophers and writers throughout history intuitively understood man’s inflated sense of intelligence or competence. Here are the different ways they expressed this universal truth:
Confucius: “Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.”
Socrates: “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”
William Shakespeare: “The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.” (from As You Like It)
Charles Darwin: “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.”
Bertrand Russell: “One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision.”

Read related posts: What is the Barnum Effect?
What is the Pinocchio Effect?
There’s A Word for That: Trumpery
Words Related to Trump
What are the Most Common Lies on Social Media?
What is the Big Lie?

For further reading: The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President by Brandy Lee

What is the Trolley Problem?

alex atkins bookshelf cultureNo, the trolley problem has nothing to do with bewildered tourists in San Francisco who don’t know which trolley to take: the Powell/Hyde line or the California/Van Ness line? Rather, the trolley problem is a thought experiment in ethics or moral psychology. The trolley problem is set up like this: Imagine there is a runaway trolley barreling down the tracks and you are standing some distance off, right next to a lever that controls the direction of the tracks. In the lever’s current position the trolley will travel straight, leading to five people standing on the main track; if you pull the lever, it will divert the trolley to a side track where one person is standing. What is the ethical thing to do? Do nothing and allow the trolley to kill five people? Or pull the lever, diverting the trolley to a side track where it will kill one person? Not an easy decision to make is it?

In ethics, the trolley problem sets up a clash between two schools of moral thought: deontology and utilitarianism. A deontologist would argue that the morality of an action is based on whether an action itself is right or wrong under a set of rules, rather than the consequences of the action. In short, the action is more critical than the consequences. The utilitarian would argue the opposite: that an action is right as long as it promotes the greatest happiness for the greatest number. If you are a fan of the original sci-fi series, Star Trek, from the late 1960s, you will recognize the theme of utilitarianism that is woven into many episodes: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”  We can paraphrase the Star Trek aphorism to align more closely to true utilitarianism: “The happiness of the many outweigh the happiness of the few.” And in contrast with the deontologist, the consequences are more critical than the act.

On another level, the trolley problem represents a Cornelian dilemma: a dilemma where a person must choose between two courses of action that either of which will have a harmful effect on themselves or others. The phrase is named after Pierre Corneille, a French dramatist. In his play, Le Cid (1636), Rodrigue, the protagonist, must choose between seeking revenge and losing his beloved or forego revenge and losing his honor.

So what are you — a deontologist or a utilitarian? What would you do in this difficult situation? Philosophers and psychologist are fascinated with this moral dilemma, and many studies and surveys have been done to study how people respond to the trolley problem. In many surveys, 90% of the respondents choose to pull the lever and sacrifice one live to save the five people. A survey of professional philosophers conducted in 2009 revealed that 70% of them would pull the lever, 8% would not, and 22% could not answer or offered another view.

Why is the trolley problem relevant now? As the COVID-10 pandemic overwhelms medical facilities and supplies, doctors find themselves at the very levers of disease’s tracks. Doctors have reported that they face agonizing decisions about which patients to treat and save, and those not to treat which will result in death. In most, if not all cases, doctors are making utilitarian decisions: the lives of the many outweigh the lives of the few.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Do you agree or disagree; additional perspectives? I welcome thoughtful discussion via comment section or email. Be a part of the community. Cheers.

Read related posts: Famous Misquotations: A Civilization is Measured by How It Treats Its Weakest Members
What is the Word for Two Bad Choices?

What is the Borgesian Conundrum?

alex atkins bookshelf literatureA Borgesian Conundrum, as you may have surmised, is a eponym — named after the brilliant Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986). Before we define the conundrum, let’s place the writer in proper context. Borges is considered one of the most influential writers of all time, writing imaginative short stories that eschew the conventions of modern short fiction. American writer Susan Sontag proclaimed, “There is no writer living today who matters more to other writers than Borges. Many people would say he is the greatest living writer… Very few writers of today have not learnt from him or imitated him.”

