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Strictly Speaking

Most


MOST

Most is another one of those words that has spread out, amoeba-like, to consume another word or expression that more often applies better. Most is fine if you’re speaking of an unmeasurable quantity, such as attractiveness. Each year People magazine features a cover of the most attractive man alive, but it leaves some wondering, “attractive to whom?”

It is a good question since with each year the most attractive man alive changes.

So when no unit of measure is available for quantity, the word most is serviceable. When an argument can be fortified by reproducible measurements of standard units, the expression greatest number of, or volume greater than all other buildings combined, works better. It shows that you’re thinking about what you say, and not just falling into step with what’s being said. Read More 
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Mastication During Dinner


MASTICATION

Not what you might think. Don’t chew on this one too long, because all is it means is to chew, even if, as with cows, it doesn’t lead to quick swallowing. Mutual mastication would require the presence of an extensive appetizer during osculation, as the latter word does not mean shopping for the right dress for the Oscars.

In order to create an impression of erudition, sports announcers try to stretch their expression using words they think fulfill their intentions. Often they don't. During the Sochi Olympics we were treated to one open mic that gave us, "Wow. The French relay went from austerity to fame!" I think he meant "obscurity." Austerity is a discipline he experienced in vocabulary. Later the same guy said, of the men's bobsled. "Here he makes a mistake, then tries to compound it." I have to wonder if he shouldn't have just stuck with "correct." And in the waning days of the Games, one commentator on (yes) NPR asked if the Russians intended to "dissemble" the venues after the Olympics. Here I'm guessing, "disassemble." At the UN they have simultaneous translation, one language to another. I wonder if there shouldn't be this service for sports events.  Read More 
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Liquid

LIQUID
In scientific essence, a liquid is the phase of a pure substance that has enough thermal energy in its particles to allow them to escape fixed position in a solid and flow freely past one another.

Applied more loosely to anything at room temperature that flows like a liquid, the usage is incorrect and misleading. In commercial application, its application can often be wrong.

Liquid is frequently misused in labeling mobile substances, but should not be used for suspensions. Colloids, which extend by increasing particle size to suspensions, are a state of matter independent of liquids, and often revealed by the Tyndall effect.

The word fluid would be a better word for how these mixtures moves under the influence gravity, conforming to the shape of their containers. Fluids comprise all states with particles that flow, however slowly, and include liquids, colloids, gels, suspensions and gases.

Glasses, which exhibit the property of flowing at elevated temperatures, are not solids but supercooled liquids because in glasses there is not repeated long term order. On cooling, the silicates in glasses simply fall asleep by thermal stupor, without energy enough to move about, or any attention to what sleeps next to what. Read More 
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As You Like It, or Not

LIKE

Like has become the interjection of choice in today’s usage, the crutch sound without which every other sentence seems unable to limp into vocalization and perhaps proof irrefutable the linguists are right, that whatever comes out of mouths and passes lips ultimately depends on the inference and nuance machinery of the listeners.

But the echolalic use of “like” seems in some weird linguistic way to parallel the phenomenon of junk DNA, sitting within a genome as witness to hitchhiker or invading organism that came and saw, but did not conquer. Instead they just hung around to be useless.

Like is one of the junk DNA fragments of language, obligatory to prove that you have been hearing everyone else say like, and glomming on to be trendy, to belong, to disappear in sameness because real expression is too daring, too risky, too individualistic

The frequent use of like suggests that you cannot be liked unless you are using it, and will draw attention to yourself as a snotty egghead commie East coast liberal snob if you manage to connect a working train of thought to its vocal expression without once backpedaling into this word.

Saying like makes you recognizable as a person who doesn’t need to know the difference between like and as, since both produced similes and similes are cool, even if you don’t know that they’re similes any more than you know what synedoche means.

You know, like it’s like I don’t want to be so unlike other people who use like because nobody will hook up with me on Facebook and my life will be over. Everybody on FaceBook will dislike me because I’ve boycotted like and feel, like, you know, isolated and needing a good gun show to break out of it, dude.

It’s likeness we’re seeking, not difference.

