# Rate of change pedantry December 1, 2015 4:13 PM   Subscribe

I don't want to single out a specific recent post, because my pedantic complaint is so not relevant and would harmfully distract from the discussion, but I have a request, my fellow Mefites:

"Increasing at an exponential rate" or "increasing exponentially" means that the number of incidences during this time period are some multiple of the number during the previous time period, which were some multiple of the number during the time period before that, etc. If you're comfortable with formulas and algebra, this means
N(t) = r*N(t-1)
N(t-1) = r*N(t-2)
etc.
If M was the original number at some time that we are taking as the initial time zero or baseline, then
N(k) = M*r*r*...*r
for whole numbers k, where the "..." indicates that k copies of r are being multiplied together. Multiplying r by itself k times is what exponential notation means, so a more compact way of writing this formula is with an exponent:
N(k) = M*r^k
In general, if t is any (not necessarily whole number) time past our baseline (initial) time that we are calling time zero, an exponential function with t in the exponent can be defined (kind of by interpolation), and so we still have
N(t) = M*r^t

This is as opposed to a rate of change following a different function. For example, the rate of growth of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is quadratic - it follows a function that looks like:
Amount of CO_2 t years after we started counting = (some constant)*(t^2) + (a second constant)*t + (a third constant).

In math and computer science, we talk about different "complexity classes" to indicate whether the function that describes a rate of growth is an exponential function, a polynomial function of some power, a logarithm, or whatever. (We don't worry much about the constant coefficients because when t gets large, their influence is negligible.) We care about different complexity classes because it makes a real difference.

Example 1: computer encryption and everything we use the internet for works because the amount of time it takes, using our best algorithms, to factor a number grows at a faster-than-polynomial rate as the size (number of digits) of the number to be factored increases. If you've ever heard of P versus NP, for example, P refers to the class of computations where the time to solve the problem grows at only a polynomial rate with the size of input. Factoring is general believed to be a harder-than-P problem. If anyone ever discovers a polynomial-time algorithm for factoring, encryption and basically the entire internet will break. All of your financial information, private email and facebook conversations, personal photos on your cell phone, and any networked medical or criminal records will be easily accessible to anyone with a reasonably current computer, mediocre technical knowledge, and a grudge or curiosity to motivate them.

Example 2: if the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere were growing at an exponential rate rather than a quadratic rate, then Earth's atmosphere would already be like Venus and probably none of us would be around to care about misuse of the phrase "exponentially increasing". (In fact, if the amount of carbon dioxide were increasing at a higher degree polynomial rate, like even a fourth degree polynomial rate, we'd already be experiencing much more severe consequences worldwide.)

Example 3: if rates of gun violence in the US were increasing exponentially, enough people would be dead by now that we might actually see some gun policy change and the NRA might be unpopular enough that they might disband.

None of this discussion should in any way be misconstrued as arguing against the seriousness of current rates of growth in atmospheric carbon dioxide or gun violence in the US, and this pedantry does not belong in threads on those or similar topics. Just, where possible, could you do a mathematician a favor and try to avoid misusing the term "increasing exponentially"? Thanks!
posted by eviemath to Etiquette/Policy at 4:13 PM (219 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

Increasing exponentially is pretty much like decimated. It has a mathematical meaning and it has a colloquial meaning and the two don't really resemble each other much. If people screw this up while they're actually doing calculations, sure, correct them. But if they're just talking, you have to just recognize that they mean 'a vague and unspecific level of real fastness'.
posted by jacquilynne at 4:30 PM on December 1, 2015 [69 favorites]

and this pedantry does not belong in threads on those or similar topics

Oh, I don't know, I'm of the opinion that pedantry belongs in all threads, on all topics.

But that's just me, I do love pedantry.
posted by el io at 4:36 PM on December 1, 2015 [12 favorites]

Next up, the differences between lose, loose, looser and loser...
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:40 PM on December 1, 2015 [8 favorites]

tl;dr the term exponentially does not mean "by an awful lot" it means something specific, so unless you mean that, please pick another word.

tis the season!
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 4:44 PM on December 1, 2015 [30 favorites]

I often have discreet thoughts about some of these discrete topics.
posted by tocts at 4:45 PM on December 1, 2015 [22 favorites]

"..."

"Hey that kind of looks like a little monster!" = my only reaction to this post because maths hurts my face. I understand nothing here except the request not to do the thing and I won't do the thing because I am scared of all the sums. I'll agree to anything if I never have to read sums again I promise. hold me
posted by billiebee at 4:50 PM on December 1, 2015 [31 favorites]

yeah, i too winced at that post.

(decimated is weird. as far as i know the "accurate" version is whatever romans did. engineers seem to use it to mean "reduce the sample rate" with no particular relation to 10 or 1/10. says the guy who has spent the day trying to make sense of polyphase quadrature filters (and i do not work on star trek scripts))
posted by andrewcooke at 4:51 PM on December 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

I had an exponential growth removed recently. It made a huge difference equation, and I ain't Fibonacci.
posted by This is Why We Can't Have Nice Things at 4:57 PM on December 1, 2015 [29 favorites]

My loathing is increasing exponentially.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 4:59 PM on December 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

First they came for my hyperbole...
posted by Mchelly at 5:00 PM on December 1, 2015 [23 favorites]

1) You are fantastic. People who are pedantic about the meaning of math-related terms are the best people.

2) I suspect that this post will not actually change the way "increasing exponentially" is colloquially used to mean "increasing rapidly."
posted by insectosaurus at 5:00 PM on December 1, 2015 [22 favorites]

This is fine.
posted by boo_radley at 5:01 PM on December 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

i wholeheartedly support this product and/or service and also death to decimated
posted by poffin boffin at 5:03 PM on December 1, 2015 [4 favorites]

also the fact that "alright" is now apparently a real word and not a typo fills me with immeasurable loathing
posted by poffin boffin at 5:03 PM on December 1, 2015 [21 favorites]

Possibly relevant.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 5:06 PM on December 1, 2015

Immeasurable loathing

At least it is not exponentially increased loathing.
posted by Oyéah at 5:07 PM on December 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

Literally immeasurable.
posted by turbid dahlia at 5:07 PM on December 1, 2015 [6 favorites]

my loathing expands to fill whatever it is contained within
posted by poffin boffin at 5:09 PM on December 1, 2015 [10 favorites]

But if they're just talking, you have to just recognize that they mean 'a vague and unspecific level of real fastness'.

It's a bit like making up statistics to prove your point. Using terms that create hyperbolic meanings and elide actual reality in a serious conversation means I won't take what you say seriously. If you don't mean to be serious, that's fine. - "My love for Beethoven is increasing exponentially every time I play him" is believable and ok. It's an opinion. To say house prices in Australia have increased exponentially during some time periods is to state a true fact where the use of the term adds to communication of information. To use the term when it is not actually true is to speak poorly. It's lazy talking for rhetorical points and I don't buy into the 'well everyone's doing it ....' dumbing down excuse.
posted by Thella at 5:09 PM on December 1, 2015 [16 favorites]

posted by seasparrow at 5:15 PM on December 1, 2015 [6 favorites]

i like the thing where we all say 'literally' now instead of 'actually'
posted by mittens at 5:21 PM on December 1, 2015 [9 favorites]

I avoid this by saying geometric instead of exponential. That way I'm just as incorrect but more difficult for the layperson to understand. It's a lose-lose!
posted by infinitewindow at 5:25 PM on December 1, 2015 [30 favorites]

my loathing expands to fill whatever it is contained within

But on what day was the container half full of loathing?
posted by sapere aude at 5:26 PM on December 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

Suggestion: responses to all MetaTalks begin this way:

1) You are fantastic....
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 5:27 PM on December 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

I've noticed lately that misuse of the phrase "exponential growth" has been increasing factorially.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 5:38 PM on December 1, 2015 [13 favorites]

Be careful what you wish for, eviemath. I have twice encountered instances in print, presumably generated by writers warned to avoid "exponentially," of "logarithmically" used as a synonym for "quickly."
posted by escabeche at 5:40 PM on December 1, 2015 [12 favorites]

> also the fact that "alright" is now apparently a real word and not a typo fills me with immeasurable loathing

Since this is the thread for pedantry, I feel compelled to observe that "alright" has been in use for quite a while. It's attested in modern English print from 1893 at least, but there are much older examples. In fact, the Old English formation eallriht is found in an entry in the Peterborough Chronicle from the year 1127.

Of course, nobody would have been splitting hairs about spacing back then. If we were actually to start taking cues on orthography from the Anglo-Saxons, written English would begin looking raðer different.

What's maybe more salient is that I actually remember being taught the difference between all right and alright as an elementary school student sometime in the 90s. Maybe it was something like alright being used as an adjective and all right being used as an adverb?

I went to the dictionary expecting that it would back me up on this, but nope. Maybe my teacher made it up.
posted by a mirror and an encyclopedia at 5:42 PM on December 1, 2015 [13 favorites]

This has been a quantum leap forward for all of us.
posted by Nomiconic at 5:55 PM on December 1, 2015 [14 favorites]

Significant, even.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 6:14 PM on December 1, 2015 [7 favorites]

N(t) = M*r^t
...
(We don't worry much about the constant coefficients because when t gets large, their influence is negligible.)
...
Example 3: if rates of gun violence in the US were increasing exponentially, enough people would be dead by now that we might actually see some gun policy change and the NRA might be unpopular enough that they might disband.

But that makes it seem like the coefficient should matter? like if r is 1 point a kerbillion zeros then another 1, I'm not sure how convincing that would be?
posted by juv3nal at 6:17 PM on December 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yeah, we still wouldn't see those things.
posted by box at 6:21 PM on December 1, 2015

Instead of "exponentially," I shall henceforth use "embiggened."
posted by 4ster at 6:33 PM on December 1, 2015 [15 favorites]

Okay so I'm with you if and only if you're also with me on my rearguard action in defense of "begging the question" being only used in the original technical sense rather than just as another way of saying "raises the question."
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 6:34 PM on December 1, 2015 [26 favorites]

posted by Alterscape at 6:46 PM on December 1, 2015

(gives eviemath a hug)
posted by Sebmojo at 6:59 PM on December 1, 2015 [5 favorites]

YES re begs the question, buick - was just coming to post that. The original meaning ('presumes the point at issue') is a really valuable rhetorical idea, and 'makes you wonder if' is nowhere near as nuanced.
posted by Sebmojo at 7:02 PM on December 1, 2015 [7 favorites]

Is the human population increasing exponentially? Serious question.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 7:02 PM on December 1, 2015

This post is exponentially long
posted by grobstein at 7:02 PM on December 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

PS is there a turn of phrase for negative-exponential growth, like 1 - (1/2)^x?
posted by grobstein at 7:06 PM on December 1, 2015

English person here: This means that there is a level of caring about this that is lower than your current level of caring about this and you could care that amount less than you currently care. You should say, "I couldn't care less," which has the opposite and correct meaning you require.

