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October 17, 2010

My luve’s like a red-shifted light source
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 09:58 AM * 144 comments

There is a term in Dutch, knipperlichtrelatie, which the consistently excellent Dutch Word of the Day blog defines thusly:

“Knipperlichtrelatie” is composed of “knipperlicht” and “relatie”: “indicator/blinker” and “relationship” respectively. “Knipperlichtrelatie” is used to refer to a relationship that runs hot and cold.

Turn signals have become a useful metaphor for human relationships. Once again, as always, we use the world outside of us to impose some sense on the one inside our heads. I wonder sometimes whether, as the former changes, the latter alters with it. Do the insights granted by our ever-shifting metaphors alter how we act toward each other, consequently changing the reality they describe? Does the nature of the mapping technique influence the territory?

Shakespeare would argue not, of course. After all, variability in light sources predates turn signals:

O, swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon,
That monthly changes in her circled orb,
Lest that thy love prove likewise variable.
Romeo and Juliet, Act 2, Scene 2

In either case, what interests me as a reader of science fiction is how the eternal verities of the human heart could be cast in terms of future life and technology*. How is the process of leaving through an airlock like ending a relationship? Do orbital mechanics provide a useful model for dealing with the way some relationships oscillate between deep closeness and seeming estrangement, and does one then begin to dread escape velocity? Can the variation among separately raised clones help people make better sense of how different the same person seems in different moods? Can you perform a mathematical analysis of the object of your affection’s public key to convince yourself that the two of you are deeply compatible?

Will the phrase “fourth quark” ever replace “fifth wheel”?

* Jonathan Coulton gives us some good sneak previews. But they’re geek songs for a niche community, not pop cultural references to unremarkable realities.

Comments on My luve's like a red-shifted light source:
#1 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2010, 10:40 AM:

There's the bit in some of LeGuin's stories, where people who are separated by NAFAL travel refer to each other as being "dead".

#2 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2010, 11:00 AM:

Way out in space together,
Compass of the sky,
My heart would be a fireball,
A fireball,
Everytime I gazed into your starry eyes.

(Gerry Anderson's Fireball XL-5)

#3 ::: turtle ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2010, 11:06 AM:

I teleported home one night
With Ron and Sid and Meg.
Ron stole Meggie's heart away,
And I got Sidney's leg.

--(come on guys, you KNOW where this one is from!)

#4 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2010, 11:18 AM:

Gamers* and computer geeks** both use in-group jargon to describe real-world processes or conditions. I doubt that the gamer comparisons have much traction outside that community, but the computer stuff might.

* Me, yesterday: "I made my saving throw against a pretty pair of sandals marked down from $50 to $15."

** Apologizing for repeatedly having trouble understanding someone in a loud room: "I have really low-end sound-filtering software in my head."

#5 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2010, 11:23 AM:

I remember that Asimov commented about the "I am as constant as the northern star" line in Julius Caesar, since there wasn't a useful northern star in Julius's time.

How is the process of leaving through an airlock like ending a relationship?

There've been a few cases where the two were explicitly connected.

I can't forget the night you threw me out
Though I don't recall just what we fought about
But it hurt so bad I thought my heart would burst
Dear, you might at least have let me suit up first

-- Frank Hayes, "The Clock on the Wall"

In fact, I did tend to think of my former relationship as some kind of hyperbolic orbit.

#6 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2010, 12:51 PM:

Christine Lavin's Venus Kissed the Moon (from her "Attainable Love" album) is a memorable song along these lines. I can't find a recording or performance online, but she gives it a wonderful sense of wistfulness when she sings it on the record.

#7 ::: CZEdwards (aka the Other Constance) ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2010, 01:09 PM:

This household consists of two gamers, two SF geeks, one Apostle of Mac, one heretical Linux adherent, two electronica followers and two slaves to cats ( in two bodies) so we have a lot of repurposed tech metaphors. Memory lapses are out of RAM or save to disk failed ; clumsiness is failing a Dex check (our cats apparently have really bad d20s) and my stupid girly shoes (as opposed to sensible girly shoes) are my cursed stilettos of tripping (+3 to Charisma, -3 Dex). As we get older, we both maintain that we need to upgrade our processors.

When we got engaged, my love commissioned a local SF&F jewelry artist to build by token engagement ring ( the actual present was a Handspring PDA). He had our birthstones set in a large open oval setting, and chose a small citrine and a larger garnet. The piece is called Binary System and our eventual vows and practice reflected that model of a relationship. We share a common center of gravity, we orbit in harmony; without the other, we would be less bright, diminished and alone, yet together, we are more than the sum of our parts.

#8 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2010, 01:15 PM:

I know someone who described forgetting stuff quickly as 'dynamic RAM with a refresh problem'.

#9 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2010, 01:18 PM:

I was amused, back in the day, to read Ken MacLeod's The Star Fraction and note that in the novel's 50-years-in-the-future, intensely-networked society, rubbish that you read on the Internet was referred to as s****r a***c (name obfuscated, just in case), the name of a legendary Usenet roboposter on the subject of a certain historical episode.

#10 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2010, 01:18 PM:

Even in the future I don't think that the general population will use anything tech or science related as a metaphor for love unless they either notice it directly very often in their own lifes or they really need to know about it for some practical reason.

#11 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2010, 01:49 PM:

The phrase "Failed saving throw versus shiny" features fairly frequently in conversation on at least one of the LiveJournals of this parish.

My current job is not tech-orientated, so my own usage of such terminology has been somewhat curtailed of late. Bewildered stares from 90% of my colleagues tend to ensure that. On the other hand, this does mean that a few of us have been known to have conversations which make sense to us and are completely unintelligible to the rest of the office.

#12 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2010, 01:51 PM:

Raphael @10:

I agree that only ordinary, everyday advances in technology will creep into the popular culture references, though we already have examples of geek culture.

So airlocks (which interest me as a metaphor because they're doors with an additional state between "inside" and "outside") would only become one in a society where a large number of people use them not as technology but as everyday objects. Something out of a Heinlein juvenile might be like that.