If you’re different, I mean, like my God! Or don’t like my God. But at least think of it! Read More 
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The Right Word at the Right Place: Less

LESS

Less is an adjective indicating a smaller than previous amount, or an amount comparatively smaller to another referenced, when applied to things like conditions or ideas that have no way of being measured, such as love, envy, respect, compatibility, hostility, aggressiveness, tact, any of a number of recognizable human conditions or ideals, including such things as utopian (less utopian), where subsequent argument over the value of having or eliminating the thing compared can then be (again qualitatively) discussed.

This is a marriage of word to usage that informs the reader that without a standard of measurement on well-defined units such as gallons, dollars, grams or einsteins (a mole or 6.23 x 10e23 photons), parsecs, apples or oranges, a value judgment is operative in claiming a diminution of anything lacking units.

By contrast, where units are available, an important, nonqualitative distinction is indicated by the use of the word fewer rather than less, even when the size of a certain countable thing is variable, as in ears of corn. It is possible to say without dispute, by reproducible counting, that this year’s harvest produced fewer ears of corn than last year’s. It is less possible to say how much less sated consumers of corn were, because there is no standard unit for satiation. Read More 
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Law and Order

LAW AND ORDER

A phrase often used as if the two concepts are inseparable, the ostensible exercise of legal repression can often guarantee disorder in the form of rebellion aimed at overthrowing injustice and restoring liberty. Thomas Jefferson knew this. It was part of his justification for the American Revolution, which recognized, as did Lord Acton, that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Given the diversity in forms of law operating on our one small planet, it is difficult to make a case that any national law is divinely sanctioned, unless divinity expresses an Olympian diversity.

A certain minimum, commonly observed level of order is required for a society to function, but driving on the right side of the road is not demonstrably superior to driving on the left. But in any country where the preference for right or left is law, violating it creates disorder, chaos, accidents and death.

From the perspective of political position, it is difficult to claim a stand on being a “law and order” person without some necessary attention to what the laws are, whether they are fairly and justly administered, and whether the order is stabilizing or repressive and stagnating.

There is in principle also a great deal of difference between an approach to social structure between a system where all that is not explicitly forbidden is permitted, and one in which nothing officially unpermitted is allowed. Both types of systems can be rigidly bound by laws and order, but very different as regards matters of freedom and procedure.

If the pursuit of law is an orderly process, then an alleged violator is entitled to due process, including appeals, and protected from summary execution or injury at gunpoint by a trigger-happy policeman.  Read More 
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To Know or Not to Know?

KNOW

Knowledge is the process of the collection of the best available evidence by the most exhaustive means, and of attempting to create the most elegant and parsimonious explanation for it. Suspicion has no place in it.

George W. Bush claimed that he knew Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Yet had they been there, he would have had evidence aplenty in the form of satellite imagery of nuclear sites like those identified in contemporaneous North Korea of the same year.

The intelligence services routinely compare and exchange imagery in the search of risks. John F. Kennedy showed Soviet missiles in Cuba, and showed also unmistakable Cuban landmarks framing the missiles. Much better images existed of sites in Iraq. They had been monitoring Iraq for signs of the resurrection and development of a nuclear weapons program.

There were none because Iraq had abandoned its program. The French intelligence services knew this, and refused to rubber-stamp the Bush-Cheney fiasco, which was not about Al Qaeda (no convincing evidence), not about WMD (no satellite imagery, no humint), not about freeing the Iraqi people. The invasion was less about “a bad man who tried to kill my Daddy” than it was about oil.

The first priority of American boots on the ground was to secure the Iraqi oil fields. The search of Saddam got second billing. The search of WMD came in a distant third.

The problem of claiming that you know something, and having that be disproved, is that you lose your credibility forever. You have played your best card, and when turned up, it was shown to be a joker.

Knowledge should have informed the decision to invade Iraq. It did not. Secretly (the author knows this from inside sources) members of the Mossad, Israel’s Secret Intelligence Service, met at a neutral location with high ranking members of the U.S. State Department and said, “Don’t invade Iraq. Iraq has no nuclear program. Iran is the real problem.”

