Category Archives: Phrases

What is the Dunning-Kruger Effect?

alex atkins bookshelf phrasesDo you know someone at work who claims to be expert at something but doesn’t have the experience or proof to back it up? Let’s say you work at a newspaper, and one of your colleagues brags that he is one of the paper’s best writers, has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize many times, and has been approached by several headhunters from other newspaper and magazines. Of course, nobody likes a braggadocio. But then you read his copy and his writing, well… sucks. And then you learn that his editor is always haranguing him about missed deadlines, sloppy reporting, and so forth. Hmm… maybe he’s not the expert he claims to be. Congrats — you have just witnessed the Dunning-Kruger Effect in action. 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
https://www.forbes.com/sites/markmurphy/2017/01/24/the-dunning-kruger-effect-shows-why-some-people-think-theyre-great-even-when-their-work-is-terrible/#24624b915d7c

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trump-has-a-dangerous-disability/2017/05/03/56ca6118-2f6b-11e7-9534-00e4656c22aa_story.html?tid=ss_tw&utm_term=.883b9bdaf4c0
https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-05-12/trump-s-dangerous-disability-it-s-the-dunning-kruger-effect
https://link.springer.com/article/10.3758/s13423-017-1242-7

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Clichés that Famous Authors Use

alex atkins bookshelf literatureIt’s a cliché by now: writing teachers admonishing students not to use clichés in their writing. You know the classroom spiel: using clichés reveals laziness in writing; it makes writing stale; it weakens the writing; blah, blah, blah. So cliché…. But if you read enough novels by famous writers — and you read them carefully — you will find clichés lurking unabashedly in the prose. So the next time an English teacher draws a red circle around a cliché in one of your papers that reduces your score, ask for some leniency by showing them this list. Here are common clichés that famous writers use in more than half their works:

Isaac Asimov (7 Foundation Series books): past history

Jane Austen (6 novels): with all my heart

Tom Clancy (13 novels): by a whisker

Clive Cussler (23 Dirk Pitt novels): wishful thinking

Theodore Dreiser (8 novels): thick and fast

James Joyce (3 novels): from the sublime to the ridiculous

George R. R. Martin (8 novels): black as pitch

Herman Melville (9 novels): through and through

J. K. Rowling (7 Harry Potter books): dead of night

J.R.R. Tolkien (Lord of the Ring and The Hobbit): nick of time

Read related posts: Words Invented by Famous Authors
Words Invented by Famous Authors 2

Words Invented by Dickens

For further reading: Nabokov’s Favorite Word is Mauve: What the Numbers Reveal About the Classics, Bestsellers, and Our Own Writing by Ben Blatt.


The Unwritten Rules of the Internet

alex atkins bookshelf phrasesBack in 2002, there were about 569 million internet users (9.1% of the world’s population). In a decade that number shot up to an astounding 2.27 billion (33% of the world’s population). With that many people using the internet, and since human beings are creatures of habit, what sort of behaviors or patterns emerge with respect to digital dialogue? Excellent question. If you have spent enough time reading posts in the comments section and FAQs these patterns of behavior will emerge. Eventually, because they are so self-evident, these behaviors acquire a specific name, entering the lexicon of “unwritten rules” or “unwritten laws.” They join the classics, like Parkinson’s Law (work expands to fill the time available for its completion) or Murphy’s Law (anything that can go wrong will go wrong). Here are some of the most common unwritten rules of the internet:

Armstrong’s Law: When discussions between Americans and non Americans about a variety of topics, where America is not the greatest at said topic, the likelihood of the American arbitrarily bringing up the U.S. moon landings increases dramatically. (Named after astronaut Neil Armstrong, first man to set foot on the moon.)

Cunningham’s Law: the best way to get the right answer on the internet is not to ask a question — it’s to post the wrong answer. (Attributed to Ward Cunningham)

Godwin’s Law: As an online discussion grows longer, eventually someone will make a comparison involving Hitler or his deeds. (Coined by Mike Godwin)

Muphry’s Law: If you write anything criticizing editing or proofreading, there will be a fault of some kind in what you have written. (And no, this is not a typo: Murphy is misspelled deliberately). (Coined by John Bangsund).

Poe’s Law: Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is utterly impossible to parody a Creationist in such a way that someone won’t mistake for the genuine article. (Coined by Nathan Poe)

Streisand Effect: an attempt to remove or censor information on the internet has the unintended consequence of bringing more attention to that information. (Named after Barbara Streisand who was trying to suppress aerial photos of her house in Malibu in 2003).

Wadsworth Constant: The first 30% of any video can be skipped because it contains no worthwhile or interesting information. (Coined by a Reddit editor named Wadsworth.)

