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October 20th, 2017 (Permalink)

A Fabulously-Sized Euphemism

According to reports, Kmart is planning to stop calling some women's clothes "plus-sized" and start calling them "fabulously-sized"1. Kmart announced this plan a little more than a month ago, and it appears to have met with some derision2. I don't live near a Kmart store so I can't check one out, but Kmart's website has no sign of the phrase "fabulously-sized" as far as I have been able to find. There is still a page for the category of "Plus Size Clothing", under "Women's Clothing". So, perhaps the chain has wisely decided to drop the silly new euphemism.

The phrase that was supposed to be replaced, "plus-sized", is itself a euphemism, since "plus" tends to have a "positive" overtone: would they call the sizes for short or thin people "minus sizes"? Of course not! However, the euphemistic effect of "plus-sized" seems to have worn off:

Of the language shift, [Kelly] Cook [Kmart’s chief marketing officer] said, “When we reached out to our members on social media, they told us…we should call it something different. They absolutely love this whole mantra of "Fabulously Sized.”1

If you can't trust a "marketing officer", who can you trust? How about a "plus-sized" model:

"…[P]lus-size feels outdated and no one thinks of it in a positive way," model Marquita Pring told Cosmopolitan. "It's always got this sort of stigma attached to it. I'd like to do away with that."3

Okay, but how long do you think it will take before "fabulously-sized" no longer fools anyone? What's happened to "plus-sized" is "euphemism inflation", in which a euphemism loses value over time and must be replaced. Of course, the new euphemism will eventually lose its power and need replacing, and the process will repeat itself4.

Another euphemism that apparently hasn't completely lost its euphemistic power is "full-figured": "By adding larger size options to its brand mix, full-figured shoppers can find everything from casual, basic fare to 'date night' looks, like 'a little black dress in a size 18,' Cook says."5 Those "full-figured" shoppers are the ones wearing those "plus-sized" clothes, which suggests that women who don't must have figures that are not "full". If you're not full-figured are you only partially-figured?

And shouldn't that be "a fabulously-sized black dress"?

Notes:

  1. See: "Kmart rebrands plus-size section, calls it 'fabulously-sized'", Fox News, 9/11/2017
  2. See: E.J. Schultz, Adrianne Pasquarelli & Jessica Wohl, "Marketer's Brief: Kmart's 'Fabulously-Sized' Pitch Is Jeered", Ad Age, 9/13/2017.
  3. Lauren Chan, "The Problem With Kmart's Relabeling Plus Size as 'Fabulously Sized'", Glamour, 9/12/2017
  4. Steven Pinker calls it "the euphemism treadmill", see: The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (2002), pp. 212-213.
  5. Barbara Thau, "Kmart Ditches 'Plus-Sized' For 'Fabulously Sized' Amid Bold Expansion Of Larger Sizes", Forbes, 9/11/2017

October 6th, 2017 (Permalink)

Counterfeit Goods

"If the facts don't fit the theory, change the facts."―Albert Einstein1

I've noted previously that Albert Einstein is a quote magnet, that is, any quote about science will eventually be attributed to him2. Moreover, Einstein is the paradigm example of a "genius", so many quotes having nothing to do with science are attributed to him as a sort of all-purpose authority on everything. As Ann Althouse writes:

People love to pass along quotes they think are from Einstein because Einstein is the one name everyone associates with GENIUS! and we have this delusion that if a genius says something, on any subject, it must be genius. Consequently, the "Einstein" label gets slapped on some counterfeit goods.3

The specific example of such "counterfeit goods" that Althouse was referring to came from bodybuilder, former California Governor, and still movie star, Arnold Schwarzenegger. In reference to political gerrymandering, Schwarzenegger said: “As Einstein said, those who created the problem will not be able to solve it.”4

Schwarzenegger was arguing that redistricting ought to be taken out of the hands of politicians because they would not be able to stop gerrymandering. By attributing the quote to Einstein, he hoped to give it a rhetorical power it wouldn't otherwise have. Schwarzenegger may have a point about the likelihood of politicians solving the problem of gerrymandering, but the quote appears not to be Einstein.

