Word Study postsTuesday March 11, 2014
Word of the Day: Agnotology
Agnotology (n.): The study of culturally induced ignorance or doubt.
I came across it in Michael Hiltzik's article about Robert Proctor, “Cultural production of ignorance provides rich field for study,” in The LA Times.
Proctor's field of research has taken him from the Nazis to Big Tobacco to Climate-change deniers to ACA opponents. I like this quote:
Early in his career ... he asked an advisor if Nazi science was an appropriate topic of research. “Of course,” he was told. “Nonsense is nonsense, but the history of nonsense is scholarship.” As part of his scholarship, Proctor says he “watches Fox News all the time.”
The big questions, for our Age of Misinformation, are at the end:
Given the torrent of misinformation washing about the public space and the multiplicity of pathways for its distribution, is there any hope for beating back the tide? Agnotologists are divided. “I don't see any easy out,” says UCLA's Wise. “All of the forces are on the side of undermining public trust in science.”
But Proctor has hope. “My whole career is devoted to pushing back,” he told me. “There is opportunity to expose these things through good journalism, good pedagogy, good scholarship. You need an educated populace.”
The effort needs to begin at a young age, he says. “You really need to be teaching third-, fourth-, fifth-, sixth-graders that some people lie. And why do they lie? Because some people are greedy.”
The History of Nonsense, Chapter 1,472.
The Lesson of Adolf Hitler or Taylor Swift
A friend posted a link to The Atlantic's quiz, “Who Said It, Adolf Hitler or Taylor Swift?” and I took it and got 8 out of 10. I missed the first two, then realized the key: It's in language and metaphor. Hitler wouldn't say “flaws” or “over-achiever.” Swift wouldn't use magicians or bridges as a metaphor. In the end, it's not that hard.
This is how the whole thing started:
This “Hitler or Taylor” joke started with a Pinterest user named Emily Pattinson, who juxtaposed pretty images of Taylor Swift with quotes from the “real Taylor Swift” ... [Except] the quotes Pattinson was using actually belong to the likes of Hitler, Osama bin Laden, and Joseph Stalin — and no one noticed.
Then The Atlantic tries to draw a lesson from it all:
So are Taylor Swift fans gullible? Do Swift's words resemble Nazi propaganda? Is Hitler the voice of the millennial generation? The answer isn't so obvious. Or is it?
Here's the lesson to me. A quote isn't validated or invalidated by who said it. None of us are 100 percenters. Just because Hitler said something doesn't make it awful. Just because Lincoln said something doesn't make it moral. Just because Swift said something doesn't make it fatuous. Look to the words and the meaning.
On the IMDb.com site today:
- If the script was written years ago and real-life events now mimic it, that means it is prescient. I think that's the dictionary definition of “prescient.”
- Yet “Olympus” is still hardly prescient. In terms of global villains, who's left for Hollywood? Russian yadda-yaddas, Middle Eastern badaboobs, and the North Koreans. You certainly can't use the Chinese. You see the box office there these days? Look, even “G.I. Joe: Retaliation,” with its moronic villains, still uses North Korea for its cold open.
Words I Learned While Reading Gore Vidal
The day after Gore Vidal died I went a little crazy with Gore Vidal quotes; but they were just sitting there, in the Vidal books I owned, marked and underlined, ready to be disseminated.
I also came across about two dozen words that I didn't know when I first read the book. Back then, being the good student, I looked them up and wrote the definition in the margins. These are just sitting there, too. Here's a sampling:
- l'espirit de l'escalier: the wit of the staircase; any witticism or cleverness that comes too late, as on the staircase away from the debate
- ex cathedra: with the authority derived from one's office or position: esp. of the pope's infallibility as defined in Roman Catholic doctrine
- collyrium: an eye lotion
- bibulous: fond of alcoholic beverages; highly absorbent
- recondite: hidden from sight; deep
- vatic: prophetic; oracular
- velleities: inclinations; slight wishes or tendencies; the lowest degree of volition
- quotidian: occurring every day
- caveat lector: let the reader beware
- manqué: short of or frustrated in the fulfillment of one's aspirations or talents — used postpositively
- faute de mieux: for lack of something better or more desirable
- plangent: having a loud reverberating sound; having an expressive and especially plaintive quality
Of these, only 'quotidian' became part of my regular writing vocabulary. Shame. I could've used l'espirit de l'escalier, since, like most (but unlike Vidal, one imagines), it's generally the only wit I know. It might even make a good tagline for this site. Or I could always go with: ErikLundegaard.com: Faute de mieux. Or: Caveat lector. Or: Movie critic manqué.
Another Example of Why You Should Never Quote Someone for Only One or Two Words
M's GM 'surprised' by injury to Yankees' Pineda
Although maybe the headline was written by a Yankees fan.