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etymology questions OK?
January 10, 2008 7:39 AM   Subscribe

Every now and again there's an etymology question on AskMe, and lately they inevitably feature the beloved languagehat popping in to warn people that speculation is pointless and that the only valid answers are to be found in reference books. (not bookist)

Because I'm a complicated person, I totally see his point, and I also totally enjoy those threads. Should etymology questions be off limits, or should languagehat stop pooping in the punch bowl?
posted by stupidsexyFlanders to Etiquette/Policy at 7:39 AM (257 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

If we were starting with off-limits questions, etymology would be low on my own personal list. I think the questions are fine, sometimes people copy/paste relevant stuff from the OED and sometimes people are just trying to get a sense of a word and don't care too much about the nitty-gritty. In the case of the recent "book" question, the fascinating part has been to see that a lot of people seem to have isolated it to a regionalism which I personally never considered before.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:42 AM on January 10, 2008


Should etymology questions be off limits, or should languagehat stop pooping in the punch bowl?

Neither? They should continue to be allowed and languagehat should continue to express his view and those that disagree should continue to express theirs.
posted by ND¢ at 7:45 AM on January 10, 2008 [8 favorites]


Oh and I should continue rocking.

GUITAR SOLO!
posted by ND¢ at 7:47 AM on January 10, 2008 [21 favorites]


50%* of AskMe threads don't have definitive answers anyway -- there's lots of guesses, suggestions, IANALs, etc. I don't think we need to hold etymological debates to a higher standards.


* balls-random estimate
posted by danb at 7:48 AM on January 10, 2008


I like those questions. I kind of just scrolled by the poopery, because it's not like it's going to stop anybody from throwing in their personal experience with the phrase/word.
posted by cashman at 7:50 AM on January 10, 2008


Pooping in the... ? Fuck.

*puts down punch disgustedly*
posted by koeselitz at 7:54 AM on January 10, 2008 [5 favorites]


On a related note, I speculate that the phrase "pooping in the punch bowl" was coined after an actual incident involving Catherine The Great.
posted by burnmp3s at 7:56 AM on January 10, 2008 [8 favorites]


I know, I thought that was a Baby Ruth bar, too. In retrospect, that really wouldn't make sense.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 7:57 AM on January 10, 2008


On a related note, I speculate that the phrase "pooping in the punch bowl" was coined after an actual incident involving Catherine The Great.

Citation please?
posted by felix betachat at 7:58 AM on January 10, 2008


I like the personal experience and pseudo answers, particularly when in in relation to questions where there might not be a clear and defined single answer. Having languagehat around is a huge asset to us, but he can't answer every question, nor is his wisdom relevant to all situations, and having a number of different perspectives might be useful to the questioner, or to those trying to provide a solution.

I just prefer it when people using this tactic are up front with it, and qualify it with "in my experience," or whatever.

DRUM SOLO!
posted by quin at 7:59 AM on January 10, 2008


Sometimes people know the answers, sometimes people don't, and sometimes people offer suggestions. Doesn't mean we should stop asking questions.
posted by iamkimiam at 8:00 AM on January 10, 2008


Language FAT! haha.
posted by hermitosis at 8:01 AM on January 10, 2008 [5 favorites]


Nothing wrong with etymology questions; nothing wrong with a civil note about the limitations of etymology. I thought it was a little funny that we had two so close together (and am willing to blame the former for triggering the latter), but unless we have some crazy rash of them we're probably okay.

Citation please?

She was at a party last weekend, it totally happened. Check my flickr stream.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:01 AM on January 10, 2008


Having languagehat around is a huge asset to us

Other than with etymology questions.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 8:06 AM on January 10, 2008


It's the thin end of the wedge and the top of a slippery slope all in one well mixed metaphor! They suck you into their perverted logophiliac world via gateway disciplines like etymology, and before you know it you're doing syntax, grammar and all manner of unholy shit. It will all end in punctuation, mark me words!
posted by Abiezer at 8:06 AM on January 10, 2008 [10 favorites]


l would consider it unwise to tolerate even the possibility of an unwelcome virus. A crazy etymology rash outbreak would look extremely bad on a report, would it not sir?
posted by cashman at 8:06 AM on January 10, 2008


Oh, and I also love how the two solutions offered here are:
1. ban all etymology questions
2. ban Language Hat from pooping in the punchbowl

Naturally.
posted by iamkimiam at 8:09 AM on January 10, 2008


imkimiam, #2 is just the option of removing AskMe comments that don't answer the question. This happens multiple times every day.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 8:12 AM on January 10, 2008


Calm down Abiezer, that train has sailed.
posted by Mister_A at 8:12 AM on January 10, 2008


Did you just call out languagehat?

Heavens preserve us!
posted by nasreddin at 8:13 AM on January 10, 2008


...or should languagehat stop pooping in the punch bowl?

As if.
posted by Dave Faris at 8:14 AM on January 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


I think the questions are fine and generate useful suggestions and ideas. The way I tend to read it is that languagehat's etymology contributions are generally useful and even when he has 'tude, like saying it's all a freshman bull session, he makes some legit points about how complicated it is to answer these questions definitively and that viewpoint is worth having. As long as his "Don't even bother asking this" answers do not outweigh his valid points, it's all gravy and if they do outweigh, just flag it as a derail. Banning a whole topic because of one user's on again, off again affair with legit contributions to that topic seems like a not so hot idea, nor a good precedent to set.
posted by sneakin at 8:22 AM on January 10, 2008


Imagine if we had an expert on every question who didn't answer the question, but just complained that the people who did answer shouldn't answer because they weren't qualified. That would be awful.
posted by smackfu at 8:23 AM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


Should etymology questions be off limits, or should languagehat stop pooping in the punch bowl?

Uh, what? I never said, implied, or thought that etymology questions should be off limits; I think they're great, as long as they don't involve words that can be looked up in any dictionary (for example, this one). And I am not "pooping in the punch bowl" any more than doctors are when they say people should not make guesses about other people's medical conditions. I have no problem with people saying "I heard that phrase in Buffalo in the '70s." I do have a problem with people saying "Maybe it's from [wild-ass guess]," and I will continue to say so. People do not seem to realize that etymology is not a matter of looking at something and seeing what it reminds you of; to the extent that a thread involves people making guesses like that, it's pure chatfilter. If a poster wants to know an etymology, that's great, and you can be of help by looking it up or by sending the poster to Wordorigins.org (which I frequently do). Random guesses do not help the poster, they are noise and should be deleted as such.
posted by languagehat at 8:23 AM on January 10, 2008 [7 favorites]


They shouldn't be off limits, but it's really true that there's a ton of folk etymology floating around, and it's difficult even for experts to establish the provenance of an etymological story. Also, people like amusing little unverified stories about etymology. I probably have 6 or 7 books full of basically nonsense etymology that people just gave me, thinking that as a linguist, I'd want them. It's also true that people have a tendency to believe plausible sounding etymologies and repeat them as fact. So you should feel free to post etymology questions, expect to get a certain amount of misinformation (perhaps no different from many other topics here), and expect someone like lh to show up and tell you this.
posted by advil at 8:25 AM on January 10, 2008


You guys are right! Also, we shouldn't allow Ikkuyu to tell people that they can't have their diseases diagnosed, or any of the lawyers to tell people that they need to actually consult a member of their state's bar, or any physicist to say that the question requires more experimentation, or programmers to tell people to read up on code instead of taking "perl sux" as an answer.

Down with experts! Up with people!
posted by klangklangston at 8:25 AM on January 10, 2008 [6 favorites]


Languagehat, what you did was to show up and say, "SHADDUP all you people, you don't know what you're talking about and shouldn't be posting."

If you have an answer, post it. But please leave your high horse at the door.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 8:26 AM on January 10, 2008


languagehat is correct about the uselessness of guesses. Made-up etymologies enter folklore far too easily, and are incredibly annoying. Specifically concerning Ask Metafilter, I thought that the guidelines were that random guesses at answers are not helpful. There is no reason why a guess is more suitable for an etymology question than any other request for facts. AskMe is not there for people to enjoy kicking bullshit ideas around, it's there to help people solve problems. The kind of guessing that languagehat is trying to discourage is chatfilter of the purest form, and should be punished by deletion, bannination, and admins coming round to the offenders' homes and pooping in their beverages.
Everybody enjoys chat, wisecracks and useless speculation, but AskMe is not the place for it.
posted by nowonmai at 8:27 AM on January 10, 2008 [7 favorites]


If you have an answer, post it. But please leave your high horse at the door.

Note for context: I have more than once told SCDB he didn't know what he was talking about.
posted by languagehat at 8:28 AM on January 10, 2008 [24 favorites]


Just out of curiosity, aside from presentation issues (like chatfilter), are there any subjects that are otherwise strictly off-limits on AskMe?
posted by Dave Faris at 8:28 AM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


You know what I hate? I hate it when people say entymology when they mean etymology.
That really bugs me.
posted by Floydd at 8:28 AM on January 10, 2008 [7 favorites]


Boooo!
posted by smackfu at 8:29 AM on January 10, 2008


Did you know that the word "poop" comes from the 18th Earl of Poop, who invented taking a crap in punch bowls?
posted by Mister_A at 8:31 AM on January 10, 2008 [9 favorites]


sometimes people copy/paste relevant stuff from the OED

Too bad OED isn't available online for free. Because the answer for almost all of these is just pasting in the OED entry. Or a William Safire column.
posted by smackfu at 8:33 AM on January 10, 2008


Speaking of entymology, Tolkien derived the name of his tree-shepherd race from the three points of the compass from which they all originate - "east", "north", and "thataway".

S'truth, I tells ya.
posted by yhbc at 8:33 AM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


Isn't it "entomology"? Or with you fat nerds, more like "Entenmannology", amirite?
posted by Mister_A at 8:34 AM on January 10, 2008


Seconding languagehat's point, and extending: one thing that typically happens when you tell someone you're studying linguistics is that you get asked how many languages you speak. This is only mildly irritating (to me), but it does serve as evidence that most people don't have a really good grasp of what the field actually is. I think this might be because it's not (sadly) something that's standardly taught as a stand-alone course in high school. Another problematic response I sometimes get is the attitude that just because my interlocutor speaks a language, he is qualified to "practice" the discipline by analyzing data, making pronouncements, etc. This would be akin to saying that you have a functioning liver and thus are able to discuss biochemistry. The danger of this is illustrated by this hack (nytimes link), who was nicely taken down over at languagelog.

I didn't find languagehat's comment in the thread particularly off-putting, just a friendly reminder that there are professionals in the field and their advice is more reliable. Akin to lawyer questions, it seems.
posted by tractorfeed at 8:38 AM on January 10, 2008 [7 favorites]


Or a William Safire column.

Replete with strikethrough and flashing warning signs.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:40 AM on January 10, 2008


"Smythe, oh Smythe, dammit where is that infernal butler, Edwina call the grooms and stableboys I seem to have shat in the punchbowl again. It is a giant one as well, it resembles an adult grouse. Got rot you woman I know it is the best silver plate. I was compelled as if from above. Thank the angels and muses my dear father, the seventeenth Earl of Poop is not around to see me reduced to such circumstances. Oh the stench! Fling open a window at least."


AAAAAAAAANNNNND SCENE.
posted by Divine_Wino at 8:41 AM on January 10, 2008 [12 favorites]


I have no problem with people saying "I heard that phrase in Buffalo in the '70s." I do have a problem with people saying "Maybe it's from [wild-ass guess],"

I think those two things are really close to being about the same a lot of the time when they actually get posted. For instance, this (sort of etymological) one about "Reeeeemix".

It's both a guess (though I feel pretty certain) and a "I heard that phrase" response. What's wrong with that? It's not like a medical askme response because I don't think anybody is going to suffer if someone posits a crappy explanation of how people started saying "sideways to the next light", or "my bad" (Manute Bol?).

If it's wrong, do the research and point that out, but why try to shit on people's answers without knowing for certain if they're right or wrong? If someone is such an expert, do the research and shit on those specific wrong posters. If you don't have time to do the research, talk about which answers you feel, based on your expertise, are wrong, and why.

Honestly, even if one were to do the research, it's likely that there will never be a single traceable place to definitively say "This is precisely where it came from - all people that say it today, got it from here". I don't think it's akin to lawyer or doctor questions. There's even disagreement among professionals in those areas, but with something like "where did the phrase 'my bad' come from, is there really a definitive answer that rules out almost all others? Probably not.