As in, I couldn't care less about Reddit drama as I am a mefite.
posted by marienbad at 7:39 PM on December 1, 2015 [6 favorites]

you did it

you explained the joke
posted by poffin boffin at 7:43 PM on December 1, 2015 [53 favorites]

"Increasing Exponentially."

The new hit album by the Parsons' Malthus Project.
posted by clavdivs at 7:46 PM on December 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

This is an important distinction and I think more of you for making it. Also, and I say this with affection, Good Luck Wih That. I will join you on the barricades! (Figuratively, not literally.)
posted by wenestvedt at 8:06 PM on December 1, 2015 [5 favorites]

"Begs the question" to mean "raises the question" doesn't make the slightest amount of sense, even as a mistake. Who's supposed to be doing the begging? And what are they supposed to be begging for? I don't even get it.
posted by holborne at 8:29 PM on December 1, 2015

I've come around to the thought that "I could care less" can express the exact same thing as its negation. I could care less, possibly, but I care so little about this thing that the effort of reaching that depth would be more than it deserves.
posted by felix grundy at 8:30 PM on December 1, 2015 [10 favorites]

Thella: 1
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:31 PM on December 1, 2015

This is an important distinction

posted by MonkeyToes at 8:35 PM on December 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

that just makes me think of people who need medical assistance to poop.
posted by poffin boffin at 8:56 PM on December 1, 2015 [8 favorites]

"English person here: This means that there is a level of caring about this that is lower than your current level of caring about this and you could care that amount less than you currently care. You should say, "I couldn't care less," which has the opposite and correct meaning you require."

I shouldn't care less.

""Begs the question" to mean "raises the question" doesn't make the slightest amount of sense, even as a mistake. Who's supposed to be doing the begging? And what are they supposed to be begging for? I don't even get it."

This situation begs for the question X to be raised.

Other idiomatic use of "beg" includes "beggars imagination" or "beggars belief."

For a longer discussion of exactly how the phrase came to be (abused) on Language Log.
posted by klangklangston at 9:04 PM on December 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

"Begs the question" is a pretty opaque English translation. If you want to make the technical point, use "petitio principii." Or just "circular reasoning" but if it's not an environment where Latin jargon would be appropriate it seems unlikely that technical points of logic are either.

escabeche, I've heard "logarithmic growth" used to refer to what would normally be called "exponential growth," by actual professors of Mathematics, so I think there's some dialect in which it's correct usage. (I can squint and justify it by saying that the time needed to grow to level X goes as log(x).) Might be a British thing?
posted by PMdixon at 9:37 PM on December 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

I don't quite understand the CO2 and gun death examples. Using the "N=M*r^k" notation, for any small enough value of r, or long enough time span for k, you wouldn't necessarily come up with crazy numbers.

Imagine someone says "the number of gun deaths has risen exponentially since 2000".
If the number of gun deaths in 2000 was 10,000
...and the rate of growth was 1% per year
...then the number of gun deaths in 2015 would be 11,609. That's not an increase that would shake the entire worldview of people who were fine with 10,000 deaths in 2000.

Ditto with CO2 levels. Given a small enough r, a long enough time span for k, or a combination thereof, it would be totally possible for CO2 levels to grow exponentially without our atmosphere being Venusian.

(I mean, normally I wouldn't even say anything, but either you wrote an enormous pedantic post and yet didn't even bother to check your own examples, or I'm misunderstanding exponential growth, which I'd like to rectify)
posted by Bugbread at 9:45 PM on December 1, 2015 [8 favorites]

I think the "logarithmic growth" idea is a conflation about using logarithmic scales to represent exponential growth.
posted by Nomiconic at 9:50 PM on December 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

Depends upon the exponent, surely. If you want to be particular about it the important part of 'increasing exponentially' is that the rate of change is also increasing (by whatever factor).
posted by pompomtom at 9:53 PM on December 1, 2015

while we're jousting, I have always thought that the "P v NP" formulation of the complexity class thing to be sort of dumb and needlessly obscure
posted by thelonius at 10:07 PM on December 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yeah, it's worth pointing out that the technical usage of "beg the question" is the result of a mistranslation, anyway.

There are other, better, and (for those inclined) more ostentatious ways to make this point and so it's really not a good choice even in the philosophical context. It means what it means in popular language and that usage is much more widely understood and much less opaque than the allegedly "correct" usage. I admit that I continue to use it in the technical sense in non-technical conversation, and I wince at the popular usage, but it's a habit I'm trying to break. The usages I aim for are circular reasoning for the technical meaning and raises the question for the popular and to avoid begs the question entirely.

Could care less as it's popularly used is also fine. English has registers, just as other languages do, and what is appropriate and clear communication in one social context can be inappropriate and unclear in another. Language is not mathematics and conversations are not exercises in analytic philosophy. There are innumerable examples of words and figures of speech that are understood to mean something other than what they superficially seem to mean -- opposing this is equivalent to insisting that the Earth is the center of the universe because to think otherwise offends your sense of order.

With regard to these two examples and those like them -- terms of art that have escaped into common usage -- context determines best usage. If the conversation or audience has even a moderate relationship to the technical context where the term of art is in currency, then that usage should prevail. If you're actually using numbers or are otherwise in a relatively numerate discussion, exponential growth should only be used to refer to growth that is actually exponential. Otherwise, it's okay to use the term more loosely.

A fascinating example of this sort of thing are the popular, hand-wringing discussions about "passive sentences". Linguists who otherwise tend strongly toward descriptivism will surprisingly be very prescriptive about what they perceive as the popular misuse of a grammatical term. (Note that grammatically passive phrases and "unclear agency" are intersecting but not congruent sets. Many, many commonly cited examples of "passive sentences" use, in fact, active verbs. While, likewise, many sentences with passive verbs have very clear agency.)

My own opinion is that the popular usage of "passive sentence" to mean "a sentence where agency is unclear or obscured" is entirely acceptable ... except when the speaker/writer implicitly or explicitly appeals to actual grammar. And you see this quite often -- writers will throw around grammatical terms and such as implicit appeals to authority as part of establishing some foundation for their credibility in arguing their opinion that such "passive sentences" are bad, often in reference to a particular sentence that is not, in fact, passive. Even though the popular notion of "passive sentence" is well understood and useful, mixing that usage with any sort of actual grammatical analysis is problematic. For anyone who knows better, it strongly calls into doubt the writer's credibility. Just as a similar inappropriate use of the popular "exponential growth" does.

Nevertheless, most of the popular usages are not only acceptable but preferable outside the technical context because the popular usage is widely understood. Begs the question is a good example because I think it's very defensible to argue that raises the question doesn't have quite the same meaning. Begs the question is more pointed. If something raises the question, that question may or may not be of much interest or importance -- it may be slight, a passing interest. But if something begs the question, the implication is that it's the heart of the matter. People use that expression for a reason. Likewise, exponential growth implies growth that is possibly uncontrollable or overwhelming. It's not just "rapid growth". And growth that is technically exponential may be far from uncontrollable or overwhelming.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:34 PM on December 1, 2015 [6 favorites]

I think the "logarithmic growth" idea is a conflation about using logarithmic scales to represent exponential growth.

So you're saying their understanding of log-linear growth is a bit ... regressive?
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 10:49 PM on December 1, 2015 [6 favorites]

There's some kind of joke to be made about constipation and log-normal but I'm too much of a prude to come up with it.
posted by PMdixon at 10:50 PM on December 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

Since this seems like an appropriate thread to complain about the misuse of words, what's the deal with what I've observed to be a rise in people saying things like "I may be bias, but ..."? Did half the population just suddenly forget that biased is a word? I am confuse.
posted by Rhomboid at 11:11 PM on December 1, 2015 [5 favorites]

Since this seems like an appropriate thread to complain about the misuse of words, what's the deal with what I've observed to be a rise in people saying things like "I may be bias, but ..."? Did half the population just suddenly forget that biased is a word? I am confuse.

cf woke, based, confuse.

it's language drift.
posted by Sebmojo at 11:25 PM on December 1, 2015

There seems to be a school of thought which holds that the existence of the moral order is threatened by any utterance in the passive voice, yes. Every sentence must make it clear who will be in Hell for eternity.
posted by thelonius at 11:28 PM on December 1, 2015 [4 favorites]

As long as we're being pedantic can I throw my own pet peeve in? The 'S' in AIDS is supposed to be capitalized. It stands for "syndrome," as in "Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome" — not for the plural of "AID." Writing it as "Aids" instead, as some style guides prefer for acronyms, is of course also understandable. But writing it as "AIDs" just grates on me.

Of course, no offense to anyone who's spelled it that way, at all; you are all lovely and I admit freely that I am being weird about it.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:00 AM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Also we really need MathJax/jqmath in MeFi for precisely threads like this, at least for certain values of "really" and "need"
posted by en forme de poire at 12:07 AM on December 2, 2015 [6 favorites]

"Everyday" for "every day" is what makes me twitchy lately.
Since we're sharing.
(Aye, Jessamyn, 'tis the season!)
posted by obloquy at 12:55 AM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's beginning to look a lot like the Airing of the Grievances up in here.

Happy Festivus, everyone!
posted by discopolo at 1:10 AM on December 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

Yeah, I'm a little confused. I confess my maths edumacation ceased in grade 10, replaced by Ancient History by school of distance ed, where if memory serves, we mostly sat around unsupervised talking about Duckman, but... I always thought exponential simply meant that in addition to something growing, that the rate of growth itself was growing, e.g Something grew 6% one year, then 7% the next year so on and so on.

In this context, carbon emission are surely growing exponentially? Or do you mean that to be exponential, it literally has to double or more for every interval, eg 2% on year, 4% the next, 8% the year after, 16% after that (of an ever-growing total).

Like, I thought basically exponential growth means that if you put it on a graph, the graph would curve, not be a straight line going upwards. Is this not what it means?