It's a dual speculation, if you will: what currently SFnial things will become as ubiquitous as turn signals, and what conditions will we then use them to understand?

#13 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2010, 01:56 PM:

abi @ 12... Cell phones and being connected to others, never alone, but not always truly together?

#14 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2010, 02:27 PM:

[in passing]

Blake Hodgetts song, "My Love Was Like The Moon," incorporates several such metaphors.

#15 ::: Sisuile ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2010, 02:48 PM:

My first car was a car of holding +75 (no, really. I fit everything in my first apartment, including all my furniture and resources as a SCA costumer, into the Escort to move. I still miss her). These days, when I mention that Ford used to build Tardises that bent interior space/time, people get it. The Doctor is a big enough piece of mainstream culture that people understand what a Tardis is and bending space and time its function. Recently, I heard someone talking about a heart like a Tardis - bigger on the inside than one mortal should ever be able to contain. (I'm stealing that for a geek sermon - Jesus' love is like a Tardis.) It is a word that easily and concisely describes that which is significantly bigger on the inside than it looks on the outside, and that can include people and relationships.

Looking at the sidelight - open or poly relationships: "that relationship is fractal."

I think I'm going to go do the filk list from this week's gaming session and meditate more on love as logarithmic and Christ as Tardis.

#16 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2010, 02:52 PM:

Well, I often see variations on the phrase "black hole of emotional neediness." I think that's pretty well established in the general lexicon.

Speaking of which (ooh snap!), my ex was in nuclear engineering, so a momentary mental block was often referred to as a LOBA, or "loss of brain accident."

#17 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2010, 02:53 PM:

Serge @13:
Cell phones and being connected to others, never alone, but not always truly together?

"...parted from me and never parted, never and always touching and touched."

#18 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2010, 02:56 PM:

As specimen, Ben Newman's song Hyperbolic Orbit, which pulls off the difficult trick (though not unusual in his songs) of being simultaneously completely an orbital-mechancs song and completely a human-romance song, never stepping out of either metaphor.

Lyrics sample:

Every part of her is drawn to be near him,
It warps her world, this feeling is so vast!
Perhaps that's why he thinks the earth revolves around him,
But as for her, she's moving much too fast...

It'll never last.

#19 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2010, 03:33 PM:

Once upon a time, maybe 10 or 15 years ago, 'zero-sum game' was a distinctly geeky expression known only to people interested in that sort of thing, but for some reason the term made the leap into common usage and now you hear it everywhere.

#20 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2010, 04:15 PM:

A while back I had to ask a colleague if "real-time" was acceptable business jargon in his industry, as we were in different program areas and I was working on a department-wide report.

I just couldn't remember if it was only slang, or if that was just where I had first picked it up.

#21 ::: Evan ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2010, 04:53 PM:

So I sat down and we started to talk and suddenly I realized she was speaking an entirely different language. Computerese.
A kind of high-tech lingo.
Everything was circuitry, electronics, switching.
If she didn’t understand something, it just “didn’t scan.”
We talked mostly about her boyfriend. This guy was never in a bad mood. He was in a bad mode.
Modey kind of a guy.
The romance was apparently kind of rocky, and she kept saying: “Man oh man, you know like it’s so digital!
And by that she meant the relationship was on again, off again.
- Laurie Anderson, "The Language of the Future"

#22 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2010, 05:15 PM:

I think we're hard-wired for this sort of thing.

#23 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2010, 05:21 PM:

"If I was to give
my heart to you,
then I'd have none,
and you'd have two..."
Crocodile Dundee

#24 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2010, 05:31 PM:

I think we're hard-wired for this sort of thing.

Unless, of course, we're out of synch.

#25 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2010, 05:55 PM:

OtterB @ 24... Unless, of course, we're out of synch

Because of the Butterfly Effect?

#26 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2010, 06:44 PM:

Serge #25: The Butterfly Effect makes me think of the alternative history of porkchops.

#27 ::: dlbowman76 ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2010, 07:05 PM:

My heart beats softly, and the lights will change
Verdant to crimson. We stop and we start
The motor. And ever we will exchange
The time of day for the beat of the heart.
Your heart beats roughly, and the sky grows dark,
Your breath indicates fog outlines at night
And your fingertips trace a single spark
Against the darkling sky, in darkness bright.
Our hearts beat quietly, against canvas
Of dawn. Crimson back to verdant. Time to go
Home. Start the car. All clear, we can pass
This guy. Fifteen minutes - we'll make the show.
Two hearts - beating alone within this place,
Two souls united in time and space.

#28 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2010, 07:09 PM:

Whenever I read "My luve" there's this little story, told in images, that plays in my head. Let me see if it translates to prose:

"O MY Luve 's like a red, red rose
That 's newly sprung in June:"

There is a rose plant in a greenhouse, with a single stunning blossom. Music plays faintly. A pair of hands reach forth and carefully cut the flower free.

"O my Luve 's like the melodie
That's sweetly play'd in tune!"

A man carries the rose out of the greenhouse, down a narrow metal corridor. The music becomes louder; he walks past a bedroom where a sound system is playing, bars leaping up and down on the display. He enters a small room with two thick doors, and sets the rose down carefully. he begins to undress.

"As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,"

Somewhere else, there is a woman surrounded by blinking lights. Her eyes are dry, but red.

"So deep in luve am I:"

The man places the metallicized bubble helmet over his head, and it clicks onto the collar of his spacesuit. He reaches down with oversized fingers and picks up the rose. He presses a button, and the door he entered through slides shut.

"And I will luve thee still, my dear,"

The door slides open and unimaginably intense light pours in. As the glare fades, the man steps out into a desolate landscape, half the sky dominated by an engorged, deep red sun. He lifts the rose upwards, an offering, and it withers and bursts into flames.

"Till a' the seas gang dry:"

He is standing on a beach, but there is no ocean, no waves, no trees. Heat shimmers over everything. The mans suit begins to brown.

