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Saturday, July 12, 2014

'Free' 'My' Library?

If I ever start a public library, it shall stock this book:

The 120 Days of Sodom
Marquis de Sade

As Wikipedia puts it:

It tells the story of four wealthy male libertines who resolve to experience the ultimate sexual gratification in orgies. To do this, they seal themselves away for four months in an inaccessible castle in Saint-Martin-de-Belleville, France, with a harem of 46 victims, mostly young male and female teenagers, and engage four female brothel keepers to tell the stories of their lives and adventures. The women's narratives form an inspiration for the sexual abuse and torture of the victims, which gradually mounts in intensity and ends in their slaughter.

The whole furore with the National Library Board's (NLB's) removal of the pro-LGBT books has homophiles distracted by red herrings:

- It being painted as an issue of censorship
- The question of representing and endorsing public norms
- Books for children are not books for adults

This leads to the problem being misspecified.


In the first place this is not a censorship issue.

Some compare this to internet censorship, but that affects everyone in Singapore and must be actively circumvented (which is possibly technically illegal); NLB removing the book doesn't stop you from getting the book elsewhere in Singapore (books that are banned in Singapore are another matter) - it is slightly less easy to obtain, but still easy.

Suppose a public library stocked pornography. If it removed this from its collection, could the government of this country be accused of 'censoring' pornography, if pornography were still legally available in the country?

Surely not.

Accusing NLB of censorship is like accusing gay activists of censorship since some shops don't stock Orson Scott Card's works.

Public norms

A library collection is actively curated and has a stamp of respectability, and is expected to follow public norms - unlike the Internet, where what you find is up to your wandering - there is no curation and arguably less serendipity.

Where do public norms come from?

Of course, that is a valid question, but there is no neutral, objective position here. Even if it were possible to distil "public norms" into a coherent whole, they would still have to be weighed against other factors like public education and neutrality (e.g. in a town where everyone is Creationist, if I were a librarian I would still include proper Science books to represent the scientific consensus and provide a different viewpoint).

Given that the library is the one responsible for what they have in their collection and is facing the collective consequences, it is reasonable to have them as the judge (insofar as 'public norms' are represented by their collection).

To think about it the other way: if homophobes submit a homophobic book to the library and the library rejects it, the library is again being the judge of social values (as well as opening itself up to charges of censorship by the homophobes).

On the other hand, if the library accepts the homophobic book, then they are responsible for it and get flamed by homophiles.

They are not in an enviable position.

Children vs Adults

Yet another confusion in this saga is the fact that the books were in the NLB's children's section.

Parents are understandably worried about what their children are reading (as is everyone else - moral panic about the nasty things kids are reading/consuming are hardly uncommon). This is especially so when they are worried about their children being converted to homosexuality.

Meanwhile, concern about what children are taking in from media (in the broad sense of the term, not just covering the mass media) is hardly limited to conservatives - liberals fret about media violence. Ditto for sex - while liberals might be happy with many manifestations of sex, they do not want children viewing them.

So we can see that wanting to restrict what children read is not inherently objectionable (and certainly, it is not 'censorship').

Meanwhile, it is reasonable to assume that many of those who object to the pro-LGBT books would be okay with having them in the adults' section (note that there's lots of gay fiction and gay themed books there - there're 188 works under the subject of "Gay men" alone, including "Angels in America : a gay fantasia on national themes" by Tony Kushner, which is highly unlikely to be homophobic).

What is appropriate in a public library collection targeted at those of a young age, then, depends to a large extent on one's values.

Ultimately, then, it all boils down to a culture clash. Once again, between the homophobes and homophiles

The Crunch

All this is basically a fight over underlying values - not about the place of a library (or even about 'censorship').

It also reveals that the gay agenda is about more than just equality and non-discrimination - it's also about claiming the public space in full.

In a broad sense of equality this might be true but narrower forms of equality are not necessarily more oppressive. If nothing else the public space (and public attention) are not unlimited so you can't give everyone an equal share.

For example the swinging community doesn't see itself represented in mainstream media (e.g. children's books - "Uncle Bob and Auntie Jane are coming over tonight. If you hear weird noises from our room go back to sleep") but I don't think they are discriminated against.

