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December 7, 2018

Return of the Dreadful Phrases
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 07:59 AM * 97 comments

As it says in Ecclesiastes, of the making of books there is no end. And Seneca is (dubiously) said to have told us that errare humanum est1 (to err is human)2.

A side-effect of these two universal truths is that this thread is onto its third iteration.


  1. sed perseverare diabolicum, but to persist [in error] is diabolical.
  2. Alexander Pope added “to forgive divine”, which might argue agains the existence of these threads.3
  3. On the other hand, Augustine said da mihi castitatem et continentiam, sed noli modo, give me chastity and continence, but not yet.
Comments on Return of the Dreadful Phrases:
#1 ::: Buddha Buck ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2018, 08:47 AM:

I did not grow up in a tradition that studied St. Augustine (or, for that matter, Jesus Christ, Moses, or Mohammed).

What was he referring to with "continentiam"? In context, I doubt he was talking about the ability to voluntarily control urination.

#2 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2018, 08:50 AM:

"Continent" means pretty much "able to control oneself". The meaning has narrowed.

#3 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2018, 08:56 AM:

Well, it's control, and it's control of the same organ...it's basically a synonym for chastity. It's a tautology.

#4 ::: rm ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2018, 09:26 AM:

Is this politics-free? Because our not-president says we have "BOARDER" problem, which means that the Third Amendment is needed, perhaps for the first time ever.

#5 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2018, 09:26 AM:

From Adam-Troy Castro's FB. "Spotted in the ARC of a really outstanding upcoming novel: 'The glasses on the bridge of his knows.'"

#6 ::: rm ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2018, 09:27 AM:

OtterB@5: not the best song Kansas recorded.

#7 ::: oldster ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2018, 09:48 AM:

Can I get a citation for that Seneca quote? I cannot find it.

And I think it is vanishingly likely that he would use the word "diabolicum", which gets into Latin as a transliteration of New Testament Greek.

So maybe he said something like "errare humanum est" somewhere, but I strongly suspect that second half comes much later than Seneca.

I feel bad for being so pedantic. But then again, the "dreadful phrases" threads are natural display-cases for pedantry, so maybe it is less out of place here?

#8 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2018, 10:18 AM:

Oldster, I cannot find a citation for it, but it is universally attributed to Seneca.

Diabolicum is not a common Latin word, but the Greek word διαβολικός means "slanderous" or "lying". (It's also not common; I can see no references to it before the common era in Perseus.

I'll amend the entry to say it's attributed to Seneca.

#9 ::: oldster ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2018, 10:30 AM:

I'm afraid that between us we are illustrating the saying of St. Ambrosius, "to err is human, but to make a big deal pointing out other people's errors is, like, being a jerk."

I'm pretty sure it was St. Ambrosius?

I could be wrong. As Martin Luther said to the Pope in his 95 theses, "yeah? well, you know, that's just like, your opinion, man."

#10 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2018, 10:58 AM:

Oldster, you are correct; it is Ambrosius who wrote errare humanum est, sed volgo errores aliorum indicare equidem crudelis est.

It's in De Officiis Ministrorum, Book IV, De Mediis Sociabilibus.

#11 ::: oldster ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2018, 11:29 AM:

ah, yes: the de Mediis Sociabilibus. Part of his projected summa, left incomplete at his death, de Tela Totius Terrae, vel de origine mali humani.

An amazing visionary, Ambrosius! He it was who first laid down that golden precept, troglodytae non pascendae sunt.

#12 ::: Don P. ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2018, 01:09 PM:

I saw "a cry and shame" yesterday.

#13 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2018, 02:07 PM:

just seen:
the pompous circumstance and ceremony

#14 ::: crazysoph ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2018, 02:02 AM:

I'd just like to say that the conversation between oldster and abi, #7-11, is exactly what I love about reading things here. I learn so much, so much!!

Crazy(and very grateful to everyone here)Soph

#15 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2018, 06:35 AM:

Oldster wins, well, an internet for Tela Totius Terrae.

