Saturday, January 26, 2002

True-----------1/2 True-----------False

Advertisers have always manipulated language to sell products. In this advertising campaign for a new lightbulb, GE has made a claim that I find difficult to accept--this new light bulb "reveals true light". I object to this not just for the standard reason ("don't believe everything you read") but even more so from a general semantics point of view. If they had claimed that their bulb delivers a light that people find more comfortable, more agreeable, a light that makes things look nice, I would not have objected. But "true light"--true for whom and in what sense? Read the advertising fluff and judge for yourself:
GE Lighting Reveals A Light That Will Change The Way People See Their World

Wednesday, January 23, 2002

What Color is Your Universe?

Astronomers have worked out the color of the Universe � and the calculated shade lies between aquamarine and a pale turquoise. Note that this does not describe any particular star or dust cloud or planet in any particular quadrant of the Universe. It happens that the large number of old red giant stars and hot new blue stars averages out to a frequency just on the green side of turquoise.

Does this "mean" our "universe is turquoise"? For practical purposes, it means very little. For theoretical purposes, it means that if you had an eye large enough to see large swaths of the universe, you might get the impression of turquoise. As so often seems to happen, science makes one statement and the popular press turns it into a whole different message.
Space News 11/01/2002 What colour is the Universe?

Tuesday, January 15, 2002


A word is not the same with one writer as with another. One tears it from his guts. The other pulls it out of his overcoat pocket.
-Charles Peguy, poet and essayist (1873-1914)

Monday, January 07, 2002

Language as Obfuscation

Euphemism--while the word comes from the Greek for "good speaking," these days it more often refers to a word or phrase intended to soften reality, cover up something embarrassing or divert attention from the "reality" of a situation. Indeed, Oxford College of Emory University's Dr. Kent Linville, referred to euphemisms as "linguistic fig leaves." The following euphemisms appeared in email from readers of the A Word A Day service, a.k.a AWAD. The word "euphemism" had figured in a message the previous week, and it triggered quite a flood of "me too" messages about favorite euphemisms.

From the "A Dictionary of Contemporary American Usage" by Bergen and Cornelia Evans, 1957: "The opposite of euphemism is dysphemism. If it is plain talk to call a spade a spade and a euphemism to call it a delving instrument, it is a dysphemism to call it a bloody shovel."

In Edward Albee's play "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" when George wants Martha to help their guest Honey to the bathroom, he says "Show her where we keep the euphemism."

How about "urban outdoorsman" for a homeless person, "yesterday's fresh" for day-old pastries, or "vintage" or the even better "previously new" for used or old.

In some legal circles, it is said that when a person dies, their estate "matures". Worse yet, emergency medical technicians use the acronym ART for such people, indicating that the person is "Assuming Room Temperature"!

At Three Mile Island, they apparently had an "unscheduled energetic disassembly" not an "explosion".