"Till a' the seas gang dry, my dear,"

The man with his upraised arm is shrinking far, far below. There is his shuttle behind him, akilter and half-buried into the ground, obviously damaged. The dome of the "greenhouse" twinkles in the unforgiving light. The shape of valleys and mountains, then the outlines of continents and ocean basins come into view, all black and brown and gray. Now the planet is just a dusty orb, and then the sun goes past, angry and red; then we are in the bridge of a spaceship and the woman is looking at a monitor where the man is still waving, and tears stream down her cheeks.

"And the rocks melt wi' the sun;"

The man falls to one knee. The sun has begun to shrink, but as it shrinks it grows brighter and brighter. Smoke pours off of his suit, and the sand beneath him begins to glow and shift.

"I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o' life shall run."

The woman is shaking, sobbing, unable to look away. On the monitor in front of her the only colors that can be seen are shades of white, reddish here and yellowish there. Inexorably, the monitor brightens to a uniform glare.

"And fare thee weel, my only Luve,"

The star's light occludes the planet. On board the ship, a secondary monitor blinks, flashing: CHAIN REACTION BEGUN. SHOCKWAVE IMMINENT. The woman is bent in two by grief.

"And fare thee weel a while!"


"And I will come again, my Luve,"

The suns dims momentarily, revealing a planet rendered molten, plasma pouring off into space. Then the sun and the planet shimmer and recede, stars streaking into reddish lines as the ship dashes away faster than light can chase.

"Tho' it were ten thousand mile."

#29 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2010, 07:21 PM:

dlbowman76 #27: Excellent, most excellent.

#30 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2010, 07:47 PM:

Touching on the original topic, I note that universally accepted descriptors generally stem from universally-shared experiences.

So to the extent that "everyone knows" that there are only three quarks in a ... um... right, so that's kind of the problem with that analogy, actually. But if you had a culture where everyone was schooled in ... uh... quarks and stuff, then, and only then, I could see people adopting an analogy like that.

But, you know, I think the education gap is going to shape the language in different ways, widening the gap between education (and income) levels in ways that include the explicit use of science metaphors. I've said for years that I wish I'd taken Physics instead of a second year of Bio, because it's a different way of describing the world that I don't have access to. I've picked up dribs and drabs over time, but I don't have a cohesive "physics" picture of the world, so I do get a bit lost in some discussions or have to ask for explanations when things have gone way over my head. (I also feel like a complete fraud every time I have to use one of those metaphors in a conversation.)

#31 ::: dlbowman76 ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2010, 07:58 PM:

Fragano, molto grazie, from you that is high praise indeed. Touching on the topic - which I would argue my little sonnet did not DIVERGE from, in my opinion, The future is now. We are living in the completely mediated society. Consider me (a ghastly thought, but fight down your gorge if you will). My existence in this forum is absolutely virtual. None of you has met me personally. None of you could tell the colour of my eyes or hair. All you have of me are the words that I have posted here and the IP address history of my existence on this site.

I may not exist, in spite of my personal insistence that I do.

Now, assuming that I do exist, I am still a virtual person. I could say anything, even beyond the pale and the worst threat I would face is a disemvowelling. Language disconnected from author, Idea disconnected from mind.

We are swimming in a vast sea of disconnection.

#33 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2010, 08:29 PM:

One prominent phrase from my old MIT crowd was "the noun server's down" (can't remember the word). But most people don't think in terms of severs, they assign all agency to the screen in front of them. Hmm. "BSOD" seems too clunky to catch on outside niches like TVTropes, and "crashed" has a prior, competing, usage.

Some 'net phrases may settle into the mainstream -- "flame" and "troll" especially -- but note those are both about human behavior. I suspect that will be the pattern for Net slang -- it will be about what people do on the net, rather than what the machines do.

What about automotive slang?

Oh, and the changing world certainly affects how we act toward each other, but I'd say that's most prominent in terms of security in various forms -- we can give or sell someone a cigarette on the street because we know there's more where that came from. We lock our doors, or not, depending on the local threats, and that also affects how strongly we react to intrusions. Strangers can be a threat, a curiosity, or a commonplace, depending on the local culture and who usually comes through the area.

#34 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2010, 08:33 PM:

Some years ago, on Yom Kippur, a friend of mine leaned over and, whispering, mentioned that of course "inscribe me in the book of life" and related pieces of liturgy were just using the best metaphors for data storage from their day, and that today we'd say "inscribe me on the hard disk of life, seal me on the non-rewritable disk of redemption...". For the rest of that day, I kept (very inappropriately) laughing every time we hit any such metaphor in the service.

#35 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2010, 09:17 PM:

I think "zero-sum game" came into common usage as a matter of politics, as it became useful to convince people that life was a matter of taking from others before they took from you. Divide and conquer and all that jazz.

#36 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2010, 09:37 PM:

Bruce Cohen (32): Was that meant to link back to this thread?

#37 ::: joel hanes ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2010, 10:39 PM:

"Machines ... condition the users to employ each other the way theyemploy machines."
Leto II

#38 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2010, 11:00 PM:

I went to an engineering school, and all of my friends from college speak fluent Geek.

The other day I happened to mention at my (non-geeky) job that "I seemed to have recently passed the Max Q point of parenthood".... and NOBODY knew what I meant.

#39 ::: rm ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2010, 11:40 PM:

People used to get on one another's wavelength. (Suzanne takes you down . . . .) People still tune each other out.

I reckon people will soon start dropping each other's calls and checking their bars, without phones ( y'know, it's like when I try to talk to you I don't have any bars).

#40 ::: rm ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2010, 11:49 PM:

Oh, and I am a witness that Young Folks Today consider "texting back" a fundamental duty which to miss fulfilling would call into question one's commitment to basic human solidarity. It's only a matter of time before this acquires a metaphorical dimension (cf. returns/ doesn't return phone calls).

#41 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2010, 12:51 AM:

Mary Aileen @ 36:

Argh! I have no idea how that happened. Need to preview my links as well as my prose. Try this instead:

Turn Signals are the Facial Expressions of Automobiles

#42 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2010, 01:35 AM:

Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) @ 41:

Alas, it's still linking back here. Could you maybe paste it as text for copy-paste link-following maneuvers?

