For the last few days I have been busy writing. Which is the reason why I have not been writing for the blog. Actually, whenever I have any serious writing to do, I find that I have a whole lot of important pieces on the web that urgently need reading. Or videos that need watching. They’re so important that I think you should also read them or watch them, as the case may be.
Many of my pet peeves involve the abuse of language, a subject that I have occasionally touched upon in these pages. For instance, using the words ‘knowledge’ and ‘information’ interchangeably leads to sloppy thinking that often result in waste of effort and money. Here’s a bit from about six years ago in “Knowledge and Information“:
One of my basic convictions is that symbol manipulation ability is what distinguishes intelligent entities from non-intelligent ones. For manipulating increasingly larger chunks of symbols, we create higher level symbols which encode a number of lower level symbols. Vocabulary is then that set of symbols. I would define an extensive vocabulary as one with a large number of symbols, that is, the width of the vocabulary. Vocabulary can also be more or less intensive, depending upon the complexity – or depth – of the symbols. Higher intelligences have the need and the capacity to handle more extensive and intensive vocabularies.
Vocabulary matters. It allows us to reason about the real world more effectively. It allows us to avoid illogical constructs arrived at through ill-defined and vague ideas poorly understood and consequently improperly communicated.
One of my pet peeves (which stimulated this comment) is the conflating of ‘information’ and ‘knowledge’. They are cats of two distinct breeds and are not interchangeable. The first does not require a brain whereas the latter cannot exist outside a brain. A telephone directory does not have knowledge of my phone number; it merely represents that data as information. When you look up and internalize that information, you have knowledge of my phone number.
Here’s another one on language that I would especially like you to read — “Rajivspeak is getting out of hand” from March 2008:
One of my pet peeves is the idiotic mixing of English and Hindi words in advertising copy which is cropping up everywhere on billboards and in print. Perhaps it is considered cool. But it is cool in only the way that displaying abysmal stupidity and illiteracy is cool–which is to say it isn’t. What it advertises is that that both the writer and the readers don’t quite know either of the languages and perhaps don’t even know that they don’t know the distinction between the two. I call it “rajivspeak” in honor of the man who was a master in this regard.
The post had an example of rajivspeak: “country ki economic situation detriorate hotey jaa rahi hai. Five year plan ke allocations properly distribute nahin huey, jissey problems exacerbate ho gaye. hum poori tarah vigilant rahenge ki plans ka proper implementation ho. agricultural subsidies jo hain, unhey hum appropriate tareekey se apply karenge aur vested interests ko mil kar confront karenge. humein dekhna hai ki jab hum firmly united hain aur hamarey interests ko firmly defend karte hain to duniya ki koi bhi power hamein subvert nahin kar sakti . . .”
What brought this to mind? Recently I had made a few tweets about my pet language peeves–
Listen up. “Loosing” is not the spelling of “losing.” Spelling matters because language matters.
6:52 AM Sep 7th via web from Downtown, Washington
“Could care less” means “I care”; “couldn’t care less” means “I don’t care”. Saying the exact opposite of what one means is retarded.
10:46 AM Sep 7th via web from Downtown, Washington
“Begs the question” does not mean “raises the question” even if you’re an Indian http://bit.ly/bC4BMH
8:20 AM Sep 8th via web from Downtown, Washington
Just by the by, my tweets are @atanudey. Today @suraj_jt tweeted a link to this video by David Mitchell in which he says that the Queen wants Americans to please stop saying “could care less” when they mean the exact opposite. Queen’s English and all that.
I checked out another video by Mitchell. Here it is:
He’s funny and articulate. The point he makes is summed up in the old saying, “A swallow does not a summer make.” That bit of folk wisdom is very important for us to keep in mind. Too often the outliers are just outliers and are not all that relevant in the larger scheme of things. Sure, India has a number of billionaires. But that fact is immaterial to the fact that India is an extremely poor country. What should be a matter of concern to us is why is India so.