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Ben X

Didactic Thumbs (Pedantry Corner)

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Some forums auto-shorten to one space even if you use two.

 

The HTML spec is responsible for this, and it probably isn't a conscious feature of any forum software. HTML renders all consecutive whitespace characters down to a single space, and web software has to specifically account for multiple consecutive spaces (as they do not show up naturally). This isn't for stylistic reasons, it's because of the formatting of the markup itself.
 
Take this snippet of HTML:
<div class="dumb">
  <p>
    Really awfully dumb example.           <a href="http://cool.museum">CLICK ME</a>
  <p>
</div>
 
There's a bunch of spaces (or tabs or whatever) used to indent nested attributes, for code readability (or, in the case of the spaces before the anchor tag, no reason). HTML won't render any of those spaces, and thank god.
 
Removing the second space after a period is merely a delightful side-effect of HTML doing this. I've read many many (seriously too many) posts or articles that mention, to varying degrees of seriousness, how important it is to them that two spaces come after a period – but HTML has silently removed the superfluous spaces from these people's text and it is DELICIOUS.

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Someone on the "what is game" thread mentioned that the war to make "literally" mean "figuratively" had been won. This stuck in my craw to the point where I couldn't resist poking someone on the Double Fine forums for misuse. I then started a new thread, and I thought I'd post it here too:

 

Spinning this off from a bit of pedantry over on the DOTT board.
 
I snarked at someone for saying synth instruments “literally do magic”. Then TP linked to this article:
 
 
The first thing that annoyed me was this:
 

Literally, of course, means something that is actually true: “Literally every pair of shoes I own was ruined when my apartment flooded.”

 

No! This is not “of course” the correct meaning of literally! “Literally” means “non-figuratively”. That is it. It is used for clarification, such as “I literally p*ssed myself it was so funny” to clarify that I’m not using that as a figure of speech, I actually did. In that article’s example, it’s being used to mean “without exaggeration”. Now, it’s handy to have a single word for that, but this is one of the recent mutations of the word not the one that was being used, say, 5 years ago. I guess it’s okay for the word to have both those uses, though, as you can work out which one is being used from context.
 
However, this new meaning in Websters is not actually “figuratively”, according to that dictionary’s authors; it is instead “pure hyperbole intended to gain emphasis,” i.e. purely an intensifier. The problem is people are using it where no intensifier is necessary and/or where it clashes with the “non-figuratively”/“no exaggeration” meanings. It’s a completely pointless and actively confusing use of the word. We have plenty of intensifiers already, and we have no other word to mean “non-figuratively” (except for non-figuratively of course, but that’s awful). I know language is always changing, but when a change comes purely through people’s misuse or misunderstanding of a term and it serves to deteriorate that language, then I will continue to be irritatingly pedantic about it!

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I don't typically get pedantic about most things, but subgenre classifications definitely get to me. A certain host of a certain podcast described Skyrim as "low fantasy," presumably because he wanted to cop to its simplistic world-building at some point, but his use of that term fit neither with the original meaning of "low fantasy" (taking place in the real world with rational laws rather than a "high fantasy" taking place in a fictional world with fantastical laws) or with the more common meaning (focusing on human agency and events, like politics and wars, rather than on supernatural agency and events, like dragons and magic).

 

It's an odd phenomenon, but rather widespread, that terms containing "high" or "low" eventually shake out to "good" and "bad" or "smart" and "dumb." I've watched the total destruction of "high concept" as a sensical term over the past decade, because it sounds like "fancy or esoteric concept" rather than its actual meaning of "simple and succinct concept."

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I'd wager that's started to happen because of the merging of "low or "high" fantasy with "lowbrow" and "highbrow", and possibly because of co-opting "lowest common denominator". I'd be curious to hear your thoughts about that.

 

 

There are more than a few locations that would dispute your definition of High Concept, as sourced from a couple minutes of internet browsing, but I don't know their reliability.

