Friday, January 28, 2005

Apparently, I'm WRONG and I'm a GROTESQUELY UGLY FREAK1.

Dr. Ceruti ('Greek and Latin for English Vocabulary Building professor) today started complaining about people using the word 'utilise'. 'Never use "utilise" when you can use "use", and you can always use "use"'. He says it's the same as 'irregardless' (except it's not a double negative; just pompous). He supports the idea of never using a long word when a diminutive one will suffice.

In my post yesterday, I argued essentially that no two words are complete synonyms2, so no word is universally replaceable. And I'll maintain that position. 'Utilise' has a place in English, and not only in sardonism3. However, I seem unable to come up with a perfect example at the moment, so instead I'll fallaciously attack what Dr. Ceruti had us do in class.

For the homework, we were to take the listed Latin words, find the stems, and come up with an English word that comes from them. Then he wanted us to say what they meant strictly going by the root and suffix type (noun, adjective, verb, &c.). e.g., 'annual' means simply 'having the quality or characteristics of a year'.
But the nouns! For nouns to prevent us from adding all the extra information the English word now holds, he'd correct people with 'just say "bigness"', or 'just say "sharpness"'. Fine, sure. 'malice' is 'badness' and 'acrity' is 'sharpness', but then he corrected a girl's definition of 'novice' to simply be 'newness'. Now, maybe I'm nuts4, but I consider 'newness' an abstract quality, not a physical thing, whereas a 'novice' is a physical thing.4.5 These suffixes make a difference. Obviously he was trying to keep it really simple and keep us to the stems-and-type-of-speech thing, but what's so big and scary about 'a thing that is new'? He did something similar with '-age' (He'd mentioned 'roughage' earlier, and when against another stem he said we could just make 'Xage' and it was the same as 'Xness'. Wrong.5)

'There are no rules in language', he says. You can take a stem and put on whatever ending you want, and that's fine. I'll agree entirely with that, but the suffix adds a lot more than just 'this is a noun'. '-ness' adds 'this is an abstract quality'. '-ice' adds...well, the book says it adds 'an abstract state or quality' and that '-ness' (Greek) adds 'a state or quality. But a novice is typically a physical thing. I know that much.

Knowing the etymology is a good way to recognise the gist of a word, but there's ever so much more to learn.

1 I've been using this line for years. It's a good line. Nothing to do with what I'm talking about though.
2 I didn't put it quite so strongly, but I think that's probably the case.
3 'Sardonism' isn't in any dictionary I can find, but I think 'sardonicism' is there simply because people weren't thinking when they tried to nounise 'sardonic'. Here, Dr. Ceruti would probably support me.
4 I am, but I'm right.
4.5 (Inserted late; it's easier than renumbering number five) Actually, maybe the quantitativeness of it is what's important. I'd think about that some, but I'm afraid I'd have to rewrite this ramble, I don't don't feel like doing that at the moment.
5 Actually, while 'roughage' is a physical thing, 'homage' isn't, so maybe 'age' is fine. But what this demonstrates is that prefixes+root+suffixes don't determine the entire meaning. The roughage of Bob's personality' is different from the roughness of Bob's personality. Heck, as he's pointed out, 'money' comes from 'warning' simply due to a Gaulish attack and some noisy geese.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

(Potentially relevant link)

Dictionaries give definitions of words. That's bad. Probably worse than dictionaries are 'Word of the Day' things.

I have no good way of explaining what the heck I'm talking about, but one example I've come across is 'appease'. Some silly person I know learned the word not by seeing it in use a thousand times, but by coming across it once and asking for/looking up the definition.
Now she uses the word. Based on the definition.

Like most words, 'appease' has connotations and tendencies of usage that a dictionary cannot capture with a simple definition and a single example sentence. So I'll be reading something written by aforementioned friend and suddenly I'll be verbally slapped in the face by the word 'appease' being used in a manner that just grates the mind.

Now, I'm all for words being used in unusual ways, but only if they fit. Being the belegwain ned Amar, the first example that comes to my mind is Legolas commenting 'Unless my eyes are cheated...' That's not the typical usage of 'cheated', but it perfectly suits the context.