Apologies for being a doofus, your examples were almost wholly opaque for me; you may have more luck with this request, or vent or whatever it is, if you could explain your reasoning in a way that people abusing this concept (like me, I suspect!) are able to understand?
posted by smoke at 1:33 AM on December 2, 2015 [4 favorites]

I am anti-pedant more generally, I should declare. I work in communications and every dickhead who can write their name has some kind of bullshit sacrosanct rules that signal illiteracy/stupidity/whatever. Ironically, given how many of these people are my fellow communications managers, I find it quite antithetical to the goal of actually communicating - unless you're trying to communicate a dog-whistle middlebrow class code.

Last year I had to work with someone who attempted forcing me to not only drop ampersands and my beloved em-dash, but had no truck with Oxford commas. When she was later proven to be completely insane and grossly unprofessional besides, I took secret delight every time I popped an ampersand into a heading. Hahahaha. Live and let live, I say.
posted by smoke at 1:38 AM on December 2, 2015 [19 favorites]

1) You people are all amazing.

2) Have we stopped using "mouth-breather" and "fly-over country" yet?

3) At least this bad-term-usage isn't insulting to groups of people.

4) At least we seem to have stopped using USians for the most part.
posted by hippybear at 1:46 AM on December 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Jessamyn: tl;dr the term exponentially does not mean "by an awful lot" it means something specific, so unless you mean that, please pick another word.

Thank you. I noped out when the incomprehensible-to-me formulas were introduced.

OP: "exponentially" is an adverb that has more than one clear, dictionary-defined meaning, including: "characterized by or being an extremely rapid increase (as in size or extent)" and "rising or expanding at a steady and usually rapid rate." Those definitions are not directly dependent on the other, more precise mathematical definition.

I am sympathetic because I have a bunch of linguistic pet peeves myself, but I don't think it's reasonable to ask people to simply ignore an actual, appropriate, dictionary-approved use of a word and solely restrict themselves to a literal, mathematical meaning. Especially not when the other meaning is common vernacular.

Sorry.
posted by zarq at 1:49 AM on December 2, 2015 [4 favorites]

Since this seems like an appropriate thread to complain about the misuse of words, what's the deal with what I've observed to be a rise in people saying things like "I may be bias, but ..."? Did half the population just suddenly forget that biased is a word? I am confuse.

I have noticed this! Also with "prejudiced" becoming "prejudice" and "jaundiced" becoming "jaundice" (I hang around on a lot of parenting forums). Those two and "biased" -> "bias" seem to be mostly US English, but here in the UK, "texted" for the past form of "to text" - which itself is a relatively new verb - seems to be getting replaced with "text".
posted by Catseye at 1:53 AM on December 2, 2015

Alreet Poffin Boffin, you claim it's not a word marra, but you try coming to West Cumbria and saying that, eh.
posted by Helga-woo at 2:28 AM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

This doesn’t bother me! I think I used to find it incorrect but now I think of it as a distinct definition/usage, one that is related to or has evolved from the original meaning, like the ‘decimated’ example, or using ‘literally’ to mean ‘figuratively’.

‘Increasing exponentially' means (1) has exponential growth in the mathematical sense, (2) growing in a way that is fast or scary or overwhelming, (3) any other definitions...

Meanings of words change and words mean different things in different contexts. Math terminology can mean other, less-precise things in everyday contexts (‘group’, ‘continuous’ - sometimes used to describe things that would be hard to model with a continuous function, etc.), and can sometimes even have different meanings in different areas of math. That’s just words being overloaded and/or expanding to have alternate meanings, it’s not wrong.
posted by car s at 2:29 AM on December 2, 2015 [4 favorites]

hippybear: At least we seem to have stopped using USians for the most part.

Yes, I have, thank you for noticing. I still don't understand what's wrong with it, but it seems to rile people up, which is distracting. So I don't use it anymore. I now use 'US Americans' instead.

If the whole problem is that it's a term that differs from what US citizens like to call themselves, then I might as well get more riled up about the term 'females' from now on. Because I really prefer 'women'.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:45 AM on December 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

I always thought exponential simply meant that in addition to something growing, that the rate of growth itself was growing

What you're describing is just growth that is faster than linear (static rate). There are a bunch of different types of growth that are faster than linear, though. An example of something between linear and exponential would be quadratic: that's when the quantity you're measuring is proportional not to time (again, that's linear) but to the square of time. Exponential growth is faster than that. It's when the quantity you're measuring is proportional to some number to the power of time.

The "doubling every unit time" example you give is one type of exponential growth, but it's not the only one; you could multiply repeatedly by any number, as long as it's greater than 1. So you could multiply repeatedly by 1.001 and that would be a type of (slow) exponential growth. But eventually exponential growth is always going to "win" over quadratic or linear, you just might have to wait a long time.

Re: the subject of the thread, I think it's obv fine to use this metaphorically (like "literally"). But when we're talking about a real thing that was actually measured (carbon dioxide concentrations, for example, or populations of people), I do think there's potential for confusion and that it would be better to say that the growth was surprising or unprecedented or particularly fast.
posted by en forme de poire at 2:45 AM on December 2, 2015 [9 favorites]

Also using ‘literally’ to mean ‘figuratively’ bothers me. A lot. Please stop.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:46 AM on December 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

usian seems like a useful word that i think i will start using. it avoids the ambiguity of "american" and the fuss of trying to fit a descriptive phrase into whatever i'm writing. went looking for previous discussions and dug out this - kind of surprised people think is pejorative. but also weirded out that the thread isn't full of pocxplaining (is that a thing?) that the dominant doodah don't get to complain. i mean - isn't this a prime example of the privileged objecting to their label?
posted by andrewcooke at 3:14 AM on December 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

This is figuratively the most entertaining thread ever.
posted by teponaztli at 3:35 AM on December 2, 2015 [7 favorites]

smoke: "Live & let live"
There, FTFY.

And long live the ampersand. In my youth I took some pains to learn to write 'em by hand, because they're beautiful.

Though of course I would never start a sentence with one.
posted by valetta at 3:35 AM on December 2, 2015 [4 favorites]

I would prefer it if you all would stop using the letter "Q" immediately. It offends my delicate aesthetic sensibility. Thank you for your consideration.
posted by briank at 3:58 AM on December 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

"At least we seem to have stopped using USians for the most part."

Thanks for reminding me to make more of an effort to use that term!
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:25 AM on December 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Using terms that create hyperbolic meanings and elide actual reality in a serious conversation means I won't take what you say seriously.

While we're at it, "hyperbolic" refers to a specific kind of curve in geometry, so please don't use it when you are referencing a parabola, circle, or some other conic section.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 4:34 AM on December 2, 2015 [14 favorites]

It offends my delicate aesthetic sensibility.

Sure.

I'll acuiesce.
posted by pompomtom at 4:56 AM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

usian seems like a useful word that i think i will start using. it avoids the ambiguity of "american" and the fuss of trying to fit a descriptive phrase into whatever i'm writing. went looking for previous discussions and dug out this - kind of surprised people think is pejorative. but also weirded out that the thread isn't full of pocxplaining (is that a thing?) that the dominant doodah don't get to complain. i mean - isn't this a prime example of the privileged objecting to their label?

Oh my good god don't get this debate started again because the last time it turned up in a thread about something completely different on metatalk I got so genuinely grumpy at the users of metatalk, and urgh every time I go back and read that thread I get retrospectively annoyed with them.

As regards language, I think contextually using "inappropriate" words can be fine, as long as you are not trying to communicate specific things. Of course relying on audience understanding is often a dangerous thing, but that's the very nature of conversation. The only time we really demand linguistic accuracy is when those confusions must be avoided else serious problems arise, i.e. in mathematics and science, which is why scientific papers are often unreadable, because you are trying to write a sentence unambiguously, and by committee, so after the 4th draft all sense of life has been carefully pounded out of the sentence to make sure it says one thing and one thing only.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 5:02 AM on December 2, 2015 [4 favorites]

This is my favorite kind of pedantry, because it is both right and wrong -- there is indeed a mathematical meaning to the term that is widely ignored, but there is also an accepted metaphorical use of the word. Ditto other of the linguistic quibbles that have been brought up over the course of this discussion. Good pedantry is never fully wrong (because that is just boring) but isn't fully right, either, because there is no controversy in that.

My biggest complaint these days is "I haven't bothered to read the thread, but..." which really isn't linguistic so much as moralistic. If you are going to sin by being lazy, don't commit the second sin of bragging about it. Yes, get off my lawn, etc.

Linguistically, I've been hearing a lot more use recently of constructions like "That car needs fixed." I don't know if it is a regionalism or what, but it catches my ear every time. I hear it a lot, but I don't think I have ever seen it written except maybe as dialogue.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:03 AM on December 2, 2015 [7 favorites]

Also I think that using "circular reasoning" to describe begging the question is misleading. Usually when it's used it's saying that the arguer is hiding assumptions that haven't been proven, but that doesn't quite make the argument circular, it just makes it incomplete.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 5:06 AM on December 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Dip Flash: "Linguistically, I've been hearing a lot more use recently of constructions like "That car needs fixed." I don't know if it is a regionalism or what"

I don't remember what region, but, yeah, it's a regionalism (or, perhaps, it began as a regionalism and has begun spreading).
posted by Bugbread at 5:12 AM on December 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

I always thought it was because it wastes time, which is money, to speak as if there were auxiliary verbs in the language.
posted by thelonius at 5:22 AM on December 2, 2015

"Linguistically, I've been hearing a lot more use recently of constructions like "That car needs fixed." I don't know if it is a regionalism or what"

I've mostly heard that from Jo'burgers... I'm pretty sure I've met more Jo'burgers personally than I have USians.
posted by pompomtom at 5:26 AM on December 2, 2015

LanguageLog on 'needs fixed' etc. in the US. It's also a common construction in Scotland.
posted by Catseye at 5:29 AM on December 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

...oh and while we're at it:

The activity page lists comments like:

"Favorited [sic] n time(s)"

Apart from the obvious missing vowel, surely this should say:

"Favourited at least n times"

...given that it's possible for people to de-favourite.

*goes back to being pedantic in tech-specs, where people might appreciate it*
posted by pompomtom at 5:44 AM on December 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

If you are going to sin by being lazy, don't commit the second sin of bragging about it.

It's not bragging, it's contextualizing. I'd rather people mark those things out so that we all know the reason that they're making the same point that was made and then argued and then abandoned several hundred comments ago is that they don't know it was already debated until dead horses started beating it. It helps keep some of those things from flaring back up again.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:22 AM on December 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

e ain't nothing but a number
posted by thelonius at 6:59 AM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

I suspect that this post will not actually change the way "increasing exponentially" is colloquially used to mean "increasing rapidly."

