It’s incredible—meaning not credible, not something one would think one should take as true—that we can push air through a tube, finely modulate tension of some fibrous bands attached to flaps, manipulate the shape of a bunch of things it seems were designed for eating . . . and presto! some idea appears in your mind, generally, in the way I intended. It’s incredible but so blasé, right?

And it’s not even incredible, at this point, that the whole “process” has different “languages,” with dialects, jargon and local slang. No. That’s all yawns-ville.

It’s not even interesting that I can smashcrastically make up “words” and it still works. The right idea still appears in your head. And a word can have multiple meanings. Does it have the same several meanings in another language? Meh, interesting, but not brain melting.

What explodes my noodle every time is the thought of homonyms. Words in one language that sound the same that have different meanings. To. Too. Two. Homonyms! …why aren’t those words also homonyms in another language? (‘au’ or is it ‘a’? …and ‘deux’?) Are there in fact any homonyms in one language that are also homonyms in another language? If so, or if not, does that tell us anything about language itself? …or about the origins of language? …or about the common ancestry of those particular languages, or about those particular words? …or . . .

yeah no sorry wat? Mrs. Peters just always thought I wasn’t paying attention in French class.



I often wish that I could just post a link with my scratch notes; if I did, this post would have been up two hours ago. But you come here to read full sentences, so it is the least I can provide. However, it is not that simple: while I am certainly not famous, I am lucky to have an audience. It is important for me to remember that I cannot write solely for myself, since other people might read it. No matter whether it is a longer article or just a quick link, I don’t want to further the spread of something that I believe to be false or unhelpful.

~ Nick Heer from,

For me, the purpose of writing for my blog is to help me clarify my thinking; It’s a big part of my ongoing process of reflection. That said, I’m well aware that others are reading, and whenever possible I would like what I write to also be helpful to my readers. At the very least, I’d like it to not be unhelpful.

I’m pragmatic. I’ve had that hurled at me as a criticism on more than one occasion. But—hey, pragmatism—it’s important to understand why someone is being pragmatic. I’m pragmatic because I want to be understood, and I want to understand others. That’s as opposed to being pragmatic as a defensive maneuver. To be fair—look, more pragmatism—I enjoy deploying pragmatism for humor, but I’d like to think it’s self-evident when I do so.

Take for example the common adage, “You get what you pay for.” It’s understood that it’s not literally true in all cases; one can get swindled by an unscrupulous seller, but that’s not the point of the adage. The point, obviously, is that if you’re a cheap-skate and try to save too much, you end up getting crap. The pragmatist in me loves to point out that we can fix that adage so that it is literally true always, and makes clear the point. A more convoluted grammar serves better, “You don’t get what you don’t pay for.”

That’s my go-to explanation for pragmatism. Which of those versions is better? The first has simplicity and clarity, but it buries the lead and requires actual thought to get at the kernel of wisdom. The second puts the wisdom on the surface; but it’s a convoluted double-negative that makes one sound like a grammarian.

…at which point whomever I’m discussing pragmatism with is starting into the deep end of the thinking pool, and I point out: Bingo. The specific answer in this discussion doesn’t matter. You’ve now been, at least briefly in this dicussion, a pragmatist. Don’t we now understand each other better?



When is the last time you read a dictionary? Have you ever sat down, and started reading the dictionary at the very beginning? My mind has been melted and reformed. My foundations are shaken, (and stirred.)

Things were defensive from the outset: The literally-first, full sentence I encountered—set off within a box, with a fancy-schmancy Merriam-Webster logo atop—is, “The name Webster alone is no guarantee of excellence.” Followed immediately by the we’re-sick-of-litigating, but-that-isn’t-stopping-us thumb in the eye of, “It is used by a number of publishers and may serve mainly to mislead an unwary buyer.” Considering myself forewarned, and forearmed with a magnifying glass, I pushed forward into the volume set entirely in a font size whose capital letters tower exactly 2 millimeters. Sure, the Preface—a two-column wall of microfiche occupying the totality of page 6a—was winsome, as far as, I assume, dictionary Prefaces go. Pragmatic was the listing upon page 7a of persons comprising the Editorial Staff. However, things became serious, bordering on salacious, with the Explanatory Chart printed, (apparently primarily for practical purposes,) in sprawled repose across pages 8a and 9a as a visual menagerie detailing the architecture and idiosyncrasies of the dictionary’s didactic details. None the less, the degree of magniloquence encountered in the long-form Explanatory Notes for that chart, which begin on page 10a, and which span some 40 columns, is penultimate.


Very Long-Term Backup

Then it will remain at rest as the comet orbits the sun for hundreds of millions of years. So somewhere in the solar system, where it is safe but hard to reach, a backup sample of human languages is stored, in case we need one.

~ Kevin Kelly from,

There are several things about this post from the Long Now Foundation which are exceptionally cool. One aspect of doing backups well is to store at least one copy somewhere “offsite.” That is to say, far enough away from what you are backing up, so that it is unlikely that the original and all of the backup copies can be lost due to the same event. Now, this project is partly, (maybe even “mostly,”) a technology demonstration intended to get us to think longer term. But since they’re backing up all of the human languages where’s a cool spot to put an offsite backup?

On a freakin’ comet! The cherry on this hot fudge sundae of awesome is that they put a copy on a freakin’ comet. Humans are awesome.


Nom nom nom consumption

If wisdom was as simple to acquire as reading, we’d all be wealthy and happy. Others help you but they can’t do the work for you. Owning wisdom for oneself requires a discipline the promiscuous consumer of it does not share.

~ unattributed from,

I’m often thinking about the distinction between “consumer” and “producer.” Each of us of course variously take on both roles in our myriad daily activities. But today I want to talk about this—it’s in the above quote—common mistake with the concept of a consumer: Reading does not destroy that which one reads! We are not consumers of media, (books, television, social media, etc..)

Yes, we can get into pragmatic word-play—and I’m pretty durn good at that. But that’s not where I’m going with this thought. I’m fully aware that there’s a softer definition of consumer which colloquially means what one does when aiming one’s retinas at a television. But we have other, and better, words for that. (Such digression being left for another day.) Rather, I want to be specific about the word consumer. Let’s please stop using it in contexts where destruction is in fact not happening. When it’s used specifically, then the word can do more work


Cognitive biases

Cognitive biases are systematic patterns of deviation from norm or rationality in judgment, and are often studied in psychology and behavioral economics.

~ List of cognitive biases from,

While that may seem blasé, it’s worth a look.

…ok, back? Great.

Now gape dumbfounded at the majesty of a modern image format, SVG mixing a magnificent design, with infinite scalability, dynamic styling and clickable links. Just click on this already:

Hey also, as far as I can tell, the word “blasé” correctly written as a word in English does include the diacritical mark. I wouldn’t have believed you if you’d told me there were any properly English words with accents, but it seems that this is now a thing in the last century or so! (to wit, )


Work versus labor

Labor, on the other hand, sets its own pace. We may get paid for it, but it’s harder to quantify… Writing a poem, raising a child, developing a new calculus, resolving a neurosis, invention in all forms — these are labors.

~ Lewis Hyde from,

I’m alway cautious about reading clever nuances into language. Sure it makes terrific sense to distinguish between, “mindless stuff I do for money”—my phrase, not a quote from Hyde—and “heartfelt stuff I do”. But is that in the semanic definition of the words? …in the common usage of the word?

I’m not certain what to do with this; It simply struck me as worth sharing.