So, expect to see even more culture clashes in coming years as both the homophiles and homophobes feel threatened and that the other side is trying to be oppressive. As we have learnt from the US, culture wars are nasty and long drawn.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Links - 10th July 2014

Russian Sex Coaches Tout Orgasms as Means To Prevent Divorce - "The seminar, titled "A Brilliant Male Orgasm," ran for 2 1/2 hours. It involved a great deal of hands-on practice with large rubber penises. The audience consisted of a motley crew of women: from young fashionable women in their 20s to older women who said their husbands had given them gift certificates. Some students continued blushing the whole time... No topic was too taboo to be discussed, and the women attending seemed relieved to hear the instructor speak so openly about male genitalia... Rather than repulsing the participants, the instructor's frank and at times lewd comments only seemed to put them more at ease, which created an atmosphere of female bonding. But the instructor, who declined to be named, also made some questionable claims: if you do this, your partner will fall in love with you; if you do this, your husband will be loyal and will not cheat. Continuing along this line of logic, she said such prostate massages could be instrumental to a man's faithfulness. "He may immediately offer to live with you or get married," she said to a room full of women, some of whose eyes shone a little brighter at that remark. "Think about it, he may have the chance to cheat, and he'll be sitting there in a hotel with this girl and then he'll just realize: wait a minute, why would I do this? I'll get one night with this girl but then lose my wife [who gives prostate massages]"... "Many of our clients note that their relationships get a sort of 'second wind,' some manage to avoid an impending divorce, some of the girls who have been with their partner for a long time finally get a marriage proposal, and some say their family life is improved," said Lyubimova, a young blonde emanating confidence... Sex coaching for men is equally profitable... May comes off as the Tyler Durden of sex coaching, a younger man spouting off macho platitudes to a room full of men eagerly nodding, in awe because they believe May is privy to some secret of the universe they have been woefully ignorant of until this point. "Open up any book about sex, find the author's photograph, take a look at him, at his age, and ask yourself: 'When is the last time this fat face had sex, how many partners has he had and what can he possibly know about the subject?" May was cited as saying by one Russia journalist who attended his seminar. "The quality of your life in bed is a reflection of your life as a whole," is among the aphorisms May favors. Why does May think he is an authority on the matter? Because, apart from being a trained psychologist, sexologist and sex coach, May says he has had more then 200 sexual partners, each of whom taught him something uniquely useful. The aim of May's seminars is to make people "unforgettable in the bedroom," he says on his website, by teaching them to read their partners better... Male sex coaching differs from female coaching in various ways, but one stark difference, according to Mukhamedov, was the seriousness in the room. "There was almost no laughter, all the men are diligently taking notes in their notepads," Mukhamedov wrote."

From teledildonics to interactive porn: the future of sex in a digital age - ""I was inundated with winks, and messages, people trying to chat with me live online, all sorts. Some will send you detailed pictures of their penis, basically. What the hell? You've got a penis. Congratulations." In due course, Jane found ways of negotiating the sexual barrage, and went on to meet 20 or more men; about three-quarters of those have turned into some sort of romantic or physical relationship. "They've all been mini-relationships. I've never had a one-night stand." Online dating is not an unusual story, but Jane has been married for seven years. The site she uses is Ashley Madison... Deeply unhappy in her marriage to a husband who "shows no interest in me sexually", she says Ashley Madison turned her life round. "I don't take antidepressants any more. And I can sleep properly. Mentally and physically, it has changed things. I'm getting on better with my husband"... when you talk to the people who are using these sites, it becomes clear that this is something more complicated than no-strings nookie. "Almost an element of the relationship is that you're counselling each other," Jane says. "It is like a really random marriage guidance session, and then the next minute you're having sex. Most of the men I've met have just been incredibly lonely. One guy, I think we've slept together maybe twice in six months. But we meet frequently for meals, drinks, snogging in the car. He really misses being hugged, being kissed – those basics"... For most people, having a partner use pornography in private probably wouldn't constitute infidelity. But where would you draw the line on interactive pornography? Is phone sex with a prerecorded chatline pornography, but phone sex with another person infidelity? If a virtual sex game – such as Thrixxx's 3D Sex Villa, where your avatar is going to have sex with a bot – isn't a problem, is the same true of something like Red Light Center, in which your avatar is having sex with an avatar controlled by another human being? Then there's cybersex with someone who can bring you to orgasm by remote control: does that count as cheating?... A person who has a five inch penis can operate a 10 inch teledildonic device and see what that does to a person as they operate it. So that augmentation issue is very important: it offers the opportunity to improve, to augment the type of sex that people are having." He adds: "I've yet to meet a person that can vibrate at 120hz"... I ask Levy, a married man, what his wife would think if someone invented a sex robot and – out of academic interest – he wanted to sleep with it. "I don't think she would have a problem from the infidelity point of view," he says. "I do think she would think I was off my trolley."