And I think it's much more interesting and possibly even more correct to let people input their experiences. Because the research that would get done to find the answer would likely input these same people's notions, if there were some formal survey about the term. So why not just go straight to the source. I see people saying what their guesses and experiences are - and those are all good clues as to where it might have begun, as opposed to someone trying to dictate the origins using texts that were created likely using surveys that appear very much like these AskMe's do.

Or is the Hive Mind over, and now people can start asking the Experts-in-the-field-only Mind?
posted by cashman at 8:44 AM on January 10, 2008 [3 favorites]


I have more than once told SCDB he didn't know what he was talking about.

No wai!!1
posted by Meatbomb at 8:45 AM on January 10, 2008


Languagehat et al, please continue calling out wrong or speculative answers (not answerers) in the ask thread itself. I love (well, relatively) when I make a mistake or an imprecise statement and get called on it. It keeps me in check, educates everyone, and gives depth to the issue.
posted by Skorgu at 8:47 AM on January 10, 2008 [4 favorites]


cashman: I don't think anybody is going to suffer if someone posits a crappy explanation of how people started saying...

If by "crappy" you mean "incorrect" then what you're saying is that there's no problem with people posting lots of wrong answers. Again it really seems that a lot of this controversy stems from a failure to recognize that there are indeed experts in historical linguistics. If posters want correct answers, then there is a problem with "crappy" ones. If they just want wild speculation (which, admittedly, can be very entertaining), then crappy explanations are fine but is that what AskMeFi is for?
posted by tractorfeed at 8:50 AM on January 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


Better Red than expert! Sure to be a roaring success.
posted by Abiezer at 8:54 AM on January 10, 2008


LEAVE LANGUAGEHAT ALONE!!!!!1
posted by iconomy at 8:54 AM on January 10, 2008 [3 favorites]


"Down with experts! Up with people!"

That way lies wikipedia.
posted by garlic at 8:56 AM on January 10, 2008


Should etymology questions be off limits?

Of course! Those filthy ethmo's have been invading our fine site for YEARS, deflowering our comment boxes, corrupting our tags and disrespecting our venerated in jokes. They deserve a sound banning.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:59 AM on January 10, 2008


If by "crappy" you mean "incorrect"

No, I mean crappy. I asked about broken fingers, and got this response. Now, that obviously contradicts other responses which suggest I might need hand surgery. So should we freak out that one of these two people has posted an incorrect answer, and the fate of my pinky is at stake?

Perhaps the solution to this is just people doing the traditional IANAL shorthand, and since that has the connotation* of I am not a lawyer, then maybe it should be IANALinguist, or something, though that looks a little suspect.




*I didn't go through the great halls of the mefi linguistics history to verify that indeed, the connotation of IANAL is I am not a lawyer. This is speculation, and may be crappy, incorrect, or both.
posted by cashman at 9:02 AM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


Steven C. Den Beste writes "Languagehat, what you did was to show up and say, 'SHADDUP all you people, you don't know what you're talking about and shouldn't be posting.'"

So you're saying that a totally wrong answer is better than no answer at all?

If that's the case, I have several thousands of questions waiting for my uninformed guesses!
posted by Bugbread at 9:04 AM on January 10, 2008


stupidsexyFlandersPoster: "Having languagehat around is a huge asset to us

Other than with etymology questions.
"

This is just wrong. I see languagehat getting best answers on etymology and other language related questions on my contact bar all the time. In this particular instance stupidsexyflanders has a bug up his ass and is being ridiculous. though he's a fine person.

Steven C. Den Beste: "Languagehat, what you did was to show up and say, "SHADDUP all you people, you don't know what you're talking about and shouldn't be posting."

If you have an answer, post it. But please leave your high horse at the door.
"

And this is officially my favorite comment of the day. For those who need more context than languagehat provided, SCDB is renowned for submitting complete made up bullshit as answers in askme. I happen to believe that he really thinks he's giving good answers, but the undeniable truth is that he's guessing just about all of the time and acting like he knows what he's talking about.

Also, his characterization of languagehat's comments, much like his askme answers, is completely off. Here's a more accurate one: Languagehat said, when specifically addressed "sorry, no answers here. I think guessing is a bad idea where etymology is concerned," and also "seanyboy is right about this etymology. guessing isn't as useful as looking the answer up in a book written by a competent professional."
posted by shmegegge at 9:04 AM on January 10, 2008 [8 favorites]


If LanguageHat ever shit in the shandy I am sure it improved the flavor.
posted by RussHy at 9:05 AM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


The OED (and more) is available for free, online, if you are a member of just about any UK library. A whole bunch of them got together in a consortium and purchased bulk access. This rocked my world when I found out, so much so that I ran down the library and confused all the local librarians who had no idea it was happening.

Granted, this is only a going to help a subsection of people here, but the rest of you can go to your local library and drop heavy handed hints into your conversations. UK Mefites should note that this is for a limited initial time period so if you are not a member of your local library you should join and tell 'em why, cos its an idea that needs encouraging.
posted by tallus at 9:06 AM on January 10, 2008


They deserve a sound banning.

You want to make the deaf? That would be def!
posted by NoMich at 9:06 AM on January 10, 2008


I happen to believe that he really thinks he's giving good answers, but the undeniable truth is that he's guessing just about all of the time and acting like he knows what he's talking about.

While we're on that topic, whatever happened to paulsc? Is he just laying low 'til Mythbusters airs or what?

posted by Burger-Eating Invasion Monkey at 9:08 AM on January 10, 2008


I have no problem with people saying "I heard that phrase in Buffalo in the '70s." I do have a problem with people saying "Maybe it's from [wild-ass guess],"

I think those two things are really close to being about the same a lot of the time when they actually get posted. For instance, this (sort of etymological) one about "Reeeeemix".

Huh. I see a very clear difference. I had a whole semi-sarcastic thing typed out, but languagehat says it just fine above.

The Reeeemix example is not a great example. It's not about etymology.
posted by desuetude at 9:10 AM on January 10, 2008


cashman writes "Or is the Hive Mind over, and now people can start asking the Experts-in-the-field-only Mind?"

I didn't think the AskMe structure was EVER meant to be "everyone makes a guess and the asker picks the one that sounds right to him", but PRECISELY that "we have so many people here, one is bound to be an expert on the subject you're asking about, and can answer your question". Male answer syndrome is a problem in AskMe, not the objective of AskMe.
posted by Bugbread at 9:11 AM on January 10, 2008 [8 favorites]


I think that only people with history PhDs should be allowed to answer the questions asking for history book recommendations.
posted by LarryC at 9:11 AM on January 10, 2008


Or not.
posted by LarryC at 9:12 AM on January 10, 2008


So you're saying that a totally wrong answer is better than no answer at all?

Yes.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 9:12 AM on January 10, 2008


What has seven arms and sucks?
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:12 AM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


And I think it's much more interesting and possibly even more correct to let people input their experiences. Because the research that would get done to find the answer would likely input these same people's notions,

I'm not sure what would lead you to believe that. If someone asked about the biology of a given dinosaur species, would a paleontologist look to existing studies and excavations or would he find some random stranger and say "i don't know, what do YOU think about it?" Sure, maybe he'd come up with some fascinating theory based on a moment of gut-level inspiration, but he'd follow it up with work and research, not just more pollings of the general populace. Further, if he wanted to submit his theory to askme, one would hope he'd say "well, i'm an expert in the field, but this is still just a theory, but it occurred to me the other day that..."

Etymology, as I understand it, is no different. They don't just say "well, when I hear the word Flimjabber I think of flimsy and jabber so maybe it comes from an old word meaning vapid conversation?" and leave it at that. There's an entire surprising and complicated history behind any given word that will often defy the origin someone ignorant of the facts might expect. How on earth is the random gut feelings of people who don't know what they're talking about going to be involved in unearthing that history?

The Hive mind is not based on some supernatural power that occurs when a bunch of random folks put their imaginations to the test together. This is not science fiction. It's just another way of saying "with so many learned minds on so many topics gathered here, maybe someone knows the answer to this."
posted by shmegegge at 9:14 AM on January 10, 2008 [4 favorites]


There's no problem in languagehat showing up and giving the accurate answer to these kinds of threads. I'm sorry that some people don't like what he has to say.

I wish SCDB would stick to only answering stuff he knows. He probably knows quite a bit on some subjects. However, there is no way for me to distinguish what he knows from what he doesn't unless I already know the answer myself. This basically means I can't use anything SCDB writes—either I don't need it or I can't trust it. Surely he is trying to help people, I wonder if he realizes that this is the result of his answering pattern.
posted by grouse at 9:14 AM on January 10, 2008 [3 favorites]


What we need is peer review. All answers are offered, and then we review who it was who peed in the punchbowl.
posted by Abiezer at 9:15 AM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


Too bad OED isn't available online for free. Because the answer for almost all of these is just pasting in the OED entry.

Work on this has started. Here is Kragen's email about it. Tens of gigabytes of scans of the out-of-copyright portions are online already, some have been OCRed, a few searchable PDFs have been produced, but more work is needed... A front-end to pull up a single page would be useful.
posted by rajbot at 9:16 AM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


Steven C. Den Beste writes "So you're saying that a totally wrong answer is better than no answer at all?

"Yes."


Well, then we pretty much disagree in the most strenuous terms possible. If I want to read a bunch of wrong answers, I'll ask questions at Yahoo Answers. I like AskMe because people strive to be right, not just strive to say something.
posted by Bugbread at 9:19 AM on January 10, 2008 [8 favorites]


I heard in Buffalo in the '70's that languagehat's name comes from a mashup of Fritz Lang, the United Artists film studio, and "gehat" which is the Klingon term for "clever distraction of crowsd for the purpose of slipping feces into a common beverage container."
posted by waraw at 9:21 AM on January 10, 2008



So you're saying that a totally wrong answer is better than no answer at all?


Yes.

steve, real life is not programming - you and many others like you would be a lot less offputting, less arrogant and less just plain wrong if you could get that thought through your heads
posted by pyramid termite at 9:24 AM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


The OED (and more) is available for free, online, if you are a member of just about any UK library.

This is true for a lot of libraries (municipal and university) in the US, as well. I wish I kept track of how many people's minds I have blown in casual conversation by pointing out that their Multnomah County Library card + their computer = unfettered OED access from the comfort of their own home.

I blame Jessamyn for failing to personally inform every person in the country about this.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:24 AM on January 10, 2008 [5 favorites]


From the essay SCDB linked:
Everyone makes mistakes.
True for everyone I know. Although some people seem to have a better handle on when they are likely to be making a mistake.
There's nothing wrong with making a mistake. It's not that you want to be sloppy; everyone should try to do a good job, but we don't flog people for making mistakes.

What's wrong is not detecting the mistake until after you ship.
What you seem to be missing is that on AskMe, you "ship" when you press the post button. When you post a series of incorrect answers presented in a tone of absolute certainty, it means that people stop trusting what you have to say. Doesn't that bother you a little? I know I find it frustrating.
I've been trying to contribute ideas and concepts to the political marketplace of ideas, in hopes that others will read them and point out the problems, perhaps make their own proposals, and continue to think.
I hope I am not taking this out of context since it is about your blog and not your answers. But if you are treating the MetaFilter community as your QA process, please stop. Someone else's AskMe question isn't here to correct your misconceptions, it's here to help the questioner. If you want an idea critiqued post it as a question, not an answer.
posted by grouse at 9:25 AM on January 10, 2008 [4 favorites]


Okay, so the questions people irresponsibly answer include medical, legal, and... etymological? I think we all see the real danger here.
posted by Justinian at 9:26 AM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


All etymological dictionaries and other authoritative sources of compiled etymological information depend for their validity on surveys of available written and recorded materials and distillations of the accounts of informants, which are occasionally solicited solely for the purpose of establishing the origin and development of a particular phrase or usage.

Everything any Mefite offers in one of those etymology threads amounts at least to the account of an informant, including the 'silly-ass guesses,' and as such is a valid answer in its own right. Silly ass guesses can even be particularly interesting in an etymological investigation because they can be part of the means by which a phrase or usage thrives and propagates. A good and persuasive silly-ass guess can help a person accept a phrase or usage into their own repertoire-- and you can see half a dozen or more examples of that process in operation just in that thread, alone.