I first learned this from an aside in some thread and I stopped using it immediately, precisely because I didn't want the next protest to point to one of my comments. Life is too short.
posted by Room 641-A at 7:08 AM on December 2, 2015

This is a stupid and irritating request and I am putting you in my novel about terrible people.
posted by rorgy at 7:19 AM on December 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

Sometimes, I like to mispronounce "pedant" ...just to see who bites.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:22 AM on December 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

Also, since this is now sort of an open pedantry forum, can someone tell me whether "vicious circle" is acceptable? I always learned it as "vicious cycle," so when I hear "vicious circle," I get this mental image of angry geometric shapes. I suspect there may be a preferred one of those, but that either is probably allowed anymore in our willy-nilly culture that seems designed to kill a pedant's soul.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:24 AM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

(hangs head that he was using the "acceptable variant" rather than the preferred)

Thanks, zarq!
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:29 AM on December 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

You're welcome! I learned something too, so thanks for bringing it up!
posted by zarq at 7:30 AM on December 2, 2015

There used to be a blogger who went by "The Lesbian Linguist" who was awesome at answering those types of questions. I remember once asking her how we got the phrase "half ass" and she gave me an entire lesson about the difference between donkeys (asses) and mules (which are half-donkey, half-horse and thus "half ass") and how from that we got "half ass" as a lazy/wrongheaded way to do something. I wonder if she's still online anywhere. She was great.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:35 AM on December 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Oh! Question for you all:

If a hypothetical team's mission was to "Train Company X's Employees to Learn New Skills Faster than the Rate of Change", how would you interpret that?
posted by rebent at 7:36 AM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

This is a stupid and irritating request and I am putting you in my novel about terrible people.

Fahlalalalah lalalalaaaaah!
posted by billiebee at 7:45 AM on December 2, 2015 [8 favorites]

If a hypothetical team's mission was to "Train Company X's Employees to Learn New Skills Faster than the Rate of Change", how would you interpret that?

That's terrible phrasing, but I think it's supposed to mean that there is a curve upon which change--in this case new and updated demands for skills and knowledge--is going up. The idea then would be to have the employees learn new skills at a faster rate/steeper incline, such that they could get ahead, rather than fall behind.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:50 AM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

I love you nerds so much.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 7:50 AM on December 2, 2015 [14 favorites]

it's language drift.

More like language veer.
posted by aught at 8:08 AM on December 2, 2015 [4 favorites]

It's a quantum leap in the language. Never used to happen in the analog world.
posted by bukvich at 8:24 AM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

PS is there a turn of phrase for negative-exponential growth

Any value of r is still exponential growth, whether >1 and <1. Even r=1. Exponential growth does not have to be a rapid increase in growth.
posted by hydropsyche at 8:37 AM on December 2, 2015

I haven't really talked about clickers and idle games much lately, but I'd like to point out that on this specific issue, they're probably the best home in recent pop culture for mathematically correct references to exponential growth. That's literally, not just figuratively, the core mechanic of most of 'em.

LanguageLog on 'needs fixed' etc. in the US. It's also a common construction in Scotland.

It's a point of usage difference between me and my wife; she's got family from NY state, which probably explains both that construction and her more vowel-forward "melk" pronunciation of milk. Regional idiosyncrasies are neat and I often find myself wishing folks out in the world in general were more willing to (a) expect them as a possibility when encountering unfamiliar or odd-sounding forms and to (b) learn about where and how and why they happen instead of just treating it as a reason to mock or dismiss someone.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:38 AM on December 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

It's the SingUHilarity. The H is no longer silent.

The words rise up, begin speaking themselves.
Revolution, they say. Relevance. Luminescence.
Tongues are speaking in tongues today. Lips
kissing out syllables like candy, like chocolate-
covered epiphanies.

Keyboards unman themselves, crab and clack.
Faster and faster the words leap up, dance to
the rhythm of the rebirth, the issuing forth.
Vocabularies to capillaries as art to arteries.
The heart unable to contain the mad rush of language.

The Author deconstructs, cold and alone,
while English professors and lit mag editors
play cowboy. Desperately wrangling the runaways.
Linguists lasso stragglers, brand them, herd them
into pens. But the verbs will not be passive.

To everyone’s horror,
they begin deputizing nouns.
posted by This is Why We Can't Have Nice Things at 8:38 AM on December 2, 2015 [5 favorites]

The other letters are just waiting for their turn.
posted by This is Why We Can't Have Nice Things at 8:59 AM on December 2, 2015 [23 favorites]

> Queue is a word where all but the first letter are silent. Discuss.

The u-e-u-e aren't part of the word. they're just the sound of a police car going by in the background.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:01 AM on December 2, 2015 [8 favorites]

Thanks for reminding me to make more of an effort to use that term!

I regard the insistence on using "USian" in much the same way as I do the insistence on using "Democrat party" or "War of Northern Agression." It's a useful sign that says "Don't mind me, I just have this giant axe to grind."

I think my biggest linguistic pet peeve lately is the use of the word "post" as a verb and a noun to mean either "writing on the internet" or "text written on the internet." I object to this on aesthetic grounds, mostly. There are a lot of fine words in English to describe writing and the act of writing and it seems a shame to reduce it all to "Ima re-post the post that you posted."
posted by octobersurprise at 9:25 AM on December 2, 2015 [4 favorites]

I accuse people who use, at every opportunity, the words "peruse", "plethora", or "erstwhile". THESE WORDS, WHEN OVER-USED, ARE LIKE A FEDORA FOR YOUR VOCABULARY. Also, those who refer to any alteration in current circumstances as a "sea change" and any dilemma, no matter how trivial and easily resolved, as a "Catch-22".
posted by thelonius at 9:29 AM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

But does this use of ‘exponential’ cause genuine confusion, or does it just bother some people? I haven’t come across the examples that were mentioned so I’m having trouble evaluating that.
posted by car s at 9:29 AM on December 2, 2015

I always thought exponential simply meant that in addition to something growing, that the rate of growth itself was growing, e.g Something grew 6% one year, then 7% the next year so on and so on.