If you have never read a Borges short story, you are in for a real treat. As fellow Argentine writer, Adolfo Bioy Casares (he wrote the fantastic The Invention of Morel which greatly influenced the ABC hit series Lost), once noted, Borges’ writings are “halfway houses between an essay and a story.” Borges’ short stories, which often focus on the notion of the infinite, paradoxes, and interconnectedness of all things, are characterized by abrupt beginnings or endings; feature fantastic, complex, intellectual landscapes; lack traditional characteristics like plot, cause-and-effect, and conflict; and present the reader with fascinating, dazzling lessons about arcane topics. Not only was Borges a great writer, he was also an insatiable reader; as a boy he spent a great deal of time in libraries. That lifelong erudition is reflected in his stories and essays.

Knowing something about the writer now places you in a position to better appreciate the definition of the Borgesian Conundrum. In short, the Borgesian Conundrum poses the following ontological question: does the writer write the story, or does the story write the writer? Sounds like a quintessential Borges essay, doesn’t it? According to Wikipedia, the conundrum is alluded to in this passage from Borges’ essay, “Kafka and His Precursors,” published in the book Labyrinths: Selected Stories and Other Writings (1988): “If I am not mistaken, the heterogeneous pieces I have enumerated resemble Kafka; if I am not mistaken, not all of them resemble each other. The second fact is the more significant. In each of these texts we find Kafka’s idiosyncrasy to a greater or lesser degree, but if Kafka had never written a line, we would not perceive this quality; in other words, it would not exist. The poem “Fears and Scruples” by Browning foretells Kafka’s work, but our reading of Kafka perceptibly sharpens and deflects our reading of the poem. Browning did not read it as we do now. In the critics’ vocabulary, the word ‘precursor’ is indispensable, but it should be cleansed of all connotation of polemics or rivalry. The fact is that every writer creates his own precursors. His work modifies our conception of the past, as it will modify the future.”

Not so fast Wikipedia! The discerning, literary-minded folks at Weekly Wonder blog believe this particular passage is not necessarily support the Borgesian Conundrum. One of the editors elaborates: “As much as I appreciate ‘Kafka and His Precursors,’ I do not understand how the philosophers get the Borgesian conundrum from this essay: rather, if there is a question in this essay it is not “does the author create the story or the story, the author?” but “how does a writer create his own precursors?” Touché! The editor suggests a more relevant passage from an essay titled “Borges and I”:

The other one, the one called Borges, is the one things happen to. I walk through the streets of Buenos Aires and stop for a moment, perhaps mechanically now, to look at the arch of an entrance hall and the grillwork on the gate; I know of Borges from the mail and see his name on a list of professors or in a biographical dictionary. I like hourglasses, maps, eighteenth-century typography, the taste of coffee and the prose of Stevenson; he shares these preferences, but in a vain way that turns them into the attributes of an actor. It would be an exaggeration to say that ours is a hostile relationship; I live, let myself go on living, so that Borges may contrive his literature, and this literature justifies me. It is no effort for me to confess that he has achieved some valid pages, but those pages cannot save me, perhaps because what is good belongs to no one, not even to him, but rather to the language and to tradition. Besides, I am destined to perish, definitively, and only some instant of myself can survive in him. Little by little, I am giving over everything to him, though I am quite aware of his perverse custom of falsifying and magnifying things.

Spinoza knew that all things long to persist in their being; the stone eternally wants to be a stone and the tiger a tiger. I shall remain in Borges, not in myself (if it is true that I am someone), but I recognize myself less in his books than in many others or in the laborious strumming of a guitar. Years ago I tried to free myself from him and went from the mythologies of the suburbs to the games with time and infinity, but those games belong to Borges now and I shall have to imagine other things. Thus my life is a flight and I lose everything and everything belongs to oblivion, or to him.

I do not know which of us has written this page.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Do you agree or disagree; additional perspectives? I welcome thoughtful discussion via comment section or email. Be a part of the community. Cheers.

Read related posts: A Beautiful Inspiring Letter to Borges, the Patron of the Great Library
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For further reading: Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges

What is the Meaning of “A Stitch in Time Saves Nine”?

alex atkins bookshelf phrasesYou’ve probably heard this little chestnut a million times: “a stitch in time saves nine.” WTF? Nine what? And who the heck stitches time? Does this assume you are some sort of seamstress/theoretical physicist (a cross between Martha Stewart and Albert Einstein) who can gather up the time continuum, feed it through a sewing machine, and place a neat hem stitching to hold it together? Or this something that requires “Back to the Future” gear, like the DeLorian DMC-12, C6 2.9L with built-in Flux Capacitor? This is some pretty trippy stuff. One can imagine counterculture psychedelic guru Timothy Leary discussing this proverb: “I can explain it to you — but it will blow your mind, man! Turn on, tune in, drop out.”