Instead ignoring this, Bush went on, attempting to bolster his decision with a “need to protect our good friend and ally, Israel.” Despite managing to stay awake through classes as Yale and Harvard, it isn’t clear that Bush ever knew anything, or could. As the expression goes, you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. If so, you certainly can’t make it out of a horses ass. This I know for sure.  Read More 
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Justice

JUSTICE

Imagine Portia’s speech on mercy from The Merchant of Venice, or Solomon’s deliberation on the fate of a baby. Consider the divine Biblical constraint, “Vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord, I shall repay.”

Each of these injunctions is ignored by a current American justice (sic) system in which arresting officers are empowered to murder or maim a suspect before arresting him or her.

Understand that Project Innocence has opened our eyes to the reality that the injunction to the jury to find guilt, “beyond a reasonable doubt” has failed hundreds of time. At every stem of the criminal system, the operation of fear, suspicion and cynicism shackles the process meant to protect a fundamental concept.

Playing to popular politics and personal prejudice, the justice system has blasphemously dismissed warnings, ignored acquitting facts, concealed exonerating evidence, and treated trials as circus events marching toward the drumroll of execution.

As justice delayed is justice denied, and the accused may await years before their court dates, justice no longer exists in America. A common outrage, and rage to deceive itself that a danger has been removed from the streets railroads juries to repeatedly convict on the sheerest of circumstances. Just as the best medical care is a luxury of the rich, the rich and guilty may buy their way into acquittals that a poorer suspect, defended by a court-appointed lawyer, cannot afford.

As presently arranged, no one in America works for the criminal justice system. When every policeman has a license to kill because he, or she, fears for his life, then no suspect is ensured the right to a fair trial. As currently practiced, justice has been supplanted by a system of mechanized vengeance.

In the age of hippies, right wingers used to jeer, “Next time you need help, call a hippie.” Please do. At least you won’t be executed in a caged squad car while handcuffed, the arresting officer claiming that you tried to escape.  Read More 
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Get a Job?

JOB

Taken as an index of a robust economy, the distinction of having a job, after close reflection, fails to do more than raise the general level of insecurity and assist politicians into their cruel deceptions.

In common usage, a job is a form of employment connected to an income. A job is an affiliation of a worker with an organization or craft. A job can also be an interval of work to complete an installation or remodel. Hence, in that a job is subject to the uncertainty of changing needs, a job is not an asset but a risk that has not matured to eventual unemployment. A worker is not in control of his or her destiny by virtue of having a job.

The word “career” more often connotes a set of skills or knowledge that offers upward mobility and security, although not necessarily control of location. In the world of finance, successful careers do not require the creation of jobs or improving the health of the economy. In corporate employment, a worker may have his or her job moved, or be required to move in order to remain employed.

If the worker costs the corporation more than his or her counterpart in China, his or her job may be outsourced, leading to unemployment. This is called global economics. It is supposed to be good for everyone. Read More 
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Impactful?

IMPACTFUL

Increasingly is the word impactful on the lips of otherwise articulate people. Its adoption is characteristic of the rage to parrot others in order to capture their attention. Even by the spell checker in this blog, impactful is underlined in red, meaning either that it isn't a word, or I've misspelled it. The latter I have not, unfortunately.

The problem with this and other malignant neologisms is that we have no linguistic immune system to cleanse speech. Impactful is troubling not because it cannot possibly be a word, but because it lacks any thoughtful moral grounding.

Impactful might include the object that bashed into the early Earth, creating debris that became our moon. Impactful certainly described the asteroid that ended the dinosaurs, as it describes other asteroid impacts that brought similar mass extinctions. Impactful must by needs include the first nuclear weapon dropped on Hiroshima. Total thermonuclear war would certainly redefine impactfulness, if the derivative noun it the metastatic inevitability of the root adverb.

Owing to common usage, most of us are forced to conceded that we think we know what the speaker intends, but even so, a matter of "how" remains embedded in silence by the word itself. It fails by being incompletely intuitive, and the devil in the details of agreement is the cognitive equivalent of seven blind men and a neological elephant. Read More 
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