To seek to bar such guesses from questions about etymologies is absurd.
posted by jamjam at 9:29 AM on January 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


Isn't the great Iron Age Irish epic Tain Bo Culaigne largely composed of post-hoc cod etymologies for place-names? This is called the Ford of the Toes because Cuchulainn got off the chariot and stubbed his on a rock here, and the like. It's a very old problem, but at least our forebears produced some rip-roaring tales when they were bullshitting.
posted by Abiezer at 9:31 AM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


All etymological dictionaries and other authoritative sources of compiled etymological information depend for their validity on surveys of available written and recorded materials and distillations of the accounts of informants, which are occasionally solicited solely for the purpose of establishing the origin and development of a particular phrase or usage.

Yes, but what gets published is the distillation, not a raw transcript of the whole corpus of interviews delivered by a moving van. I'm somewhere in the middle on the question of guesses in these threads, but let's not get silly with the justifications here.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:32 AM on January 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


are there any subjects that are otherwise strictly off-limits on AskMe?

suicide and revenge are the only two that usually do not make the cut, but we've definitely seen exceptions, so as to "strictly" I think the answer is no. Generally "break the law in ways that could likely get mathowie in trouble" are also off-limits but I don't know if that's a subject per se.

I blame Jessamyn for failing to personally inform every person in the country about this.


Not my fault that nobody reads the fucking memos, or my mind.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:33 AM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


Let me be the n'th to say...

If you have an answer, post it. But please leave your high horse at the door.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 11:26 AM on January 10


My irony meter ASPLODE!
posted by GuyZero at 9:33 AM on January 10, 2008


As far as I can tell, the only person above languagehat in that thread who posted "in a tone of absolute certainty" is seanyboy, and that's the comment LH said was best. Everyone else offered their suggestions with disclaimers.

"The best I could find was..."

"I once heard... but I don't know what my informant was basing that on."

"I'm not sure if this is common usage, or if this is even its real origin, but that's what I have."

Etc.

I do have a problem with people saying "Maybe it's from [wild-ass guess]," and I will continue to say so.

As long as somebody admits that they're not an authority, I don't see the harm in offering what little information they have to give. Perhaps it will jog someone else's memory of seeing a related answer in a citeable, reputable source. I could understand why you'd be upset about someone throwing out a guess and phrasing it as a definitive answer, but the rest of this I just don't get.
posted by vytae at 9:35 AM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


Only self-appointed experts should be allowed to answer questions on any given subject. Proletarian chit-chat helps no one and should be crushed by the moderators forthwith.
posted by fire&wings at 9:37 AM on January 10, 2008


Yes, but what gets published is the distillation, not a raw transcript of the whole corpus of interviews delivered by a moving van.

but we're not doing peer-reviewed publication here - i think jamjam makes a valid point - and although languagehat has a point too, i see no problem with "bull session" type discussions when the answers to the questions are so difficult to find and the harm done by a potential worng answer is so small
posted by pyramid termite at 9:38 AM on January 10, 2008


I didn't think the AskMe structure was EVER meant to be "everyone makes a guess and the asker picks the one that sounds right to him", but PRECISELY that "we have so many people here, one is bound to be an expert on the subject you're asking about, and can answer your question". Male answer syndrome is a problem in AskMe, not the objective of AskMe.

I think you're misstating my position, which was not that everyone makes a guess, but instead, people who think they know the answer respond. Not "proven, verified subject matter experts only, respond".

The Hive mind is not based on some supernatural power that occurs when a bunch of random folks put their imaginations to the test together. This is not science fiction. It's just another way of saying "with so many learned minds on so many topics gathered here, maybe someone knows the answer to this."

I agree somewhat, but isn't that what people were doing - posting what they learned? See I think there's a difference between learning something and posting what you think may be the correct answer based on what you learned, and restricting answers to notarized, degreed, subject matter experts only.

To me, you were to provide a response if you reasonably thought you knew the answer.

But using this method, perhaps things will change for the better, since only certified relationship counselors and therapists should be replying to the relationship questions. Only plumbers (please provide work experience before posting) should reply to questions about leaky faucets.

If we're trying to clean up the "noise" of non-expert replies, well lets do it everywhere. AskMe about cameras - professional photographers only, please, for some reason people think that just because they can pick up a camera, that they can tell you how to shoot in low light. Balderdash.

Want to answer a question about cooking? You'd better be a chef, and I'd like to see your resume and where you've worked. Idiot posters think that just because they stepped in a kitchen that they can tell you how to cook a dish.


Which is obviously not what we want, nor do we want a free-for-all. Answer the question if you think you know the answer or have valid input. There shouldn't be a bunch of half-ass replies, but there also shouldn't be one answer, by zomgexpert38, whose single answer was approved after days of consultation with the other subject matter expert possibles.
posted by cashman at 9:44 AM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


i see no problem with "bull session" type discussions when the answers to the questions are so difficult to find and the harm done by a potential worng answer is so small

I don't think anyone sees a problem with bull session type discussions. the problem, as stated is wild ass guesses. remember that the point is to keep askme as useful as possible. and there's a certain usefulness to "well, it occurred to me that it might have something to do with [x], and when I looked up [x] i found a reference to [subject y] so maybe that's got something to do with it?" or in the case of when something started being used saying "well, I heard it at least as early as 1963."

there's something actually detrimental to the discussion about "it sounds like dog + spoon so the answer is that it originally came from sexual intercourse, and cuddling, with a dog."
posted by shmegegge at 9:47 AM on January 10, 2008


But please leave your high horse at the door.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste


*SNORT*

AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

*GUFFAW*

HAHAHAHAHAHA!

*CHUCKLE*

*titter*

heeheeheeheeheehee...

*sigh...*

I'm sorry, what?
posted by dersins at 9:47 AM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


fire&wings writes "Only self-appointed experts should be allowed to answer questions on any given subject. Proletarian chit-chat helps no one and should be crushed by the moderators forthwith."

You say that as sarcasm, but I agree with it genuinely.

(Except for the "proletarian" bit. Most academics are poor, and the average MeFite is probably a middle-class techie, so wouldn't the self-appointed experts be the proletariat, and the wild-ass guessers the bourgeoisie?)
posted by Bugbread at 9:49 AM on January 10, 2008


Academics are surely the intelligentsia not the proletariat.
posted by Burger-Eating Invasion Monkey at 9:53 AM on January 10, 2008


cashman writes "I think you're misstating my position, which was not that everyone makes a guess, but instead, people who think they know the answer respond."

Ah, that makes sense, and I agree. I certainly don't believe a degree or certification is necessary to answer the question. But with so much "maybe" and "it could be", I find it doubtful that the people responding are people who really think they know the answer.
posted by Bugbread at 9:53 AM on January 10, 2008


Burger-Eating Invasion Monkey writes "Academics are surely the intelligentsia not the proletariat."

You're right. Obvious mistake on my part, sorry. So it's "intelligentsia vs. beourgeoisie".
posted by Bugbread at 9:54 AM on January 10, 2008


isn't that what people were doing - posting what they learned?

sommmmetimes. sometimes not at all. sometimes people were taking something they DID learn and then misapplying it to something unrelated while actually believing they knew what they were talking about.

i know it happens in film and video questions sometimes. Actually, I think mefi is lucky in this regard because we happen to have at least a handful of, if not significantly more, people who are dedicated askme answerers that really know their shit about film and video. Despite that being one of the topics I'm best suited to discussing I tend to leave those threads alone just because of how capably they're always handled by some very smart cookies. But every once in a while someone will come in and be like "dude, photoshop does all dat shit. that's just how it works. in hollywood, they just photoshop robots and lasers in and it's like, BAM, magic and shit." And you know what, he really believes that he legitimately learned somewhere that photoshop does "all that shit." but in actuality, he just heard that phrase from some other guy who also doesn't know what he's talking about but who at least heard the word photoshop somewhere. So yeah, less of those. You don't need a degree, but there's certainly nothing wrong with saying "look, that guy just doesn't know what he's talking about. here's an actual source you can turn to for your information, because it's managed by professionals."
posted by shmegegge at 9:55 AM on January 10, 2008


I think you're misstating my position, which was not that everyone makes a guess, but instead, people who think they know the answer respond.

I think the objection is not so much with people putting forth their personal, unverified understanding on the subject (a 'guess' in the sense that they know they have not vetted their answer or come to it by formal study), so much as to people literally pulling an answer out of thin air on demand (a 'guess' in the sense that, prompted by the question, they have made something up that they think sounds good).

i see no problem with "bull session" type discussions when the answers to the questions are so difficult to find and the harm done by a potential worng answer is so small

I don't see a problem with bull sessions in general, either—quite the opposite, obviously—but the way AskMe works is such that, in general, the more bull-y a session is, the less likely it is to be a good fit for the site.

How that's applied, and how consistently it can reasonably be applied, depends a lot on the type of question we're dealing with. Hard law questions are on perhaps one end of the continuum, and certain human relations questions (and, say, Name My Cat questions) are on the other. Something like etymology is a bit harder to peg, but I wouldn't put it over with Name My Cat because there are some good, hard resources for looking at some of this stuff.

Which is all to say that while I'm, again, kind of middling on guess-about-etymology as good answers (it depends a lot on the context), I can't agree that a go crazy bull session is particularly good AskMe behavior, as entertaining as it might be.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:00 AM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


Is languagehat pooping in public again? That guy!11?@#%!!

I don't know why it's always OED this, OED that. I will stack my favorite scholarly etymology resource against the OED any day.

It would seem there's a difference between real word etymology and discussions about regionalisms, contemporary usage, evolving language memes, or living slang. The former is for experts, the latter has wiggle room for less erudite participation.

Of course I could be wrong and set languagehat off on another pooping spree.
posted by madamjujujive at 10:02 AM on January 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


There are certainly questions that need answers from a range of people and benefit from some diversity in answership and perspective. Dating, for example, and religion questions. There are also questions that have a single answer, and benefit from specific facts that lea toward that answer. Etymology questions are those kinds of questions.

It is true: nobody would want to delete 'non-expert' answers on how to deal with your in-laws or how to treat your friends. But it's also true that the guy who says "well, you can just go ahead and remove those tonsils at home with a pair of scissors; I'm not a doctor, but it seems like that'd work" is a guy who should get deleted. Folk etymology questions are of the same kind: they have a specific factual answer.

One need not be an expert to answer them. One must merely state facts and refer to the basis of those facts.
posted by koeselitz at 10:08 AM on January 10, 2008 [3 favorites]


Thanks cortex.
posted by cashman at 10:09 AM on January 10, 2008


The thing about language/etymology questions is that, in a sense, we are all experts in the field–because each one of us has a massive data set (personal lexicon) to draw from. Furthermore, linguistics is a descriptive study; we don't refer to the dictionary to learn how to speak...we revise the dictionary based on how we actually do speak. And we're the ones who define the damn thing.

So in a sense, it is helpful to get a bunch of wild ass guesses, especially when those have hidden little clues in them, such as "we don't say it like this here, but where I grew up we said it, and I think that's because..." What is terrible is when these come off as claims about the etymology. Linguists and language experts are infinitely much more equipped to take the wild-ass guess and determine if there is some validity to it, or possibly tease out some helpful information (ex. often times these "wild-ass guesses" are the rationales for folk etymologies, which are fascinating and rampant in our language, and shouldn't be ignored or considered annoying, since you may be surprised the lexical items you'd have to banish if you attempted to rid yourself of all these wordy gems!)

This isn't in opposition to what LanguageHat has said. He makes good, valid points, and sure as hell qualified to do so!
posted by iamkimiam at 10:12 AM on January 10, 2008 [4 favorites]


Made-up etymologies enter folklore far too easily,

I've just realized that I am the loyal opposition to etymologists everywhere.

All forms of history are ultimately unknowable, but etymology is more so than most. Languages change continuously through daily use, and the absolute best that etymologists ever come up with is "it first appeared in print -- that is, the corpus of print that still exists -- on such and such a date."

I ask you: with such incredibly poor accuracy a given, isn't it far better that we come up with interesting and/or entertaining histories for words and phrases? "For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge" makes a much better story than some bullshit about Old English verbs. And isn't it a far better story that "dialing" a phone is a offshoot of "getting aROUND to calling someone" rather than some canard about ancient technology?

I say screw the etymologists. They mostly come up with boring crap anyway.
posted by tkolar at 10:22 AM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


So you're saying that a totally wrong answer is better than no answer at all?

posted by Steven C. Den Beste Yes.


So Steven C. Den Beste has just admitted that his answers in Ask MetaFilter may be correct, or they may be wrong, but you'll never know which.