#16 ::: oldster ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2018, 11:38 AM:

absolutely no credit deserved for TTT, because that is simply its official name in Vatican Latin:

https://la.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tela_totius_terrae

One of their many articles about the Interrete:

https://la.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interrete

I want to thank abi for our exchange of bad Latin, but so far as "learning" anything goes, Soph, I would take it all cum Drano salis.

(e.g., I made a beginner's mistake by writing "pascendae" instead of "pascendi"; "troglodytae" looks like a feminine ending, but it's a masculine noun. First-year Latin fail.)

#17 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2018, 12:25 PM:

16
nauta is Latin for "sailor" - but it's a feminine-form noun. Languages are weird.

#18 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2018, 12:54 PM:

In Othello, when Roderigo says, "I will incontinently drown myself," he's not indicating any particular body part but general lack of self-control.

#19 ::: Pfusand ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2018, 12:58 PM:

P J Evans @17
Nauta (sailor), poeta (poet (surprise!)), and agricola (farmer) are all masculine, but they are first declension, which means they are very old words indeed.

#20 ::: oldster ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2018, 01:04 PM:

Russell @18 --

oddly enough, "incontinently" here has a different etymology from the more familiar word "incontinent", where the "in-" means "not".

"incontinently" as an adverb of time is from the phrase "in continenti tempore," i.e. in continuous time, without any interval, where the "in-" represents the preposition "in" instead of the negative prefix.

So English gets two adverbs "incontinently," one being the negation of "continently," and the other meaning "right away."

But PJ Evans put it more concisely at #17

#21 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2018, 09:58 PM:

Total derail here but: I had a wonderful Latin teacher, who was the one that got me hooked on "Useless Information". Decades after high school, when I started working at my current job, I discovered that she had worked there also, some years earlier. Had made enough of an impression that, when she passed away, they named a meeting room after her. (Which was weird the first time I encountered it: "What, was that—? Surely not! Oh yeah, it is. Huh." Also was the one who made them (and I can fully visualize her twisting appropriate arms (figuratively speaking, of course)) name our local Craigslist-equivalent, "Agora."

She wasn't just a Latin teacher, she was a Latin geek.

#22 ::: oldster ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2018, 10:13 PM:

Jacque @21 --

She sounds like a wonderful person.

And I am sure she did not twist any arms at all.

As a good Latinist, she simply promoted the alignment of brachial incentives.

#23 ::: MC Alcock ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2018, 08:58 AM:

Apologies for being OT...

15+ year follower, 2nd time poster, but given HW's passing, I find myself struggling to contextualize the awfulness of the Bush clan, and looking for the "Aristocrats" post on this site. It was great and has stuck with me for over a decade, but I can't find the link. Any help appreciated. Thanks!

#24 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2018, 10:05 PM:

MC Alcock: Maybe yes, maybe no, but the search phrase:

bush aristocrat nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/

produces results that are worth revisiting in their own right....

#25 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2018, 09:38 AM:

The winner of Literary Review's Bad Sex in Fiction award has been announced for this year. If you ever had any doubts about James Frey's writing ability, they've been well and truly rewarded. The Guardian has excerpts from this year's all-male list of nominees.

#26 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2018, 12:29 PM:

P J Evans @ #17: There are several others, but they're not in first-year Latin books because they're naughty. Look up "mentula" (a name Catullus gives to an enemy in a famous scabrous poem).

#27 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2018, 01:56 PM:

26
I have, actually, a bilingual edition of Catullus.

#28 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2018, 09:11 PM:

I thought diabolical meant havign two bollocks

#29 ::: oldster ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2018, 09:48 PM:

The indispensable Notes & Queries is on the case.

It looks as though two different authentic quotes got conflated:
In the 1st century BC, Cicero said “Any human can make a mistake; it takes a fool to persist in his mistake”;
(Cuiusvis hominis est errare; nullius nisi insipientis in errore perseverare. Philippics xii.2.5)

In the 5th century AD, St. Jerome said, “To sin is human, but to lay traps is diabolical.”
(Peccare enim hominis est, insidias tendere diaboli. Adv. Ruf. iii.33)
(Cf. “lead us not into temptation etc….”)

