CSotD: Common sense, honesty, neither, both

As today’s Non Sequitur (AMS) points out, there isn’t any going back to normal anymore.

To start with, as seen here, if you relax all the rules because the curve has peaked and is receding, you will guarantee that the curve has not peaked after all. Unless you are in a church or synagogue, in which case the Supreme Court has ruled that the virus shall have no power, nor shall its works, nor shall its pomps.

However, while Wiley offers caution against immediate foolishness, healthworkers are also pointing out that, once the vaccine is available, you can’t just get a shot and go traipsing about the countryside all higglety-pigglety.

You’ll have to take the shot, wait, take the second shot and then wait some more, wearing your mask and socially distancing until everyone has not only had the shot but taken the time for it to become effective.

Which, given that some anti-science jugheads are rejecting the vaccine, might take some time.

Which is no fun at all. Let’s talk about something else.



Pardon My Planet (KFS) raises a host of questions about hyphenated last names, or, to be more accurate, it raises the topic of hyphenated names which, in turn, prompts all those questions.

The notion of invertibility is a joke on the surface level, because you’d have to keep going back to various clerks and DMV offices and suchlike if you changed your name from Smith-Jones to Jones-Smith.

Meanwhile, it seems (I haven’t done a study) that most couples hyphenate in hers-his order.

We aren’t discussing women who, as is traditional, drop their middle name and use their maiden name in its place, and who, which is somewhat less traditional, write out that resulting full name instead of just first name-last name, or, certainly, couples in which the husband doesn’t change his name at all.

But the hers-his order seems as sexist as dropping her name entirely, given how few couples have a discussion over which name to drop or in what order to hyphenate.

Which, I would add, would have been a worthwhile conversation in the case of a local woman whose last name was Buck and who married a fellow whose last name was Rogers.

Perhaps they discussed it and decided to go for the giggles.

In any case, the whole thing is another reason for Millennials to hate Boomers, since we started hyphenating names a generation or two ago, and now all those dual-named kids are facing marriage and procreation and deciding which forebears to offend.

I like a custom I’ve seen in Quebec, in which nobody changes their names and the girls get Mom’s last name and the boys get Dad’s.

Or we could drop last names entirely and just assign QR codes. Hey, if infants can stand to be circumcised, they won’t mind a tattoo.

And, on a semi-related note, this

Juxtaposition of the Day




It’s been awhile since I’ve linked to the Jane Austen Anti-Pedantry Page, but this seems like a good time.

First, that rooster not withstanding, there is a difference between orthography and grammar, or, at least, there should be. How you use commas and capital letters and whether you spell the word “color” or “colour” has nothing do to with grammar, though imposing rules on how people speak and write has a lot to do with being a control freak.

Which is not to disagree with xkcd that it can be a fascinating discussion.

But, as noted, it won’t get you out of a well (or save you from the butcher).

As noted on the Jane Austen page, a lot of grammatical rules were made up by people who wished that English — a delightfully mongrel language — were as hidebound as Latin or Greek, which were, after all, spoken by the gods.

Grammar matters. For instance, in the above sentence, pedants wish English “were” as hidebound, not “was” as hidebound, because it’s speculation against fact, as in “If I were a rich man,” which he never was.

And English was never hidebound, which is why we raise pigs but eat pork.

Speculation against fact, or against certainty, is also when you use “may have” instead of “might have,” and the difference in meaning is significant: A seatbelt might have saved a dead man, but it may have saved one who survived the crash. (We don’t know why he wasn’t killed.)

As for the meaning of “unique,” that is neither grammar nor orthography, but an issue of context. Each snowflake may be unique, but they’re all the same when three feet of them are in my driveway and there are variable levels of uniqueness in between.


And this Speed Bump (Creators) also touches on rules in a way I learned all too well while working for an powerful, egomaniacal lightweight.

When I was in TV advertising, we suffered a lot of miscommunication between the sales staff and the production staff, which meant ads weren’t what the client had wanted, or they weren’t delivered on time because nobody could figure out what was expected.

So, as the newly appointed marketing director, I created a form the sales people could use in place of hastily scratched down concepts, and an outline of who was tasked with doing what to make sure it all happened.

Of course, I gave a copy to the boss first, who, the next day, said it was fine and I could put it into play, which I did.

Which delighted the union, since they now finally had a list of duties, but it didn’t delight the boss after all, once someone else in the building explained to him what it said, so he chewed me out for having written it up.

And if we were talking politics today, I’d explain how this helped me understand the past four years, but we aren’t, so I won’t.

Though I’ll understand if you get a laugh out of this ridiculous Twitter thread:




Seven more weeks of this chaos and deception, but let’s not pretend we weren’t give a clear, clear warning:


Same old story: “Baby, I’m the one you can trust!”

14 thoughts on “CSotD: Common sense, honesty, neither, both

  1. While this wouldn’t work in all cases, one of my wife’s cousins and her future husband avoided the hyphenated-name problem by creating a new name consisting of the first syllable of one surname with the last syllable of the other’s. Listening to the two options, they readily agreed that only one combination worked.

  2. I wrestle with “unique.” I sympathize with pedants who argue (snootily; they always argue snootily) that if something is one of a kind, it can’t be very or slightly one of a kind. It either is or it isn’t. But then, at the level of snowflakes or molecules or atoms, EVERYTHING is one of a kind, which makes “unique” completely worthless. I’m unique, you’re unique, every pebble of gravel on the road is unique.