What this means is that Steven C. Den Beste's answers are totally useless.
posted by fandango_matt at 10:23 AM on January 10, 2008 [3 favorites]


This discussion reminds me a lot of a syntax class I took. The professor would show us a few variations of a sentence. She'd ask us which ones sounded weird, off, incorrect, ungrammatical and which ones sounded right, coherent, grammatical, and then we'd study them to try to come up with some descriptive generalizations. Naturally, there wasn't ever a complete consensus as to what was "right" or "wrong". That was because we all had different experiences and senses about the rules of syntax–very much like how we all generally agree on the definitions of words, but our personal lexicons have variations from word-to-word (think about the ambiguity of the word "ahead" in reference to time, and we'll find we all vary somewhat, and are influenced by outside factors as well, such as perspective and framing/context).

My point is, we shouldn't necessarily censor or tune-out the answers that are perceived as "wrong", because, like the syntax class, the consensus of all the answers revealed to us what the trends were, what the outliers were, and what the general rule could be. But maybe we should be more careful not to present singular data points (personal "etymologies" or experiences) as facts for others. Especially when talking about etymologies, where there is likely a definitive origin, despite personal introductions or experiences with the lexical item in question.
posted by iamkimiam at 10:27 AM on January 10, 2008


I wanna back up what ND¢ said, and give a shout-out to language hat, who's amazing and a huge asset to Metafilter.
posted by Lynsey at 10:28 AM on January 10, 2008


tkolar writes "I ask you: with such incredibly poor accuracy a given, isn't it far better that we come up with interesting and/or entertaining histories for words and phrases?"

If that's what you believe (and I don't think it's a completely untenable position), then your problem isn't with folks like languagehat who argue against off-the-cuff guess etymologies, but folks like Tomble or Quazie, who are asking the etymologies of words instead of asking for people to make up entertaining histories.
posted by Bugbread at 10:32 AM on January 10, 2008


Honestly people, go home or outside.

Not my fault that nobody reads the fucking memos

You're filing them in the wrong place.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:37 AM on January 10, 2008


Brandon Blatcher writes "Honestly people, go home or outside."

I'm pretty sure that would result in a stern lecture from my boss. Browsing the net during downtime, he's cool with. Leaving the 24 hour helpdesk unmanned, not so much.
posted by Bugbread at 10:39 AM on January 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


Honestly people, go home or outside.

I keep pushing my boss for this, and he keeps telling me no.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:43 AM on January 10, 2008


cortex: I keep pushing my boss for this, and he keeps telling me no.

Well, I imagine it's more like, "no, not until you have an iPhone that lets you connect to wireless networks while roaming, and can therefore moderate while you're outside."
posted by koeselitz at 10:49 AM on January 10, 2008


posted by grouse I wish SCDB would stick to only answering stuff he knows. He probably knows quite a bit on some subjects. However, there is no way for me to distinguish what he knows from what he doesn't unless I already know the answer myself. This basically means I can't use anything SCDB writes—either I don't need it or I can't trust it.

Quoted for truth. If Steven C. Den Beste has just admitted he's posting answers no one can trust, he ought to be banned from Ask MetaFilter because all he's doing is adding noise in the form of useless answers, and he's abusing the good-faith policy of AskMetaFilter.
posted by fandango_matt at 10:49 AM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


"... like mine."
posted by koeselitz at 10:49 AM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


tkolar, if it makes you feel better, it looks like Deathalicious is running with your approach in the "book it" etymology question.
posted by Bugbread at 10:50 AM on January 10, 2008


Wrong boss, koeselitz. That's the tricky part. (Though that boss might have to actually spring for a company iPhone if this boss ever decides to block Mefi.)
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:54 AM on January 10, 2008


Everything any Mefite offers in one of those etymology threads amounts at least to the account of an informant, including the 'silly-ass guesses,' and as such is a valid answer in its own right. Silly ass guesses can even be particularly interesting in an etymological investigation because they can be part of the means by which a phrase or usage thrives and propagates. ... To seek to bar such guesses from questions about etymologies is absurd.

often times these "wild-ass guesses" are the rationales for folk etymologies, which are fascinating and rampant in our language, and shouldn't be ignored or considered annoying


These responses are both wrong in the same way. Yes, guesses and folk etymologies are interesting and can be useful as data for studies of social history, propagation of memes, etc.—but not as answers to an AskMe question about etymology. A remark that "the Tennessee legislature defined pi as exactly 3" would be a valuable contribution to a thread about historical examples of idiocy, but it would be out of line as an answer to the question "What is the value of pi?"

As long as somebody admits that they're not an authority, I don't see the harm in offering what little information they have to give.

Guesses are not information.

The thing about language/etymology questions is that, in a sense, we are all experts in the field–because each one of us has a massive data set (personal lexicon) to draw from.

You are no more an expert on language because you speak one than you are an expert on biology because you own and operate a body. (By "you" I don't mean "you, iamkimiam," because you, iamkimiam, have taken linguistics classes. But I must insist that questions about the acceptability of sentences bear no relation whatever to questions about etymology. Acceptability is based on the reactions of native speakers and does not require any knowledge of linguistics; it's like a doctor asking "Does this hurt?" Etymology requires expert knowledge and deals in actual history, not random opinions.)

If people want to shoot the shit about language in an uninformed but entertaining way, there are many, many sites where you can do that to your heart's content. AskMe is about answering questions.
posted by languagehat at 10:59 AM on January 10, 2008 [14 favorites]


your problem [is with] folks like Tomble or Quazie, who are asking the etymologies of words instead of asking for people to make up entertaining histories.

You're right! Screw those guys!

it looks like Deathalicious is running with your approach in the "book it" etymology question.

Screw him too! Screw EVERYBODY!

[wanders off in search of caffeine]
posted by tkolar at 11:00 AM on January 10, 2008


*screws everybody*
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:07 AM on January 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


I keep pushing my boss for this, and he keeps telling me no.

Poking works better.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:09 AM on January 10, 2008


*checks CALS library website to see about OED access*

*drinks, cries*
posted by middleclasstool at 11:17 AM on January 10, 2008


Hey! I'm a computational linguist, I've also been trained as a field linguist and I've written half a dozen papers about language elicitation. I would just like to say that getting analytical information from informants is always tricky business. It's something that should always be listened to and recorded, but at the same time it has to be taken with a grain of salt. Why? Because language informants are wrong a lot of the time. Sometimes it's just mistaken correlations, or quirks of a national educational system (a good example in English would be the continued, frustrating existence of the 'indirect object'). That is why any linguist worth their salt will go and confirm any informant speculations through their own analysis, or through peer reviewed sources. Sadly, only a handful can ever be confirmed, and no matter how many informants concur, consensus does not equal fact.

This is why most field linguists rely on their informants for data, but do the almost all of analysis themselves.

In summary: Etymology speculation without hard data is rarely fruitful and should be considered accordingly.


As a side note, I did look up the verb form of 'book' in my own personal copy of the Compact OED. My grandma accidentally stole my magnifying sphere, but despite the squinting it was clear that the OED does not include a form of 'to book' that means 'to go', though it did include forms meaning 'to hang something on a fishing hook' and 'book' as a past form of 'to bake'. The OED isn't the most reliable source of Etymology for words coined in the last century.
posted by Alison at 11:18 AM on January 10, 2008 [4 favorites]


What you seem to be missing is that on AskMe, you "ship" when you press the post button. When you post a series of incorrect answers presented in a tone of absolute certainty, it means that people stop trusting what you have to say. Doesn't that bother you a little? I know I find it frustrating.

In AskMe, we "ship" when the OP finishes reading all the answers and makes a decision. People posting responses is part of the development process.

If I think I know the answer, I say so.
  If it turns out I'm right, the OP is helped. WIN
  If it turns out I'm wrong, I learn something. WIN
  If I post what I think I know, and it turns out to be wrong, it could remind someone else of the right answer and get them to post it. WIN

AskMe is a form of brainstorming. Brainstorming works best when people are not afraid to be wrong.

Excessive fear of being wrong leads to analysis paralysis. That's why in some situations it's better to pick a course and follow it, even if you're uncertain, than to sit and stew. The course you choose might lead to failure, but refusing to do anything certainly will lead to failure.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 11:22 AM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


Huh, the online OED entry for book has:
ADDITIONS SERIES 1993

book, v.

Add: [2.] e. Assoc. Football. Of a referee: to record the name of (a player cautioned for a serious infringement of the rules); hence, to administer such a caution.
(First cite: 1959 Daily Mirror 29 Dec. 15/1 Two minutes later Hooper.. was booked for fouling goalkeeper Noel Dwyer.) But nothing else. You'd think by 1993 this use would have been visible enough to add.
posted by languagehat at 11:25 AM on January 10, 2008


*screws everybody*

*apologizes to the poor*
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:26 AM on January 10, 2008


The thing about language/etymology questions is that, in a sense, we are all experts in the field–because each one of us has a massive data set (personal lexicon) to draw from. Furthermore, linguistics is a descriptive study; we don't refer to the dictionary to learn how to speak...we revise the dictionary based on how we actually do speak. And we're the ones who define the damn thing.

Native speakers basically do not have online information about word histories, or for that matter, about any aspect of the history of the language. Descriptivism is all about a snapshot of a grammar in time, not about the history of a language. Asking native speakers about the history of their language (unless they have some training in this) is not a technique used in linguistic field work. There are techniques that can get at language changes, but they all approach it indirectly (say, by doing a large-scale survey of speakers in a region to find out the geography of some change in progress, and to try to correlate it with some other factors).
posted by advil at 11:27 AM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


fandango_matt: So Steven C. Den Beste has just admitted that his answers in Ask MetaFilter may be correct, or they may be wrong, but you'll never know which.

What this means is that Steven C. Den Beste's answers are totally useless.


Steven C. Den Beste's answers don't exist hermetically sealed from every other contribution to an AskMe thread. If SCDB posits a wrong answer he will be corrected by people who know better. I'm not one to generally promote wrongth but the beauty of AskMe is that error rarely survives for long. It happens, but then it's because of a lack of knowledge in the community, at which point someone usually figures out a better place to take the inquiry.

Sturgeon's Law* states that 90% of everything is crud. This applies to answers on AskMe. The beauty of AskMe is that by dint of volume we get the 10% non-crud answers too and usually it's not that hard to tell the difference between the two.


*Sturgeon actually called what we know as Sturgeon's law Sturgeon's Revelation. What he termed Sturgeon's Law was "nothing is always absolutely so."
posted by Kattullus at 11:27 AM on January 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


If it turns out I'm wrong, I learn something. WIN

To be blunt, this is a bit of a selfish view -- it's a win for you, but I don't think you've really seriously considered whether the way you go about this is a win for anyone else.
posted by advil at 11:28 AM on January 10, 2008


posted by Steven C. Den Beste If I think I know the answer, I say so.
1. If it turns out I'm right, the OP is helped. WIN
2. If it turns out I'm wrong, I learn something. WIN
3. If I post what I think I know, and it turns out to be wrong, it could remind someone else of the right answer and get them to post it. WIN


What you are completely failing to understand is that your answers are not helping the person who asked the question, because he or she is looking for someone who knows the answer. If you do not know the answer, do not answer the question. It's that simple. For the person asking the question, #2 and #3 are LOSE, and #1 is the equivalent of a lucky guess.

posted by Steven C. Den Beste AskMe is a form of brainstorming. Brainstorming works best when people are not afraid to be wrong.

No, Ask MetaFilter is about ANSWERING QUESTIONS. Brainstorming is chatfilter, and if people want ideas, they will ask for such.
posted by fandango_matt at 11:31 AM on January 10, 2008 [17 favorites]


Though that boss might have to actually spring for a company iPhone if this boss ever decides to block Mefi.)

CORRRRTEX! This is your workplace boss. *adjusts top hat, strokes handlebar mustache, harrumphs* This handsome young ND¢ fellow just let me borrow his account to tell you this. I am forbidding you to access Mefi from work from here on out! So this "other boss" that you are talking about is just going to have to buy you an iPhone to do that with, which I am fine with. He should also send this brilliant well-endowed ND¢ fellow one too. Just for good measure. Carry on!
posted by ND¢ at 11:34 AM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


So you're saying that a totally wrong answer is better than no answer at all?

Yes.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 9:12 AM on January 10 [+] [!]


Steven C. Den Worste Answer, amirite?
posted by phatkitten at 11:42 AM on January 10, 2008


But I must insist that questions about the acceptability of sentences bear no relation whatever to questions about etymology. Acceptability is based on the reactions of native speakers and does not require any knowledge of linguistics; it's like a doctor asking "Does this hurt?" Etymology requires expert knowledge and deals in actual history, not random opinions.
posted by languagehat at 10:59 AM on January 10 [2 favorites +] [!]