But neither one said “to persist in error is diabolical.”

And thank heavens for that! Many of us persist in error without supernatural aid of either kind.
(To keep up with my perseverated errors would exhaust a troop of devils.)

So it is deeply unclear when this formulation arose, sc. errare human est, sed perseverare diabolicum.

I see it listed in the Italian Wikiquotes,
And German Wikiquotes.

But neither has any citation for that formula — they give no source or provenance.

We can get a good hint of its date from the fact that no one seems to have said even the first half — even just the “errare humanum est” part — until 1745.
(See the citations in N&Q: things like it, true, but not that phrase.)

I suspect the conflated version is much less than 300 years old.
For all that these records show, it may have been coined in the last few years; a trap laid for the unwary by someone who thought himself devilish clever.
I myself don't think the conflation *is* devilish clever. But I do think it would be foolish to persist in spreading it further.

#30 ::: oldster ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2018, 09:53 PM:

Oh! And note also that the indefatigable Sonnenschein who contributed the note in N&Q betrays no awareness of the "to persist is diabolical" formulation.

That's more good reason to think that it is quite recent, i.e. post 1904.

#31 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2018, 01:49 AM:

Wait, la.wikipedia.org? Really? Though I suppose I probably use Google Translate as much to cheat at Latin as I do for more current languages.

Also, that Ambrosius did make a fine salad.

#32 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2018, 01:56 AM:

rm@4 The "boarders" missspelling reminds me of the Grateful Dead album's working title about "Ugly Roomers from the Mars Hotel".

#33 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2018, 12:12 PM:

both also vied into conspiracy theories

Oy. I don't know if that one is autocorrupt or user error.

#34 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2018, 11:26 AM:

A somewhat different kind of error, from a Newsday article about building bulkheads along a shoreline that was hard-hit in Sandy:

"...to protect and ensure the city's very inhabitability and the continuity of life on the barrier island."

#35 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2018, 01:02 PM:

me (34): No, wait, I'm getting my negations confused. The 'in' in 'inhabitability' is not a negation; that would be uninhabitability'. So that statement I quoted is fine.

Nevermind. /Litella

#36 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2018, 02:20 PM:

Mary Aileen (35) I read that several times and couldn't see what was wrong with it but figured it was just me. :-) Sort of like the "inflammable" problem.

#37 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2018, 03:02 PM:

OtterB (36): Yep! Flammable/inflammable, habitable/inhabitable. Same-same. Sorry for the confusion.

#38 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2018, 10:08 PM:

Trying to sew maximum confusion

#39 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2018, 11:25 PM:

@38, now that would be an interesting cosplay...

#40 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2018, 04:20 PM:

"You don't want to tip your hat too early...."

#41 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2018, 02:09 AM:

Somebody referred to "getting soak and wet" from the rains we're finally having more of here. That's what happens when you tip your hat too early, I guess.

#42 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2018, 09:28 AM:

Cassy B @39, cosplay would be easier if you were dealing with major confusion or general confusion rather than maximum confusion.

#43 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2018, 01:01 PM:

OtterB #42

Private confusion being subordinate to the others?

#44 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2018, 01:10 PM:

Abi #3

“Chastity” can also mean “loyalty and faithfulness within a relationship”. This isn’t quite the same as continence.

#45 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2018, 05:54 PM:

"I heard you had built a report with Biru."

#46 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2018, 05:29 PM:

Someone posted a scan of a want-ad page from Oklahoma - the ad they did it for is for dealing with a green dragon. But the one above it is for help wanted to clear right-aways....

#47 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: December 18, 2018, 06:58 PM:

I think they wanted to clear the cleaners immediately, hence "right-away clearing" -- rather than wanting to clear rights of way.

Having had green dragon problems of my own years ago, I can understand what the ad-placer wants there; but how did he reach an agreement with the red dragon? They're usually fiercer.