#43 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2010, 03:14 AM:

> pop cultural references to unremarkable realities

One I heard on talk radio: a woman calling something old-hat by saying it was "like something from back in the Space Age".


#44 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2010, 03:17 AM:

abi at #12 writes:

> what currently SFnial things will become as ubiquitous as turn signals

I remember when I first heard about people in an earthquake-collapsed building in Thailand calling for help on their mobile phones it truly seemed an sfnal moment.

These days of course, I find it hard to imagine I ever felt that way.

#45 ::: Marc Moskowitz ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2010, 08:23 AM:

My friends and I refer occasionally to a "Pass For Normal" stat. Of course, using the term means you have totally failed your roll.

#46 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2010, 09:22 AM:

Steve Taylor @44 said: I remember when I first heard about people in an earthquake-collapsed building in Thailand calling for help on their mobile phones it truly seemed an sfnal moment.

I like to say that I GOT a cellphone for a stupid reason, then kept it because it was practical and useful in my lifestyle.

On 9/11 I was working in an office building in downtown Chicago. Literally out the window (and cattycorner across the street) which was six feet from my back as I sat at my computer, was the Sears Tower. We couldn't get any info; CNN was slashdotted. A fannish friend of mine in Singapore got it to load and was reading it to me via IRC so I could share breaking newsflashes with my co-workers as I answered call after call from those of our daytrading clients who had no idea why their NYSE and NASDAQ data hadn't come in yet. We were sending scouts up to the break room to watch the television up there.

Our bosses didn't send us home until 10AM Central. We were all convinced we were dead -- if they were going after "Tall Buildings," and since we'd heard they'd gotten the Pentagon and the Supreme Court as well, all in one lightning stroke, clearly if they had any intention of doing anything to the midwest, we were all dead already, right?

That day and the next, I kept hearing news coverage of people (or their bodies) being found in the wreckage by triangulating to their cellphones. As a whistling-by-the-cemetery I-know-it's-silly-but-it-makes-me-feel-better, I went and bought a cellphone and minimal plan on the 10th at lunch hour, so that at least I knew they could find my body ...

Then I discovered that in flying to cons and attempting to coordinate past delays and whatnot with local carpool options, having a cell was CONSIDERABLY more convenient than trying to use the payphones that might or might not work, so I kept it even after I stopped needing its teddy-bear functionality.

#47 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2010, 10:07 AM:

Addendum to my 46: On the *12th*, of course. Sigh.

#48 ::: paul ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2010, 10:36 AM:

Nuclear families? Or is that one obsolete now? Also obsolete: "swapped out" to indicate that someone wasn't paying attention because they were thinking of something else. Most of the tech talk doesn't get into the language of love and relationships because it's gone too fast.

(Meanwhile, in our county at least, all the 3-year-olds know how to sing "Out came the supernova and dried up all the monsoon...")

#49 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2010, 10:39 AM:

Steve with a book @ #9:

Not only a specific historic incident, but anything naming the country/bird involved on one end (I can't remember if he was robo-replying to anything that mentioned the other country/region involved).

Said name has been used as the name of the Villain in more than one RPG campaign I've known.

abi @ #12:

I have two front doors, with a short hall in-between. I have always (well, since the cats moved in) referred to this as "the cat-lock". Not, specifically, referring to SFnal airlocks, but to the locks in secure facilities (whose purpose is not to retain air, but to provide a short, controlled space, only leaveable once it is no longer enterable).

#50 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2010, 11:12 AM:

heresiarch @28: Now my coworkers are wondering why I'm sniffling.

Your piece reminds me simultaneously of Zelazny's "Rose for Ecclesiastes" and Sturgeons "We made it."

#51 ::: Kate Shaw ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2010, 11:40 AM:

Ingvar @49: I just realized that's where the 'lock' of 'airlock' must come from: canal locks. The boat goes into the lock, which is closed behind it. The water level is adjusted up or down depending on which direction the boat is going, the other side of the lock is opened, and the boat sails out either uphill or downhill of the previous stretch of canal.

I like 'catlock.' My old apartment's door opened onto a foyer instead of directly outside. If I'd known the word catlock then, I'd have happily described it as such.

#52 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2010, 11:54 AM:

In our last house, there was not quite enough wall space for all the bookshelves. The room used as my study had a smallish walk-in closet. After the closet accumulated three bookcases and some shelving on wall standards, we began referring to it as the foldbox, much to the mystification of our non-SF-reading friends.

#53 ::: Heather Rose Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2010, 01:23 PM:

The metaphor I've always envisioned for the ideal relationship has been the DNA double-helix: two lives never directly aligned but inextricably intertwined; bound together as time passes by ever more hand-shaked base-pairs of shared experience; always tangenting off but never drifting apart.

Never found it yet, but when I do, that's what it will feel like.

#54 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2010, 02:48 PM:

Ingvar M @ 49: In my family commonly refer to such don't-let-the-cat-out spaces as "airlocks". "Cat-lock" I hadn't thought of.

#55 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2010, 03:12 PM:

heresiarch @28, excellent

David Harmon @33 What about automotive slang?

I was wondering if an equivalent to "not firing on all cylinders" might become something like "bad connection on my implant"

#56 ::: Sarah S. ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2010, 03:29 PM:

A rather nice late 20th century example of the phenomenon might be the immortal:

"You spin me right round, baby
Right round, like a record, baby
Right round, round round."

It's a nice contemporary reworking in the light of modern technology of various older metaphors for love's encircling powers.

Stuff like Donne was thinking of when he wrote:

If they be two, they are two so
As twin stiff compasses are two;
Thy soul, the fix'd foot, makes no show
To move, but doth, if th'other do.

And though it in the centre sit,
Yet when the other far doth roam
It leans, and hearkens after it,
And grows erect, as that comes home.

Such wilt thou be to me, who must,
Like th' other foot, obliquely run;
Thy firmness makes my circle just
And makes me end where I begun.

#57 ::: Sarah S. ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2010, 03:36 PM:

David Harmon #33

re: Automotive slang

May I direct your attention to the awesomely awesome e.e.cummings poem "she being Brand"?