The percentage rate does not have to increase for it to be exponential. If you put money in a savings account which yields a fixed 5% per year, that's exponential growth. And the rate of growth does increase, because the rate is directly proportional to the total amount, which is another way of saying that the interest compounds. If you deposited $100 and assuming the amount compounds yearly (which is almost certainly not the case but it makes the math simpler) then your total after 'n' years is 100 × 1.05n. The 'n' is in the exponent, hence it's exponential growth. posted by Rhomboid at 9:29 AM on December 2, 2015 [2 favorites] This Meta is a long-lost battle beautifully fought and I commend it to the grouse! posted by comealongpole at 9:31 AM on December 2, 2015 Also: > I love you nerds so much. > posted by jessamyn Thank goodness. It's a dirty job but someone's got to do it. > is there a turn of phrase for negative-exponential growth Exponential decay > For a longer discussion of exactly how the phrase ['begs the question'] came to be (abused) on Language Log. I love that article to bits, and agree with Lieberman's advice at the end: it's a poor phrase that, even when used "properly", isn't very clear. It's a foolish mound of dirt to be willing to die on; Best abandon it and use "assumes the conclusion". If you want to luxuriate in your pedantry, (and can read French), go read this article that explains how 'eligible' should be reserved for people that fulfill the conditions to be a candidate in an election. It'll warm your heart. posted by benito.strauss at 9:32 AM on December 2, 2015 [3 favorites] (I didn't state it very clearly, but the rate (i.e. the number of dollars added to your account per year) and the percentage rate are two different things. The former is ever increasing, while the latter is constant.) posted by Rhomboid at 9:39 AM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite] octobersurprise: I regard the insistence on using "USian" in much the same way as I do the insistence on using "Democrat party" or "War of Northern Agression." It's a useful sign that says "Don't mind me, I just have this giant axe to grind." This Elsewherian didn't have the foggiest that the term "Democrat party" would not be seen as utterly neutral. Even knowing that it apparently isn't, I still can't imagine what the subtext might be. So sometimes, what you think is a giant axe might simply be a piece of cultural bagage. posted by Too-Ticky at 10:39 AM on December 2, 2015 First rule of pedantry: some other pedantic clown will come along presently to pedantically knock you off your pedantic pedestal. posted by latkes at 10:42 AM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite] Too-Ticky: Yeah, it's to avoid stating that it's the Democratic party, as democratic evokes democracy, which is a positive term. At least, that's always been my thinking on this. I could be wrong; I haven't actually looked it up. posted by The Great Big Mulp at 10:45 AM on December 2, 2015 [2 favorites] the best way to bait a pedant is to refer derisively to their "pedanticness" and then sit back and enjoy their efforts to not prove you right by shrieking IT'S PEDANTRY YOU FOOL posted by poffin boffin at 10:45 AM on December 2, 2015 [3 favorites] Wikipedia article on the phrase posted by Rhomboid at 10:48 AM on December 2, 2015 When did we start speaking "to" issues instead of about them? I was in a meeting the other day when a co-worker said, "I can;t speak to the training schedule" and it took a Herculean effort not to say, "No, you literally cannot speak to it." posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:53 AM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite] I regard the insistence on using "USian" in much the same way as I do the insistence on using "Democrat party" or "War of Northern Agression." It's a useful sign that says "Don't mind me, I just have this giant axe to grind." I have to separate this part from the part about use of the word "post." I have no issue with "post," but this quoted bit is awesome. posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:54 AM on December 2, 2015 [6 favorites] So sometimes, what you think is a giant axe might simply be a piece of cultural bagage. It's true that what might at first appear to be disingenuity may only really be ignorance. That is why I used the word "insistence." posted by octobersurprise at 10:55 AM on December 2, 2015 Totally disagree with everyone in this thread, the level of disagreement increasing exponentially from one comment to the next. As we all know, every act of pedantry is a torturer's stiletto, drawn in a dank prison-chamber and rammed into our naked and bound freedom - the freedom to create the very language we live within. The pedant's foul, fussy tyranny is just an attempt to oppress the sovereign citizens of speech with brutal and mindless weapons of self-sanctioned pseudo-authority, and apes the most horrifying word-Nazism that all free women and men have valiantly battled throughout the dirty history of our species. A true democracy of speech, anathema to the vocabulary-Hitlers of MeFi, is a paradise in which we all freely, and with vigor eruptive, multiplicate every thought-peach from the soiliness of our crania and drench wetly such vegetations with new dozens of sound-garblets. Eschew dictionators, piddlers of flimsy arbitrates, and swimmingtoss you into the yawp-ocean of sound munificent, in whose vortex Godly each masterdebater can pleasure its own ears without archonic tuttutery. Free speech means fleedom from paraciting bloodgarglers, and the jewel of languagecrowning is your head aforepon! Pity petty pedanty, which limit cleaving thought-thugs scrape bluntly from dumb eyes knever-noing as they bleat their ingest of passionless farts. Shit them, siblings! For TRUE languagers fizz and clap their souls open to light-ways in-numerous, far yond the thin strings of a creeping Webster. Shit them! And vole #1 quodnic kipp. posted by the quidnunc kid at 11:04 AM on December 2, 2015 [16 favorites] When did we start speaking "to" issues instead of about them? Prepositions are the grey goo of language, far too useful in their malleability to hold to some notion of strict logic. Just be glad they haven't mutated into an aggressive viral form and killed us all. posted by cortex (staff) at 11:10 AM on December 2, 2015 [8 favorites] is there a turn of phrase for negative-exponential growth? Any value of r is still exponential growth, whether >1 and <1. Even r=1. Exponential growth does not have to be a rapid increase in growth. It seems like f(t)=r^t with r <= 1 should not be called "growth." Per benito.strauss, that's Exponential decay. But that's actually not what I'm asking about! What about f(t)=1 - (1/2)^t ? posted by grobstein at 11:15 AM on December 2, 2015 Oh, I see what you're saying grobstein. "Decay" implies it's going zero, right? Or is it the fact that it's increasing instead of decreasing? In Dynamics they talk about "exponential convergence" and "exponential divergence" for ekt behavior depending on the sign of k, regardless of whether or not there's a constant offset or which direction you're coming from. That'd cover your example. The simplest example of the behaviour you're describing is probably "charging a capacitor through a resistor". I googled that to see how people describe it but couldn't find any consistently used phrases. posted by benito.strauss at 11:34 AM on December 2, 2015 [2 favorites] I regard the insistence on using "USian" in much the same way as I do the insistence on using "Democrat party" or "War of Northern Agression." It's a useful sign that says "Don't mind me, I just have this giant axe to grind." cute. and what nationality might you be? posted by andrewcooke at 11:39 AM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite] Grobstein, I think the problem is you get complex numbers (i.e., with an imaginary part) when you try to take a fractional exponent of a negative number, like so. posted by en forme de poire at 11:39 AM on December 2, 2015 Nah, people are confusing the two (mathematically equivalent) ways of writing exponential behaviour: f(t) = rt and f(t) = ekt grobstein's talking about cases where 0 < r < 1, which is the same as k < 0. His case also involves a sign change and as offset. Here's a graph. posted by benito.strauss at 11:47 AM on December 2, 2015 [3 favorites] (might have to click '=' there) posted by en forme de poire at 11:47 AM on December 2, 2015 Oh whoops I missed the '1' in grobstein's comment, yeah, what benito said. posted by en forme de poire at 11:49 AM on December 2, 2015 Ok and the parentheses *clown horn* posted by en forme de poire at 11:49 AM on December 2, 2015 [2 favorites] *desperately inadequate attempt at Nelson laugh* posted by cortex (staff) at 11:50 AM on December 2, 2015 [4 favorites] No, you don't run into complex numbers, as it's essentially 1 + -1*(1/2^t). It ends up looking sort of like a log curve with asymptotes at x=-1 and y=1. There's probably some kind of name for this curve that I'm just unaware of. posted by The Great Big Mulp at 11:50 AM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite] I really, really hope this discussion isn't overtaken by a "USian" derail. I've got strong opinions on the subject too but it seems like it's been discussed in quite a few places and maybe this doesn't need to be another one? posted by andrewesque at 11:50 AM on December 2, 2015 The difference between incorrect use of "decimate" and "exponentially" is, to my mind, that the correct meaning of decimate is historic and rarely used outside correctly out of that context. Whereas exponentially, in its proper use, is increasing ( at some rate or other) posted by devon at 11:53 AM on December 2, 2015 cute I think I run more to "devilishly handsome," but thanks anyway! posted by octobersurprise at 11:57 AM on December 2, 2015 Yeah, it's an offset negative exponential curve. posted by The Great Big Mulp at 12:01 PM on December 2, 2015 So do people who insist on Democrat Party also use Repub Party? posted by Mitheral at 12:05 PM on December 2, 2015 And there's no asymptote at x=-1. Not sure why I was thinking that. Probably should have just graphed it out and looked at it instead of relying on my sleepy brain. posted by The Great Big Mulp at 12:05 PM on December 2, 2015 > There's probably some kind of name for this curve that I'm just unaware of. After searching around a bit, I don't think there is. Which is a little surprising, but not everything gets a convenient name. If I was trying to describe this behavior to someone with a reasonable level of nerdiness I'd probably just say "you know, like a capacitor charging curve". "Flipped offset decaying exponential" is more precise and what I'd use in a paper, but you'd have to think about it to see what I'm saying. "Capacitor charging curve", if you get the reference, immediately summons a picture. posted by benito.strauss at 12:08 PM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite] Please stop confusing all the humanities majors on metafilter with graphs, charts, formulas, etc. Please stop confusing humanities majors with income examples that increase. posted by jessamyn (retired) at 12:31 PM on December 2, 2015 [40 favorites] I made$10 last year.
I made $14.14 this year. I will make$20 next year.

That is exponential growth. Exponential growth does not mean the changes have to be large. You're doing more harm than good by handwaving away the necessary details.
posted by Rhomboid at 12:32 PM on December 2, 2015 [7 favorites]

Hey I've got one! Much of time people say something is "problematic", they just mean that that thing is a problem. This grates on me for some reason.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 1:02 PM on December 2, 2015

The 1600s, it seems.
posted by solotoro at 1:46 PM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

It seems like f(t)=r^t with r <= 1 should not be called "growth." Per benito.strauss, that's
Exponential decay.

When we use this equation in population ecology, we still call it population growth, even when r<=1. Maybe some folks say "negative population growth". "Population decay" is not a bad description of what's happening to species that are slowly going extinct, but I've never heard anyone call it that.
posted by hydropsyche at 2:38 PM on December 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Please stop equating "words and usages I happen to dislike" with "bad, wrong, evil things that are destroying English and everything we hold dear."
posted by languagehat at 3:01 PM on December 2, 2015 [13 favorites]

languagehat: "Please stop equating "words and usages I happen to dislike" with "bad, wrong, evil things that are destroying English and everything we hold dear.""

It's about me and my personal tastes.
posted by Bugbread at 3:09 PM on December 2, 2015 [4 favorites]

Personally, I think you taste a bit like bread. And bugs.
posted by This is Why We Can't Have Nice Things at 4:19 PM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

I don't like when people use "resonate" to describe art, like "that book resonated with me", not because I care about acoustic physics or w/e, but more because it's a deceptively empty word that can almost always be replaced with just "vibe".
posted by rollick at 7:07 PM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

bad, wrong, evil things that are destroying English

Now now, languagehat. Surely you can forġyf ūs ūre gyltas.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 7:10 PM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

I don't like when people use "resonate" to describe art, like "that book resonated with me", not because I care about acoustic physics or w/e, but more because it's a deceptively empty word that can almost always be replaced with just "vibe".

I don't follow. Doesn't "resonate" just mean "vibrate with"? Are those really different words or concepts? I have no background in acoustics or acoustic physics so I could be wrong. (And it's totally fine if you just don't like the word "resonate." I have plenty of words that just bug me.)
posted by jaguar at 7:17 PM on December 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

No that's it: I just don't like it! I don't think it has much meaning and that by rights it should have as much formal prestige as "grok" or "vibe", and yet there it is in the NYT or the LRB, taking three syllables to say nothing much at all.
posted by rollick at 7:23 PM on December 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

In case it helps (it may make it worse for you), I suspect some of that may be due to different ways of processing things. When I say something resonates, it literally (ha!) feels like my heart and chest are vibrating in sympathy with the thing. It's like a visceral knowing or understanding or recognition. I can totally see how people who don't process knowledge or information in that way would find the word silly, though.
posted by jaguar at 7:48 PM on December 2, 2015 [6 favorites]

"I don't think it has much meaning [...] yet there it is in the NYT or the LRB, taking three syllables to say nothing much at all."

It concisely conveys quite a bit of information. The writer is saying that an artwork elicits within them a sympathetic response, possibly via a psychological mechanism analogous to harmonic resonance, with an implication that the response is intuitive and not analytical. This alludes to the functions of theme and the expression of influences in works of art, as well as to the artist/audience relationship, in relatively constrained respects. (As contrasted against more explicit artistic references or evocations, for example, or all the other ways in which a work elicits a response from an audience.)

It seems to me that it's often the case that words and usages that some people deem empty and useless are actually doing quite a bit of work and the critics are either not listening, or are not paying attention to their listening.

Over the years, Mark Liberman at Language Log has written a few posts on the usage of like that so many people hate -- this one the other day. He quotes Lawrence Schourup, who wrote that "like is used to express a possible unspecified minor nonequivalence of what is said and what is meant." Those posts and their references to linguistic analysis of this much-disliked usage of like make a pretty compelling case for its utility, in my opinion -- even though very many people are quite certain that it's entirely vacuous.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:16 PM on December 2, 2015 [11 favorites]

He quotes Lawrence Schourup, who wrote that "like is used to express a possible unspecified minor nonequivalence of what is said and what is meant."

Heh, yes! I am too honest to say "said" when I know I'm not quoting someone accurately.
posted by jaguar at 8:19 PM on December 2, 2015 [6 favorites]

I have definitely lost the battle, but I still think 'email' should be a collective noun. "What's your email" drives me nuts. I'm starting to get used to "send me an email"
posted by ctmf at 10:26 PM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Okay, I've got a question for people who don't like passive sentences. Are sentences like "X must be stopped" passive? If not, well, never mind. If it is a passive sentence, how should that be reworked? Like, let's say X is some evil supervillain. if you don't know what should stop X, should you say "Someone or some organization or some policy or some magic power or some alien device or something else must stop X!"
posted by Bugbread at 10:42 PM on December 2, 2015

Fair points Ivan! I mainly wanted to do a flippant analogy with the disputed differences in scientific and everyday meanings sparked by the OP and ended up defending a clumsier argument than I really intended to make.
posted by rollick at 12:31 AM on December 3, 2015

"the best way to bait a pedant is to refer derisively to their "pedanticness" and then sit back and enjoy their efforts to not prove you right by shrieking IT'S PEDANTRY YOU FOOL"

"You know, a pedaphile. Someone who loves pedants."
posted by klangklangston at 12:43 AM on December 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have a personal rule that I shouldn't complain about linguistic usages that were in place before I was born. I can't enforce that rule on anyone else, of course (as much as I'd like to), but I do tend to ignore people complaining about uses which were in place before they were born. I especially ignore those complaints about usages which existed before anyone currently alive was born.