Before we head to outer space, let’s begin our journey of discovery on terra firma. Many proverbs originated in the Enlightenment, a time when people were less focused on psychedelic trips and more focused on intellectual and spiritual growth, not to mention practical improvements in everyday life — hence the proliferation of wisdom via memorable proverbs. Proverbs from those times often use rather dated diction, sentence structure, as well as refer to antiquated practices and contexts. This particular proverb checks two of those boxes: it has an odd sentence structure and refers to sewing (not obsolete, of course, but who sews these days?). So to answer the first question posed at the outset, nine refers to stitches: a stitch in time saves nine stitches. The unusual structure is that the sentence is truncated (the removal of key words) and missing punctuation that would help to clarify it: so re-written in modern English, it would appear as: “A stitch, completed in time (i.e., now), saves having to complete nine stitches later.” Much clearer, right? And that re-written form of this metaphorical epigram (the technical rhetorical term for this type of proverb) gets to its true meaning: don’t procrastinate! That is to say, fix it now, while the problem is small and manageable before it gets to be a real cluster fuck! See — those early Europeans knew a thing or two about life!

Now that we understand the meaning, let’s trace its origins as best we can, thanks to two old proverb reference books. The proverb first appears in England in 1732 as noted in Thomas Fuller’s Gnomologia, Adagies and Proverbs, Wise Sentences and Witty Sayings, Ancient and Modern Foreign and British: “a stitch in time may save nine.” The proverb next appears in print over a half century later in Bartlett Whiting’s his seminal work, Early American Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases, published in 1797. Time and travel across the pond have modified the proverb a tiny bit: “a stitch in time saves nine” as it is recorded in an early American journal. It is in the formal journal, that we get some insight into the diction. Fuller enlightens us: “Because verses are easier got by heart, and stick faster in the memory than prose; and because ordinary people use to be much taken with the clinking of syllables; many of our proverbs are so formed, and very often put into false rhymes; as, a stitch in time, may save nine; many a little will make a mickle. This little artiface, I imagine, was contrived purposely to make the sense abide the longer in the memory, by reason of its oddness and archness.” To be more specific, the proverb uses a half, or imperfect rhyme (rhyming “nine” with “time”) in order to make it more memorable.

There are several other proverbs that address procrastination, for example: “There’s no time like the present” and “An ounce of presentation is worth a pound of cure.”

Sewing class is now dismissed.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

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For further reading: Early American Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases by Bartlett Whiting
Gnomologia, Adagies and Proverbs by Thomas Fuller

Origins of “Talk Turkey” and “Quit Cold Turkey”

alex atkins bookshelf wordsAs Turkey Day approaches, curious minds ponder turkey related phrases, like “talking turkey” or “quitting cold turkey.” So why do we single out the poor turkey and imply that they are frigid? (Around this time of year we should pity them for the sacrifice they must make. No wonder those unfortunate beasts cower at the very mention of Thanksgiving Day. ) We don’t say, “I quit my Netflix binging cold monkey” or “I quit my addiction to Fortnite cold salamander.” Those statements sound so amazingly weird, don’t they?

Although they have different meanings, “talking turkey” means talking frankly and seriously while “quitting cold turkey” means quitting something suddenly and completely (typically used in context of a bad habit like smoking tobacco, drinking alcohol, or taking drugs), both phrases are closely related. Let’s step into the time machine and visit the early 19th century to learn how these phrases came about.