#58 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2010, 03:37 PM:

There is also a certain period of novelty in technology when these things are interesting enough to get used as analogies.

For instance, my maternal grandmother's name was Anna, but she was known as Lucy all her life because of a popular song, In My Merry Oldsmobile. The song dates back to 1905, when vehicles were exotic technology; it was not new when her father sang it to her as a baby.

Come away with me, Lucille
In my merry Oldsmobile
Down the road of life we'll fly
Automobubbling, you and I

The verses include a number of car analogies.

They love to "spark" in the dark old park
As they go flying along
She says she knows why the motor goes
The "sparker" is awfully strong
#59 ::: Sarah S. ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2010, 03:39 PM:


Did you have a great-grandmother who went by Daisy?

Because that would be slick.

#60 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2010, 03:51 PM:

We constantly say, "I've lost my stack pointer" to indicate confusion, and my husband speaks often of maintaining his stack, or of running multiple queues. I have been known to admit to taking an alpha ray hit.

#61 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2010, 03:58 PM:

Sarah S @ 59... Daiiisyyyy... Daiiiiiisssssyyyy...

#62 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2010, 04:29 PM:

One of the life-adjustments involved with moving to California was that houses here don't have airlocks. About half the places I lived back east did, to keep warm and cold air and mud and coats in their appropriate locations, and they were quite effective at keeping cats inside, though only partially effective at keeping crickets outside. Calling them airlocks was natural terminology, since that was what they were, though mudrooms and catlocks were also terms that didn't require explanation.

I suspect that some non-trivial fraction of the people I hear using the term "multitasking" don't think of it as a computer term.

#63 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2010, 04:48 PM:

David @33:

One prominent phrase from my old MIT crowd was "the noun server's down" (can't remember the word)

My wife and I use "my noun file is corrupt" for similar situations (especially since frequently the failure mode is that a wrong-but-related noun is retrieved, rather than no noun at all.)

As for the "small room between doors to keep the cats from getting out", that's the "kitty airlock".

#64 ::: Ab_Normal ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2010, 05:40 PM:

heresiarch @28; Jacque @50 Delurking to say whoa and second the sniffling at work.

#65 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2010, 05:42 PM:

David Harmon at #33

> What about automotive slang?

I had a mini-epiphany with old gospel songs being so full of automobile and train references - that that showed the greater novelty and perhaps desirability of those modes of transport, perhaps especially to listeners who were out of the right financial bracket to be able to travel that much.

Hmm - perhaps "Jet Airliner" and "Leaving on a Jet Plane" show similar effects for the 60s/70s.

See ("love is like an automobile, love is like your steering wheel" - The Dixie Hummingbirds)

#66 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2010, 05:53 PM:

Fade Manley @ 42:

Here's the URL I pasted into the comment:
That's Don Norman's website.

#67 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2010, 06:09 PM:

here's a shout-out to the 1-4-7...

My love is as a smartphone, ringing still
For that which, roaming, charges extra fees,
Feeding on that which doth twitter "phone bill",
My uncertain credit rating it will squeeze.
My reason, the spam torrent to my love,
Angry that his URLs are not click'd,
Hath block'd me, and I whitelisted now approve
Desire is death, which firewall did except.
Expired I am, my EULA null and void,
And flamer-mad with evermore unrest;
My memes and all my pithy rants deploy'd,
At random targets truthily express'd;
For I have sworn thee rad and thought thee leet,
Who speak with cutting words in ev'ry tweet.

#68 ::: Wesley ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2010, 07:36 PM:

Something appropriate to this thread turned up today in the Twitter feeds I'm following.

#69 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2010, 07:45 PM:

Wesley, #68: Yes, very appropriate. However, other readers should be warned that your link hijacks the "Back" button, so that no matter how many times you click, you can't get home.

#70 ::: Wesley ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2010, 08:21 PM:

Lee, #69: I had no idea. Twitter is often mysterious to me.

#71 ::: John Aspinall ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2010, 09:01 PM:

Eigen-X, where X is not "value" or "vector".

AFAIK, it started with the fairly well-known work on facial recognition based on "eigenfaces", but I now see it used in front of almost any arbitrary noun.

#72 ::: rm ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2010, 11:34 PM:

heresiarch @28 and Steve @65:

Yes!, and yes about the trains. And not just in gospel -- folk and traditional too. Folk is so often about the good and bad things that come with industrialization -- so its sfnal in that it's about the world in technological flux.

I also hear sfnal possibilities in old songs. The last verse of "Dark as a Dungeon" gives me a vision . . .

I hope when I'm gone and the ages shall roll,
My body will blacken and turn into coal.
Then I'll look from the door of my heavenly home,
And pity the miner a-diggin' my bones.

I wonder what timespan is necessary for Merle's bones (ashes, actually) to turn to coal. Not just that, but for Western Kentucky to re-fold under strata of rock first. Would humanity still exist? If we had descendants, would they be human? Would the Earth be a burned-out cinder orbiting a white dwarf star? So Merle looks out from his mansion on high and pities the alien who has visited this poor burned-out cinder to mine coal. The job of an interstellar mining crew is indeed thankless, especially for the convict labor that actually has to go down to the surface of a dead world, find the veins of precious minerals, and go under the surface to run the mining bots. Poor creature.

#73 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2010, 01:48 AM:

Jacque, OtterB, Ab_Normal, rm: Thank you. =)

#74 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2010, 03:36 AM:

heresiarch @ 28: Oh! Wow. (I somehow missed this while reading yesterday - probably related to the 36 hours of hot-and-cold-and-shivering).

#75 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2010, 04:05 AM:

Wesley, #70: Oops, that wasn't meant as criticism of you personally -- just a general alert -- but on re-reading, I can see how it sounded that way. Sorry!

#76 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2010, 06:18 AM:

Elliott Mason at #46 wrote:

(speaking of the September 11 massacre)

> That day and the next, I kept hearing news coverage of people (or their bodies) being found in the wreckage by triangulating to their cellphones.

Urk - I'd never heard of mobiles being used to locate the dead before, but it still makes perfect sense.

The other still sfnal use of mobiles on that day was to have a last conversation with loved ones effectively during ones murder. That's one that still feels bizarre.