The next time you're wondering what a word means, rather than pulling out a dictionary, try reading through a few hundred examples (better search terms welcome). Sure it might take you a couple hours for each new word, but it's well worth it.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

ECU had a blood drive today. It occurred to me while walking back to the lab afterward that it's ever-so-slightly amusing that they tell you 'no smoking for at least half an hour' after giving blood. Because smoking shortly after giving blood can be detrimental to your health, you see. e.e

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Back in my automata class, the professor would follow the textbook pretty closely. The book had nice example DFAs (chapter 1) where you were asked what they recognised and expected to get it slightly wrong .Then you'd be corrected and get closer until eventually getting the answer. The professor did this just the same, and led us through this very nice progression quite well. But there was a problem: me.
I would read the book before class and so I would know exactly what the DFA actually did as soon as he drew it on the board. After a few minutes, I realised I was completely screwing up his lectures by answering his questions with the correct answers rather than the intended answers. I stopped reading the book, and I learned to recognise when he wanted an incorrect answers and not answer in such cases. He taught in a similar manner in other courses as well, so I've had many occasions where I didn't know the correct answer, having not read the book and only being marginally super-brilliant.

Anyhoo, today he asked us when a matrix will have an inverse, and we all sat around in silence. (We consisting primarily of graduate students). I gave the Gaussian elimination answer of reducibility to Row Echelon form, but what he wanted was of course that the determinant was non-zero. Even after throwing out the word 'determinant' for us, we couldn't provide him with an answer. So he told us the answer, and then pointed out that this was not the right answer (we were under modullo 26) and gave us the correct answer (the determinant is not an invertible element).

Then he asked us, 'and we know that an element is invertible iff...?' Again, silence. 'This is the only major theorem we've proved so far'. Someone got it after a moment, but I think because they looked through their notes.

I think I may start reading the book. This way I'll at know the desired answers (and the correct ones). This way, we won't have awkward silences during class. And if I ever need a letter of recommendation, being an undergrad and still seemingly the smartest person in a graduate course may help elicit one. Gopal's the professor I most respect, so he's the one I'd actually care about a letter of recommendation from (though employers may prefer Dr. Tabrizi [software engineering guy] or Dr. Collins [formerly the co-op person who dealt with students getting jobs].)

Monday, January 10, 2005

I was in macroecon today, and the professor was going over trivial stuff (what is economics, &c.), and taking a long time to write each definition on the board, so I decided it would be a good time to practise using Tengwar. Normally, I write in (mostly) English, 'cause my Tengwar is so slow (and I'm slow at reading it), but I figured this stuff was slow and unimportant enough that it wouldn't matter. And I was dreadfully bored.
Later, as the professor took attendance at the end of class, the girl next to me inquired as to what language I'd been writing in. 'Tengwar. Elvish, basically'. 'What?' 'Elvish. From Tolkein. Middle-earth'. 'What's that?' 'You know: Lord of the Rings'.
She doesn't get it. Apparently, she's never even /heard/ of The Lord of the Rings.

That shocks me. Really, it does. I mean, maybe if the PJ films hadn't come out, I could understand not knowing the books (sad, I know), but these days everyone knows about LotR.

It reminded me of a discussion I once had with my astronomy professor. During environmental biology in Fall 2001, there'd been a multiple-choice question 'Which of these is not a subatomic particle? a) Proton, b) Neutron, c) Klingon, d) Electron'. It was commenting to my astronomy professor about how it was silly 'cause even if a student somehow didn't know the subatomic particles, everyone knows what a Klingon is. Dr. Bier disagreed. He said his wife probably wouldn't know had she not married him, and that most people probably don't know. I simply didn't buy his hypothesis. How could you not know what a Klingon is?

Some years later, I related this story on an online forum and asked if anyone didn't know what a Klingon was.

A good number of them didn't.

Let it be known that my guesses about what normal people know or don't know are rarely accurate. Not just regarding my silly cultish fandoms, but about science, and language, and most everything else. Homeschooling didn't make me an unsociable person, perhaps, but it did make me profoundly ignorant of what constitutes the standard intellectual corpus.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

(Potentially relevant link)

Were we to create an instance of the ninth gluon, would containment be destroyed, thus colouring the Universe, and allowing strong nuclear force to supplant electromagnetic force as the dominant force in the Universe, and in turn destroying all life in the Universe? (Just curious. . .)

And if it would, should we try anyway? I mean, it would probably suck for us to all die, but imagine the coolness factor.

Of course, maybe it wouldn't do any of this. Such a result would not be wholly unprecendented.

(I'm dreadfully uninformed about most physics.)