The point I was trying to make with my syntax analogy is that we all have useful information to bring to the table when trying to flesh out an answer. Even if our answer is "wrong" there is a lot to be gleaned from it. A problem occurs when an answer is presented as though it could be an explanation or a fact, without no backing. But that doesn't make the personal data point any less useful or helpful in of itself. And I certainly don't think people should refrain from sharing their experiences with using language.

I also didn't intend to imply that we are linguistics experts as analogous to having a body making us a biology expert. I meant that we are experts at using language, like how we are experts at breathing and using our bodies. If we can draw from this body (ha!) of knowledge, then we can have a broader set of ideas and possible hypothesis to choose from when solving a problem, such as the origin of a phrase.

Folk etymologies can be useful as well. What if Person A was asking about the origin of the phrase "sand-blind" and Person B suggested that they always thought it came from people from the desert going blind from sand in their eyes? We would consider this, do some research, and find out that they fell victim to a folk etymology (even though their PERSONAL "etymology" or learning of the word is correct FOR THEM). Knowing what to call what Person B's wild-guess is important for figuring out what the correct answer is not. In that sense, I think folk etymologies are really helpful, so that we can say "sorry, nope, your wild guess was way wrong there, try again!"
posted by iamkimiam at 11:42 AM on January 10, 2008


If it turns out I'm wrong, I learn something. WIN

Whats really grating, SCDB, is that you answer every time with an authoritative voice. Not "My guess is..." or "From what i know..." but rather: Here's the facts. With no backup or cite whatsoever.
posted by vacapinta at 11:43 AM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


The nature of these etymology questions will always border on chatfilter. It's chat by it's very nature. And I'm certainly not encouraging people to give wild-ass guesses, because that's noise. But if somebody has an idea or theory about something based on their personal experience with the subject matter, why not share it?
posted by iamkimiam at 11:44 AM on January 10, 2008


But please leave your high horse at the door.

I got my horse high once. He led me down a low road.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:45 AM on January 10, 2008


If it turns out I'm wrong, I learn something. WIN
If I post what I think I know, and it turns out to be wrong, it could remind someone else of the right answer and get them to post it. WIN


#3 You're making an assumption that if you're wrong, someone will correct you. The poster is asking exactly because they don't know the answer in the first place. Also, AskMeFi is not your platform to test out #2. Assumptions: the mother of all fuckups.
posted by jmd82 at 11:51 AM on January 10, 2008


There are several towns in South Carolina that my dad likes to make up the origins of the names for. Like Waterloo, South Carolina. He says that there was a guy with a mule named Lou, and that guy would take his mule Lou to the site of present day Waterloo to allow him to drink from a pond there. So people on the road would ask him where he was going, when he was on the way to the pond with Lou behind him, and he would say "I am going to water Lou" and everybody thought that he was saying he was going to a place called Waterloo, so that is why that town is named that.

He also says that Saluda, South Carolina got its name because there was a man with a mule named Sal. Well Sal got lost one day, and the man went all over looking for it, yelling its name. He ended up at the site of present day Saluda and walked around for a long time yelling "Sal, You Dere!?" and people thought that he was saying that the name of the place that he was at was Saluda, and that is why the town is named Saluda.

Are those folk etymologies?
posted by ND¢ at 11:52 AM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


wrongth

This is a lovely word, and I'm keeping it.

'Judge a man not by the strength but by the wrongth of his convictions.'

Yep, that's going on a cross stitch sampler.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:52 AM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


ND¢ I like to do that with some western Mass towns. Hancock, Cummington and Essex spring to mind.
posted by Skorgu at 12:04 PM on January 10, 2008


ND¢ - that seems similar to what I was alluding to when I mentioned the Tain above. I looked it up and there was apparently a name for this class of tales - dindsenchas, "lore concerning places," which is described there as "onomastic literature."
posted by Abiezer at 12:05 PM on January 10, 2008


I am not too far from Saluda, and that story reminds me of the story of how Albany, GA got its name. Evidently the train going south only went as far as Albany as there was nothing but the Okeefenokee Swamp and Florida to the south. There was an old, blind conductor named Benny on the train, and to let him know they were at the end of the line his co-workers would yell out "that's all, Benny!"

This is a true story, I don't care what the OED might say.
posted by TedW at 12:08 PM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


The nature of these etymology questions will always border on chatfilter. It's chat by it's very nature.

That is absolutely not true. Asking "What is the etymology of bead?" is no more chatfilter than asking "Who was the last Habsburg emperor?" They both have clear answers that can be found with a little research. Chatfilter is by definition about topics that do not have clear answers.

But if somebody has an idea or theory about something based on their personal experience with the subject matter, why not share it?


You're using "something" in a very vague way that makes your question impossible to answer. If we're talking specifically about etymology, the answer is very clear: either they know or they don't. In the latter case, they should not attempt to answer the question. There's no such thing as "personal experience" with etymology.
posted by languagehat at 12:09 PM on January 10, 2008


I was driving through Mendocino county a few months back when I had the mother of all revelations: Ukiah is "haiku" spelled backwards.
posted by tkolar at 12:11 PM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


That is very cool Abiezer. Thanks for the link. I will have to let my dad know that he is involved in an ancient tradition. He will probably give his patented response for when he is presented with information for which he feels he has no real use (said without sarcasm of any kind): "Well good."
posted by ND¢ at 12:11 PM on January 10, 2008


wrongth

A keeper, indeed.
posted by everichon at 12:12 PM on January 10, 2008


this has been an interesting discussion and I'm no longer conflicted about how I feel.

We have mods. If people are pulling guesses to questions out of their ass in the guise of expertise, and the mods think that breaks AskMe, they should delete those guesses as noise.

If LH comes into the thread to point out that people's answers are breaking askme, especially where he has no better answer or cite, then the mods should also delete that as noise. Flags exist for this.

If LH feels like he has to pat the person on the back who does provide the cite, while simultaneously denigrating the rest of the responses, then the mods should also delete that as noise.

Ironically, in the same answer, he points out that the term has "doubtless been used for at least a few years before [the cite], and antedates will probably turn up." Maybe they'll turn up in that thread? No, sorry. Please allow the professionals to do their work.

I know it doesn't happen a lot and it's not a huge deal but I would just like to see fewer of these kinds of interjections from languagehat. I know it comes from a good place -- he loves language and puts a lot of value on the work of etymologists -- but it just comes across as condescending and elitist, to me anyway.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 12:13 PM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


*mind blown*

cortex, you really should start counting. I've logged in to multcolib.org a couple times a week for years and never noticed the Research tab. Thankee thankee.
posted by nenequesadilla at 12:16 PM on January 10, 2008


If LH comes into the thread to point out that people's answers are breaking askme, especially where he has no better answer or cite, then the mods should also delete that as noise.

Note for context—I was responding to this:

languagehat - no guesses?
And it's probably obvious, but I'm totally guessing up there, no sourcing or citation is pending.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 10:34 AM on November 15


So let me get this straight. You ask me a question, I answer it, and you then complain that I was posting noise? You are clearly a standup guy. I add also that my previous contribution to the thread was a recommendation to post at Wordorigins.org, which many people have found helpful. I note also that you openly admit "I'm totally guessing up there," which suggests you may not be coming at this from an impartial angle.
posted by languagehat at 12:19 PM on January 10, 2008


stupidsexyFlanders: If LH comes into the thread to point out that people's answers are breaking askme, especially where he has no better answer or cite, then the mods should also delete that as noise. Flags exist for this.

If LH feels like he has to pat the person on the back who does provide the cite, while simultaneously denigrating the rest of the responses, then the mods should also delete that as noise.

Ironically, in the same answer, he points out that the term has "doubtless been used for at least a few years before [the cite], and antedates will probably turn up." Maybe they'll turn up in that thread? No, sorry. Please allow the professionals to do their work.


Agreeing with an answer or disagreeing with it is not noise. It is a contribution with value. Providing basic information such as that slang is usually used for a few years before it hits print is a valuable contribution. Anything that helps the askers make up their minds is a good, legit contribution.
posted by Kattullus at 12:19 PM on January 10, 2008


The issue is hardly limited to etymology questions here. Just check out all the people here who think they're chemistry wizzes and cite "conservation of matter" as a reason for their answer.

----

If I think I know the answer, I say so.
If it turns out I'm right, the OP is helped. WIN


Not if you've posted so many wrong answers in the past that the OP has no faith in your answer and decides he cannot act on one of your answers, since they are known to be unreliable. LOSE.

If I post what I think I know, and it turns out to be wrong, it could remind someone else of the right answer and get them to post it. WIN

Or, maybe it doesn't remind someone else of the right answer, and the OP acts on your wrong answer. LOSE.

Excessive fear of being wrong leads to analysis paralysis. That's why in some situations it's better to pick a course and follow it, even if you're uncertain, than to sit and stew.

That's up to the OP. If he gets no answers at all, he is just as capable as picking a course and following it than he is with only a wrong answer. You assume that the OP will not act at all if he doesn't get any answers, which I dispute. And with no answers at all, at least he has some non-zero probability of picking the right one purely by luck.

----

If SCDB posits a wrong answer he will be corrected by people who know better. I'm not one to generally promote wrongth but the beauty of AskMe is that error rarely survives for long.

That's the theory, sure. But we don't really know that, do we? Sure, we can point to a lot of questions where SCDB's answer has been corrected. What about those where he wasn't? In how many of those was he actually correct, as opposed to those where he was actually wrong, but no one who happened to be looking at the question knew the right answer to correct him?

Consider the following SCDB-esque list of possibilities:
- SCDB refrains from posting a wrong guess, and a person who knows the answer comes along: WIN, since they'll post their answer anyway.
- SCDB refrains from posting a wrong guess, and no one knows the answer: WIN, because although the poster's question isn't answered, at least he's not harmed by incorrect information.

- SCDB posts a wrong guess, and a person who knows the answer comes along: WIN, as long as they haven't already acted on SCDB's answer before the correction, but LOSE if they acted on the wrong information before seeing the correction.
- SCDB posts a wrong guess, and no one knows the answer: LOSE. The poster may act on faulty information.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:21 PM on January 10, 2008


We have mods. If people are pulling guesses to questions out of their ass in the guise of expertise, and the mods think that breaks AskMe, they should delete those guesses as noise.

Part of the problem is that people can benignly or even maliciously provide bad guesses in a way that isn't obviously a bad answer. We cannot read every single thread with surgical focus—that's partly why the flagging system is so important—and beyond that, casual readers can't always tell if it's a bad guess sold with confidence or an actual decent answer.

So the onus there, all else aside, is on the answerer to do their own bit of internal moderation; and, where possible and when done civilly, on the other readers to correct/refute the stuff. So it's a little more complicated than saying "the mods will delete it, so hush up", even if lhat can be a bit spiky at times.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:22 PM on January 10, 2008


Can we rephrase it as "Should people be forced to wade through a sea of unmarked conjecture in order to find actual fact-based answers?"
posted by 0xFCAF at 12:22 PM on January 10, 2008


On that note, can we get a "Misinformation" flag for AskMe?
posted by 0xFCAF at 12:23 PM on January 10, 2008 [6 favorites]


How about a "I'm pretty sure this is flaggable for some reason, but I can't really put my finger on it" flag?
posted by tkolar at 12:25 PM on January 10, 2008


As I noted, if guesses are unwelcome in those threads, they should be deleted. I have no problem with that. As noted above, they're not unwelcome.

And yes I am in fact a standup guy because a) I was upfront about my lack of sourcing on the answer, as an aid to the poster and b) because I'm not going to get personal in this thread, as you are.

My request of you in the thread was for your insights on the question. Your reply had the defects I noted and yes, it should have been deleted.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 12:25 PM on January 10, 2008


As an aside, a good specific example of why "if it's bad, the mods will delete it" isn't a totally satisfactory answer:

When someone asks for a translation, and your answer is "Mi aerodeslizador es lleno de anguilas.", and the phrase they wanted translated was not "My hovercraft is full of eels", you're crapping in the thread in a way that my non-Spanish-speaking ass is not likely to notice or be able to instantly verify as a bullshit answer. Not to pick on you further, SCDB, but man was that a memorable bit of bad behavior.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:26 PM on January 10, 2008 [3 favorites]


fandango_matt writes "For the person asking the question, #2 and #3 are LOSE, and #1 is the equivalent of a lucky guess."