Read related posts: Godwin’s Law
Unwritten Rules of Life
What is the Barnum Effect?
What is the Pinocchio Effect?

For further reading: urbandictionary.com
http://www.dailyinfographic.com/the-internet-a-decade-later-infographic
https://iampuzzlr.deviantart.com
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_eponymous_laws


What is a Tu Quoque Argument?

alex atkins bookshelf phrasesA tu quoque (pronounced “too KWOH kwe” or “too KWOH kwee), from the Latin “you also,” is an informal logical fallacy, often used as a red herring tactic, that identifies hypocrisy as a way to refute an argument. That is to say, an opponent’s argument would be refuted by asserting that the opponent does not behave in accordance with their argument. For example, Person A could claim: “It is morally wrong to drive cars that increase our dependence on fossil fuels and not renewable energy. Person B responds: “How can you say that driving fossil-fuel cars is morally wrong when you drive a gas-guzzling SUV?” Another example, at the heart of our country’s founding, is this: person A states: “All men are created equal.” Person B responds: “How can you say that all men are created equal when you are a slave owner?”

Like the ad hominem argument (attacking the character, attribute, or motive of an opponent), the tu quoque argument is a fallacy because the specific actions of an opponent are irrelevant to the logic of an argument. Although the opponent can be clearly exposed for being a hypocrite, it does not make his argument wrong, and your argument correct. The resolution of the argument has to be based on the presentation of supporting facts and ideas.

Closely related to the tu quoque argument is whataboutism (also known as whataboutery) that refutes an opponent’s argument by directly accusing them of hypocrisy (or some wrongdoing) without directly disproving their argument. Danielle Kurtzleben, a journalist at NPR, describes it succinctly: “Party A accuses Party B of doing something bad. Party B responds by changing the subject and pointing out one of Party A’s faults — ‘Yeah? Well what about that bad thing you did?’ (Hence the name.)” Denise Clifton, a journalist for Mother Jones, likens whataboutism to a defensive child’s playground cry: “Look at what she did!” What about them?” “See what my opponent did!”

Whataboutism was one of the key strategies of Soviet and Russian propaganda during the Cold War (about 1947-1991). In the essay, “Come Again, Comrade?” the editors of The Economist elaborate: “Soviet propagandists during the cold war were trained in a tactic that their western interlocutors nicknamed ‘whataboutism.’ Any criticism of the Soviet Union (Afghanistan, martial law in Poland, imprisonment of dissidents, censorship) was met with a ‘What about…’ (apartheid South Africa, jailed trade-unionists, the Contras in Nicaragua, and so forth).” Unfortunately, under Putin’s current leadership in Russia, whataboutism is making a big comeback. When Russia annexed Crimea and intervened in the Ukraine, Putin employed the whataboutism strategy to defuse (or more accurately, dodge) the charges of human rights violations. Recently when Megan Kelly questioned Putin about interference in the US election, Putin instinctively responded: “Put your finger anywhere on a map of the world, and everywhere you will hear complaints that American officials are interfering in internal election processes.”

Since Donald Trump’s inauguration, a cloud of suspicion has hung over him and members of his staff alleging that they colluded with the Russians to interfere in the presidential election. While many are disturbed about Trump’s glowing assessment of Putin, only a few journalists have noted that his greatest compliment to his Russian counterpart is his adoption of whatboutism (indeed, as the English cleric Charles Caleb Colton once observed,  “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”) NPR’s Kurtzleben notes: “President Trump has developed a consistent tactic when he’s criticized: say that someone else is worse. This week, when the Congressional Budget Office estimated that Republicans’ health care plan would leave 24 million additional people uninsured in 2026, Trump’s first move wasn’t a direct response. Instead, he took to Twitter to blast the Affordable Care Act (commonly referred to as Obamacare), criticizing how much was spent on promoting it and asking people to tweet their own criticisms.” Dmitry Dubrovsky, an expert on Russian politics and professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, believes that both Putin and Trump have similar political impulses; he explained: “[They] are both populist leaders. They always try to be as uncertain as possible. And for a populist that’s important. Whataboutism is a very substantial part of populism rhetoric… It is very childish. That’s why the populist is speaking in this language. Everyone understands it quite well. The strategy is to avoid any argument and to sound like you speak from your soul.” But Mother Jones’ Clifton believes that Trump takes whataboutism to a whole new level: “In Trump’s version of whataboutism, he repeatedly takes a word leveled in criticism against him and turns it back on his opponents—sidestepping the accusation and undercutting the meaning of the word at the same time.” [emphasis added]

Beyond being a very powerful and effective rhetorical device, whataboutism has a very dark side. Because it is employed by several leaders around the world, it has a very sinister global agenda; Dubrovsky adds: “Trump, as well as Putin, as well as others, have followed this populist path. Russia was a pioneer of this global shift in narrative. The situation globally is to destroy the principles of human rights or democracy or international dialogue. Or to deny that such principles exist at all. [The real agenda of whataboutism] is to destroy the democratic values of the truth.”