#77 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2010, 06:19 AM:

Kate Shaw @ #51, dcb @ #54:

In Sweden, the "plain lock" (as usually found in waterways) is a sluss and a definite feature of the Geography of Stockholm is Slussen ("The Lock", just south of Old Town, full of pubs, elevated walkways, a tube station and within walking distance of the cruise ferries to Finland).

I don't think I ever considered an airlock (luftsluss) as anything but the aquatic variant re-purposed for air, as it were, and extrapolating air to cats is but a mere jump and a skip.

I've seen the word "man-trap" describing the personlocks in secure facilities, but I don't quite like that word (I tend towards calling them "personlocks" or "tardises", the latter in obvious violation of proper capitalisation and numerus).

#78 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2010, 06:45 AM:

Bill #62: I only heard the word "mudroom" for the first time last week, in a real-estate article. Comes of not growing up down here in VA... And I wish I had a catlock -- the other day I had to retrieve Gremlin from under a car, in the dark.

#79 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2010, 10:48 AM:

Elliot Mason@47: I kinda liked the original, in @46, better :-) .

#80 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2010, 10:50 AM:

There are relationships that probably should be exited through an airlock. The purpose of an airlock is to create an absolutely guaranteed clean break, right? Because if the air gets away you all die.

The more common process of leaving a relationship seems to be more gradual and less absolute.

#81 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2010, 10:51 AM:

Now I'm waiting for somebody to manage to combine Heinlein and Niven and find a use for "Her pupils dilated like a door."

#82 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2010, 12:03 PM:

Earl Cooley @67, sweet.

#83 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2010, 12:27 PM:

I've got to say, filking Will's sonnets is a lot of fun.

#84 ::: V's Herbie ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2010, 02:01 PM:

Well, native language effects how fast your brain processes certain colors so I see no reason that as basic vocabulary changes, our brains wouldn't change along with it.

#85 ::: johnofjack ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2010, 07:25 PM:

My roommate at times stops talking and informs me that I have the hourglass up.

Tech metaphors I've willingly adopted include "stack dump error," which I seem to suffer on hearing something unexpected and shocking (-ly good or bad).

#86 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2010, 07:32 PM:

After having heard several of my friends use "sharing violation!" as a humorous objection to Too Much Information, I submitted it to the Jargon File and was pleased when my contribution was included pretty much verbatim.

#87 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2010, 08:20 PM:

Wesley #68: Or sometimes, the age of the writer, rather than the text: Consider this handy example. "Kids these days" wouldn't know what a needle-skip was! Of course, the last few decades have seen unprecedented change in even common technologies....

#88 ::: B.Loppe ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2010, 08:38 PM:

Heresiarch @ 28: love. Thank you for this.

#89 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2010, 09:37 PM:

A variant is "Oversharing, 15 yards and loss of down".

#90 ::: Karen ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2010, 09:55 PM:

One day in the mid-to-late nineties, my father called me excitedly to say that the kids playing outside were saying things like "him? no, he's a real 404." Of course now I hardly ever see a 404 error, so this may be obsolete already. In a smaller world, spouse and I will sometimes "file an RFC" (request for cuddle), and should we sneak off for a midday nap, it's "generating a napplet" Now I can't wait to work "sharing violation" into conversation.

#91 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2010, 10:07 PM:

When someone says something that I don't understand at all, or I just wasn't listening properly and have forgotten everything they just said three seconds after they said it, I sometimes stare at them and say "404?" Actually it's been a while.

#92 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2010, 10:51 PM:

Someone I worked temp with once happened to mention that she and her fiance had an in-joke about him "being on Drive U," which meant he was generating random ("useless") trivia by free association from the topic of discussion. She was absolutely astounded when my next question was, "Is he a science-fiction fan?" -- but I've noticed that this phenomenon is a marker trait for fen.

#93 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2010, 02:17 AM:

Well, was he?

(I definitely do that, but then I am.)

#94 ::: Earl sees spam at 94 ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2010, 03:33 AM:

Mr. Google notes that user name has posted identical text to a bunch of unconnected web sites, so I think this is a spam probe.

#95 ::: David ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2010, 05:05 AM:

"I suspect this is a spam probe." Could we have metaphorical uses for that one, please?

#96 ::: Wesley ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2010, 08:06 AM:

David, #96: A spam probe is a stranger's attempt to jump into your conversation in order to turn it to their own ends. There are analogous situations in real life: people who see social interactions primarily as networking opportunities, or opportunities to evangelize, or sell people on their pet political theories, or their new multi-level-marketing scheme, or...

#97 ::: Kate Shaw ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2010, 08:27 AM:

Ooh, I just remembered one! I absolutely loved this usage but (for obvious reasons) have never had opportunity to use it myself or share the usage.

A few years ago I worked with a woman who mentioned (during a conversation about our mutual discomfort using public restrooms) that her family's euphemism for defecation was "downloading." As in, "Can we cut this shopping trip a little short and head home? I need to download and you know I don't like doing that in a public restroom."

#98 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2010, 12:49 PM:

David, #93: Yes -- that was why she was so astounded. "How did you know?" I've done that to a couple of other people under similar circumstances, too. :-)

Wesley, #97: Good definition! I've had that happen to me a few times -- well, probably more than a few, but there are certain incidents which stick in my mind as being particularly annoying. One of them caused me to drop an acquaintance.

#99 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2010, 12:57 PM:

Kate Shaw @ 98: Downloading is receiving rather than sending...and you've just sent me to the bad image place.

#100 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2010, 03:04 PM:

I think my sarcasm subroutine has been working overtime today at the office.

#101 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2010, 03:55 PM:

Serge #101:

Does that mean you swapped out the pun module?

#102 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2010, 04:08 PM:

Joann.. The pun module is an undocumented feature.

#103 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2010, 04:34 PM:

Serge #103:

I should have thought several thousand instantiations in ML-space would be enough to document it for all time. It's certainly persistent.

#104 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2010, 04:44 PM:

I've been hearing "It's a feature, not a bug" applied to all sorts of things over the last few years -- including personality traits of beloved people.