#48 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2018, 09:21 AM:

From the captions on a BBC video about a mother cat who adopted some ducklings along with her newborn kittens: "mothering hormones were coarsing through her blood."

#49 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2018, 10:27 AM:

True but redundant: "errant nonsense".

#50 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2018, 10:28 PM:

KeithS (49): Not necessarily; there is such a thing as deliberate nonsense*. However, the phrase does appear to be self-referential.

*the works of Lewis Carroll spring to mind

#51 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2018, 08:42 AM:

oldster (and abi): I just looked into this for a copy-editing job, and the quotation is complicated. errare humanum est appears in Seneca, I believe, and was certainly current in his day: the Cicero variant is only one example of what seems to have been a common phrase.

sed perseverare diabolicum does not appear in Seneca's surviving works, which does not of course mean he didn't write it. But the most likely source is Ambrose's contemporary St Augustine,Sermons 164.10.14: Humanum fuit errare, diabolicum est per animositatem in errore manere: it is human to err, but devilish to cling on to your error out of contrariness. His target was the Donatists, whom he figured knew they were wrong but didn't want to admit it.

And Fragano is right: castitas and continentia in Augustine's day were terms with different technical meanings: chastity did not rule out sex but meant having sex only within a legitimate marriage; continentia is really just self-control, but applied to sex in general. Neither implied virginitas, which Jerome was pressing for at the time.

#52 ::: oldster ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2018, 10:54 AM:

candle @51--

Thanks! That is super interesting and helpful.

Because you give a citation for the Augustine sermon, it is possible for anyone to go to a standard edition of Augustine and verify what it says, and also understand its context.

You'll find sermon 164 listed along the left column here.

That's how one attributes a quotation to an historical figure.

And when someone can give me a citation in a standard edition of Seneca's works which contains " errare humanum est," then I'll be happy to attribute that to him, too.

But I have checked the standard editions of Seneca, and I cannot find it. I cannot find anything like it. If he said something like it, he used different words.

Looking for a quotation is not a mysterious process: the writings of Seneca are now just a text-file (or several text-files) like any other file, and can be searched mechanically.

Maybe I searched badly, or unimaginatively, and something like this quotation remains to be found in Seneca. That's fine! In that case, someone will find it, and give us a standard citation, and we'll all know where it is, and have evidence that Seneca said it.

But until then, we have no reason to attribute it to Seneca.

We have no other access to "what Seneca said" than this. We have no grounds for saying "Seneca said X" other than what we find in the writings of Seneca.

(Well, his writings, augmented by early reports from reliable witnesses. Luckily, such early reports are now generally included in an author's published corpus as "fragmenta" or "testimonia" and the like, and are equally amenable to searching and citation.)

So: can someone show some evidence, before continuing to say "Seneca said this"?

Related point: proper citation not only gives us solid evidence for attribution, it also gives us *context*.

And context in this case allows us to observe two things about the "in errore manere" line in Augustine:

1) it is not *all* persistence in error that is labeled diabolical here, but rather persistence when animated by animosity;
2) it is also possible, given the context, that Augustine is not speaking about any persistence other than the persistence of the Donatists. That is, the sense here may be "to err is human, but *the Donatists'* persistence in error is clearly motivated by animosity, spurred on by Satan." Heretics are the limbs of the devil, after all.

So: given what Augstine says here, it is likely that he thinks that there is a lot of non-diabolical persistence in error -- for instance, any persistence not motivated by animosity. It is also possible that he thought there was even persistence based on animosity that was not diabolical, so long as it was not the persistence of heretics like the Dponatists.

That said, this is a terrific find, which thoroughly explodes my contention in #29 that quotations that link persisting in error with diabolical causes are the result of a conflation in the last few centuries. For that I'm very grateful.

#53 ::: oldster ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2018, 10:58 AM:

Hmmm...not a great link.

Try this one.