Read related posts:  O. J. Simpson Trial and the Chewbacca Defense
Most Common Logical Fallacies

For further reading: http://www.economist.com/node/10598774
http://www.npr.org/2017/03/17/520435073/trump-embraces-one-of-russias-favorite-propaganda-tactics-whataboutism
http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2017/07/trump-rants-propaganda/


Amusing Musings on Language

alex atkins bookshelf wordsAs word lover Richard Lederer pointed out in one of his books, the English language is crazy. Lederer observes, “to explore the paradoxes and vagaries of English, we find that hot dogs can be cold, darkrooms can be lit, homework can be done in school, nightmares can take place in broad daylight while morning sickness and daydreaming can take place at night, tomboys are girls and midwives can be men, hours — especially happy hours and rush hours — often last longer than sixty minutes, quicksand works very slowly, boxing rings are square, silverware and glasses can be made of plastic and tablecloths of paper… and most bathrooms don’t have any baths in them.” You get the idea.

Lederer’s book inspired Josh White Jr.’s song “English is Crazy” (most people are familiar with folk singer Pete Seeger’s version, plays on banjo). Of course, Lederer’s waggish observations are not lost on comedians who mine the vast English lexicon for words and phrases that make you scratch your head and utter “WTF.” Two of the most brilliant comedians who placed the English language under the comedy microscope are George Carlin and Stephen Wright. Here are some of the most amusing musings on the English language, many from Carlin and Wright.

Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time.

How can a fat chance and slim chance be the same thing?

I went to a bookstore and asked the saleswoman, “Where is the self-help section?” She said that if she told me, it would defeat the purpose.

If a deaf kid swears, does his mother wash his hands with soap?

If a turtle loses its shell is it naked or homeless?

If con is the opposite of pro, is congress the opposite of progress?

If flying is so safe, why is the airport called ‘terminal’?

If people can have triplets and quadruplets why not singlets and doublets?

If vegetarians eat vegetables, what do humanitarians eat?

I went to a restaurant that “serves breakfast at any time” so I ordered French toast during the Renaissance.

Is Atheism a non-prophet organization?

Is it true that cannibals don’t eat clowns because they taste funny?

Isn’t it a bit unnerving that doctors call what they do “practice?”

I saw a sign that said “Coming soon — a 24-hour restaurant.” Why would they open and close it so quickly?

I went to a general store. They wouldn’t let me buy anything specifically.

The reason the mainstream is thought of as a stream is because of its shallowness.

What’s another word for thesaurus?

Where do forest rangers go to “get away from it all?”

Why are there braille signs at the drive-through windows at the bank?

Why is that when stars are out, they’re visible, but when the lights are out, they’re invisible?

Why are they called apartments when they are all stuck together?

Why are boxing rings square?

Why do we drive on a parkway but park in a driveway?

Why is it that night falls but never breaks and day breaks but never falls?

Why don’t you ever see the headline, “Psychic Wins Lottery”?

Why is “abbreviated” such a long word?

Why is lemon juice made with artificial flavor and dishwashing liquid made with real lemons?

Why is the man who invests all your money called a broker?

Why is the time of day with the slowest traffic called rush hour?

Why isn’t phonetics spelled phonetically?

Would a fly that loses its wings be called a “walk?”

Read related posts: The English Language is Crazy
The Wisdom of Steven Wright
The Wisdom of George Carlin
Top Ten Puns

For further reading: Brain Droppings by George Carlin
Crazy English: The Ultimate Joy Ride Through Our Languageby Richard Lederer
Lederer on Language: A Celebration of English, Good Grammar, and Wordplay by Richard Lederer


What is a Malaphor?

alex atkins bookshelf wordsA malaphor is a mixed idiom or mixed metaphor (or to use the more formal term, catachresis). It is a portmanteau word formed by combining malapropism (the mistaken use of a word in place of a similar-sounding word; for example “butt naked” rather than “buck naked” or “for all intensive purposes” rather than “for all intents and purposes” ) and metaphor (a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable; for example: “walking on thin ice”). A malapropism is also known as an eggcorn, a word coined by Geoffrey Pullum, a linguist (based on the misuse of “egg corn” instead of “acorn”). Most often, people muddle idioms in speech and since spellcheckers don’t catch these pesky things, they slip into text and print. Here are some common malaphors sure to delight:

A loose tongue spoils the broth.