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I'm assuming that high concept is shortened from high level concept, and high level generally means what gorm is saying it would mean for high concept!

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There are more than a few locations that would dispute your definition of High Concept, as sourced from a couple minutes of internet browsing, but I don't know their reliability.

I'm assuming that high concept is shortened from high level concept, and high level generally means what gorm is saying it would mean for high concept!

 

Sorry, I made the mistake of trying to shorten my definition, which is truly a mistake in the Pedantry thread. I meant to define "high concept" as "a work the premise of which can be clearly and succinctly expressed, often through a 'what if' statement." It's contrasted with "low concept," a work concerned with subtleties of aesthetics, characterization, or production, although it's rarely a term used outright.

 

I think you're right, Badfinger, that "highbrow" and "lowbrow" are infecting terms that use "high" and "low" for different meanings. It's funny, because things are so rarely described as "highbrow" or "lowbrow" these days, but there must be a cultural awareness of them anyway.

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That's basically what I meant, although I didn't state it clearly.

 

There's a similar distinction for high level and low level programming, although the context of programming obviously changes its meaning somewhat. Low level programming means you're doing stuff in more and more detail. Assembly being the lowest of them all, as you're basically (usually) programming the machine with one-to-one commands at that point. High level meaning something like, well, any popular programming language. C#, C++, or scripting languages like Python, whatever. Obviously to varying degrees of "high". Here the languages are written more for usability than efficiency. The lower the level you code at, the more efficient you can make things, but also the more work it takes to make things... work, because you have to be so much more detailed.

 

Programming is fantasy, is what I'm saying.

 

No I don't know why I took the time to type this out. I'm bored at work.

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It's an odd phenomenon, but rather widespread, that terms containing "high" or "low" eventually shake out to "good" and "bad" or "smart" and "dumb." I've watched the total destruction of "high concept" as a sensical term over the past decade, because it sounds like "fancy or esoteric concept" rather than its actual meaning of "simple and succinct concept." ["a work the premise of which can be clearly and succinctly expressed, often through a 'what if' statement." It's contrasted with "low concept," a work concerned with subtleties of aesthetics, characterization, or production, although it's rarely a term used outright.]

 

I have not noticed this happening. How annoying!

 

Another word I've seen misused a lot recently is prerogative - it's shifting from "exclusive right" to "right" and thereby becoming useless. I blame Shania Twain.

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Honestly I'd be happy with the terms 'highbrow' and 'lowbrow' being abolished to try and stem the rot. The concept of 'high' and 'low' referring to the mix rather than the quality is really really useful.

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No! This is not “of course” the correct meaning of literally! “Literally” means “non-figuratively”. That is it. It is used for clarification, such as “I literally p*ssed myself it was so funny” to clarify that I’m not using that as a figure of speech, I actually did. In that article’s example, it’s being used to mean “without exaggeration”. Now, it’s handy to have a single word for that, but this is one of the recent mutations of the word not the one that was being used, say, 5 years ago. I guess it’s okay for the word to have both those uses, though, as you can work out which one is being used from context.

 
However, this new meaning in Websters is not actually “figuratively”, according to that dictionary’s authors; it is instead “pure hyperbole intended to gain emphasis,” i.e. purely an intensifier. The problem is people are using it where no intensifier is necessary and/or where it clashes with the “non-figuratively”/“no exaggeration” meanings. It’s a completely pointless and actively confusing use of the word. We have plenty of intensifiers already, and we have no other word to mean “non-figuratively” (except for non-figuratively of course, but that’s awful). I know language is always changing, but when a change comes purely through people’s misuse or misunderstanding of a term and it serves to deteriorate that language, then I will continue to be irritatingly pedantic about it!