#54 ::: oldster ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2018, 11:02 AM:

Sigh. I'm not good at embedding links, so here it is unembedded:

https://www.augustinus.it/latino/discorsi/tavola_discorsi.htm

#55 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2018, 11:47 AM:

This fits in with some of my brother's kvetching about The Big Bang Theory. Sheldon has a theory, and then finds out that a previous guy, a Russian, had the same thought, and then said it was obviously wrong. Hilarity ensues, as they say.

It's all over very quickly, and that's not science. You persist in error, until you resolve the discrepancy. If you have different results from an experiment, you want to know why the difference happens.

It started with my brother complaining about people (he was less polite) contracting out the task of finding citations, on the grounds that If you can't find your own citations you don't understand what you're working on. I can see that, synonyms come into it for any search.

And, yeah, what you are using the error for has to matter.

Incidentally, he keeps posting pictures to Twitter, mostly landscapes. Including infra red, which does all sorts of strange things: black skies, no haze, white grass, it's odd. He bought a modded camera, but some smartphones can detect IR. Try yours, look for a light on your TV remote.

Infra-red picture here

#56 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2018, 09:41 PM:

"she heard cries of help"

Really? We're having trouble with prepositions now?

#57 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2018, 09:42 PM:

Oh dear. I spoke too soon:
"155 miles-per-hour winds ravished the home"

Did it at least offer a smoke after...?

#58 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2018, 09:55 PM:

Jacque (56): Maybe it's not preposition trouble but punctuation trouble: She heard cries of "Help!".

#59 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2018, 10:46 AM:

In the “funding provided by” section of several Season 11 episodes of Cook’s Country:

“Wine and recipes have one thing in common: they’re made with love and meant to be shared.”

#60 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2018, 10:07 PM:

I think this one needs a little re-writing:
As she so longed to do, she is now free to run barefoot jubilantly through the gardens of Heaven with her redeemer and adoring husband.

#61 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2018, 12:30 AM:

"My parents, Ayn Rand and God"

#62 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2018, 12:34 AM:

Yes, but which is which?

#63 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: December 24, 2018, 12:50 AM:

Someone I know just printed up lyrics (copied from an online source without editing) for "Silent Night,", which included the line "Round you Virgin, Mother and Child" -- does that imply that Joseph was the Virgin, instead of Mary? Makes for a much less interesting Nativity, sort of a Dog Bites Man headline.

#64 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2018, 04:14 PM:

"cultural moors that were no longer normal"

Or pining thereon, I imagine.

#65 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2018, 04:44 PM:

I don't think the headline is saying exactly what they meant:
Newspaper plant virus halts Los Angeles Times deliveries

#66 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2018, 02:12 PM:

Carrie S.: or, to prove that an Oxford comma is not the solution:

"To my mother, Ayn Rand, and God"


#67 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2018, 03:40 PM:

candle (66): Yay, a sample sentence in which the Oxford comma is wrong! I had come across one once, but could never find it again.

My tenth grade English teacher taught us always to use the Oxford comma*, on the pragmatic grounds that sometimes it was necessary and was never wrong, so if we got in the habit of using it, we wouldn't have to stop and think about whether this particular sentence needed it. A few years later, I did find a counterexample, but I kept using the Oxford comma anyway.

*although she didn't call it that. She might have used the term 'serial comma', but I think she (we) didn't have an actual name for it.

#68 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2018, 04:50 PM:

66 & 67: Uh...I don't get it...? Candle's example tells me there are three people being addressed:
1. Mom
2. Ayn Rand
3. God

What am I missing?

#69 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2018, 05:01 PM:

67
"Mom" can be misunderstood as "Ayn Rand".

#70 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2018, 06:18 PM:

Jacque, consider: "And to my mother, Connie, I leave the following..." Even in the list form what's between the commas can be construed as a clarification, not an additional entry in the list.

#71 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2018, 06:42 PM:

@69 & 70: Hm. Okay. I guess? I mean, that's not how I parse it at all. Which says that, to me, the Oxford comma very much is the correct construction here?

How would you edit it so it would be clearer that it's a list?

#72 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2018, 08:46 PM:

Jacque (71): It's the wrong construction because it *can* be misread, not because it inevitably will be.