This example came to me after percolating in my subconscious since the thread started. But who knows from percolators anymore?

#105 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2010, 10:40 PM:

I've been known to explain that my nameserver was down when I simply can't remember someone's name.

#106 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2010, 11:50 PM:

Debbie, #105: My circle of acquaintance will also use, "That's NOT a feature!" when describing some unwanted bell or whistle, not necessarily computer-related.

My partner regularly uses, "The buffer flushed," to describe the process of intending to do X, being distracted by Y, and then forgetting X.

#107 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2010, 03:43 AM:

Debbie @ #105:

Certainly do. What type of perc are you referring to? The humble drip-maker or the good stuff with heating from the bottom, riser tubes and mesh cages (yes, I've heard both referred to as percolators)?

#108 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2010, 05:42 AM:

Ingvar @108, I was thinking of the latter. Some of them were electric, some of them weren't, most had a glass knob on top -- pretty much like this one. (Apologies for the probable Ohrwurm, at least for some of you!)

#109 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2010, 05:51 AM:

One that's changed interestingly: "going ballistic" is what happens to a rocket after its engine shuts off and it starts to coast quietly along a ballistic flight path, but now means to become furious. I like the older sense better; "after his first novel was published, he seemed to stop trying - he just went ballistic". ("Going kinetic", from army slang, is starting to crop up; meaning using kinetic means, such as bullets, rather than non-kinetic means such as negotiation).

Also, from the softer end, things like "alpha male", "pecking order", and so on.

#110 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2010, 06:55 AM:

ajay #110: Yeah... in the original sense, the "ballistic phase" represented the point when the rocket or missile could no longer be aborted. That's where the "crazed anger" sense came from. Nowadays I've heard "going nonlinear", which seems to include non-angry craziness too.

About your second point, the "pecking order" idea is pretty useful for enforcing hierarchies, as in corporations, so it naturally got co-opted. Of course, there's an awful lot of "gamma bullies" who want to declare themselves "alphas"....

#111 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2010, 08:20 AM:

Bob @38

That's not just Geek-speak, though it suggests a certain knowledge of the background of what was happening on the Challenger flight. And that's nearly 25 years ago. "Max-Q" was a term floating around the news coverage at the time, perhaps with an implication of a possible cause.

So maybe you think you're through the worst, and then "Boom!"

Few people under 35 would get the reference from that source. Yes, I'm feeling horribly old too.

#112 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2010, 09:32 AM:

Lee #99:

Oh, and speaking of your kids' soccer game, that reminds me, I wonder if you've considered the whole life plans offered by Acme Brand Insurance....

#113 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2010, 09:39 AM:


The weird thing is that you now see the older idea of alpha males (mapping primate tribe dominance hierarchies to human tribe dominance hierarchies) mixed together with the related but different notion of alphas and betas in Game (aka related to being a pickup artist).

My wife and I often talk about having our X module busy--if I'm driving in traffic, my future planning module is busy and I have a hard time planning out the rest of the week in conversation; when she's drivin, her three-dimensional geometry module is busy and I can't describe (say) rearranging furniture in the house to her. That's from some combination of computers and evolutionary psychology, and does seem to usefully describe phenomena from our everyday life.

#114 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2010, 10:13 AM:

111: in the original sense, the "ballistic phase" represented the point when the rocket or missile could no longer be aborted. That's where the "crazed anger" sense came from

Ah ha. That makes a lot of sense. Thank you!

"Point of no return" gets used a lot in the same sense. (I think it's originally an aviation term.) And other aviation terms too: "bailing out" is used in normal speech, of course.

As is "wingman"...

#115 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2010, 10:23 AM:

David @ 111
I'm sorry to hear that "going nonlinear" has taken on that aspect of irrationality. I use "nonlinear" when I'm translating from tech-specialist to generalist (or vice versa), because it's a relatively neutral term that lets me indicate that I need some latitude to set up some seemingly unrelated context before I start tying things together. (Generally something like "Okay, so I'm going to come at this from a slightly nonlinear direction, and then I'm going to explain how it all ties together." Which keeps folks from jumping down my throat because they can't already see the big picture when I'm halfway through my first sentence.)

I have no idea what to replace that statement with, if nonlinear becomes nonviable. I'll have to let my subconscious work on it...

#116 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2010, 10:36 AM:

KayTei, 116: Does it have to be machine-based? I'd say, "First I'll set up the threads, then tie them together."

#117 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2010, 10:38 AM:

TexAnne @ 117
It doesn't have to be, but I do try to match the dominant metaphors of the people I'm trying to talk to. So going from generalist to tech-specialist, machine-based metaphors are my default preference. Useful to have both.

#118 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2010, 11:46 AM:

I always thought 'going ballistic' meant omgcrazyangerdeath because, in the pre-90s US/USSR standoff, whoever 'went ballistic' first (launching missiles) would touch off global thermonuclear war?

Possibly a generational assumption on my part (b.1976).

#119 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2010, 12:00 PM:

Technically, "ballistic" means without guidance or control. A missile is under control only for the powered phase of flight, and "goes ballistic" when it's strictly under the influence of classical mechanics, i.e. gravity, wind currents, etc. A bullet goes ballistic immediately after it leaves the gun barrel.

#120 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2010, 12:03 PM:

Oh, and I've been know to refer to my bathroom visits as "clearing temp storage".

#121 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2010, 12:29 PM:

"The more they overthink the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain."
- Montgomery Scott

#122 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2010, 01:03 PM:

KayTei @116, I'm more inclined to use "nonlinear" in a sense like David's than yours, in the sense that a nonlinear function may be very sensitive to inputs, so "going nonlinear" is, like "flying off the handle" to use an older metaphor, a disproportionate response to a small change in circumstances. I'd expect this mathematical understanding of the term to be fairly common among technical types, actually. "Approach from a nonlinear direction" bothers me from a geometric perspective, because I get distracted thinking of how one can possibly modify the other. How about "indirect" for what you're trying to convey?

