On Words and Meanings

It’s amazing where words come from and how they change meanings over time.  The History of English brings a great, multi-part article on how new words are added to the English language.

I particularly enjoyed the section on changes in word meanings over time, some even have come to mean the opposite of their original meanings:

Some words came to mean almost the complete opposite of their original meanings. For instance, counterfeit used to mean a legitimate copy; brave once implied cowardice; crafty was originally a term of praise; cute used to mean bow-legged; enthusiasm and zeal were both once disparaging words; manufacture originally meant to make by hand; awful meant deserving of awe; egregious originally connoted eminent or admirable; artificial was a positive description meaning full of skilful artifice; etc.

I’d love to get more on the ‘why’ behind the changes.  Some are obvious, like awful but others seem to defy logic like counterfeit.


On Sarcasm

Sarcasm is an interesting beast. Saying one thing while meaning the exact opposite requires that both the speaker and the listener have not only an understanding of the words and phrases but also an understanding that the speaker means the opposite. Confused yet?

Honestly, it’s a miracle that any of us can communicate at all.

Sarcasm so saturates 21st-century America that according to one study of a database of telephone conversations, 23 percent of the time that the phrase “yeah, right” was used, it was uttered sarcastically. Entire phrases have almost lost their literal meanings because they are so frequently said with a sneer. “Big deal,” for example. When’s the last time someone said that to you and meant it sincerely? “My heart bleeds for you” almost always equals “Tell it to someone who cares,” and “Aren’t you special” means you aren’t.

Great article. No really, I mean that.

From Smithsonian

On Creativity, Curiosity and Rigor

Via Brain Pickings, Andrew Zuckerman presents the following concept.

“What gets projects done for me is not inspiration. I have no idea what inspiration really is. I know that I get really curious about things, and when that gets mixed with rigor, a project gets completed. And that’s basically it, it’s that simple. When curiosity and rigor get together, something happens. And when one of these things [isn’t] there, nothing happens, or the project doesn’t really reach people.”

~ Andrew Zuckerman

The equation of curiosity+rigor=creativity stuck a sympathetic chord and got me thinking. I’ve always had the curiosity, my entire life has been spent being curious about everything. What I didn’t have was the rigor to turn this curiosity into anything. My early education was so consumed by research, 5-paragraph essays, and format defining function while college was filled with hard science, laboratories and pleasing tenured professors that I consciously shied away from rigor in nearly all forms. For over 15 years now I’ve let my mind wander, essentially, going over what I’ve read, heard, seen, learned but ultimately producing nothing but half baked thoughts and ramblings taken verbatim.

So, the curiosity has always been there … I’m a voracious (if somewhat slow) reader. What was lacking was the rigor in thinking, the conscious effort to apply what I’ve read to learning, turning a passive exercise into an active pursuit. So the rigor is the workflow to publish what I’ve read and my thoughts about it here. The process of forcing myself to pick certain items from what I’ve read and think it through will hopefully enable more creative and critical thinking on my part in the future.

On the Invisible Hand

A long read, but well worth it for the comparison between Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand theory with Charles Darwin’s theories of competition.  From the author’s perspective, Darwin more aptly captures modern capitalist markets.

One of many thought provoking passages arguing against the invisible hand:

Because earning extra income enhances an individual worker’s relative position, most workers would be reluctant to move to a safer job at lower pay, even though each might prefer a world in which everyone was required to do so.

I’m still working my way through this one and may well revisit here in Tropewell before I’m done reading.

From The American Interest by Robert Frank