Spain tries to calculate sex workers' contribution to GDP - "According to Eurostat, illegal activities such as prostitution and drug trafficking, together with accounting changes covering rather less gritty subjects such as pensions – could add about 1% to the GDP of Poland and Romania, 1%-2% to Spain and Italy, 3%-4% to the UK and as much as 5% to the GDP of Finland and Sweden."

CCP clings on after Tiananmen - "The problem facing the CCP now is that most of the factors that enabled it to survive since Tiananmen either have already disappeared or are headed in that direction. Indeed, for all practical purposes, pro-market reforms are dead. A kleptocracy of government officials, their families, and well-connected businessmen has colonised the Chinese state and is intent on blocking any reforms that might threaten their privileged status. Moreover, the CCP can no longer count on rising prosperity to sustain public support. Rampant corruption and rising inequality, together with obvious environmental decay, are causing ordinary Chinese – especially the middle class, which once had high hopes for reform — to become increasingly disillusioned. At the same time, given rapid population ageing, China’s demographic dividend has all but dissipated. And, given that China is already the world’s largest exporter, with more than 11% of the global market share, there is little room left for export growth in the coming years. That leaves only repression and nationalism in the CCP’s post-Tiananmen toolkit."

Robot dinosaur Raptor from Korea runs faster than Usain Bolt

Andy Lee Chaisiri's answer to Stereotypes: What are the racial tropes you are tired of seeing on TV? What would you like to see? - Quora - "There's no more wholesome White families, today every White person on TV is a self-entitled manbaby"

Brazil's sex trade: How the country's one million prostitutes are preparing for the World Cup - ""But look, why feel bad? We're not here because we like it, but it's a profession and we're not going to be grumpy and be treating people badly. If we're there working, we'll be smiling. In any profession you need to be like that. And the sex is pleasurable, honestly. So if people look down on us we don't care. And when people ask, we tell them we're prostitutes, although often they don't really believe us. In fact the worst part of it is probably that we have to pay 130 reais [£35] per day for a room each. The owner makes the most money, so many girls rent an apartment so they make more, but for us that's too dangerous. So we prefer to pay"... Prostitution was legalised in 2000. At the time it was suggested there were as many as one million sex workers, and while that may have been an overestimate, prostitution is undeniably widespread. At one point, the government's own employment website offered tips for those wishing to attempt prostitution, going step by step through preparation, seduction and delivery of service. It was later toned down after much pressure from conservatives and the religious right... Each year there's even a Miss Prostitute pageant that she hopes lessens the snobbery. "There is still much prejudice, though, especially from housewives, because their husbands come to us," she laughs. And the English classes were her idea as well after she took note of the increased sex tourism during the Copa Libertadores (South America's Champions League). "The language gets you ahead. We are learning the basics. They say there'll be 200,000 tourists in Belo Horizonte so it makes a lot of sense.""

Cat People Are Smarter Than Dog People, New Study Shows - "People who said they were dog lovers in the study tended to be more lively — meaning they were more energetic and outgoing — and also tended to follow rules closely. Cat lovers, on the other hand, were more introverted, more open-minded and more sensitive than dog lovers. Cat people also tended to be non-conformists, preferring to be expedient rather than follow the rules."

Five injured as gun goes off at kindergarten’s police safety talk

Here's Why Leaving Work On Time May Be Bad for You | Dharmesh Shah - "What must it be like to work for companies like those? What must it feel like to so badly want to get away from a job that hordes of employees are compelled to make sure they get out the door within seconds of their official quitting time? I've had that kind of job when I was younger, so I know how terrible it feels. And that's why you should never leave work on time."

The Rise of the $8 Ice Cube - "his cubes have seen great success. They've been featured in drinks at Playboy parties, the Pebble Beach Concourse d’Elegance, and “uber-lux” car shows, and are now part of Sysco's restaurant distribution chain. The company maintains that the true power of their cubes lies in “tastelessness.” Stephen Colbert agrees. “When you spend 75 dollars for a bag of hand-carved ice,” the host told a studio audience, “that is totally tasteless...it’s conspicuous consumption: an hour later you’re literally pissing your money away.”"