Rephrasings:

"God, my mother, and Ayn Rand" would work. So would putting "my mother" at the end.

"My mother, God, and Ayn Rand" is a bit more dubious but should still be okay.

#73 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2018, 08:48 PM:

Or just leave out the Oxford comma in this case. That works, too.

#74 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2018, 10:50 PM:

It's not the Oxford comma that's the problem there. There are two issues:

  1. The order of the list introduces ambiguity, and
  2. The author has the execrable taste to dedicate someone to that icon of selfishness, hypocrisy, and horrible hack prose, Ayn Rand.

#75 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2018, 11:05 PM:

Xopher:

  1. Thank you. I couldn't quite articulate it, but that's exactly my issue, and
  2. *snrk!*
#76 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2018, 12:11 AM:

Honestly, in that case, I'd dedicate it, "To my mother, and Ayn Rand, and God."

Well, actually I'd personally never dedicate ANYTHING to Ayn Rand other than, possibly, a bowel movement, but I believed that's the least ambiguous solution to the problem.

#77 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2018, 12:14 PM:

or
"To my mother, to Ayn Rand, and to God". Which also fixes it, but, yeah, I'm not dedicating anything useful to Ayn Rand.

#78 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2019, 06:36 AM:

Pretty sure this one is an auto-miscorrect: “They have not yet reached full burnout, but they are encroaching it,” she said.

#79 ::: James E ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2019, 09:27 AM:

Spotted on Twitter: “up ship creak without a paddle”

#80 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2019, 09:48 AM:

Yes, my point (as Mary Aileen says) was only that the Oxford comma does not inevitably clear up any and all ambiguity. There are plenty of ways of fixing the sentence, but that is also true of other ambiguous sentences which do not use the Oxford comma.

I do agree with Xopher and others that the far more significant problem here is anyone dedicating anything to Ayn Rand, but I believe that is the trad. illustration of the case.

#81 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2019, 07:57 PM:

Ayn Rand is in the traditional illustration because she didn't want to share credit for anything with anybody, certainly not with God.

#82 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2019, 12:35 AM:

This one's not the usual sort of eggcorn, but it seemed on-topic. I'm on the mailing list for the local jeweler from whom we commissioned our wedding rings. Their latest one, advertising the resale of a pearl ring, made me go, "How's that again?":

There's a story behind every gem. What was once someone's treasure, now withholds the opportunity for a new journey.
#83 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2019, 05:45 PM:

David: "You might want it, but you can never have it! Mwa-hah-hah!"

Yeah, one suspects they meant "holds." Unusually creative autocarrot?

#84 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2019, 12:07 AM:

It looks to me like an antonymization of "presents". Someone hit an on-line thesaurus and clicked one too many times?

("Mrifk!")

#85 ::: estelendur ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2019, 02:34 PM:

This section will brevily look into state handling

"Brevily" is a delightful coinage!

#86 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2019, 09:14 PM:

"...it is a flex duck 3" in diameter." Whereupon I immediately pictured a rubber ducky.

#87 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2019, 12:00 AM:

Yes, that would be where you use your duck tape.

#88 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2019, 12:45 AM:

About an hour ago, our TV started screaming about an Amber Alert. (Except, bizarrely, it said "Presidential Alert", which is particularly odd given that we're in Canada.) The alert was about a child abduction that had apparently occurred about 5 hours drive from here.

Which, okay, isn't completely silly given that the father and child were last seen about 9 hours ago. But the alert was read by an automated system that totally mangled not only the names of the father and child, but the type of the car. "Honda Sivitch". This is... counterproductive.

#89 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2019, 09:42 AM:

88
The L.A. MTA (bus/light rail system) has text messages with computer-read audio. It needs training: it reads the slashes as "slash". (It also spells out some of the abbreviations.) This doesn't make it easy to understand.

#90 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2019, 10:47 AM:

I'm reminded of one of my favorite abbreviation-expansion bloopers. Several years ago - so probably wouldn't happen now - I was looking online for a map to an address that included the road FM 1960 in Houston. The FM road names are common in Texas - it stands for Farm to Market - and that particular one is a major road in its part of town. FM 1960 is the name of the road; it doesn't have any other name.