Don’t judge a book before it’s hatched.

Every cloud has a silver spoon in its mouth.

From now on, I’m watching everything you do with a fine-tuned comb.

Going to hell in a hen basket.

He is a little green behind the ears.

He received a decease and desist order.

He was watching me like I was a hawk.

He’s a wolf in cheap clothing.

He’s burning the midnight oil from both ends.

He’s like a duck out of water.

He’s not the one with his ass in a noose.

I can read him like the back of my book.

I have a lot of black sheep in my closet.

I hope he gets his curve ball straightened out.

I shot the wind out of his saddle.

It sticks out like a sore throat.

It will be a walk in the cake.

It’s all moth-eared.

It’s as easy as falling off a piece of cake.

It’s like looking for a needle in a hayride.

It’s not rocket surgery.

It’s time to grab the bull by the tail and look him in the eye.

It’s time to step up to the plate and lay your cards on the table.

I wouldn’t be caught dead there with a ten-foot pole.

I wouldn’t eat that with a ten-foot pole.

I’ll get it by hook or ladder.

People are dying like hotcakes.

Take a flying hike.

That train has left the frying pan.

The crutch of the matter.

The fan is gonna hit the roof.

These hemorrhoids are a real pain in the neck.

They’re diabolically opposed.

Until the cows come home to roost.

Until the pigs freeze over.

We could stand here and talk until the cows turn blue.

We have to get all our ducks on the same page.

We’ll burn that bridge when we come to it.

You can’t change the spots on an old dog.

You can’t teach a leopard new spots.

You can’t go in there cold turkey with egg on your face.

You could have knocked me over with a fender.

Read related posts: Words with Letters in Alphabetical Order
What is the Longest Word in English Language?
Word Oddities: Fun with Vowels

What is an Abecedarian Insult?
Difficult Tongue Twisters
Rare Anatomy Words
What Rhymes with Orange?

For further reading: Going to Hell in a Hen Basket: An Illustrated Dictionary of Modern Malapropisms by Robert Rubin
http://www.jimcarlton.com/my_favorite_mixed_metaphors.htm
http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2017/05/malaphors/?utm_source=Jun01-17&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=odo-newsletter&utm_content=malaphors-blogpost-toppanel


What is the Pinocchio Effect?

alex atkins bookshelf phrasesThere are so many lies coming out of Washington D.C. — each day alternative facts, fake news, misrepresentations, and misstatements are colliding with one another at such a dizzying pace, like atoms colliding, resulting in a spectacular explosion of bullshit that blocks out even the tiniest glimpse of reality. Even seasoned White House correspondents are scrambling for different ways of referring to all this bullshit by using different euphemisms like balderdash, baloney, booty chatter, bull honky, bunk, canard, cock and bull story, codswallop, concoction, crock, falsehood, fib, fiction, fish story, flapdoodle, hogwash, hokum, hooey, horse manure, inveracity, jiggery-pokery, malarkey, misrepresentation, misstatement, moonshine, piffle, pish posh, poppycock, prevarication, prevarication, rubbish, stretcher, tall tale, twaddle, untruth, whopper. Whew! All of this lying would even make Pinocchio’s little wooden head spin.

Speaking of Pinocchio — when discussing lies and lying, psychologists refer to the Pinocchio effect. No, the Pinocchio effect does not refer to the lengthening of the nose described in the famous children’s novel, The Adventures of Pinocchio (1881) by Carlo Collodi (otherwise most politicians could not fit through standard doorways without turning sideways). In science, the Pinocchio effect describes the increase in temperature around the nose and in the orbital muscle in the corner of the eye when a person lies. In a pioneering study conducted in 2012, researchers at the University of Granada, Emilio Gómez Milán and Elvira Salazar López, used thermographic cameras to measure temperature on the face of human subjects. When a person performs considerable mental effort (eg., being interrogated or lying), the overall temperature of his or her face drops (except around the nose and corner of the eyes); however, when a person experiences anxiety, overall face temperature rises. The researchers elaborate: “When we lie about our feelings, the temperature around our nose raises and a brain element called insula is activated. The insula is a component of the brain reward system, and it only activates when we experience real feelings (called qualias). The insula is involved in the detection and regulation of body temperature. Therefore, there is a strong negative correlation between insula activity and temperature increase: the more active the insule (the greater the feeling) the lower the temperature change, and vice versa.”

Read related posts: What is the Barnum 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: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/12/121203081834.htm
https://forsythstories.com/2017/01/28/36-euphemisms-for-lie-white-house-correspondents-can-use/


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