First, if you are American, you can take pride that both are true Americanisms (made in the USA!). The earliest recorded appearance of either phrase, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), is in the early 1800s. Specifically, “talking turkey” appears in 1824 referring to speaking affably or frankly: “So that, all things considered, I hope neither the Indian, whom the Yankey could not cheat in the division of their game (a turkey and a buzzard)… will accuse me of not talking turkey.” So how did turkeys getting linked with talking — especially since they gobble? Lexicographers surmise that when settlers and Native Americans went hunting for wild turkeys, at the end of the hunt, they had to divide the spoils. If one of the hunters said, “talk turkey for Indian,” that meant that the Native American received a turkey. (Certainly, the Native American did not want to hear the settler talking buzzard.) Another explanation for the phrase was that the settlers encountered Native Americans, they often asked about the supply of wild turkeys; that is to say, they came to “talk turkey.” Finally, turkeys, being social birds (running around in flocks), came to represent individuals engaged in conversation. Gobble! Gobble!

The use of “taking turkey” slowly changed in meaning from talking affably to talking plainly or directly. We see this use in Dialect Notes from 1903: “I’m going to talk turkey with him and see if I can’t get him to mend his ways.” Over a period of about two decades, a variant of “talking turkey” arose: “talking cold turkey.” To talk cold turkey meant getting straight to the point, without delay or mincing words. The Random House Dictionary of American Historical Slang cites this entry from 1920: “Now tell me on the square — can I get by with this for the wedding — don’t string me — tell me cold turkey.” And from a 1922 letter from American poet and journalist Carl Sandburg: “I’m going to talk cold turkey with booksellers about the hot gravy in the stories.” LOL — Sandburg talking turkey!

Shortly after, the meaning of cold turkey morphs into “stopping suddenly” and is applied to addictions. The OED cites an article in the Daily Colonist (Victoria, B.C., 1921) that states: “Perhaps the most pitiful figures who have appeared before Dr. Carleton Simon … are those who voluntarily surrender themselves. When they go before him, they [drug addicts] are given what is called the ‘cold turkey’ treatment.” Well, thank you very much for that etymological contribution Dr. Simon!

So now you can dazzle your guests by talking turkey at Thanksgiving dinner with this fascinating etymology of “talking turkey” and “cold turkey.” And can you please pass the gravy…

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

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What is the Meaning of “Six Ways From Sunday?”

alex atkins bookshelf phrasesWriting about Leonard Cohen’s famous song Hallelujah, a music critic wrote: “First released in 1984, [Hallelujah] has been covered six ways from Sunday by a wide range of artists (from Jeff Buckley to Bon Jovi).” Say what? What does “six ways from Sunday” mean?

Just like the aforementioned Cohen song, this phrase is a bit of chameleon, changing over time, shifting in wording depending on the speaker or writer. The phrase has a number of variants — seems like no one can decide just how many ways from Sunday to emphasize. Variants include: “two ways to Sunday,” “three ways to Sunday,” “four ways to Sunday,” “four different ways to Sunday,” “five ways to Sunday,” “seven ways to Sunday,” “eight ways to Sunday,” “nine ways to Sunday,” “ten ways to Sunday,” “twelve ways to Sunday,” “twenty ways to Sunday,” “forty ways till Sunday,” and then a giant leap to “hundred ways to Sunday.” And then there is the variation of the preposition: six ways to Sunday, or six ways from Sunday.

Despite the various wording of the phrases, however, their meanings remains the same: “six ways from Sunday” (the most common form of the idiom) means “in every possible way,” “completely,” or “thoroughly.” The phrase “six ways for Sunday” makes its first appearance in the early 1800s, while the more common version, “six ways from Sunday” first appears in the late 1800s. “So how did it come about?” you ask. Excellent question; however, the inspiration is not fully known. Lexicographers have surmised that since a calendar has six days before (or after) Sunday, the idiom underscores the certainty of reaching Sunday no matter where you begin. Moreover, the idiom implies that there are multiple methods of approach to Sunday, thus applied generally, it means many options to reach the same target — in short, thoroughness.

The precise origin of this phrase is not clear and has perplexed many lexicographers. However, lexicographer Michael Quinion offers perhaps what is the most compelling — and only — explanation. He cites a passage from James Pauling’s short story, “Cobus Yerks” (1828) as the first formulation of the phrase in America (a variant of the modern form we recognize today): “looked at least nine ways from Sunday.” Quinion suggests that this phrase is an amalgamation of two earlier British slang phrases: “she had look’d nine ways” (1622) and “looking both ways for Sunday” (1785). Over the years, of course, other writers severed the association with the verb “look” (making the phrase far more versatile) and tinkered with the number of ways. Quinion adds: “Sunday was presumably chosen because it would have been regarded as the most significant day of the week. The most common form probably owes its success to the alliteration of Sunday with six and a false mental association with a complete week.”