Worse yet, since you (SCDB, not fandango_matt) are wrong so often, not only are #2 and #3 LOSE, but nobody is going to trust your answers, so even if you make a lucky guess (#1), the asker still loses.

You're advocating crying wolf on the basis that if the wolf is there, you're right, and if not, you learn something. That's great for you, but remember that the villagers in the story get killed in the end, even though the boy was eventually right when he cried wolf.
posted by Bugbread at 12:27 PM on January 10, 2008


AskMe is a form of brainstorming.

No, it is not.

stupidsexyFlandersPoster: "... he points out that the term has "doubtless been used for at least a few years before [the cite], and antedates will probably turn up." Maybe they'll turn up in that thread? No, sorry. Please allow the professionals to do their work."

I didn't read that comment that way at all. I thought he was saying that it's entirely possible, or even probable, that etymological professionals will, through proper research, turn up earlier usages of the word, eventually. For now, the cited origin is the best we've got.
posted by shmegegge at 12:27 PM on January 10, 2008


bugbread - Why knock SCDB's charity work for the wolves? Wolves are endangered throughout much of the world. Somebody has to look out for them.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:32 PM on January 10, 2008


What's all this about languagehat not wanting us to discuss insects?
posted by mr_crash_davis at 12:36 PM on January 10, 2008


SSF, it is pretty shitty of you to callout languagehat for answering your question. It's also kind of bad form to make this grand proclamation like "I've decided how I feel! Everyone pay attention! THIS is how the mods should do their jobs!"
posted by shmegegge at 12:37 PM on January 10, 2008


Well there was some brainstorming going on in here - would this be disallowed now? Surely the majority of the replies are completely wrong. A lot of people are posting with question marks, which makes them guesses, which makes them "not information". Or is brainstorming allowed because the OP is fuzzy? So then if the person who posts the question is okay with the brainstorming type replies, is that allowed?
posted by cashman at 12:37 PM on January 10, 2008


Kattullus, let me also say I absolutely love the word "wrongth". It's awesome.

cortex writes "When someone asks for a translation, and your answer is 'Mi aerodeslizador es lleno de anguilas.', and the phrase they wanted translated was not 'My hovercraft is full of eels', you're crapping in the thread in a way that my non-Spanish-speaking ass is not likely to notice or be able to instantly verify as a bullshit answer."

Is that a direct quote? Because, if so, it's kind of amusing that in an intentionally wrong joke answer, there are also a few probably unintentional mistakes: it should be "esta lleno", not "es lleno", and it's not "anguilas", but "angulas".
posted by Bugbread at 12:38 PM on January 10, 2008


shmegegge -- Disagree. I invited his speculation in thread -- he could have declined, or he could have gone on to a sweeping indictment of the whole enterprise. It was the latter that struck me as annoying and gratuitious and, well, noisy.

Sorry you don't like my form.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 12:45 PM on January 10, 2008


cashman, that's an excellent example. I was reading that thread yesterday, and I had ideas for a few movies it MIGHT be in my head, but you know what? When I thought about it some more I realized it couldn't be because of date or differences between the movie and the description. And now I'm glad I didn't because it's definitely not any of the things I was thinking of.

But what's going on in that thread? That's just people offering possibilities that they honestly think could be it based on their knowledge. That's not really brainstorming. They're not just throwing out a hundred ideas to see if any light up in someone's brain. Some people offered a resource to check, which is fine. Some people offered up one of a couple movies, and some people recommended space:1999. How is that brainstorming?
posted by shmegegge at 12:46 PM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


Kattullus: Sturgeon actually called what we know as Sturgeon's law Sturgeon's Revelation. What he termed Sturgeon's Law was "nothing is always absolutely so."

I find this 'law' philosophically interesting. In fact, it seems to me difficult to say that there is anything absolute about nothingness, but of course it's hard to say that nothingness partake of any sort of quality that can be stated. Or, if you prefer, nothingness partakes of all the qualities. Both are probably equally true. Meister Eckhart would probably tell us that there is something beyond the absolute and beyond everything to which we should aspire, and that this something is God. He would then say that God therefore doesn't exist, that our aspiring should have the quality of utter emptiness of purpose, and that, if that doesn't make sense, we've pretty much missed the point. And then the dear Meister would probably disappear in a cloud of unknowing.

Meanwhile, back on earth, that brings me to my point about all this. Given the existence of absolute truth within the realm which humans inhabit, there are certainly correct answers to every question, and it would be best if people could have those answers and only those answers whenever they ask them. The frailty of human faculties being what they are, different questions admit of answers about which we can attain differing levels of certainly. Ask Metafilter should cleave to those levels closely and no others.

In other words, there is an absolute right answer to the question, "should I marry this man?" Ask Metafilter would be best served if facts could be adduced and only the correct answer could be provided. Given the frailty of human knowledge, however, differing perspectives and advice based on those perspectives are all that can be hoped for, and are in fact preferable to unqualified advice, since the action the asker must take can be informed by these multiple perspectives.

But the absolute right answer to the question "where does the word 'poopie' come from?" is not so remote. In this case we benefit from factual answers supported by helpful indications of where those facts were found.

languagehat always gives such answers. It's particularly frustrating to people who have invested themselves in a subject when others who have not answer authoritatively in it. (See here for current pertinent example.) There are sometimes questions about the creation of things-- for example programming questions, or engineering questions-- wherein input is valuable from almost any source, and people should feel free to give it. Yes, SCDB is right about this. But there are always differing cases.

Until our matter partakes of nothingness and we are fused with the unsubstance that is GOD.
posted by koeselitz at 12:47 PM on January 10, 2008


Well there was some brainstorming going on in here - would this be disallowed now?

It's an interesting comparison, cashman. No, I don't see anything wrong with the question, or with the fact that the answers are more and less reliable guesses, and this is why:

The asker will know the answer when they see it. It's not a request for scholarship, it's a request for identification. The "a ha!" moment is a concrete thing there; some answer nails it, the asker verifies, and blammo.

People can still make appallingly bad/lazy ventures into a question like that, mind you, but it's a context where the act of guessing makes a lot more sense in good faith: the poster is asking for guesses.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:48 PM on January 10, 2008


SSF, so then should someone call you out for completely worthless and noisy answer? Not to mention the other essentially useless and noisy answer you posted further up in that thread.


What I'm getting at is that you're harping awfully strong on the "delete languagehat's comments" thing for someone who has already sufficiently stated his position on the matter a number of times. You might want to back down a little, or perhaps engage in the discussion about the nature of speculation and it's worth to askme a little more directly. Right now you're basically saying "lh's noise should be deleted. it's annoying that he does that all the time," without discussing the intrinsically related topic. It seems like you want to keep everything focused on languagehat rather than what is, ultimately, a more interesting and useful discussion.
posted by shmegegge at 12:52 PM on January 10, 2008


cashman writes "Or is brainstorming allowed because the OP is fuzzy? So then if the person who posts the question is okay with the brainstorming type replies, is that allowed?"

That's pretty much my understanding. If the asker can be very specific in their question ("What makes and models of Widgets are compatible with my S-700 Grobsplink?"), then guessing is bad. If the question rests on vagaries ("What's that song that has the bass-line that goes like "Doo dodo ba dump bump doodi doo dod"?"), then guessing is fine. Etymologies of words fall in the first category, in my opinion.
posted by Bugbread at 12:52 PM on January 10, 2008


See, this thread is making me curious about the usage of "Beste answer," as in "marked as Beste answer," etc. I could swear it's been used multiple times across the MF sites, but Google is only turning up one cite, from a post by absalom on Nov 20 2007.
posted by jtron at 12:53 PM on January 10, 2008


"where does the word 'poopie' come from?"

hee hee. it comes from the word "butt."
posted by shmegegge at 12:53 PM on January 10, 2008 [6 favorites]


Okay, that helps.
posted by cashman at 12:55 PM on January 10, 2008


engage in the discussion about the nature of speculation and it's worth to askme

I thought I made it clear. I enjoy the speculation, I think it's useful to the OP, particularly when there's no hard and fast citation, but also when there is.

I think in most cases (as cortex notes, it's not clear-cut) the mods agree with this. I said if they don't, they should prune away, but apparently they find these answers fine. So these should stay.

Given that reality, I would like to see LH please stop pissing all over those kinds of answers. That's all. I'm not harping on that, it's just that I felt like the question about the worth of the speculation was kind of answered way up in the first comment here.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 1:03 PM on January 10, 2008


WARNING: BAD FORM AHEAD

I'm going to be bailing from this conversation now, I can't keep up with the conversation due to other commitments. Languagehat, thanks for weighing in.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 1:08 PM on January 10, 2008


I said if they don't, they should prune away, but apparently they find these answers fine.

This is pretty much a neutral aside, and I don't think you meant any harm by it, ssF, but probably just about nothing gets up our shirts quite like being informed by someone else of how we feel about a given administrative issue based on our declared failure to act on some assessed dichotomy. "Either the mods x or they think y" isn't a great way to sell a point.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:13 PM on January 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


koeselitz: I find this 'law' philosophically interesting. In fact, it seems to me difficult to say that there is anything absolute about nothingness, but of course it's hard to say that nothingness partake of any sort of quality that can be stated. Or, if you prefer, nothingness partakes of all the qualities. Both are probably equally true.

What's so beautiful about "nothing is always absolutely so" is that it has two opposed meanings which usually aren't apparent to people on the first glance. Kind of like that optical illusion of the old woman/young woman. On the one hand it says "nothing is always nothing" and on the other it says "there isn't anything that is always absolutely something" (that is a clumsy paraphrase, I know). Sturgeon was a very intelligent fellow. And a very underrated writer.
posted by Kattullus at 1:14 PM on January 10, 2008


ssF wrote....
Huh, I just realized that I have absolutely nothing to add to that.
posted by tkolar at 1:14 PM on January 10, 2008


stupidsexyFlanders writes "Given that reality, I would like to see LH please stop pissing all over those kinds of answers."

I would like to see LH keep trying to stop the people who are pissing all over these kinds of questions. I wish he were a bit more civil and less cantankerous about it, but overall I find him a net positive in etymology threads.
posted by Bugbread at 1:15 PM on January 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


Oh wait, I do. Does "harping" in that context derive from "Harpy"?
posted by tkolar at 1:17 PM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


Nope. "Harpooning". Whales are big creatures. Hitting them with a single harpoon doesn't kill them. So you have to hit them over and over and over. It's like the Discovery Channel version of Super Breakout.
posted by Bugbread at 1:21 PM on January 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


Here are the answers ssF called out; I'm genuinely curious if you find them unacceptably cantankerous:

Guesses are pointless; sitting around trading guesses is great in a freshman bull session (do they still have those?), but not at AskMe. Someone somewhere has done research on this, and they would be worth listening to; you and me, not so much. Really, language and its history are much more complicated and interesting and unpredictable than most people imagine.

seanyboy has it, and (knowing it won't do any good) I strongly emphasize that wild-ass guesses are totally useless in answering these questions. Lexicographers spend years learning how to do this, then spend their entire professional lives doing it; if you want to know where a word comes from, look in a book—in this case HDAS. If Lightner et al. suggest it's related to boogie, that's the best guess you're going to get. On the question of age, the first citation in HDAS is from 1974: "Time to book this joint." Of course, it had doubtless been used for at least a few years before that, and antedates will probably turn up.


My reading is that I'm strongly stating my belief that unsupported guesses are useless but otherwise being helpful and conversational. Obviously, I'm not an unbiased observer. If you (I'm speaking to bugbread here; God knows how many comments will slip in 'twixt cup and lip) think I'm not being civil enough, I'll take that seriously and try to recalibrate.
posted by languagehat at 1:24 PM on January 10, 2008


No, no. "Harping" is an orchestral reference, harpists as a group being stubborn and willful creatures who will, if not physically arrested by a neighboring bass clarinetist, continue plucking away at a theme long after the conductor has formally closed a piece out.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:27 PM on January 10, 2008 [3 favorites]


ND¢ I like to do that with some western Mass towns. Hancock, Cummington and Essex spring to mind.

Don't forget Athol!
posted by ericb at 1:36 PM on January 10, 2008


(knowing it won't do any good)

I would leave that part out.
posted by smackfu at 1:38 PM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


I think in most cases (as cortex notes, it's not clear-cut) the mods agree with this. I said if they don't, they should prune away, but apparently they find these answers fine. So these should stay.