 

Wait a second, what? "Literally" as "without exaggeration" is definitely older than five years. Dictionary.com states that this use of "literally" is actually older than the "misuse" of the word as a simple intensifier. And the supposed "misuse" is quite old as well. This blog post has plenty of examples of writers using "literally" as an intensifier for the past two centuries. If you want to complain about hyperbole, that's fine, but "literally" has meant more than just "non-figuratively" for a long, long time.

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I knew before I opened it up that it'd be that Reddit thread with all the people correcting a terrified person that they were nearly shot to death with a magazine of bullets, not a clip.

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Wait a second, what? "Literally" as "without exaggeration" is definitely older than five years. Dictionary.com states that this use of "literally" is actually older than the "misuse" of the word as a simple intensifier. And the supposed "misuse" is quite old as well. This blog post has plenty of examples of writers using "literally" as an intensifier for the past two centuries. If you want to complain about hyperbole, that's fine, but "literally" has meant more than just "non-figuratively" for a long, long time.

 

Interesting, thanks! Yeah, I kind of pulled that 5 years thing out of my arse, now I think about it. And I agree with the article's closing thought:

 

For sure, words change their meanings and acquire additional ones over time, but we can resist these if we think that doing so will help preserve a useful distinction. So it is with literally. If you want your words to be taken seriously – at least in contexts where it matters – you might see the value in using literally with care.

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Yeah, I personally avoid using "literally" in that way, but it's more because I try to avoid using unnecessary intensifiers. I just bristle at the idea that using it's other meanings is somehow a degradation of the language.

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Yeah, people on the DF thread also bristled at that! I'll just say instead that I think it's a clumsy and unhelpful little corner of the language.

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A lot of changes in language take place because people begin interpreting words differently than originally intended, or because the original meaning of words becomes opaque over time. That's hardly an indication of decay or incompetence.

 

I'd argue the changes "literally" is going through are not dissimilar from the metaphorical meaning shifts that occur in a lot of words from the semantic field of writing. Consider how prosaic and lyrical used to indicate simply that something belonged to the genre of poetry or prose, but then came to mean "dry, boring" and "flowery, sappy" based on people's notion of what these kinds of writing are like. In the case of "literally" it seems to be a reinterpretation from "take these words in their exact, literal sense" to "these words are very important", which is always the implied meaning of calling attention to a particular part of your speech.

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Yeah, people on the DF thread also bristled at that! I'll just say instead that I think it's a clumsy and unhelpful little corner of the language.

 

Agreed, as long as we recognize that "clumsy and unhelpful" is much different than "wrong and degrading." In fact, one mght say that using the latter to describe overuse of "literally" is engaging in the same hyperbole that is being criticized.

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Absolutely. (Although for the record I said "deteriorate" rather than "degrade", and it's not hyperbole that's the issue, it's using an intensifier on hyperbole.)

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I thought this would fit well here: https://twitter.com/unormal/status/665753236645646336

TW: It involves a description of the recent Paris terror attack. Not graphic in my opinion but still disturbing.

What's great is that even the responses to that tweet get hijacked by some moron trying to push a "they're all justified because ignorance is what makes people scared of guns" agenda. Like, literally in reference to a person who had actually been shot at. If only they'd understood the difference between clips an magazines, they would have been able to calmly analyse the situation, safe in the knowledge that firearms are mere tools, no more dangerous than a saw or corkscrew.

Jesus Christ.

I felt like responding to his pedantry in kind, pointing out that the slash in the inequality symbol goes forward (he uses "=\=" a couple of times), but I don't really think getting involved for such a petty dig would be a great idea.

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Ugh, I know. His immediate response is "insensitivity aside, what's wrong about trying to educate someone about what they are talking about?" I was kind of frustrated that the OT responded with an argument about semantics when really the response should have been, "Perhaps nothing, but the insensitivity is the entire fucking point, jackass."

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"Murder aside, what's wrong with me putting this bullet into your brain?"

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Is it possible for a woman to mansplain to another woman? If not, what's a good replacement term?

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