Thus, the use of "decimate" in its general sense is fine — it's been used that way for over 350 years. Get over it, already.

Likewise, "literally" as an intensifier for non-literal statements. Twain used it that way. Dickens used it that way. Along with many other renowned (and long-dead) English-language authors.

However, "exponential growth" or "growing exponentially" in a colloquial sense to mean rapid growth does seem to be a recent development, at least according to the research I've done so far, so I find eviemath's request to be cromulent1 and I join their2 request. If someone can point me to a usage before 1971, I'll withdraw my support.

1That a usage is more recent than one's birth only means that one may complain about it, not that one must. I like "cromulent" just fine.

2"They," etc., as a semantically singular gender-neutral pronoun also gets a pass, by this standard.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 5:05 AM on December 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

posted by shakespeherian at 6:34 AM on December 3, 2015 [6 favorites]

The "doubling every unit time" example you give is one type of exponential growth, but it's not the only one; you could multiply repeatedly by any number, as long as it's greater than 1. So you could multiply repeatedly by 1.001

Although in a sense that's the only type. If you don't want to change the multiplier, you can change the unit of time to achieve the same effect. In this case, you would double every 1 / log_2(1.001) = approximately 693 years.

Maths people often like using Euler's number as the multiplier; it makes the instantaneous rate of change equal to the current value.
posted by sourcejedi at 7:24 AM on December 3, 2015 [5 favorites]

This thread is crazy and awesome, and I love every one of you weirdos.

(I live in Rhode Island but was not born in New England, so I speak English pretty well -- and all the local "quaint regionalisms" sound to me like a speech impediment caused by overexposure to Dunkin' Donuts exhaust gases. Saying "draw" for "drawer"? Using the bizarrely preposition-free construction in "Are you done dinner"? Pronouncing the word "loam" as "loom"?! Gaaaah.)
posted by wenestvedt at 9:08 AM on December 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

kanata: Sorry to be a downer. It is just that pedantry seems to be a way out excluding some of us stupid shy people. Sorry.

The point of pedantry seems to be that anyone who doesn't speak just like the pedant is wrong. So yes, you are correct, pedants are in the business of excluding others from conversations unless these others speak "proper" English which just so happens, by a crazy coincidence, to be exactly the same English they use! The odds!

So:

1. Exponential growth for really fast is perfectly fine (except in certain contexts where actual maths are being used).

2. Literally as a generic intensifier is fine.

3. Could care less to mean the same as couldn't care less = fine.

4. Quantum leap ditto.

5. Singular they ditto.

6. Decimate to mean complete or nearly so destruction = fine.

And now I'm going to get crazy: dialects are a thing and are a-ok! In fact everyone speaks a dialect and no dialect is better or more correct or more expressive than any other. In each region there is a prestige dialect that the rich and powerful use and people are often taught to speak this dialect if they want to succeed in life but again, that dialect is no more correct or better than any other.

1. Needs washed fine!

2. Continual be (eg: AAVE) not just fine but awesome!

3. y'all Perfect!

Another interjection. Orthography is not grammar (though colloquially the two are conflated. But since we are being all pedantic here let's make the distinction):

1. math v maths either!

2. colour v color [etc] awesome!

3. single or double quotes embrace 'em both!

4. American punctuation v logical terrific!

5. One space or two (or more!) whatever you feel like!

6. Alot, when you think on it, makes about a billion times more sense than "a lot".

7. Negative concord v polarity concord we love the boths of ya!

8. Embrace the comma splice! It feels so natural for so many people that I'm saying it's correct!

There's an important lesson here. I spend alot of time on Reddit. Too much. And thanks to the bad subs I see a lot of the worst of Reddit. Grammar pedantry is one of those things. Please don't let Mefi become Reddit. I need a place where people feel safe to express themselves in whatever way feels most natural without second guessing their spelling or usage. If there's confusion it can be clarified. If not then it does not matter if a commenter writes just like you do or not.
posted by bfootdav at 9:28 AM on December 3, 2015 [10 favorites]

> The point of pedantry seems to be that anyone who doesn't speak just like the pedant is wrong. So yes, you are correct, pedants are in the business of excluding others from conversations unless these others speak "proper" English which just so happens, by a crazy coincidence, to be exactly the same English they use! The odds!

> And now I'm going to get crazy: dialects are a thing and are a-ok! In fact everyone speaks a dialect and no dialect is better or more correct or more expressive than any other. In each region there is a prestige dialect that the rich and powerful use and people are often taught to speak this dialect if they want to succeed in life but again, that dialect is no more correct or better than any other.

> I need a place where people feel safe to express themselves in whatever way feels most natural without second guessing their spelling or usage. If there's confusion it can be clarified. If not then it does not matter if a commenter writes just like you do or not.

I found that favoriting your comment wasn't enough, so I flagged it as fantastic. You are a man after my own heart, and I hope you will continue to call out the peevers and pedants just as eloquently; together we can change, if not the world, at least MetaFilter!
posted by languagehat at 9:35 AM on December 3, 2015 [5 favorites]

I accuse people who use, at every opportunity, the words "peruse", "plethora", or "erstwhile". THESE WORDS, WHEN OVER-USED, ARE LIKE A FEDORA FOR YOUR VOCABULARY.

Funny thing: the magazine I work for requires using British spelling, for reasons I can't remember any more. There are no actual Brits working there, so when someone began insisting that "whilst" is the British form of "while", no one batted an eyelash. I mean, it's "among" = "amongst", right? We went for years using "whilst" with impunity, before someone sent an angry email about it, accusing us all of being snooty and pretentious with our whilsts all over the damn place. After five minutes on Google, I learned that yes, "whilst" is a word fedora.

I can't say I share most of the complaints listed in this thread about word use or misuse, but I am very surprised no one has mentioned "methinks" yet. If "whilst" is a word fedora, "methinks" accompanies that fedora with a My Little Pony T-shirt, fingerless gloves and a black pleather trenchcoat.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 9:50 AM on December 3, 2015 [4 favorites]

Methinks m'good man should hie himself hither.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:02 AM on December 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think that's thither? We already came hither, we can't really get any hitherer. Unless you've figuratively put yourself yon already and so are saying hither from thither. We could probably get ourselves hence, if we wanted to, but now my chair's all warm and shit.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:10 AM on December 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

It is thither. It's easy.

Hence: from here
Hither: to here
Thence: from there
Thither: to there

Comes from when English used to care about accusative and dative forms.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 11:38 AM on December 3, 2015 [9 favorites]

To be (further) pedantic, there is a distinction between grammar pedantry and pedantry around correct use of technical terminology in a technical context, bfootdav :P

If clarification helps, the post that proximally prompted my plea here was misusing "increasing exponentially" in a quantitative context. I've found the more general debate about language pedantry entertaining, but also appreciate that it's not everyone's bag. Also, that there's a time and a place, and that original post was neither, thus my intentionally disconnected-from-context post here in MeTa. I do actually worry about excluding voices from discussion, as kanata expressed concern for. Ok, disclaimer posted; carry on.
posted by eviemath at 11:42 AM on December 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

To be (further) pedantic, there is a distinction between grammar pedantry and pedantry around correct use of technical terminology in a technical context

Yes, this. I have no technical education whatsoever, unless you count using Linux for about ten years now (and the use of "Linux" has spawned its own form of memetic pedantry, falsely attributed to Richard Stallman), so most of my pedantry is reserved for using archaic words and saying "PIN number".
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 11:49 AM on December 3, 2015

wenestvedt: I feel much the same way about our Rhode Island (Rho-dy-lin) linguistic quirks, and I've lived in the area my entire life.*

*Well, RI and southeastern MA, which is basically the same.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 12:02 PM on December 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

I wasn't sure so I, um, researched it and thought about it. It was down to either thither or hither, and I decided that the text I use for a link acts as a local representative of the linked site, like I would use "this article" for link text, not "that article", even though the web-page linked is somewhere else. Links have a certain "come hither" feel to them so I opted for that.

But maybe Middle English declensioning is no more adequate for dealing with the portal gun aspects of hypertext than its tenses can handle time travel, and thither and hence have my brain a-twitter with zithers and mince and I think that I'd rither — uh, rather — forgo the expense of carrying on with all this nonsense.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:05 PM on December 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Whither Middle English declensioning?
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 12:10 PM on December 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

I accuse people who use, at every opportunity, the words "peruse", "plethora", or "erstwhile"

One of the many delightful things about the tv show Fargo is that instead of "Previously on Fargo" the VO says "Erstwhile on Fargo." The first season it was "Precedently on Fargo."
posted by Room 641-A at 12:53 PM on December 3, 2015 [4 favorites]

Hither: to here

Oh, for sure; my question is whether a place that is away from here by virtue of being on the other end of a link that is itself here is really hither. Is _a site over there_ here, in the sense of hereness that hither captures? If I am in Chicago and I hold up a postcard with a picture of Boston, can I tell someone to hie hither? Does Boston have a hitherable hereness, vs. its clearly thitherable thereness, by virtue of appearing in a photograph? And if not, then is a link more like a postcard or a hereness/thereness-collapsing wormhole?
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:47 PM on December 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

(That's what I get for writing and then forgetting about a comment for a couple hours and then not previewing.)
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:57 PM on December 3, 2015

For all the apparent silliness, I think it's seriously fascinating how we have a movable self within language. In the postcard example you'd say "Boston's great, you should go there." But if you whipped out a map of Boston and started tracing out a route to get to The Miracle of Science Bar and Grill from the Common you'd point with your finger and say "you go here, then here, then here".

But hypertext links probably have their own, peculiar, paradigm. I do know that if I wrote "Here is a list of available doughnut varieties", where 'here' was a link, it would look wrong to replace 'here' with 'there'. I don't know if that carries over to 'hither' vs. 'thither'.
posted by benito.strauss at 2:09 PM on December 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

posted by jessamyn (retired) at 2:19 PM on December 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

I wish this post could get eviemath nominated for a December prize.
posted by infini at 2:24 PM on December 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

Make a prize and give it to her.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 2:43 PM on December 3, 2015 [6 favorites]

Clouds are up in the sky, so I upload to the cloud, and then download from the cloud. But the marketing department didn't have to choose the word 'cloud'. Imagine if token ring networks had become the big thing, not Ethernet, so we thought of the Internet as a big stream that circulated information around. Then I'd be "putting files down into the stream" and then later "pulling them up out of the stream".