I think you've been reading a lot of what you want to read into this thread, and not a lot of what you don't.
posted by shmegegge at 1:45 PM on January 10, 2008


LH: It's hard for me to tell, really. You have a cantankerous streak. Frequently, you say stuff I totally agree with, but your way of saying it is more aggressive than my personal tastes run. As a result, I tend to read some of your dissenting opinions with that in mind, and it probably colors how I read your neutral stuff. So, in retrospect, those comments don't come off as all that abrasive, but they did when I first read them.
posted by Bugbread at 1:46 PM on January 10, 2008


In short, LH, they're not cantankerous for *you*...
posted by tkolar at 2:00 PM on January 10, 2008


tkolar: Don't forget the punchline: Sure, LH could have perhaps phrased his rebuke a bit more gently, but he's not the one doing the punch-shitting here.
posted by Skorgu at 2:05 PM on January 10, 2008


Is it true that Mefites have 49 words for snark?
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 2:12 PM on January 10, 2008 [6 favorites]


just about nothing gets up our shirts quite like being informed by someone else of how we feel about a given administrative issue based on our declared failure to act on some assessed dichotomy.

Indeed.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:20 PM on January 10, 2008


Just as long he doesn't pee in my Wheaties.
posted by everichon at 2:28 PM on January 10, 2008


...what we know as Sturgeon's law Sturgeon's Revelation

I thought Sturgeon's Law stated that Beluga, Ossetra, and Sevruga from the Caspian Sea is considered superior to farm-raised varieties.
posted by ericb at 2:31 PM on January 10, 2008


You have a cantankerous streak

I think languagehat has a sexy streak, and when he types those sexy ol' comments I get goosebumps all up my wing-wang, and then my ling-long starts to bing-bong and my fling-flang shoots out liquid ying-yong.

I just wanted to say that so that linguists of the future will know where the term "ying-yong" began. It began with ME, linguists of the future - so don't listen to future Steven Van Der Beast, he's talking out his ming-mong.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 2:32 PM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


It began with ME

You are getting so sued.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:34 PM on January 10, 2008


I'm just so sorry I got here late, I have some much I wanted to ask after reading the opening charges. Like for starters, how can explaining a flaw in a question asked, be seen as pooping anywhere let alone a lovely bowl of punch?
posted by nola at 2:50 PM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


No one's going to read this far, but in that thread, I was completely annoyed at all the responses of "me too, my town used that word!!11one"

Languagehat's arrival was like a ray of logical sunshine.
posted by knave at 2:55 PM on January 10, 2008


but probably just about nothing gets up our shirts quite like being informed by someone else of how we feel about a given administrative issue

Every admin needs a hug.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:58 PM on January 10, 2008


all I know is thank god for this thread, because the blue has been fucking boring today.
posted by shmegegge at 3:02 PM on January 10, 2008


knave writes "No one's going to read this far, but in that thread, I was completely annoyed at all the responses of 'me too, my town used that word!!11one'

"Languagehat's arrival was like a ray of logical sunshine."


To be fair, the "my town used that word!" answers were actually useful. A person knows if a word was used in their town or not. So, if you have enough folks of enough different ages, for a recent word, you can track down where it came from. For example, you might find that everyone remembered a term being used in the 1990s, but only people from the west coast remembered it being used in the 1980s, and only people from Seattle remembered it from the 1970s, and thus it's probably a good bet it started in the Pacific Northwest. There's a big difference between "I know it was used in Texas in 1980" or "I know it was used in Massachusetts in 1977" and "I bet it comes from Hawaii 5'0".

Unfortunately, in this case, it looks like the term was used nationwide within all of our lifespans, so this particular line of investigation was fruitless, but a fruitless line of investigation is still investigation which holds promise of determining something factual, unlike blindly guessing at etymologies, which is just useless.

Though what did annoy me were the "Hey, I lived in Massachusetts, too, and it was in use in 1983, just like you said!" responses. Once we know that a term was used in a certain region at a certain time, saying "me too, at the same location, at the same time" is pointless, and doesn't add anything to the investigation of regional spread.
posted by Bugbread at 3:09 PM on January 10, 2008


Or is the Hive Mind over, and now people can start asking the Experts-in-the-field-only Mind?
posted by cashman


Beautiful.
posted by wafaa at 3:27 PM on January 10, 2008


The best answer is always the correct answer. The skill comes into play in knowing which questions are the ones that can actually have a correct answer. Many questions on Ask Metafilter cannot be answered with anything other than anecdote, opinion, or advice. Some questions can be answered correctly. If you don't know the answer to a question of to this latter variety, DO NOT ANSWER IT.

That is all.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:35 PM on January 10, 2008 [3 favorites]


stavrosthewonderchickenwrote...

That is all.



I think it would be great if everyone who is in the habit of making bold assertions uncluttered by caveats on the internet would pick a single message and stick with it.

Specifically I'm thinking we should go with "Having children will kill you." Think of what we could do for the average intelligence of the population in just a few generations....
posted by tkolar at 3:53 PM on January 10, 2008


I think it's safe to say that only the know-it-alls who really know it all should be allowed to answer in AskMe.
posted by Dave Faris at 3:59 PM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


posted by stavrosthewonderchicken The best answer is always the correct answer. The skill comes into play in knowing which questions are the ones that can actually have a correct answer. Many questions on Ask Metafilter cannot be answered with anything other than anecdote, opinion, or advice. Some questions can be answered correctly. If you don't know the answer to a question of the latter variety, DO NOT ANSWER IT.

This copy should be added to the page where you post answers to Ask MetaFilter questions, and it ought to be the official policy of Ask MetaFilter.
posted by fandango_matt at 4:00 PM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure if you're poking me there, tkola, but by 'that is all' I meant 'that is all I have to say on that'.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:03 PM on January 10, 2008


+r
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:04 PM on January 10, 2008


+r/rw (dual layer)
posted by Bugbread at 4:09 PM on January 10, 2008


So... languagehat drops into etymological AskMes to point out that speculation about a word's origin isn't the same thing as an informed answer. I don't understand how this is a problem.

Because I'm a complicated person, I totally see his point, and I also totally enjoy those threads. Should etymology questions be off limits, or should languagehat stop pooping in the punch bowl?

Maybe I'm just really complicated... but I'm able to operate in a world where etymological questions are allowed and a user who knows a hell of a lot about words can drop into the thread and remind people that speculation on the internet isn't the best place to find the answer to the question. I like it when evolutionary biologists point out the just-so stories here. I got reprimanded for a badly written answer once myself. It's the power of AskMe. I don't want it to become like the rest of the internet, which is a viper pit of misinformation about any scientific topic involving conclusions that conflict with the ideology of someone somewhere. And where anyone with a keyboard thinks they know more about a given topic than the people who work with the data every day.

And that doesn't mean I want to see experts-only AskMe. That's not AskMe any more than Wikipedia is. You can know something without being an expert. Educated guesses and informed speculation help people find their answer sometimes. There is a definite middle ground made up of people who know something, but aren't necessarily experts, and where experts also drop in to give really helpful answers as well. The two extremes are situations where consensus alone passes for knowledge or only someone who has made a direct empirical observation passes as informed. Because Askme is not an extreme, it allows people who know something to help each other out. That's why it's useful.

Comments that remind people that sometimes books are better sources are answers that point the OP in the right direction. People like languagehat are why AskMe works. We need more of this, not less.
posted by Tehanu at 4:10 PM on January 10, 2008 [4 favorites]


If you...think I'm not being civil enough, I'll take that seriously and try to recalibrate.

Good luck with that.
posted by stinkycheese at 4:33 PM on January 10, 2008


pooping in the punch bowl?

This in reference to this comments by LH:
seanyboy has it, and (knowing it won't do any good) I strongly emphasize that wild-ass guesses are totally useless in answering these questions. Lexicographers spend years learning how to do this, then spend their entire professional lives doing it; if you want to know where a word comes from, look in a book—in this case HDAS. If Lightner et al. suggest it's related to boogie, that's the best guess you're going to get. On the question of age, the first citation in HDAS is from 1974: "Time to book this joint." Of course, it had doubtless been used for at least a few years before that, and antedates will probably turn up.
posted by languagehat at 2:03 PM on January 10

Guesses are pointless; sitting around trading guesses is great in a freshman bull session (do they still have those?), but not at AskMe. Someone somewhere has done research on this, and they would be worth listening to; you and me, not so much. Really, language and its history are much more complicated and interesting and unpredictable than most people imagine.
posted by languagehat at 3:29 PM on November 15

Has the world gone stark, staring bonkers? Someone does need to recalibrate, though not the member posting those comments.
posted by dash_slot- at 4:40 PM on January 10, 2008


I heard that poop can be used as soap in an emergency.
posted by unknowncommand at 4:43 PM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


Q: How did the mouse get out of the elephant's tummy?
A: It ran around and around and around and around until it was all pooped out.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:52 PM on January 10, 2008


>For those who need more context than languagehat provided, SCDB is renowned for submitting complete made up bullshit as answers in askme.

Not only that, but, almost calloutworthy in its own right, he has a stable of high horses of his own -- in reply to this question, he sneers at the idea that a baseball jersey might ever be considered significant ... somewhat undermining his own position on High versus Low culture later by making a post about Scrooge McDuck.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 4:55 PM on January 10, 2008


(knowing it won't do any good)
I would leave that part out.


Yes, that's an excellent editorial suggestion; I obviously allowed my general irritation to slop over into the particular answer, which is never a good thing.

posted by stavrosthewonderchicken The best answer is always the correct answer. The skill comes into play in knowing which questions are the ones that can actually have a correct answer. Many questions on Ask Metafilter cannot be answered with anything other than anecdote, opinion, or advice. Some questions can be answered correctly. If you don't know the answer to a question of the latter variety, DO NOT ANSWER IT.

This copy should be added to the page where you post answers to Ask MetaFilter questions, and it ought to be the official policy of Ask MetaFilter.

Seconded.

Good luck with that.


Ah, my fan club has shown up!
posted by languagehat at 5:04 PM on January 10, 2008


On a related note, I speculate that the phrase "pooping in the punch bowl" was coined after an actual incident involving Catherine The Great.

I loved her work in 'Two Empresses One Cup'.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:09 PM on January 10, 2008 [4 favorites]


Would you sign this comment? It's for a friend...
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:09 PM on January 10, 2008


stavrosthewonderchicken wrote...
I'm not sure if you're poking me there, tkola[r], but by 'that is all' I meant 'that is all I have to say on that'.

Seriously? I associate the phrase "That is all." with official announcements made over loudspeakers, a good example being Radar O'Reilly's camp announcements on M*A*S*H.

I suppose if it was hooked up to a sentence with a comma ... e.g "I dislike gnomes, that is all" I would read it more like you are suggesting. But as a standalone sentence, I read it as "This official pronouncement is complete."

Huh.
posted by tkolar at 5:13 PM on January 10, 2008


So-o-o-o-o late to the party.

Please note that languagehat must make at least 5 comments a week like "wild-ass guesses are totally useless in answering these questions" in order to remain a member in good standing of the International League of Pedants. MetaFilter provides him and other pedants a valuable outlet. As it also does for members of the Snark Society.

And the term "to harp on something" was originally "to Harpo on something" because of the Marx Brother's tendency to be as talkative off-screen as he was mute on-screen. And if you buy that, I have a friend in Nigeria who could use your help.

I also recommend injecting calamine lotion into the frontal lobe to relieve the symptoms of Hives Mind.

To semi-quote Den Beste...
What's wrong is not detecting the mistake until after you ship a couple hundred thousand troops to Iraq.

And so this pony request... give the OP of an AskMe the opportunity to mark both Best Answers and Den Beste Answers. (With any luck, this meme will be as big as "this will not wendell")
posted by wendell at 5:17 PM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


Buoyed by the success of their recent reunion tour, Van Halen is set to release a new studio album tentatively entitled Ship High In Transit.
posted by Tube at 5:17 PM on January 10, 2008


I totally read it as a Forrest Gumpism: And that's all I have to say about that.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:18 PM on January 10, 2008


I also recommend injecting calamine lotion into the frontal lobe to relieve the symptoms of Hives Mind.

[This is for jonmc:]

It's gonna take an ocean of calamine lotion...
posted by languagehat at 5:19 PM on January 10, 2008


SCDB:
If it turns out I'm wrong, I learn something. WIN
If I post what I think I know, and it turns out to be wrong, it could remind someone else of the right answer and get them to post it. WIN


You could learn the same thing by not posting it, and just reading the thread once the correct answer has popped up.

