Archive for ‘Language’

December 1, 2019

Mansplaining

Rebecca Solnit

Mansplaining is a pejorative term meaning ‘(of a man) to comment on or explain something to a woman in a condescending, overconfident, and often inaccurate or oversimplified manner.’ Lily Rothman, of ‘The Atlantic,’ defines it as “‘explaining without regard to the fact that the explainee knows more than the explainer, often done by a man to a woman.’

In its original use, mansplaining differed from other forms of condescension in that it is rooted in the assumption that a man is likely to be more knowledgeable than a woman. However, it has come to be used more broadly, often applied when a man takes a condescending tone in an explanation to anyone, regardless of the age or gender of the intended recipients: a ‘man ‘splaining’ can be delivered to any audience.

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October 16, 2019

False Equivalence

False balance

False equivalence is a logical fallacy in which two completely opposing arguments appear to be logically equivalent when in fact they are not. This fallacy is categorized as a fallacy of inconsistency.

False equivalence is a common result when an anecdotal similarity is pointed out as equal, but the claim of equivalence doesn’t bear because the similarity is based on oversimplification or ignorance of additional factors. False equivalence arguments are often used in journalism and in politics, where the minor flaws of one candidate may be compared to major flaws of another.

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October 8, 2019

Hoist With His Own Petard

Petard

‘Hoist with his own petard’ is a phrase from a speech in William Shakespeare’s play ‘Hamlet’ that has become proverbial.

The phrase’s meaning is literally that the bomb-maker (a “petard” is a small explosive device) is blown up (‘hoisted’ off the ground) by his own bomb, and indicates an ironic reversal, or poetic justice.

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September 24, 2019

Firehose of Falsehood

Russian web brigades

The firehose of falsehood is a propaganda technique in which a large number of messages are broadcast rapidly, repetitively, and continuously over multiple channels (such as news and social media) without regard for truth or consistency.

Since 2014, when it was successfully used by Russia during its annexation of Crimea, this model has been adopted by other governments and political movements around the world.

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September 23, 2019

Punchline

A punchline concludes a joke; it is intended to make people laugh. It is the third and final part of the typical joke structure: set-up, premise, punch line. In a broader sense, ‘punchline’ can also refer to the unexpected and funny conclusion of any performance, situation or story.

The exact origin of the term is unknown, though the classic three-part joke format was well-established in Vaudeville by the beginning of the 20th century. Merriam-Webster dictionary pegs the first use in 1921. It has also been argued that the term’s origin is related to the British weekly magazine ‘Punch.’

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August 1, 2019

Dog Days

Canis Major

The dog days or dog days of summer are the hot, sultry days of summer. They were historically the period following the heliacal rising of the star system Sirius, which Greek and Roman astrology connected with heat, drought, sudden thunderstorms, lethargy, fever, mad dogs, and bad luck. They are now taken to be the hottest, most uncomfortable part of summer in the Northern Hemisphere.

In addition to following Orion into the night sky, the Dog Star Sirius can be easily located in the heavens by following the line created by the prominent asterism (a popularly-known group of stars) Orion’s Belt.

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July 11, 2019

Scunthorpe Problem

Dirty Words

The Scunthorpe problem is the unintentional blocking of websites, e-mails, forum posts, or search results by a spam filter or search engine because their text contains a string of letters that appear to have an obscene or otherwise unacceptable meaning. Names, abbreviations, and technical terms are most often cited as being affected by the issue.

The problem arises since computers can easily identify strings of text within a document, but interpreting words of this kind requires considerable ability to interpret a wide range of contexts, possibly across many cultures, which is an extremely difficult task. As a result, broad blocking rules may result in false positives affecting innocent phrases.

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May 14, 2019

Stand on Zanzibar

John Brunner

Stand on Zanzibar [zan-zuh-bahr] is a dystopian New Wave science fiction novel written by John Brunner and first published in 1968. The book won a Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1969.

The story is set in 2010, mostly in the United States. A number of plots and many vignettes are played out in this future world, based on Brunner’s extrapolation of social, economic, and technological trends, such as an enormous population and its impact: social stresses, eugenic legislation, widening social divisions, future shock and extremism.

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April 27, 2019

JT LeRoy

Sarah

Jeremiah ‘Terminator’ LeRoy is a literary persona created in the 1990s by American writer Laura Albert. JT was presented as the author of three books of fiction, which were purportedly semi-autobiographical accounts by a teenage boy of his experiences of poverty, drug use, and emotional and sexual abuse in his childhood and adolescence from rural West Virginia to California.

Albert wrote these works, and communicated with people in the persona of JT via phone and e-mail. Following the release of the first novel ‘Sarah,’ Albert’s sister-in-law Savannah Knoop began to make public appearances as the supposed writer. The works attracted considerable literary and celebrity attention, and the authenticity of LeRoy has been a subject of debate, even as details of the creation came to light in the 2000s.

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February 13, 2019

Kakistocracy

Drain the swamp

kakistocracy [kak-uh-stok-ruh-see] is a system of government which is run by the worst, least qualified, or most unscrupulous citizens. The word is derived from two Greek words, ‘kakistos’ (‘worst’) and ‘kratos’ (‘rule’).

The word was coined as early as the seventeenth century. It also was used by English author Thomas Love Peacock in 1829, but gained significant use in the first decades of the twenty-first century to criticize populist governments emerging in different democracies around the world.

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January 5, 2019

Gadfly

Plato Apology

gadfly is a person who interferes with the status quo of a society or community by posing novel, potently upsetting questions, usually directed at authorities. The term is originally associated with the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates, in his defense when on trial for his life.

The term ‘gadfly’ was used by Plato in the ‘Apology’ to describe Socrates’s relationship of uncomfortable goad to the Athenian political scene, which he compared to a slow and dimwitted horse. The word may be uttered in a pejorative sense or be accepted as a description of honorable work or civic duty.

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December 30, 2018

The Negro Motorist Green Book

The Negro Motorist Green Book was an annual guidebook for African-American roadtrippers. It was originated and published by New York City mailman Victor Hugo Green from 1936 to 1966, during the era of Jim Crow laws, when open and often legally prescribed discrimination against non-whites was widespread.

Although pervasive racial discrimination and poverty limited black car ownership, the emerging African-American middle class bought automobiles as soon as they could, but faced a variety of dangers and inconveniences along the road, from refusal of food and lodging to arbitrary arrest. In response, Green wrote his guide to services and places relatively friendly to African-Americans, eventually expanding its coverage from the New York area to much of North America, as well as founding a travel agency.

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