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October 31st, 2017 (Permalink)

A Hallowe'en Treat of a Puzzle

On Hallowe'en night, after the trick-or-treating was done, thirty-five neighborhood children got together to compare their hauls of treats. The treats fell into three broad classes: candy, fruit, and nuts. Thankfully, every child received at least one treat in his or her Hallowe'en bag. According to their counts, the following facts were established:

  1. Two more children were given only fruit than received only candy.
  2. Two children found only nuts in their bags.
  3. Three less children found both candy and nuts but no fruit in their sacks than found both candy and fruit without any nuts.
  4. Three kids received only candy.
  5. Two less kids found only fruit in their bags than found both candy and nuts but no fruit.
  6. One more kid received nothing but fruit than was given both fruit and nuts but no candy.

Every child who received all three kinds of treat got a special prize. How many prizes were given out?



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"…[P]lus-size feels outdated and no one thinks of it in a positive way," model Marquita Pring told Cosmopolitan.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"?


  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


  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.

Solution to a Hallowe'en Treat of a Puzzle: Four

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