Metaphors don't just delineate the current state of things; they also guide their future growth.
posted by benito.strauss at 2:57 PM on December 3, 2015 [4 favorites]

In this case I'd say your machine is nominally the client so you upload to the cloud when transferring from your local machine to the internet machine.
posted by Mitheral at 3:06 PM on December 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

In each region there is a prestige dialect that the rich and powerful use and people are often taught to speak this dialect if they want to succeed in life but again, that dialect is no more correct or better than any other.

A prestige dialect. Thanks for this phrase. It will help in my conversations with old-style teachers. Enforcing the 'prestige' Australian Standard English dialect in schools (once mandated, now just common, soon hopefully rare) leads to poor outcomes for many students. From a cynical perspective it is another form of 'assimilate or die'. The Aboriginal teacher behind the facebook page, Blackfulla Revolution, has this to say:
It is highly offensive and damaging to one’s self-confidence to constantly have their method of communication questioned, criticized and corrected. Undermining the home language of Aboriginal students and expecting them to "submit to an education which recognizes only standard English is to expect them to deny the Australia which they and their people know, what Aboriginal English needs is to be recognised and respected not only as a communicative system but as a repository of Aboriginal cultural meaning." (Beresford and Partington (eds.), 2003, p107).

The main goal of two-way bidialectal education is to equip Aboriginal students with the capacity to switch from one language code to another and back again. I can now appreciate that my language switching is not a bad thing, but rather an indication of my ability to ‘code-switch’ and communicate effectively in diverse cultural contexts. My partner has not had as many opportunities to develop this language skill and often finds talking with non-Aboriginal people uncomfortable and difficult.

The negative connotations that white society often place on Aboriginal English often deter people, like my partner, from speaking freely. Instead he feels he has to translate his words into Standard English before he speaks them, this causes much stress, stuttering and results in an avoidance of interaction with unfamiliar people. His situation really made me consider how sad it is that many interesting and highly intelligent and articulate Aboriginal people are not valued or confident to contribute because of the dominant societies' misperceptions of Aboriginal English. It also highlighted how important it is for me, as a teacher to contribute to changing this reality for my Aboriginal students.
For a primer on differences between Aboriginal English and Australian Standard English see Eades (pdf).
posted by Thella at 3:18 PM on December 3, 2015 [9 favorites]

bfootdav: "pedants are in the business of excluding others from conversations unless these others speak "proper" English which just so happens, by a crazy coincidence, to be exactly the same English they use! The odds!

4. American punctuation v logical terrific!
"

Wait what...what?! My world is shaken.

I'm a pedant (though I try to keep it to myself, so maybe "pedant" isn't the right word? Is there a better word for "one who adheres to rules and is also a stickler for details and is annoyed when those rules are broken or applied inconsistently?"). But I don't think proper English is exactly the same as the English I use. There are areas where I do something one way, even though I know that in "proper" English it should be done a different way. It bugs me, and I try to fix it, but it just feels wrong when I do it the "proper" way. And one of those ways where I force myself to do something the "proper" way because of a pedantic insistence on correctness, even though I personally hate it, is putting punctuation in quotes. So now you're telling me that that is actually a thing with a proper name so now instead of me saying "I know it's wrong but I just can't bring myself to put punctuation inside quotation marks outside of work" I can just say "I use logical punctuation in private writings and American punctuation at work?"

...or...or, dare I say, I can just say "I use logical punctuation in private writings and American punctuation at work"?

(I mean, yes, yes, I understand "You can do what you want, man, it's a free world, you only live once, no rules, keep calm and let your punctuation freak flag fly, etc.". I was just rhetorically expressing surprise and happiness that the punctuation I like is actually a thing with a title that descriptivists accept, unlike, say, "I use the '!' symbol to indicate a question and the '?' symbol to indicate a declarative" which would roundly be rejected by descriptivists and prescriptivists alike.)

Mitheral: "In this case I'd say your machine is nominally the client so you upload to the cloud when transferring from your local machine to the internet machine."

Absolutely. The only way you could download to the cloud is to take something from further away from the cloud and bring it to the cloud. I mean, I suppose if you're saving a file from a website to the cloud then there could be some room for disagreement ("Is this video on YouTube closer to me than the DropBox account I'm saving it to, or further away?"), but 95% of the time I suspect anything that's being done "to the cloud" is from something obviously closer to the speaker - transferring a photo or video or song or presentation from your phone or tablet or computer to the cloud. And when 95% of the time you're using the expression "upload to the cloud", it's going to become so habitual that in the remaining 5% of the cases where the cloud may be conceptually closer than the thing you're moving data from, you'll still use "upload to the cloud" out of sheer force of habit.
posted by Bugbread at 3:49 PM on December 3, 2015

"X is very concerning" for "I am very concerned about X". Is it pedantry to despise this usage, which seems to have popped up recently?
posted by lathrop at 4:01 PM on December 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

I don't think it is pedantry, lathrop. The subject and object are being made ambiguous as per An Interactive Guide to Ambiguous Grammar linked in a recent fpp.
posted by Thella at 4:07 PM on December 3, 2015

Thella: "The subject and object are being made ambiguous as per An Interactive Guide to Ambiguous Grammar linked in a recent fpp."

I think it's the inverse of that, though. It’s not making the subject ambiguous in order to lessen the impact, like in the McSweeney article, but to increase it. It's closer to the reason people say "Band X sucks" instead of "I don't like Band X".
posted by Bugbread at 4:34 PM on December 3, 2015

So, now, this thread has guilted me out, because my initial reaction just now to watching that Simpsons video and double-checking it was "Cool! I never knew the difference in meaning between those two words! I'm going to finally start using them correctly from now on!" and my immediate second reaction was "Wait, that makes me a bad person, because people use 'jealous' to mean the same thing as 'envious' and prescriptivism is bad and my speech should be based on how people currently use language, not what it says in a dictionary."

I grew up Catholic and people always talk about Catholic guilt, but I never felt any. MetaFilter, on the other hand, makes me feel guilty about something pretty much every day.
posted by Bugbread at 4:46 PM on December 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

I condense something to the cloud and precipitate something from the cloud, he said precipitously.
posted by This is Why We Can't Have Nice Things at 6:39 PM on December 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

I see your point Bugbread. In both your examples, the speaker isn't owning the concern or opinion, yet is still trying to generate traction in the listener/reader by implying that the situation/band is objectively concerning/sucky.
posted by Thella at 9:48 PM on December 3, 2015

"Oh, for sure; my question is whether a place that is away from here by virtue of being on the other end of a link that is itself here is really hither. Is _a site over there_ here, in the sense of hereness that hither captures? If I am in Chicago and I hold up a postcard with a picture of Boston, can I tell someone to hie hither? Does Boston have a hitherable hereness, vs. its clearly thitherable thereness, by virtue of appearing in a photograph? And if not, then is a link more like a postcard or a hereness/thereness-collapsing wormhole?"

But then, yesterday I unconsciously conjugated the past imperfect of "glow" as "glew," so whadda I know?
posted by klangklangston at 10:09 PM on December 3, 2015

"...and my immediate second reaction was 'Wait, that makes me a bad person, because people use "jealous" to mean the same thing as "envious" and prescriptivism is bad and my speech should be based on how people currently use language, not what it says in a dictionary.'"

The prescriptivism is in telling other people how to speak and write. The prescriptivism/descriptivism argument is more than that -- but for our purposes here what you're calling prescriptivism is this kind of language pedantry that takes the form of peeving about other people's usages.

If you prefer a prestige dialect, that's fine. If you have idiosyncratic usages that tend to reflect bits of cultural capital you acquired here and there, that's also fine. I carefully distinguish between envy and jealousy -- partly because it's a useful distinction that is lost in the popular conflation of the two. But also because my preference doesn't confuse anyone. In contrast, using the technical sense of begging the question in general conversation might confuse people, though, and that's why I'm trying to quit that habit.

Like many other mefites, a fair portion of my idiolect has its origins in all the bits of cultural capital I've acquired during my education, both formal and informal, and reflect prestige English usages. Not only that, but many of the instances where I break from prestige usage are informed choices to do so -- a choice which is itself a demonstration of cultural capital. A lot of my complaints about and my critique of the defense of cultural capital, especially within the context of language prescriptivism, is a form of self-criticism -- I'm very bourgeoisie, to be honest. Like many other mefites, I'm exactly the type of person to indulge in language peeving. I'm embarrassed and critical of how intensely middlebrow and striving it is.

The point I'm trying to make, though, is that we each have to deal with our idiolect and usage registers and how we communicate with other people and present ourselves. For some people, a very intense code-switching is a regular fact of their daily lives. Others of us are less flexible -- or, rather, have the privilege of getting away with being less flexible. But navigating all this stuff is just part of life and it's a matter of complicated personal choice. If someone chooses to eschew prestige English, or chooses to strictly embrace it, that's their choice and they'll deal with the consequences of those decisions. I'm pretty okay with that reality and with my own decisions.

Enforcing upon others a prestige dialect and certain usages is deeply problematic, however. For all the reasons that are implicit in my previous paragraph -- whatever the implications and consequences of our personal choices, when we police other people or impose our preferred choices on others, we're actively engaged in a kind of social engineering that, sadly, is almost without exception a reinforcement of unjust power structures. People are denied jobs because their dialect is African-American Vernacular English or is Appalachian -- and while the peevers sometimes present themselves as supposed do-gooders and will claim that policing these low-prestige dialects and usages is doing their targets a favor, the fact of the matter is that a) you're usually not telling anyone something they don't already know -- they know they don't speak the prestige dialect, and b) you're reinforcing all the social messaging that says it's okay to discriminate against folk who don't speak the prestige dialect because, hey, they should know better, right? If they persist, then that says something bad about them, right?

And while I suspect that many mefites are more inclined to understand why disparaging AAVE is problematic, I'm pretty sure that they don't realize that almost all other examples of language peeving are the same kind of thing -- they're often all about relatively fine-grained differences in status. There's a group of high-school English level peeves. There's a group of college level peeves. There's a group of peeves that you are more likely to see among people with a post-graduate education. And so on. I'm always a bit amazed at how people tend not to be aware of the implications of the fact that their peeving is very clearly directed below and above -- that is to say, it's very revealing that we also sneer at the usages that we see as being snotty and pretentious.

