English Spelling #language #pita

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If you know me personally, you know I’m a language freak. Before you assume that I, a lawyer, thinks that language is a crime (as many often inappropriately accuse language freaks of being), I can assure you my view is a bit more reasonable than that.

Reasonable, but still kind of a dick. It goes with the territory.

When I was in high school, I thought I was pretty clever. Of course, I was, but my successes aren’t important right now. I had heard about the word, “ghoti,” attributed inaccurately to George Bernard Shaw. To summarize, when you take the way “gh,” “o,” and “ti” are pronounced in other words, you can justify pronouncing ghoti the same as you would pronounce the word, “fish” (click through for an explanation). Here’s where my cleverness comes in. Whenever someone as smug as I told this story, I told them that Shaw and they weren’t thorough in their spelling. The correct spelling of “fish” was actually “ghotib.” The ‘b’ on the end is silent, like in dumb.

Get it? See? I always outdid those wannabes that were taking other people’s work and peddling at their own. I at least added to the work. I told you I was clever. But not as clever as this.


Fortunately, I’m no longer in contact with any of the people that could throw this in my face.

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I’m like this, but not as good-looking.

Ruining the #Joke

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Well, time for my second mean post in about a month.

I unfriended someone on Facebook last weekend. He kept coming onto my posts and ruining jokes by asking dumb questions, explaining the joke, or trying to change the joke’s premise so he could leapfrog off my sense of humor. That’s literally the only thing for which I have no tolerance. I don’t care if you make differing, or even objectively stupid, sociopolitical statements. People are doing the best they can in a complex world with little time on their hands to properly research. Talking with each other helps us learn (if we’re open to it). But there’s no excuse for ruining a joke. We’re all just trying to have fun, and ruining a joke kills that fun. There’s a science to comedy, but this is intended to be a short, simple, and one-sided analysis, focusing on common audience errors. Let’s start with a very basic, if antiquated, joke.

The Joke: A horse walks into a bar. Bartender asks, “Why the long face?”

Asking Dumb Questions

Do not respond: “How did the horse fit through the front door? Why didn’t they throw it out? Why did the bartender try to speak with a horse? Horses don’t speak.”

None of these questions are relevant. You shouldn’t care how we got to this point. Just roll with the joke.

Explaining the Joke

Do not respond: “That’s because horses have long faces, but having a long face is a way of saying someone is sad, and so the bartender thinks the horse is sad, but it’s really just a pun, and ….”

Explaining the joke is just your insecure way of telling everyone you were clever enough to get the joke. No one’s impressed, but they’re usually disappointed. Explaining a joke ruins it. Everyone stops in their tracks and doesn’t have anywhere else to go.

Subverting the Premise

Do not respond: “But the horse didn’t have a long face. He had a short face, which is funny because horses don’t have short faces.”

It’s okay to continue the joke with a chain of responses that build on it. That can be very useful because the initial telling of the joke shouldn’t ramble on too much. Sometimes the original joke must leave out some funny stuff because you don’t want to say too much, especially if it results in internal conflict within the joke. However, what this response does is completely changes the premise, which invalidates everything that came before it in the chain. Even if the chain at that point consists of only the original joke, invalidating it removes the humor, making your task of replacing that humor insurmountable. In other words, whatever you say will probably fail anyway because you’ve killed the vibe. If you don’t like the premise of the joke or legitimately think you can do better with your own, walk away and post your own joke on your wall. However, if you don’t understand why your redirection is going to running the original joke, don’t be surprised if what you think is funny turns out not to be.

None of these responses make you funny, and all of them ruin the joke. I know you want to be a part of something, but sometimes you’re just a spectator. Try to be satisfied by the fact that you got a good laugh. Even remarkably funny people know when to sit one out.

Bonus Point #1: The Geneva Convention

Much like the “horse in a bar” joke above, it’s never funny to say, “That line was so horrible it’s a violation of the Geneva Convention.” Some lines, even if they’re still somehow relevant decades after their creation, have worn themselves out. Unfortunately, that’s something you sometimes must learn through trial and error. It’s okay to bomb, but don’t go running in circles through known minefields.

Bonus Point #2: In-person Jokes

I was with some friends before the pandemic. I told them two of my favorite jokes, but one of them required a set up. I asked a friend a question, but because he knew he was about to be the butt of the joke, he refused to answer, bringing the entire joke to a standstill. Because everyone knew the joke was coming, it was already going to be a tough sell, but by refusing to answer and forcing me to turn to a less insecure friend and repeat the question made it even tougher to get a good laugh.

Don’t do that either. For Shatner’s sake, just roll with it.

I am a comedy god!

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Cat (People) >> Dog (People) #caturday #rovember #cat #dog

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Sundays are now lazy days for me. Going forward, I’m just going to re-post other people’s work or just do something silly. Today it’s just a ridiculous observation.

How is “rovember” not a thing among dog lovers? The only two references I can find are 1) some video game shit I couldn’t decipher; and 2) a lawn mower company in Australia that makes “rovers.” Even Range Rovers don’t seem to take advantage of the obvious hashtag. Cat people are smart enough to take over a whole day of the week with Caturday.

Someone should hire me.

Cats win again!

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Reactive Centrifugal Force (Actually, Language [Actually, Me Being a Pain in the Ass]) #physics #science #language #pita

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Here’s a random memory triggered by an unrelated Facebook post I read.

When I was a physics major, one of my professors, referencing a carnival ride, actually said, “Centrifugal force doesn’t exist. What you’re experiencing is centripetal force pushing you in.”

I responded, “But if centripetal force exists, doesn’t Newton’s Third Law of Motion demand that centrifugal force also exist? Wouldn’t that be the force your body exerts back on the wall?”

Boy, was he pissed. Of course he knew that the “reactive centrifugal force” existed. This is the force that you exert on the wall in reaction to the wall pushing you towards the center. It’s a very real force. However, even back then, I was killing people for linguistic imprecision. I couldn’t help it. It was a legitimate question brought on by a quirk in how physicists label these topics.

“Centrifugal force” is used differently from “reactive centrifugal force,” which is stupid. All forces have a reactive counterforce, so why qualify it as “reactive”? Unfortunately, that’s the linguistic convention, but when you say “centrifugal force doesn’t exist,” it misleads people who otherwise have a grasp on what you’re teaching. Physics professors should make it clear that there is an outward force, but we experience a misperception that this outward force is acting on us. In fact, the outward force is acting on the wall (or whatever is forcing you to take a curved path). Without “reactive” modifying it, “centrifugal force” refers to the misperception rather than the very real force.

If you want more details on the physics, here’s a relatively short lecture on this topic (about 12-1/2 minutes), though it doesn’t discuss the issue I’m raising here. In fact, it makes the same mistake. I originally provided a paragraph explaining some concepts the lecture takes for granted, but that paragraph would probably have made things worse. 🙂

You may have expected this to be about science, or language, but it was really about me being a pain in the ass.

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