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For further reading:

What is a Ghost Word?

alex atkins bookshelf wordsA ghost word is definitely scary — especially if you are a lexicographer. Why? Because, at bottom, a ghost word is essentially a euphemism for a royal lexicographic f**k-up. More politely, a ghost word is a word published in a dictionary that is meaningless because it originated from an egregious mistake, eg, a typo, misreading, mispronunciation, or misinterpretation. Oops!

The term ghost word was coined by philologist Walter William Skeat in 1886. As president of the Philological Society, Skeat wanted to nip this lexicographical disaster in the bud; in a speech he highlighted this embarrassing professional blunder: “Of all the work which the Society has at various times undertaken, none has ever had so much interest for us, collectively, as the New English Dictionary. Dr. Murray [the primary editor of the Oxford English Dictionary from 1879 to 1915] , as you will remember, wrote on one occasion a most able article, in order to justify himself in omitting from the Dictionary the word abacot, defined by Webster as “the cap of state formerly used by English kings, wrought into the figure of two crowns”. It was rightly and wisely rejected by our Editor on the ground that there is no such word, the alleged form being due to a complete mistake … due to the blunders of printers or scribes, or to the perfervid imaginations of ignorant or blundering editors… I propose, therefore, to bring under your notice a few more words of the abacot type; words which will come under our Editor’s notice in course of time, and which I have little doubt that he will reject. As it is convenient to have a short name for words of this character, I shall take leave to call them “ghost-words.”I only allow the title of ghost-words to such words, or rather forms, as have no meaning whatever.” And thus, the ghost word was born.

Related to the ghost word, is the term Nihilartikel (a mixed language portmanteau, Latin and German, literally translated, “nothing article) that is a fictitious word that is deliberately published in a dictionary to catch a plagiarist. The term was first used in German articles in the early 2000. (Those who grew up in the era of maps, may be familiar with Rand-McNally maps. They would include fake streets, known as trapstreets in cartography jargon,  in their maps in order to catch ruthless competitors who copied and sold their maps illegally.) A Nihelartikel is also known as a trap word or Mountweazel, named after a phony entry in the New Columbia Encyclopedia (1975) about a non-existent person named Lillian Virginia Mountweazel, a supposed fountain designer who became a photographer. The original fake news, as it were.

Here are some of the notable ghost words that have made it into some of the most venerated dictionaries:

dord: Perhaps the most famous of all ghost words. It was first included in Webster’s International Dictionary (second edition) in 1934. The definition was indicated as “density.” It wasn’t until five years later that an eagle-eye editor realized that the entry for dord did not have an etymology. He checked the dictionary’s extensive files and found the original paper slip; it read: “D or d, cont/ density” which was referring to abbreviations that began with the letter “D.” However, a typesetter interpreted this as “dord” with the definition of “density.” (Back then words were often written with spaces in between the letters so that lexicographers could insert pronunciation marks.) The ghost word was finally removed from the dictionary in 1947.

abacot: This ghost word made its appearance in Superman’s Glossarium published in 1664, based on the appearance of the word in the second edition of Holinshed’s Chronicles published in 1587. This ghost word then appeared in many other English dictionaries. As Skeat mentioned in his speech, three centuries later, James Murray discovered that the word was an egregious misprint of the world bycoket, a cap or head-dress. By then, abacot was firmly entrenched in the English lexicon, with a meaning expanded to include “cap of state,” “made like a double crown,” or “worn by ancient Kings of England.”

esquivalience: This ghost word is a deliberately fake word placed by the editors of the New Oxford American Dictionary (2001) to catch other dictionary makers who want to steal their content. The definition was: the willful avoidance of one’s official responsibilities; the shirking of duties.” A perfect word for the Trump administration, no? The word was invented by editor Christine Lindberg, who confessed in an interview that she used it regularly: “I especially like the critical, judgmental tone I can get out of it: ‘Those esquivalient little wretches.’ Sounds literate and nasty all in one breath. I like that.”

feamyng: This ghost word supposedly is a collective noun for ferrets. Lexicographer Dmitri Bormann discovered that the word is the result of a long chain of bonehead typos: from BUSYNESS to BESYNESS to FESYNES to FESNYNG to FEAMYNG.