Chinese Girl Bludgeoned to Death in Shandong McDonald’s

Thailand’s secret story: the battle for a $37b royal estate - "the main reason Thailand’s crisis is so poorly understood is that a crucial part of the story is routinely left out. The 86-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej is frail and ailing, and an unacknowledged war over the royal succession is being waged by competing factions of the elite. At stake is control of the vast royal fortune, estimated at more than $37 billion. Whichever side wins the struggle to play kingmaker will potentially be able to dominate Thailand politically and economically for years to come. This is why the conflict is so bitter and vicious."

Rise of the intolerant liberals

Rise of the intolerant liberals » The Spectator

"The highlight of the year I spent as a postgraduate at Harvard was a speech given by Tom Wolfe to the graduating class of 1988. His theme was the decline of Christianity in America and the extraordinary freedom that had given rise to...

Wolfe predicted that puritanism would reassert itself in the form of a resurgence of Christianity, but he was only half right. Twenty-five years later, many aspects of puritan morality have indeed made a comeback, but they are disguised as secular liberalism.

For instance, the attitude of the British Humanist Society towards the teaching of creationism in faith schools is reminiscent of the attitude of Christians to the teaching of the theory of evolution at the beginning of the last century. There are also traces of old-fashioned, Bible-thumping puritanism in the environmentalist movement, the hounding of anyone suspected of sexual harassment, the campaign to ban Page 3 and the attack on tabloid licentiousness spearheaded by Hacked Off. It’s almost as if the progressive left, having won the culture war, has unconsciously taken on many of the least attractive aspects of its Christian opponents.

The left has always had a puritan streak, but what is fairly new is the extent to which it has abandoned libertarianism, leaving the right to take up the cudgels on behalf of free speech and other individual rights. This was brought home to me during the row over Julie Burchill’s article about transsexuals earlier this year. After it was taken down by the Observer, I republished it on my Telegraph blog and immediately had to contend with the wrath of trans activists, nearly all of whom are on the left.

Their objection to Burchill’s piece was that, by rehashing various crude stereotypes about transsexuals (‘screaming mimis’, ‘bed-wetters in bad wigs’, etc), she was making it more likely that members of their community would be assaulted. In other words, they were positing a causal link between the appearance of something in the media and violent behaviour — exactly the same argument that the Christian film critic Michael Medved made in his 1992 book Hollywood vs America. They weren’t claiming there was any evidence of such a link. Rather, the mere possibility that Burchill’s article could result in an assault was reason enough to ban it...

What surprised me about the attitude of the trans activists — not to mention gays and lesbians, many of whom are equally censorious about ‘offensive’ articles — is that they don’t see a link between freedom of expression and sexual freedom. Apparently it’s perfectly acceptable to deviate from various sexual norms, however upsetting some people find their behaviour, but completely verboten to dissent from the majority view of the metropolitan elite. Such double standards are weirdly similar to those of American Christian fundamentalists who would lay down their lives to defend the first amendment but oppose gay marriage. Like the trans activists, they want to choose certain freedoms from the smorgasbord of liberal democracy and discard the rest.

Tom Wolfe’s reason for believing Christianity would experience a great revival in the West is that he didn’t think human beings could cope with the level of freedom they enjoyed in the late 1980s. He was right about that, but wrong about where it would be curtailed. We continue to enjoy an unprecedented level of bodily freedom; it’s freedom of the mind that’s no longer tolerated."

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Links - 9th July 2014

'Gorilla breast fetish' women sue - "Two women sacked from their jobs caring for a gorilla in the US have sued their ex-employer for allegedly ordering them to show the animal their breasts. Nancy Alperin and Kendra Keller claim they were told to show their nipples to the gorilla, Koko, as a way of bonding."

What Causes the Smell of New & Old Books?

Head teachers raise 'serious concerns' over Islamic school take-over - "Schools across Britain are likely to have been targeted in an alleged Islamist plot to take over classrooms, head teachers have warned. The National Association of Head Teachers said it had found “concerted efforts” to infiltrate at least six schools in Birmingham... attempts had been made to “alter their character in line with the Islamic faith”, including sidelining parts of the curriculum and attempting to influence the appointment of Muslim staff... girls at Park View school were made to sit at the back of the class, GCSE syllabuses were “restricted to comply with a conservative Islamic teaching” and an extremist preacher was invited to speak to children. Last week it emerged that Tahir Alam, the alleged ringleader of the plot and chairman of governors at Park View, wrote a detailed blueprint for the “Islamisation” of state schools in 2007."