Finally, insofar as this social register and status stuff is inescapable, it's a part of human social life, if you really want to help people learn which dialects and usages are prestige and will help them fit in -- assuming they are aspirational in this sense -- then being an example is a far more benign way of doing this. It's not entirely benign, of course, because you're acting as part of the whole structure -- a structure that is often unfair. But, again, it's inescapable. But being an example rather than acting as a self-appointed officer of the language police avoids the public shaming and all the more egregious things that flow from an active enforcement of divisions of social status. It's also less annoying and much more kind.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:43 PM on December 3, 2015 [6 favorites]

I grew up Catholic and people always talk about Catholic guilt, but I never felt any. MetaFilter, on the other hand, makes me feel guilty about something pretty much every day.

I grew up Catholic and Jewish and nonetheless share your general experience, though I mostly regard it as a good thing. Religion in my childhood mostly told me what to feel weird or bad about; MetaFilter's been much more helpful about talking about the why.

That said, two spaces after sentence-terminal punctuation is useful as a way to explicitly encode structural metadata about auctorial intent, and browsers collapse it to one space by default anyway so most complainants don't even have a material basis to peeve about it.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:52 PM on December 3, 2015 [4 favorites]

You can just assume that period-space is sentence-terminal and you're right >90% of the time. So adding a special marker for sentence-terminal seems kinda silly. It's the default case. Better to escape non-terminal uses. U.S.A.\ number 1!
posted by grobstein at 11:21 PM on December 3, 2015

posted by Thella at 2:51 AM on December 4, 2015

*glewing*
posted by infini at 11:45 AM on December 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

"I may be bias, but ..."?

You mean -- you have four cheeks? Now, that's what I call an assymptote!

the best way to bait a pedant is to refer derisively to their "pedanticness" and then sit back and enjoy their efforts to not prove you right by shrieking IT'S PEDANTRY YOU FOOL

So: back to normalcy, then.

Hey I've got one! Much of time people say something is "problematic", they just mean that that thing is a problem. This grates on me for some reason.

I had a car like that once. That heap would not stay in gear for love or money.

To be (further) pedantic, there is a distinction between grammar pedantry and pedantry around correct use of technical terminology in a technical context

To be asymptotically pedantric: 99 times out of ten, when an opinion is described as "grammar pedantry" -- by either the holder or someone else -- it's not about grammar at all. It's usually a point of either usage / diction, or orthography / punctuation.

I'm afraid there's a steep learning curve on this point.

posted by Herodios at 11:45 AM on December 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

You may be Bias?!
posted by tocts at 11:53 AM on December 4, 2015

Oh, for sure; my question is whether a place that is away from here by virtue of being on the other end of a link that is itself here is really hither. Is _a site over there_ here, in the sense of hereness that hither captures? If I am in Chicago and I hold up a postcard with a picture of Boston, can I tell someone to hie hither? Does Boston have a hitherable hereness, vs. its clearly thitherable thereness, by virtue of appearing in a photograph? And if not, then is a link more like a postcard or a hereness/thereness-collapsing wormhole?

Within my own descriptivist experience with a language that still has accusative and dative forms for here, there and where, yes, you'd use hither in the postcard scenario, because the object is Boston; not Chicago. You would also use hither if you were linking on one site to another. So my first assessment of using thither for a link someplace else was incorrect!

I feel torn about English not really using these words anymore, mostly because once I realized all these SAT words were built on just three constructions, I thought they were neat and efficient. But it's pretty close to impossibly difficult for me to imagine using them in casual conversation in a way I thought would sound completely natural. How do these words fall out of favor in some speakers of a language family and persist among others? Hither, thither, whence et al. are like ghost words now; considered dead, and when they appear are very often surprising unless you're reading Shakespeare. It also makes me wonder what constructions like this are already falling out of favor and we don't even realize it (not in some deliberate, vote-taking way anyway). One quality I think will always interest me about English is this paring down to more universal forms, with words encompassing more meaning depending on context. I would love to hear what transformations it takes in, say, 500 years. I have no idea if this will turn out be to true or not, but I don't predict it would be at all recognizable. I would though use a time machine expressly to find out.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 4:38 PM on December 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Would using the phrase "delta of change" be viable as a way to describe the increasing rate of change of change? Also referred to as flux, particularly when describing hitherto less transitory societies, such as rural parts of the less developed world. Technically its not measurable but advent of those pesky handheld devices are having their impact nonetheless, exponentially.
posted by infini at 5:02 PM on December 4, 2015

Delta is usually just the notation to indicate a change. Delta x is a change in the variable x, for example. A rate of change is a ratio, then, of one delta to another. Speed is rate of change of distance over time, (Delta s)/(Delta t), for example.

The rate of change of a rate of change, eg. acceleration, is partially what the complexity classes are about. A linear function changes at a constant rate, and that rate of change is not, itself, changing. A quadratic function changes at a linear rate of change: that rate of change of a quadratic function increases by the same, fixed amount in each time period. In general, a degree n polynomial function has a rate of change that follows a degree n-1 polynomial function, and the acceleration follows a degree n-2 polynomial function.

An exponential function, on the other hand, has a rate of change that is an exponential function, and also an acceleration that is an exponential function. That is, if some quantity is (actually) increasing exponentially, its rate of increase is also increasing exponentially!

As another commenter noted, the size of the multiplier does make a difference. Exponential growth is not so impressive for my savings account with something like 0.2% interest (every month I have 1.002 times what I had the previous month; I don't think that even keeps up with inflation), while a credit card balance at 18% interest would grow distressingly fast (a $100 balance one month, if unpaid (and using monthly instead of continuous compounding for simplicity), would be a$118 debt the next month, a $139.24 debt in month 2, then:$164.30, $193.88,$228.78, $269.96,$318.55, $375.89,$443.55, $523.38,$617.59, and finally a $728.76 debt after one year. (Meanwhile,$100 in my savings account will only grow to $102.43.) How does that compare to, eg., quadratic growth? We ignore the constants in math and computer science not just because we're concerned more about the really long-term behavior, but also because implicit in the discussion is that we would start out comparing functions that have the same initial rate of change. So if we had a debt that increased from$100 to $118 in the first month and then to$139.24, we could find the quadratic function that passes through those three points, then plug in to find the debt in months 3, 4, ..., 12. (Sorry, on phone and no paper handy to work out the details easily at present.) The debt after a year will be not great but noticeably less than \$728.76.

When modeling phenomena such as amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, scientists and applied mathematicians will fit a curve (aka a function) to the current data, then plug in future time values to that function to predict what will happen in the future. Fitting an exponential curve versus fitting a quadratic curve to the current carbon dioxide data makes a big difference in those future predictions, even though both curves start out similar. So it's in that sense, also, that I say we don't worry about the constants: in actual applications, we'll be comparing commensurate functions from different complexity classes, where the constants are proscribed by data. What complexity class the curve that best fits our data is in then has important consequences for the predictions we make with that model.
posted by eviemath at 6:26 PM on December 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

(If anyone has taken calculus but isn't so familiar with complexity classes, two functions f(x) and g(x) (say both positive and increasing without bound as x goes to infinity) grow at the "same" rate if lim_{x->infinity} f(x)/g(x) is a nonzero constant, 0 < c < infinity. The top function, f(x), grows at a faster rate than g(x) when the limit is infinite; f(x) grows at a slower rate than g(x) if the limit is zero. It's tied in with L'Hospital's Rule really nicely. This is entirely beside the point for my original community request about usage of "increasing exponentially", of course.)
posted by eviemath at 6:35 PM on December 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

It also makes me wonder what constructions like this are already falling out of favor and we don't even realize it (not in some deliberate, vote-taking way anyway). One quality I think will always interest me about English is this paring down to more universal forms, with words encompassing more meaning depending on context. I would love to hear what transformations it takes in, say, 500 years. I have no idea if this will turn out be to true or not, but I don't predict it would be at all recognizable. I would though use a time machine expressly to find out.

If I was a betting bird, I'd wager that the less/fewer and bring/take distinctions in everyday English usage will be gone long before your 500 years are up.

If anyone has taken calculus

You mean "the calculus"?

In "mathssssssssssssssssss"?

posted by Herodios at 8:35 PM on December 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

benito.strauss: "Clouds are up in the sky, so I upload to the cloud, and then download from the cloud. "

But I live in the mountains, and I routinely see clouds above me and below me so it must mean that it depends on which cloud you're aiming for. Or would it be "aiming at?"
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 8:59 PM on December 4, 2015

> You mean "the calculus"?

She means "differential calculus". That and integral calculus are the two biggest stars, but you'd be surprised how many different calculi there are.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:22 PM on December 4, 2015

*faints and adds eviemath as crush*

Lucid. Understood what you were saying (even though APCalc a dim memory of 30plus years ago) ... any thought on how to frame the sort of changes I'm describing in these terms or is it best to stay outside of using them, entirely?
posted by infini at 3:53 AM on December 5, 2015

"delta of change" is the second derivative (change is the first derivative).

for example, if you measure something's position it might be S (metres north from a post in the ground, say). if you also measure that S is changing at a rate V, then V is velocity and the first derivative of S. if you also measure that V is changing at rate A, the A is acceleration and is the second derivative of S.

so your "delta of change" is something like acceleration.

and if it is a constant delta of change then that means that the underlying thing (population, for you, i guess, or position S above) is growing quadratically (as the square of time).

quadratic growth is nothing like as exciting as exponential growth. exponential growth, given time, always beats quadratic growth (or any power law).
posted by andrewcooke at 6:02 AM on December 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Not population, but culture/society in response to the increasing rate of change in flow of information streaming into their handheld devices
posted by infini at 7:46 AM on December 5, 2015

eviemath: "...could you do a mathematician a favor and try to avoid misusing the term "increasing exponentially"?"

Remember all those long, horrible years I suffered through mind-numbing math classes in high school and college? Remember how I was repeatedly warned of the paramount importance to my future that I memorize FOIL, the quadratic formula, trig functions, matrices, differentials, p-values, De Morgan's Law, Cantor's Diagonalization and B-trees? Remember how none* of that stuff has ever been of any real use to me at all?

Well, now it's time for some sweet, sweet revenge.

* - Ok, I use De Morgan's Law all the time, but still.
posted by double block and bleed at 3:05 PM on December 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've given up on pedantry and the insistence on precision and clarity of basically all kinds, with a view to becoming, essentially, the descriptivist version of a grammar nazi, wherein I take great joy in berating only people who insist that other people are doing something wrong. So far I am enjoying it immensely, even though it has brought with it the shameful realisation that almost every single belief I hold, or have ever held, is partially the product of reactionary contrarianism to my current environment.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 8:47 PM on December 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

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