As Einstein actually said: "Many things which go under my name are badly translated from the German or are invented by other people." It's not as catchy, but it has the virtue of being true.5

Notes:

  1. This is not actually Einstein, see: Jessica Estepa, "Albert Einstein estate corrects old Ivanka Trump tweet: No, he didn't say that", USA Today, 7/25/2017.
  2. Book Club: Wrong, Chapter 2: "The Trouble with Scientists", Part 1, 1/31/2011.
  3. Ann Althouse, "'As Einstein said, those who created the problem will not be able to solve it.'", Althouse, 10/4/2017.
  4. Adam Liptak & Michael D. Shear, "Kennedy’s Vote Is in Play on Voting Maps Warped by Politics", The New York Times, 10/3/2017.
  5. George Seldes, The Great Thoughts (Revised edition, 1996), p. 132. Via: Ralph Keyes, "Nice Guys Finish Seventh": False Phrases, Spurious Sayings, and Familiar Misquotations (1993), p. 175.

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September 22nd, 2017 (Permalink)

"Ignorance is Slavery"

One reason we have so much junk news these days is junk reporters on junk news networks. Case in point: Abby Martin. You may not have heard of Ms. Martin, as I hadn't until a few days ago. She used to have a show on the RT America network called "Breaking the Set", and one episode included a segment celebrating George Orwell's birthday and discussing his book 1984.1 As a big fan of Orwell, I was interested. However, as I watched the video, I could barely believe what I was seeing:

A high school book report on 1984 with these mistakes would get an F6. Introducing the book, Martin comments: "Let me just say that if you have not read this book, you must." She should have taken her own advice. However, the video looks professionally produced, and not like it was shot in her bedroom using a webcam. If it were an amateur production, I'd be more forgiving of its amateurish errors. All of which raises the questions:

Now, you may think I'm being a bit hard on Martin and RT; perhaps RT is like PBS or the BBC, which are at least partially funded by their respective governments, but are not propaganda outfits. However, the day after Martin's on-air criticism, another RT anchor, Liz Wahl, said the following, also live on-air:

Last night, RT made international headlines when one of our anchors went on the record and said Russian intervention in Crimea is wrong. And, indeed, as a reporter on this network I faced many ethical and moral challenges…. …Personally, I cannot be part of a network funded by the Russian government that whitewashes the actions of Putin. I'm proud to be an American and believe in disseminating the truth, and that is why, after this newscast, I am resigning.12

No doubt both Martin and Wahl may have been naive in joining RT in the first place but Wahl, at least, eventually caught on to the fact that she was being used as a propagandist13. There's no sign that Martin has ever figured this out or cares. Since leaving RT America a few years ago, Martin has gone on to another state propaganda job, this time for TeleSUR, which is financed by Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, and some other Latin American countries14.

At the beginning of the first episode of Breaking the Set, Martin was shown smashing a television set with a sledgehammer15, hence the title. I do sympathize.

Notes:

  1. "1984: Blueprint for US Authoritarianism | Happy Birthday George Orwell", Breaking the Set, 6/27/2013.
  2. George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia (1938).
  3. Richard Cavendish, "Publication of 1984", History Today, 6/6/1999.
  4. George Orwell, 1984 (1949) in Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four: Text, Sources, Criticism, edited by Irving Howe (1963), p. 3.
  5. The video as it currently can be seen on RT America's YouTube channel―see Note 1, above―has a correction of the slogans overlaying the original versions, though you can still see, and Martin speaks, the incorrect ones.
  6. It may not be a mistake exactly, but the second photograph seemingly of Orwell shown in the video is not him, but a wax figure from Madame Tussaud's wax museum! Perhaps the producers knew this when selecting the picture, but their track record does not inspire confidence. There's also no notice in the video that this is not a photograph of Orwell. See here: "George Orwell―Political language", Mein Krampf, 8/28/2016.
  7. "Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections", Intelligence Community Assessment, 1/6/2017, Annex A, p. 12 (PDF).
  8. See, also: Benjamin Bidder, "Putin's Weapon in the War of Images", Spiegel Online, 8/13/2013.
  9. "Fake News Headline", 12/19/2016.
  10. Robert Mackey, "Russia Today Host Has Roots in ‘9/11 Truth’ Movement", The Lede, 3/4/2014.
  11. James Kirchick, "RT Anchor’s Riff Not as ‘Rogue’ As It Seems", Tablet, 3/4/2014.
  12. Debbie Emery, "Russia Today Anchor Liz Wahl Quits Live On-Air (Video)", The Hollywood Reporter, 3/5/2014. The video of the resignation speech is available here: "RT America's Liz Wahl resigns live on air", RT, 3/5/2014.
  13. See, also: Elizabeth Wahl, "I Was Putin's Pawn", Politico, 3/21/2014.
  14. "teleSUR Launches New Investigative TV Show Hosted by Abby Martin", Market Watch, 9/3/2015. This reads like a press release.
  15. "Debut Show | Breaking The Set", Breaking the Set, 9/4/2012.

Correction (9/26/2017): I've corrected a grammatical error.


September 12th, 2017 (Permalink)

Puzzle I

The following equation was found scratched into a section of the wall of an ancient Roman house excavated by archaeologists:

X + XI = XIX

Doing arithmetic with Roman numerals is notoriously difficult, and the equation is clearly incorrect. Is it possible that the Roman mathematician who wrote it simply made an error in addition? Or, can the equation be corrected without adding, removing, or altering any of the symbols?

Solution


September 11th, 2017 (Permalink)

Who is Adolph Hitler and why does he keep saying these terrible things?

I didn't mention it in my previous entry about an apocryphal quote1, but many of the sources that quote it without any mention of its dubious status attribute it to one "Adolph" Hitler. Here's another one:

This year will go down in history! For the first time, a civilized nation has full gun registration! Our streets will be safer, our police more efficient, and the world will follow our lead into the future!

If you do a websearch for this passage, you'll find plenty of occurrences and many of them attribute it to "Adolph" in 1935. Like the previous example1, this is not a quote of Nazi Fuehrer Adolf Hitler, and who actually wrote it is unknown2,3.

Exactly when this pseudo-quote was created is also unclear, though it's clear that it's not from 1935. The earliest reference to it that I've been able to find is almost sixty years later in a signature file to a Google Groups posting on injuries to the hands from playing conga drums4! The fake quote may have been floating around for awhile before then, though not long enough to have made it into print or pixels, so it appears likely that it was faked in the early '90s.

Moreover, '92 was a presidential election year, with soon-to-be president Bill Clinton running against incumbent George H. W. Bush and Ross Perot. Since Democrat Clinton supported both the Brady bill and assault weapon restrictions, I suspect that the false quote was hoaxed up during '92 as an attack on Clinton. However, unless the true author comes forward and 'fesses up, we'll probably never know.

In any case, I don't think you'll find this faux quote on any sites promoting gun control on the grounds that Hitler was all for it. Rather, those who use it are against regulation of guns, such as registration, and hope to discredit it by association with Nazism. In other words, they're playing the Hitler card, and even if the "quote" weren't fraudulent it would still be fallacious5.

As is true of the previous "quote" of "Adolph", a number of quotation websites include this bogus quote with no indication that it is suspect. For this reason, I suggest double-checking any quote you find on such a site with a reliable dictionary of quotations before using it yourself.

At the risk of committing a hasty generalization based on only two examples, I would also suggest that any quote attributed to Adolph Hitler be viewed with greater than usual suspicion. After all, if those who cite such a supposed quote can't even spell the alleged author's name….

Notes:

  1. Passage of Propaganda, 7/28/2017. See the poster pictured for the odd spelling.
  2. "Bogus Gun Control Quotes", GunCite, 5/8/2002
  3. SD Staff DavidB, "Did Hitler ban gun ownership?", The Straight Dope, 6/16/2000
  4. "Conga drum ailment", 12/2/1992
  5. The Hitler Card

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