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For further reading: Beyond Language: Adventures in Words and Thoughts by Dmitri Borgmann

What is the Liar Paradox?

alex atkins bookshelf cultureAncient Greek philosophers loved a good paradox. Some of the most famous paradoxes were developed by Zeno of Elia, who lived in the 4th century BCE. Unfortunately, Zeno’s book of paradoxes was lost and we only know about them secondhand from Aristotle and his commentators, such as Simplicius. His most famous paradoxes focus on motion, namely, Achilles and the Tortoise and Arrow. However, our discussion today is about one overlooked writer of paradoxes — Eubulides of Miletus, one of Zeno’s contemporaries. While Zeno developed dozens of paradoxes, Eubulides came up with only seven. The most famous of them is the Liar Paradox (or Liar’s Paradox); Eubulides asked, “A man says that he is lying. Is what he says true or false?” Here is the conundrum: is what the man says true or false? If it is true, it is false; and if it is false, it is true. So it is both true and false. WTF?

Graham Priest, a professor of philosophy at the University of Melbourne and author of Logic: A Very Short Introduction, discusses how these paradoxes tied up philosophers in knots: “The paradox and its variations were discussed by Ancient philosophers, and have been subject to much discussion in both Medieval and modern logic. Indeed, those who have engaged with them in the 20th Century reads rather like a roll call of famous logicians of that period. But despite this attention, there is still no consensus as to how to solve such paradoxes. Solutions are legion; but the only thing that is generally agreed upon, is that all of them are problematic.” Two philosophers wrote extensively about the Liar Paradox: Theophrastus, a successor to Aristotle wrote three papyrus rolls, while Chrysippus, a Stoic philosopher, wrote six. Sadly, like’s Zeno’s book, these manuscripts are lost. In fact, one scholar died trying to solve the paradox — Philitas of Cos, the first major Greek writer who was both a poet and scholar, died of insomnia. His epitaph reads: “Philitas of Cos am I / ‘Twas the Liar who made me die / And the bad nights caused thereby.”

This begs the question: why should we give a shit? That is to say, more politely, why have philosophers wrestled with this question for centuries? Why does this matter now? All good questions. Meet Philosophy Professor Bradley Dowden, CSU, Sacramento and a contributor to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy who believes that the Liar Paradox is a serious problem: “To put the Liar Paradox in perspective, it is essential to appreciate why such an apparently trivial problem is a deep problem. Solving the Liar Paradox is part of the larger project of understanding truth. Understanding truth is a difficult project that involves finding a theory of truth, or a definition of truth, or a proper analysis of the concept of truth.” Thus, at the heart of the paradox is man’s age-old quest for Truth.

Eubulides would be delighted to know that the Liar Paradox is alive and well in the modern Google Era. If you read or listen to the news each day you know what I mean. Take the President of the United States (please!). Many historians, journalists, and pundits recognize that President Trump has some difficulty discerning the truth. As former FBI Director James Comey wrote in his recently published book, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership, “We are experiencing a dangerous time in our country,” Comey writes, “with a political environment where basic facts are disputed, fundamental truth is questioned, lying is normalized and unethical behavior is ignored, excused or rewarded.” And according to The Washington Post, that has staff dedicated to tracking the President’s lies, Trump has made 1,318 false or misleading claims in just 263 days: “This tendency of Trump is all too familiar to The Fact Checker. He is quick to make claims full of superlatives — the greatest this and the most beautiful that — with little to no empirical evidence to support them… The Fact Checker has completed two-thirds of our year-long project analyzing, categorizing and tracking every false or misleading claim by Trump, as well as his flip-flops. As of our latest update Oct. 10, 2017, or his 264th day in office, the president has made 1,318 claims over 263 days. He has averaged five claims a day, even picking up pace since the six-month mark.” John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary magazine a former presidential speechwriter, expresses it more directly, “Trump’s career has demonstrated that he lies without consequence.” And herein lies the rub: each week when Trump is confronted with the lies, this is his response: “President Trump states that the story on X is fake news.” Is it true, is it false, is it true and false? Like, Philitas of Cos, Americans are inextricably trapped in the Liar Paradox, struggling with heightened anxiety and insomnia.