    So I lean toward modifying it. The Mona Lisa is more unique than a pebble of gravel on the road. But if you do, you’ll get a face full of snoot from someone who thinks you shouldn’t. So I avoid modifying it, not because I think it’s right, but because life’s too short.

    Which is my way of saying: you go first.

  3. I prefer not to modify “unique” myself, but also try to avoid snooting at those who do.

    Back around 1980, shortly after the population of China passed one billion, it was said that “in China, even if you’re one in a million there’s a thousand more just like you.”

    Ellen kept her name when we married. When parenthood approached we planned to use my last name for a boy, with hers as a middle name, and to do the reverse for a girl. After our son was born we revisited our “one child” policy, and the prospect of ending up with children with different last names motivated us to (informally) hyphenate his middle name into his last. Approaching kindergarten we found the school district insisted on legalities, so we paid a lawyer $300 to petition the court to change his name. (“I’d like to buy a hyphen, Pat!”)

    Since Ellen’s family name in the old countries (Finland by way of Sweden) only has one “o,” and only some of the immigrants added a second, we’re pretty sure our three sons’ hyphenated last names are a unique set.

  4. ” But then, at the level of snowflakes or molecules or atoms, EVERYTHING is one of a kind, which makes “unique” completely worthless.”

    Which is related to why I’m driven the nuts by the common but silly expression “one of the only.” Well, d’uh, what *isn’t*?

    On last names: I just remembered that I did know one couple who probably had to disputes whatsoever as to what to do with their last names when they married, since in both cases the last name was “Anderson.” (They were not previously related, but this is Minnesota, where Andersons are as common as sparrows.)

  5. Kaley won’t be lying any more. Or, as my Cousin Skip pointed out when he was going to stop drinking, any less, either.

  6. Denny, “One of the only” is usually followed by enough precision in description that I’m kind of okay with it, though I prefer “One of the few” because it seems less cocksure. And cocksurity is to be avoided.

    But your friends are lucky to be of the same ethnicity. There are places on the Northern Plains where Danes and Swedes would still quarrel over E’s and O’s, and Andersen-Anderson would be a silly name anywhere else.

    (Disclosure: My great-grandfather was Danish, but a “We’re in America now” type.)

  7. About your “QR codes” comment: That reminds me of Elon Musk and his kid “X Æ A-Xii”.

    Some words have unique meanings, and some have become ambiguous. Steam comes out of my ears when I hear about “that incredible reporter.” If the reporter is not credible, then why should I read his/her stories?

  8. My brother is one of those hidebound pedants. When we talk, he INSISTS that I use the more technically correct plural usage of data instead of the more commonly expressed singular (“the data show vs. the data shows). His reason? It’s more confusing when it’s incorrect, ignoring that the only place the plural is used anymore is in scientific publications. What some people don’t seem to get is that changes in language are natural, and if you stand in the way of them, *you* become the wrong one.

  9. He’s wrong. The data show nothing individually. It’s only as a collective unit that they can show anything.

    Data, like moose, is both singular and plural. Yes, there is the word “datum,” but it is a silly word and nobody uses it. They say “piece of data.”

    Besides, it doesn’t matter if I’m right or wrong. What matters is to annoy the pedants, else why would we have them at all?

  10. Probably too late for anyone to read this, but I have to mention the Professor of Latin who arrived home looking worse for wear after being attacked by a gang of hoodla.

    As for names, I know a couple whom I’ll call John Smith and Jane Doe. After they got married, their names were John Doe Smith and Jane Smith Doe.

  11. I’m enough of a pedant to point out that molecules are actually not very unique at all, and any fundamental particle is indistinguishable from any other of its kind except in pretty extreme cases (entanglement) other than things like position and momentum which are, well, relative. But I’m not a linguistic pedant, and I very much appreciate my friend’s comment: “yes, you’re unique… just like everyone else” which I think really wraps the whole thing up nicely. I am, I should mention, of the generation that gets maligned for being snowflakes who were all told we were unique and special… by the generation that parented us, which is just another of those moments where you have to stop and think and draw a big strange polygon only to find that the arrow goes all the way around to where it began.

    And I will fight you if you tell me something can’t be “quite unique”. You can’t be a Chad or Jared (apologies to people actually named those things who don’t fit the archetype) and be as unique as Maxx Tegmark. Maybe I should, technically, talk about how many WAYS someone or something is unique, or how many standard deviations they are from some measure of normal, but I think it is both understandable and generally recognized to give uniqueness a level in situations where that subjective judgement is meaningful.

    Re: names, there isn’t a lot of good you can do with my last name (the “e” makes a “y” sound), and my wife, a professional in training when we met, wasn’t about to take it, so after discussing hyphens and how much of a pain it is to change everything to the new name, and my putting a small flag on not really wanting to give up the name I had already suffered a bit for we just kept what we had and gave the kids… well, my last name because she felt fathers need a more tangible connection to their children. I think she just wanted me to be the one to have to take them through airport security.

  12. I am reminded of the scene in Blazing Saddles where Taggerd says “you use your tongue better than a 20 dollar whore”.
    Isn’t the purpose of both speech and writing to clearly communicate a concept the real goal? In both cases there needs to have a structure. This also applies to unspoken languages like sign language. Every thing else is either unimportant or poetry.

    BTW I am one of those with only one name (edit)

  13. Punctuation isn’t the same as grammar, but it certainly has a lot to do with grammar, for instance, whether “chicken” is to be taken as a vocative. As for the person who insists on “the data are conclusive, would he also say, “His agenda are suspect”?

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