The map program kept translating FM as "Federated States of Micronesia," which did not produce useful mapping results.

#91 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2019, 11:00 AM:

90
I wonder what it would have done with the Texas RM roads. (My parents' house in west Texas was on FM 179 - the address while they lived there was a box on a mail route, but now it has an actual house number.)

#92 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2019, 07:51 PM:

I have seen -- and perpetrated -- some address expansion bloopers in my time. But fortunately placing the Federated States of Micronesia in Texas was not one of them. We would expand FM 1960 to FM Road 1960 and make sure it is slotted into the same bucket as County Road, State Highway, and so on.

For RM the easiest mistake would be to expand it to ROOM and then decide that the following number is a suite or apartment number.

#93 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2019, 02:04 AM:

OtterB: I've encountered that one! It happens that I live just south of a Farm to Market road (albeit one that does have another name, to wit, Westheimer). When I first moved to Houston, I was driving and using a Garmin GPS device. And when it instructed me as to which freeway exit to take – well, there was the FM right in the name of the exit. (Why it had to expand the abbreviation instead of saying "FM", I confess I don't know.)

#94 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2019, 01:03 PM:

The GPS thing that gets me is numbers. My Garmin always expands them to their full value.

Example: 1779
The standard way to say that in an address is either
one seven seven nine
or
seventeen seventy-nine
My Garmin pronounces it one thousand seven hundred seventy-nine

Argh!

#95 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2019, 02:14 PM:

I have not been impressed by Garmin GPS devices. Last month when I was in the area of Victoria, BC, I had a rental car with a Garmin. I was trying to get from a hospital to the house I was staying in, which was rather secluded in the hills. When the GPS told me to follow a different route than the one I expected, quite late one night, I did a mental shrug: perhaps it knew a back route that was shorter and/or faster than the somewhat roundabout highway route. But the roads got rougher, and narrower, and darker... then into the forest, and the road turned into a one-lane bumpy path. And then the GPS told me to drive into a tree.

Working hypotheses: (1) the GPS was hacked by a serial killer; (2) the GPS was possessed by the malevolent spirit of my late mother-in-law.

I was told later that the route I was directed to was shorter in terms of distance, though longer by time (the device was supposed to optimize for the latter). And technically passable in daylight if one was not concerned about one's suspension.

It took me some creative route-planning to trick it into directing me via a reasonable path. It made several other poor choices. And another Garmin unit that I borrowed for a while last year made some similar mistakes. Though I find it very useful -- in some cases I would say necessary -- to have a navigator when I don't know my route well, I wouldn't choose a Garmin.

#96 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2019, 11:39 PM:

There's a half-block stretch of a street I commonly walk to and from work that Google Maps will not plot a path for. It insists on routing you around that stretch of road (by preference, over two blocks so you can helpfully stop by the transit center—that you have no need to go to if you're trying to walk from point A to point B), even when the route adds anywhere from a quarter to a half mile over the direct straight shot down the road. There is absolutely nothing remarkable about that stretch of street to warrant this diversion.

I have more than once considered stopping in to the Google campus a block away from the "problem" stretch of road and pointing this out to them.

#97 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2019, 11:07 AM:

Various #88-96: It may in fact help to file error reports, though I'd bet it helps more for Google than for Garmin. Which says nothing about the ethics of a company crowdsourcing their error-correction to their user base.

I've written previously about the time I tried to use Apple Maps to walk (that is, explicitly selecting "walking directions" from my house to downtown.

First it directed me along a highway most of which didn't even have sidewalks. Eventually, it directed me to turn right off the highway and cut across to another street. Turning and looking off the shoulder of the highway, I beheld: Old barbed-wire fencing, a 15' deep gully, a 10' chain-link fence, and a few hundred feet of forest, beyond which was visible the back of a small shopping center's parking lot.

Admittedly, that was a few years ago, but it made me quite wary of their walking directions since.

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