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Strictly Speaking

Expanding Awareness of Others


In current usage, the word dexterous intends to communicate a sense of deftness of hand, coordination of fine motors skills, a knack for moving objects around in space without smashing them (or yourself) up. Strictly applied, this word’s origin excludes more than twelve percent of the population, in particular all of those who happen to be left handed. Since dexterous derives from the Latin dexter, for right handed, no left handed person can be dexterous.

Nor can they be ambidextrous, which would mean, literally, having a right hand at the end of both arms and being able to juggle as well as an anatomically normal person. Better for the intended meaning is ambichiral, which means that each hand is as agile as the other at writing, throwing, juggling and all those things like dancing the hand jive, an ambichiral dance.

As for left handers, if deft with moving objects they are sinistral, from the Latin word for left, which also spins off into sinister, or evil. People who are sinistral are not necessarily sinister, but the expression “right hand man” come from the position of trust of a person seated at a table directly to the right of the king, or pope, or emperor, because from that position, an easy and powerful twist could put a knife quite literally right through the heart of the monarch. If seated directly to the left of the ruler, a right handed person would need first to show his weapon, then lean away from the target and lash back, requiring three motions and employing less force in the intended lethal strike.

Of course for a left handed person seated to the left, it would be as easy to strike powerfully at a leader as for a right-handed person seated to the right. Perhaps if the second most trusted man in the kingdom is left handed, he needs to sit two seats to the left, with one seat left vacant, hovered over by somePretorian guard ready to interdict.

The seating arrangement to the left is also the origin of the expression back-handed complement, since a right hander seated to the left has difficulty assuming normal and relaxed posture when leaning in toward, or speaking to, the king, who is always aware of the back-handedness of the second banana’s posture.

The numerical superiority of right handers has led to a world so completely designed for leading with the right hand that everything from drinking fountains to golf clubs were originally for right handers only. The proliferation of these disadvantages results in accident rates that leave left handers two years younger than their right handed counterparts at time of death. Its unfair to add the disadvantage of careless usage to that pattern. If we're not using "nigger" for PC reasons, we should watch our word regarding other prejudices.  Read More 
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Say What You Mean


When applied to materials, clarity is defined as the property that allows the image of an object seen through it to pass sufficiently free of distortion that the transmitted image remains recognizable in shape and apparent size, and undistorted in relative proportions. In all particulars but one, clarity is equivalent to transparency. What clarity does not necessarily mean is what most people now intend when they use the word “clear.” And that commonly omitted property is colorlessness.

And object or medium can meet all the criteria required to be clear and still be colored. In seeing the world through rose colored glasses, it is very much the world that others see through conventional colorless eyeglasses except in being shaded to the preference of the wearer. All sunglasses are by necessity clear. Were they not our eyes could not receive the objects that we need to see in order to walk, drive, apply sun block, stare at babes, check out whether the babes think our shades are cool, check out whether any babe is looking back at all.

Politicians are fond of adding emphasis by making the claim “crystal clear,” perhaps referring to Waterford crystal stem ware, which is, unfortunately, richly faceted, a property that results in diffraction rather than undistorted transmission. And Venetianglassl, which clear in the sense of transmitting objects undistorted, is often beautifully colored, and like any article colored for the purposes of added effect, does not allow the transmission of an image that is identical to the objected viewed in the absence of the interposing medium.

As it is now misused in describing products like caulks and plastics, one needs to specify both clear and colorless in order to express what most users now call clear. If this argument has reached you undistorted and intact, its meaning will be clear, even if necessarily colored by a scientist’s need for exact expression.

Finally, the word “clear,” like many other words in the English language, has several meanings, each of which is usually exposed by the context in which it is used. As it relates to sound, clarity means that the acoustical content (pitch, volume, meter, time, fundamental overtones and other aspects) arrives at the listener’s ear as if the listener were sitting at the source of the sound. This means that the medium in which it travels is uniform and transmitting (as even water does better than air), that it is not degraded by other louder sounds, or by badly placed reflectors or absorbing surfaces.

There is in a room at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Maryland where a point source of sound is located at the exact center of the room. The walls of the room are packed in acoustically absorbing materials so efficient that the source’s sounds never reflect or echo. They merely and purely transmit outward in concentric compressions and rarefactions of air. What is heard by a human listener in this room is sound so starkly pure that it is truly austere. And so if the richness of sounds depend to some extent on imperfections, so much the more reassuring. None of us is perfect. Read More 
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