The someone-else in question could be reminded of the right answer, and post it, by the same stimulus that made you post the wrong answer: The OP's Question.

I'm not saying STFU, or that you should be flayed for being wrong. Be helpful where you can. But that rationalization was weak.
posted by CKmtl at 5:27 PM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


That is not all.

Speaking of the origins of place names...
When I was employed by a radio station in the suburbs of L.A., it frequently paid tribute to the area its signal covered best with "This Is the San Fernando Valley". A lot of the historical tidbits involved the origins of the names of communities in the area (and there are a lot of them), and thus we learned that Burbank was NOT named after Luther Burbank and Tarzana WAS named after Tarzan (since Edgar Rice Burroughs lived there). There were also some in-house parodies of the feature, including one claiming that Van Nuys was named by the first Jewish settler who took one look at the area and said "Ver' nice!" (a cheesy Jewish dialect makes the joke funnier) and Canoga Park was named for the plaintive cries of an immigrant named Oga looking for a parking place...

NOW that is all.
posted by wendell at 5:34 PM on January 10, 2008


I am all for lose-lose situations.
1. If it turns out I'm wrong, someone else is misinformed. LOSE
2. If it turns out I'm right, I am motivated to post more guesses as answers. EVERYBODY LOSES.

2 increases the likelihood of 1.

I had to climb over languagehat's high horse to reach Den Beste's own. I have to say that from up here, you all look like squirmy ants.
posted by Dr. Curare at 5:40 PM on January 10, 2008


Seriously? [...] I suppose if it was hooked up to a sentence with a comma ... e.g "I dislike gnomes, that is all" I would read it more like you are suggesting.

Seriously. I have a weakness for the short-standalone-coda-to-longer-comments pattern, for some reason. It's like concrete poetry or something. Also, though I'm assuming a familiarity with my glorious Metafilter oeuvre that I shouldn't, one of my eyeballkid-esque personal tagliney things has long been 'that is all,' and I've always meant it to mean 'that's all I've got to say about that'. Perhaps I've (*sob*) been misunderstood all these years.

Not that it matters too much.

I'm waiting for y2karl to come in and excoriate me for talking about myself too much. He hates that!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:41 PM on January 10, 2008


Tarzana WAS named after Tarzan (since Edgar Rice Burroughs lived there).

More than that, he named it himself when he bought the Otis estate in 1917. This information comes to you courtesy of Erwin Gudde's magisterial California Place Names, which anyone interested in such things should at least consult if not own. (Furthermore, the Valley is named for the Misión San Fernando Rey de España, founded on Sept. 8, 1797 and named in honor of Ferdinand III, king of Castile and Leon. Oh, and Gudde is pronounced GOOD-y. That is all.)
posted by languagehat at 5:42 PM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


I had totally not read stavros's comment when I signed off that way. Now that I have, I hasten to assure him that I, at least, always read it as intended. That is all.
posted by languagehat at 5:44 PM on January 10, 2008


Hate to tell you this, stavros, but I get the less-flattering reading too.

You big accidental meanie.
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:46 PM on January 10, 2008


Hmm. I like these taglines. I've decided to go with...

You are dismissed.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:47 PM on January 10, 2008


Tarzana WAS named after Tarzan (since Edgar Rice Burroughs lived there).

Damn. I learn sumtin' new every day here on MeFi!
posted by ericb at 6:08 PM on January 10, 2008


Hey! If the noun form of "strong" is "strength," shouldn't Our New Favorite Word be "wrength"?
posted by GrammarMoses at 6:29 PM on January 10, 2008


I responded to the "what's the etymology of book?" question mainly because I'm a new user. It was one of the only ones I could at least hazard a guess at, and I wanted to participate. I checked back to see if anyone had responded to my response, and was slightly disappointed, but not surprised, that no one had. Then I found this thread. Damn, I had no idea you people take AskMe so seriously. I'm sorry for making a wild ass guess, and I promise to take AskMe more seriously from now on. :)
posted by proj08 at 6:44 PM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


I am not an eightymoligist, but I'm pretty sure I coined the phrase.
posted by absalom at 6:44 PM on January 10, 2008


If I was not being silly enough above: I did not even remember making that comment, so I have no idea about the actual origin.
posted by absalom at 6:46 PM on January 10, 2008


You are dismissed.

I've been used to being DISMISSED ALL MY LIFE.
posted by wendell at 6:46 PM on January 10, 2008


Do ponies grow up to become high horses?

Well, that's all we have time for, GOODNIGHT EVERYBODY! Stay tuned for your local news!
posted by wendell at 6:48 PM on January 10, 2008


speaking of local news, i'm just back from burma & wanting to know what i've missed in the last month. i'm thinking in particular of spectacular flameouts. fill me in please, or else i'll start a metathread on the same question.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:01 PM on January 10, 2008


That is all.

Maybe it would seem more friendly if you typed it while speaking in a Forrest Gump voice: "And that's all I have to say about that."
posted by amyms at 7:38 PM on January 10, 2008


Today at work, Corky from Life Goes On came in and asked me if we had Touched By An Angel. I was busy, so I sent him to the info desk. He thanked me and walked away, wheelie bag in tow. He also ran over my foot.

True Story.
posted by jonmc at 7:48 PM on January 10, 2008


GrammarMoses: Hey! If the noun form of "strong" is "strength," shouldn't Our New Favorite Word be "wrength"?

I was waiting to be called out on that. I went back and forth between wrongth and wrength but since the point was to use an incorrect word and promote wrongth I decided to go with the wrongier form.

stinkycheese: Good luck with that.

Holding grudges is unseemly.
posted by Kattullus at 7:50 PM on January 10, 2008


speaking of local news, i'm just back from burma & wanting to know what i've missed in the last month

Well, give us a minute, and I'm sure we can think of some examples to give...well...hmm...I huess I'm holden out for someone else to answer that one.
posted by dersins at 7:56 PM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]



posted by dersins at 7:58 PM on January 10, 2008


Holden grudges is unseemly.
posted by wendell at 7:59 PM on January 10, 2008


&nbspAnyone?
posted by dersins at 8:00 PM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh, for fuck's sake. SCREW YOU, LIVE PREVIEW AND YOUR NON-WORKING-NESS!
posted by dersins at 8:01 PM on January 10, 2008


Oh, for fuck's sake. SCREW YOU, LIVE PREVIEW AND YOUR NON-WORKING-NESS!

And because of your tata wisecrack earlier, I'm not fixing that.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:08 PM on January 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


Okay, how many of you tuned in hoping for a flame-out from stupidsexyFlanders, languagehat or Steven C. Den Beste out only to get the totally surprise ending that it was dersins? Wow. Never saw that coming. I'd congratulate the writers, but they're on strike.
posted by wendell at 8:09 PM on January 10, 2008


I went back and forth between wrongth and wrength but since the point was to use an incorrect word and promote wrongth I decided to go with the wrongier form.

You did right. It's definitely the wrongst form you could have chosen.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:13 PM on January 10, 2008


A remark that "the Tennessee legislature defined pi as exactly 3" would be a valuable contribution to a thread about historical examples of idiocy

I think Languagehat's pomposity should be treated the same way as SCDB's What a dreadful example to use as a valuable contribution to anything - an urban legend. Probably worse than guessing the etymology of phrases.

And while I'm at it, how can it be that so many posters have taken stupidsexyFlander's question Should etymology questions be off limits as anything but facetious?
posted by Neiltupper at 9:33 PM on January 10, 2008


I have blown in casual conversation by pointing out that their Multnomah County Library card + their computer = unfettered OED access from the comfort of their own home.

And all this time I've just been using the gf's University privileges to scam student bus passes, dammit!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:06 PM on January 10, 2008


Whoops, sorry about the truncated quote, cortex.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:07 PM on January 10, 2008


Neiltupper writes "I think Languagehat's pomposity should be treated the same way as SCDB's What a dreadful example to use as a valuable contribution to anything - an urban legend. Probably worse than guessing the etymology of phrases."

If lh had really used that in an AskMe answer, I'd have been all over him. As it is, it was just an off-the-cuff example in a MeTa thread, not an actual AskMe question or answer. I don't think that the point of examples in MeTa is canonical accuracy, but just clarifying a point. That example helped me understand what he was getting at, so I don't see anything wrong with that. If it were an ACTUAL AskMe comment/question, that would be a problem.
posted by Bugbread at 4:15 AM on January 11, 2008


I think Languagehat's pomposity should be treated the same way as SCDB's

Languagehat usually seems to get it right, and what's more, he seems to care about whether he gets it right. Not so with SCDB.
posted by grouse at 4:21 AM on January 11, 2008


SCDB: your methodology about answering is bullshit.

AskMe is for the benefit of the askers, not you. Assuming the mantle of absolute authority may make you feel really smart and stuff, and maybe you'll learn something doing so, but you're screwing the original poster. Your false projections of knowledge can only harm them. Any benefit is entirely accidental, where any harm you cause is deliberate.

It's entirely selfish, and you should stop. Misleading people with false projections of authority doesn't make you smart, it makes you a dick.
posted by Malor at 4:23 AM on January 11, 2008



I think Languagehat's pomposity should be treated the same way as SCDB's What a dreadful example to use as a valuable contribution to anything - an urban legend. Probably worse than guessing the etymology of phrases.

Are you wearing your seatbelt on that high horse? Careful, you might fall and hurt yourself.
posted by nasreddin at 8:23 AM on January 11, 2008


The party's pretty much over, but I'd just like to chip in my $.02 and say that putting up a divide between "accepted" usage via the OED (or the DARE or what have you) and the wrong, mindless chattering of mouth-breathers knocking over their sippy-cups is pretty much bullshit. I know folks who've done entries for the OED, and yes, it's an amazing and wonderful resource, but at the end of the day those people pretty much do their research catch-as-catch-can. Granted, they are very smart people with lots of training and academic credentials, but the OED is better thought of as a document that strives to do the impossible, i.e., reify language practice into something authoritative and "right."

So yeah, don't be a jerk and just spout off if you don't know anything about the person's question, but it seems like askme is pretty much the ideal place to ask about slang. The regional stuff especially.

Anyways, I'm once again late to the nerd fight. I brought my Dungeon Master's Guide and everything you bastards!
posted by bardic at 4:25 PM on January 11, 2008


bardic! Where've you been, you miserable bastard?
posted by cortex (staff) at 4:39 PM on January 11, 2008


Yeah! Even though your first sentence is completely wrongheaded, it's nice to see you back, ya mouth-breather!
posted by languagehat at 5:04 PM on January 11, 2008


Are you wearing your seatbelt on that high horse? Careful, you might fall and hurt yourself.

AskMe
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:32 PM on January 11, 2008


or a related note, is it not possible to set some people to 'ignore' and never see a thing they post/comment on? People who bitch about others in Talk here strike me as very small, bitter, egocentric persons and I'd pay, say, 50 bucks a year to block them and still use the site as i damn well please, under the guidelines, of course.
posted by dawson at 11:23 PM on January 11, 2008


You're asking about a killfile. There's no mefi killfile support, but I believe there's some greasemonkey that someone wrote, if you just can't contain yourself.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:08 AM on January 12, 2008


Things I have personally witnessed LH doing:
posted by Meatbomb at 10:09 AM on January 13, 2008


languagehat: "I had a lapse in judgment, did a horrible thing, and I apologize."
posted by grouse at 10:14 AM on January 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


I did not scratch dandruff into that dish of mixed nuts!
posted by languagehat at 3:26 PM on January 13, 2008


And I had the ottoman cleaned!
posted by languagehat at 3:26 PM on January 13, 2008


He pulled a Bush Sr. on a Caliph?
posted by CKmtl at 3:30 PM on January 13, 2008


Poor turk nearly drowned when you threw him into the washer, languagehat!
posted by Kattullus at 3:38 PM on January 13, 2008


But he had no problems during the spin cycle, being a whirling dervish.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:22 PM on January 13, 2008 [3 favorites]


I think that part of the tension lies in the difference between words as originally created and cited, and words as evolving.
Some words are easily identifiable as having been created by a specific person at a specific time. Shakespeare and scientific terminology are examples of this.
Other words, such as "bad" as it has evolved from its original meaning into a word that denotes appreciation are much more difficult to trace.
The first example supports Languagehats assertion.
The second example supports iamkimiams assertion.

For the record: I am responsible for the interpretation of the word "book" as meaning depart hastily as I've stolen a bunch from libraries.
posted by vapidave at 5:01 PM on January 14, 2008


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