#123 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2010, 02:00 PM:

I feel that at least in my idiolect, the "going" part of "going nonlinear" really intensifies the connotation of craziness. "Going" practically anything connotes madness and rage: going bananas, going mad, going wacko, going cup and saucer, going ballistic--okay I made one of those up. But if someone said it, I think even having never heard it I'd assume they meant going crazy. "Nonlinear" by itself is open to other usages.

#124 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2010, 02:11 PM:

I tend to use "nonlinear" ("Well, it's nonlinear") meaning that something is complex and multifactored, that you don't get an obvious line from point A to point B.

Though I suppose that's not a precise rendering of the mathematical truth.

#125 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2010, 02:32 PM:

OtterN #125:

Which, if you then "go" non-linear, means you're off the tracks and the straight and narrow, and are a loose cannon. That's how I've always seen it, anyway. That, and a certain element of non-predictability.

#126 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2010, 02:37 PM:

"Going fractal" would vary significantly, based on context.

#127 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2010, 04:54 PM:

Steve C. #120: Yes, that's part of the same metaphor. Either way, it means someone's "out of control".

I also agree with heresiarch #124: For a human to go "nonlinear" implies erratic and unpredictable behavior, and/or unexpected responses to stimuli. For a situation to be nonlinear likewise implies that the "obvious tactics" won't necessarily do what you want....

#128 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2010, 04:57 PM:

Will the phrase “fourth quark” ever replace “fifth wheel”?

This reminds me of a line whose source I can't remember, that when the muon was first discovered, the response of the physics community was a bemused "who ordered that?"

#129 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2010, 05:12 PM:

David Harmon, it was Nobel Prize-winning physicist Isidor I. Rabi who asked who ordered the muon (link to The Elegant Universe on Google Books). I didn't know either; I had to google for it. It's a great line.

#130 ::: green_knight ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2010, 05:30 PM:

I'd call a knipperlichtrelatie a on-off relationship...

And I'm afraid I am old-fashioned (or just a fantasy reader): I talk about the parking fairy and the reduction fairy.

On a somewhat related tangent, I find myself using *emphasis* and _underline_ in handwriting. They're just so useful.

#131 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2010, 07:57 PM:

flushing the buffer?

#132 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2010, 07:59 PM:

where does the expression "go pear-shaped" come from? What does it mean?

#133 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2010, 08:10 PM:

If I simply google that phrase for you, I'm going to have to charge you USD$27.50.

#134 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2010, 09:22 PM:

This reminds me of a line whose source I can't remember, that when the muon was first discovered, the response of the physics community was a bemused "who ordered that?"

I. I. Rabi. It's a useful phrase, and I find myself using it occasionally. Particularly in wintertime, when it begins to snow.

#135 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2010, 09:28 PM:

Lorax @ 123

"'Approach from a nonlinear direction' bothers me from a geometric perspective, because I get distracted thinking of how one can possibly modify the other."

I know, right? I have the same reaction, when I sit and THINK about it, and then I go and use it like that again. Oh, well...

I've never actually had any techs call me on it -- I'd guess it goes back to neutrality; when you're not really thinking about the phrase, just encountering it in the wild, it seems to slip under everyone's radar. Though I've also probably talked about an equal number of nonlinear angles, approaches, and ways, so I may just have been fortunate in my audiences and word-choice matching before now.

But what I mean is more like what OtterB is talking about. I mean nonlinear less mathematically, than in contrast to linear thinking -- (a) does not necessarily lead easily and clearly to (b), unless I've already explained (c) and (f) (and how (f) is affected by (d)), but the linear types always want to go straight to (b), because it's "obviously" "next."

So, less indirection (which to me, at least, implies an oblique but still mostly linear approach) than hop-scotching.

#136 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2010, 09:47 PM:

green knight @ 131
I used to add handwritten html markup, when I was in college and drafting all my papers by hand. It was easier to just go in to the computer labs to type up the final paper, at which point I just converted it back to normal formatting.

#137 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2010, 11:36 PM:

Steve C. at #120 writes:

> Technically, "ballistic" means without guidance or control. A missile is under control only for the powered phase of flight, and "goes ballistic" when it's strictly under the influence of classical mechanics, i.e. gravity, wind currents, etc. A bullet goes ballistic immediately after it leaves the gun barrel.

Shortly after the Concorde explosion and crash which caused the plane to be retired, I read a trashy article about the crash which referred to the "sheer ballistic power" the aircraft's engines or some such twaddle.

I guess this was a case of a stopped clock being right sometimes (*).

(*) - thread relevance: not quite an archaic phrase, but under threat.

#138 ::: Hypozeuxis ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2010, 11:38 PM:

For an example where "approach from a nonlinear direction" makes an odd sort of sense, check out this Sunday Function

#139 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2010, 01:10 AM:

Erik, #132: Memory buffer.

My version of this is that I have a short interruption stack. It seems to be about 3 tasks deep, specifically; more than 2 levels of interruption and either I go up like Vesuvius*, or the ones at the bottom of the stack drop off and disappear.

* As in, "Would you forghodsake let me FINISH something already?!"

#140 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2010, 08:30 AM:

On a somewhat related tangent, I find myself using *emphasis* and _underline_ in handwriting. They're just so useful.

I normally write in cursive; when I need emphasis on something I print it instead. Underlining is for "bold".

#141 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2010, 08:32 PM:

"memory banks" and "that does not compute" are said not by real computeroids but by people imitating them.

#142 ::: Older ::: (view all by) ::: October 25, 2010, 06:04 PM:

It must be at least ten years since our son, looking for something in the kitchen, said "The spice shelves need to be defragged". We do use a fair amount of computer references in house slang, as well as old (very old) gamers' jargon.

And by the way, the whole house needs to be defragged, and we're doing it, slowly, now that the kids have all grown up and moved out.

#143 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2010, 04:21 PM:

Cunning as a Klingon.

(As this was originally spoken by Whorf, who wouldn't know cunning or subtlety if they bit him on his funny forehead, this translates as "This is a damned stupid plan that would work only with idiots.")

#144 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: November 03, 2010, 03:10 PM:

Serge @ 144: A McSpooner, in fact.

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