Certainly, as Zeno and Eubulides have shown us, the search for truth is critically important — especially in a democracy — and worthy of attention and discussion. In his essay on Truth, Michael Glanzberg notes: Truth is one of the central subjects in philosophy. It is also one of the largest. Truth has been a topic of discussion in its own right for thousands of years.” Unfortunately, in the topsy-turvy Trumpian world, one has to carefully traverse the minefield of Liar Paradoxes on a daily basis to arrive at the truth.

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Real Time with Bill Maher, April 27, 2018

The Best Signs from March for Our Lives Events

alex atkins bookshelf cultureTo paraphrase the misquoted line from the obscure play The Mourning Bride by William Congreve, “Hell hath no fury like a teenager scorned.” Today, March 24, 2018, hundreds of thousands of teenagers, along with parents, teachers, and supporters, gathered in Washington D.C. and major cities around the world for the “March for Our Lives,” organized by the shooting survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. One by one, with heavy hearts — and broken hearts — the teenagers filled the streets armed with signs and banners to advocate for reasonable and stricter gun control laws and to ways to make schools safer. They refer to themselves as “the mass shooting generation.” According to the medical journal, Pediatrics, guns are the third leading cause of child deaths in America. And according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, since 1968, more than 1.5 million Americans have died due to gun violence. David Hogg, one of the organizers, exclaimed: “We will not stop until every man, every woman, every child and every American can live without fear of gun violence.” Breaking through the sorrow and sense of loss, was a deep-seated rage against the political machine, corrupted by campaign finance laws and the insidious, powerful gun lobby. Rather than picking up guns, the students picked up markers and wrote out searing political statements on poster signs to tackle a problem that the complacent, apathetic Baby Boom generation created and condoned for decades in the shadow of a government that long ago abandoned its intended purpose — to represent the people and to serve the common good. Here are some of the best signs from the March for Our Lives events:

Love over lead

Book bags — not body bags

Stop the silence ending violence

Math before bloodbath

Books not bullets

Why are uteruses more regulated than guns?

School is made for ambition not ammunition

I should be writing my English paper, not my will!

We thought you were pro life

The scariest thing in a school should be my grades

The number of bullet holes in this poster are the number that can be shot in the time it takes to read it

I can’t even bring peanut butter to school

The only thing easier to buy in the USA than a gun is a Republican

The only gun that belongs in school is a glue gun

Students should be attending class not funerals

In my day “I survived high school” was not meant literally

If you need an assault weapon for hunting — you suck!

Generation Z: end of gun violence in the USA

NRA-endorsed politicians — our thoughts and prayers for you in November!

You can’t choose when to be pro-life

If we are old enough to be shot, we are old enough to have a say about gun violence

Girls clothing is more regulated than guns

Thoughts and prayers don’t stop bullets

If you aren’t smart enough to buy beer, then you shouldn’t be able to buy a gun

This is not a moment — it’s a movement. #NeverAgain

Am I next?

I am 6 — I want to see 60

We are the change

Murdered in school — and still no gun laws. How come Congress?

Protect schools not guns

My outrage does not fit on a sign

My right to live is greater than a gun

Arm teachers with pencils not guns

Thoughts & prayers, blah, blah, blah — #neveragain

How many more?

When injustice becomes law resistance becomes duty

There are more laws for my pussy than for guns

The NRA is not a brancy of the US government

My grandchildren are worth more than your guns

My school district won’t give me the password to use wifi, yet you want me to carry a gun?

Are guns more precious than children

No more thoughts and prayers — we want policy and change

NRA — die bitch!

The only thing easier to buy than guns is the GOP

If only my uterus could shoot bullets, then it wouldn’t need regulation

We call BS!

Kids over campaign contributions

SINators for sale

Make America great again? Make America ours again!

