Few things annoy me more than when a writer dramatically builds up to a revelation or punchline that turns out to be already obvious. Here's an example from the Times this week:
In the drawing, a nude man and woman stand on either side of a wall. Each wears a plastic breathing mask that covers the nose and mouth; the masks are connected to air hoses that pass through the wall. The hoses attach to pouches at each other’s underarms and crotches. [OMG they're huffing each other's stank!]
It is a device that allows people — and there is no polite way to put this — [Whoa, what's he about to reveal that's even cruder than the fact that they're remotely huffing each other's stank?!] to sniff each other. Remotely.
Experimental psychologists frequently ask people to rate things on a scale: How difficult is this task (1=super easy, 5=way hard); Are you a big drinker (1=no, 2=not sure, 3=yes); Is this task difficult because you are currently drunk (1=no, 7=what's the question again?). Etc.
The concept of a ratings scale is pretty simple and widely applicable. Yet somehow, just because some guy named Rensis Likert wrote a paper about using these scales back in 1932, whenever researchers mention a ratings scale in a study, they call it a Likert scale. Here's an example from a paper I covered for an upcoming issue of Psychology Today: "Participants made these ratings on a 9-point Likert scale (1 = not at all physically attractive/sexually promiscuous, 9 = very physically attractive/sexually promiscuous)."
Under US law, obtaining a patent requires that your invention is nonobvious. Here is a concept that is both obvious, and not even this guy's invention, and it's now named after him. It makes me wonder what it would take to get the checkbox named after me. Or for researchers to have to write stuff like "Subjects then answered a Hutson yes-or-no question about whether they liked cake."
(On your way out, please rate this post on a 1-point Likert scale in the comments section. (1=nerdy but kinda rad). I'll be running stats shortly.)
Today I scheduled interviews for three internship applicants. Three out of three emailed me to ask where our office is.
Seriously? The address is on the front page of our Web site. I almost want to not respond and use it as a test for admission. But I can't because these are the cream of the crop. If people with Ivy League credentials and graduate degrees in journalism don't have the reporting skills to check psychologytoday.com for Psychology Today's street address, how can I expect them to do any kind of research that goes beyond—or even is limited to—Googling stuff? A bit of initiative and resourcefulness, people!
Seriously, I fear not only for my office productivity, but also for the future of journalism and thus democracy itself.
You know what I hate? The use of the pilcrow (paragraph sign, ¶) as a design element. Often in magazines, articles will begin with a block of text that's in bigger type than the rest of the piece. If the part of the story filling that block is more than one paragraph long, instead of using a line break and an indent as usual the designer will keep the text flowing but stick a pilcrow in there.
There are several reasons to stop this. First, it's an ugly, elaborate character, especially for what it does. Use a pipe or a bullet (| or •) or some other arbitrary symbol, as long as it's clean.
Second, it's too explicit. The reader shouldn't stop to think, even subconsciously for a few milliseconds, "Oh, that symbol looks like a backwards P with an extra leg, and P stands for paragraph, and they're telling me that they're starting a new paragraph here." No, don't spell it out. Keep it simple. Again, any subtle visual cue would work. Did I mention the bullet?
Third, it just looks like someone forgot to turn "display formatting" off. Stop being meta and trendy.
I hate heather grey. It just might be the worst color there is. I don't understand why people wear heather grey clothes when they don't have to. Once in a while I can make an exception for a t-shirt or sweatshirt, like if it has a school logo on it (as if you're at team practice!), but anything beyond that is beyond me.
Heather grey has several associations I can't suppress. It reminds me of a high school gym class. The kind in 80's movies where they suit you in heather grey duds, presumably the cheapest cloth available, where appearance is not an issue. Why would you wear a blouse made out of gym clothing material? Related: I expect to see sweat stains on anything made of that stuff. And heather grey tube socks I won't touch even if they're clean.
What gives it that cheap look? I can only assume that the manufacturer doesn't bother to fully mix the solid grey and the solid white. It looks like it's made of random leftover shreds of cotton half-assedly blended together and then somehow melded into a fabric. Heather grey is the sartorial equivalent of chipboard.
Heather grey accent stripes elicit this response: Oh, they almost had enough normal material to make a full shirt. All but those thin stripes. So close!
What's that noise? A siren? Do y'all hear the Language Police about to bring the beatdown?
Okay, so, what's the deal with giving two titles to things and placing "or" in between them? Example: A photo labeled "Second attempt to clone mental disorder or How one philosophizes with a hammer." Now, I did write a whole post about how great that photo caption is, but it's great because what comes before "or" and what comes after work together. I have to translate "or" into "and" or a simple colon; otherwise, the synergy dissipates.
Read "or" literally and it's like, well what's the fucking title of your piece? Is it A or B? Let's look at the inverse scenario. You wouldn't pick a single title and then put two separate paintings on the wall and say "Um, 'Dancing Daisies' is this one or that one." You wouldn't publish two novels in the same volume with a big page that says "or" in between and a single title slapped on the cover.
So take a look at this article headline: "The End of Originality Or, why Michael Bay's The Island failed at the box office." Oh, I get to pick what the article is titled? Wheee!
It's like these titles are fucking choose your own adventures. So, yeah, screw the simple "or"; here are selected excerpts from the title of my next abstract expressionist painting: "...Skip To Title 34 for a More Wry Interpretation of This Piece... If You Are Currently Feeling Incensed by Life's Great Injustices You Might Like Something in a... Otherwise Jump to... Not Feeling Any of These Titles Yet? Try... Oh Screw It, Buy the Fucking Thing and Name It What the Hell You Want."
God, why do creative types have to ruin everything?
My dad's first book just came out: L.eadership in N.onprofit O.rganizations by B.arry D.ym and H.arry Hutson (B.arry and H.arry!). [I have added periods to prevent my parents (H.arry and Sally!) from accidentally discovering my blog via Google. See likely scenario.] He's a leadership and organizational consultant but has decided to write books too. No doubt there is some source of value (and income) in this line of work, but to be honest I fell asleep reading the back cover. It advertises features like
"Chapters on leadership constructs such as fit, dynamics, readiness and flow which provide useful insights and methods to enable success,"
and the "Overarching concept of alignment which reframes leadership as an active process where the awareness of and response to the interplay of multiple, relevant factors matters more than charisma, pedigree or power."
Super. I am reminded of Office Space, or the multiple websites enumerating managerial lingo/jargon/buzzwords for giggles. Such as:
Call me a fogey. Call me a prescriptivist. Call me a pompous prick. But I still routinely flinch at the use of plural pronouns to signify gender-neutrality where singular pronouns are required. ("If you have a friend in trouble you should help them.") The correct generic pronouns are he and him. (I learned this lesson long ago from a female English teacher.) If you are uncomfortable with the practice, you can use the more awkward he/she and him/her, or simply alternate genders. But I think most people use they and them not for aesthetic or political reasons but out of laziness. Ok, in casual speech I can understand it. I do it sometimes too.
But if the gender is explicitly specified, I cannot tolerate it. Example from a website I encountered recently:
"Every Valentines day you rack your brains for that one special, unique gift that will show your wife or girlfriend [singular, feminine] that you really do care for them [ouch] more than any other."
Update: In multiple posts, the linguists at Language Log have argued the case that singular they is grammatically correct. In this post they cite Shakespeare as precedent and call me a "particularly puristic pusillanimous pontificator" (but not a pompous prick.)