One child is worth more than all the guns in America

Did you have a favorite? Please share any slogans not listed above.

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Most Annoying Business Phrases

alex atkins bookshelf phrasesFed up with office jargon, corporate buzzwords, or management speak (call it what you want; however these are all euphemisms for “bullshit”), the folks at conducted a survey to finally expose the most annoying office phrases. In an interview with the Daily Mail, a spokesperson discussed the problem: “There’s so much overuse of clichéd jargon and management speak used around offices now that it’s almost beyond parody.” Amen to that. One survey respondent expressed what so many people think: “I overhear colleagues using some of these phrases because they think it makes them sound clever and important, but mostly they haven’t got a clue what they’re on about.” If you think the problem is bad in Great Britain, it’s ten times worse in Silicon Valley, where “tech talk” is mixed with corporate buzzwords. Hashtag eye-rolling. So businesspeople — let’s get on the same page: stop using these 50 annoying business phrases. It’s a no-brainer!

1. Blue-sky thinking
2. Idea shower
3. To ‘action’ a project
4. Going forward
5. Brainstorm
6. Getting the ball rolling
7. Drill down
8. Out of the loop
9. Thinking outside the box
10. Touch base
11. Singing from the same hymn-sheet
12. Circle back
13. Strategic fit
14. Bottom line
15. Low hanging fruit
16. Win-win
17. Play hardball
18. Best practice
19. On my radar
20. Bench mark
21. Value added
22. To run an idea up the flagpole
23. Results driven
24. Revert
25. Game-plan
26. Hit the ground running
27. Customer centric
28. No ‘i’ in team
29. Back to the drawing-board
30. Re-inventing the wheel
31. Dot the ‘i’s and cross the ‘t’s
32. Action plan
33. Bells and whistles
34. Moving the goalposts
35. Back of the net
36. On the same page
37. Open door policy
38. To ‘ping’ an email
39. Kick a project into the long grass
40. Joined up thinking
41. Pick up and run with it
42. Streamline
43. Close of play
44. To take an idea or project ‘off piste’
45. Level playing field
46. Quick win
47. In the driving seat
48. No brainer
49. To ‘park’ a project
50. ASAP

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The Colorful Language of Roadside Diners

alex atkins bookshelf wordsSeveral decades ago, if you sat down at the counter of a cozy, little roadside diner and ordered breakfast, let’s say you ordered two scrambled eggs on toast, the waiter or waitress would spin around and call out to the cook, “Adam and Eve on a raft and wreck em!” These calls, known as diner or hash house lingo, were a part of the culture of roadside diners and luncheonettes that sprouted across the nation during the 19th and 20th centuries. Not only were the calls enormously entertaining, they were a very efficient way to place food orders. Although the etymology of hash house is difficult to trace, the calls that endured possessed two key qualities: they had to be whimisical, and they had to be distinct so as not to be easily confused with the calls.

As you can imagine, listening to the colorful hash house lingo was one of the appeals of visiting these diners and luncheonettes, known mainly for their menu of delicious comfort food, generous portions, and reasonable prices. Sadly, as large corporations slowly took over the operation of dining establishments, the use of hash house lingo was discouraged, and the practice steadily waned after the 1950s — while food prices steadily increased and food portions decreased. However, thanks to the efforts of Jack Smiley, who published Hash House Lingo in 1941, a dictionary of common diner slang, we can step into the past, and hear the faint echoes of those colorful food orders above the din of the rush hour:

A.C. American cheese sandwich

Bang berries: baked beans

Belch water: carbonated water

Biddies on a raft: poached eggs on toast

Black and white: black coffee with cream on the side

Canary Island: vanilla soda with chocolate ice cream

Chewed fine with a breath: hamburger with onion

Coney Island chicken: frankfurter

Cowboy on a raft: Western sandwich on toast

Dog and maggots: crackers and cheese

Dress a cackle: make an egg sandwich

Eskimo highball: ice water

First lady: spare ribs

Fly cake: raisin cake

Forever and ever: hash browns

Georgia special: Coca-Cola

Glue: tapioca pudding

Gravel: sugar

Grease spot: hamburger

Guess water: soup

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For further reading: Hash House Lingo by Jack Smiley