Conflict is Normal | ParentFurther - "Conflict is a part of everyday life. As adults, we maneuver ourselves away from conflict throughout our days, and sometimes we know that it just happens. It goes without saying, so it is to be expected that some conflict is also normal in our children’s lives. All adults need to recognize that some of what we call “bullying” may actually be developmentally appropriate conflict and is a normal part of growing up"

Coping with the bullies 'is part of growing up', says child expert - "Youngsters must learn to cope with teasing and name-calling so they are able to handle awkward situations as adults, former Government adviser Tim Gill says. He believes the extent of bullying is being exaggerated by over-protective parents and teachers, who apply the label to childhood squabbles which were previously assumed to be part of growing up. The claims, in a book published today, are certain to fuel concerns over the escalation of the bullying 'industry'. Police officers warned this year that a target-chasing culture is forcing them to make 'easy' arrests for offences such as bullying. In one example, a child in Kent was arrested for throwing a slice of cucumber from a tuna sandwich at a classmate... Ofsted inspections are giving children the impression that bullying is widespread in adult life - and that presentation is more important than substance, according to an academic. Professor Cedric Cullingford, of Huddersfield University, said: 'Teachers are seen to become highly stressed and fearful of the inspectors and from this many pupils perceive inspections as a form of bullying. 'The message portrayed, and taken on by many of the youngsters, is that it's not what you do that counts, but the way you present yourself. Children are learning about spin from an early age.'"

Edward Said Accused of Stoning in South Lebanon - "What began as a family tour of southern Lebanon erupted into controversy when newspapers and websites throughout the Middle East reported that Edward Said, University Professor of English and comparative literature and renowned Palestinian academic, threw stones in the direction of Israeli soldiers earlier this month. On July 3, a photographer from Agence France-Presse, a French news agency, captured Said on film just before he reportedly hurled a rock over the Lebanon-Israeli wire fence border towards an Israeli watchtower while he was visiting the Lebanese border. Said is a prolific writer, whose texts on various Israel-Palestine issues, including his most influential book, Orientalism, have made him one of the West's most respected Arab intellectuals... According to the New York Daily News, Said, who had not visited the location since 1982, when Israel began a full-scale invasion on Lebanon, joined the crowd, saying, "this Zionist phenomenon, which stole the land and displaced the people, is continuing," referring to Israel's declaration of independence over 50 years ago... Said joined in and threw the stone as a symbolic act, the statement said... some sources argue that Said's actions, in addition to the daily stonings, go far beyond symbolic purposes and do, in fact, warrant examination. Israel has complained that the ritual stonings violate the U.N. resolutions that ended the occupation, evidenced by the permanent injuries of several soldiers since the troops withdrawl. Israel-based television journalist Dennis Zinn, who witnessed the stonings, counters Said's claim that members of the crowd threw the rocks for sentimental reasons. According to Zinn, "the Lebanese line up and wait to throw their rocks until soldiers and civilians are exposed." Although Said claimed that he did not aim the rock at Israeli soldiers, nor did he see soldiers in the vicinity, an eyewitness account in the Lebanese newspaper, As-Safir, claimed otherwise. According to the eyewitness, Said had positioned himself less than 30 feet from soldiers in a two-story, blue and white watchtower, from which flew five Israeli flags, before throwing the rock over the border fence. The rock that Said threw hit the barbed-wire fence in front of the watchtower, hitting no one... "He often speaks in terms of reconciliation between Arabs and Israelis," Weiner said. "How could this possibly benefit reconciliation?... Said's claim that he wasn't throwing at anyone reminds me of Clinton's assertion that while smoking marijuana, he didn't inhale," Weiner said... "It does not reflect well on the dignity of the University to have one of its most distinguished faculty members aggravating border disputes between two foreign nations by throwing rocks with a mob""
Working for peace = throwing stones

Opera community up in arms over 'sizeist' comments - "Singers and teachers know that being underweight is far more damaging to a singer’s wellbeing and performance than being overweight… I know from my own journey that I began to sing with far more physical authority when I got beyond a certain physical weight. Below that I just wasn’t a strong enough vehicle to launch sound from freely into large theatres and concert halls"

Synthesized 'solar' jet fuel: Renewable kerosene from sunlight, water and carbon dioxide

The Larger Your Penis, The More Likely Your Wife Will Cheat Says New Study - ""Every one inch longer penis increased the likelihood of women being involved in extra-marital partnership by almost one-and-half times," the researchers wrote. "Women associated large penises with pain and discomfort during sex which precludes the enjoyment and sexual satisfaction that women are supposed to feel." In fact, one woman interviewed for the study told the researchers the following: "Some penis may be large yet my vagina is small, when he tries to insert it inside, it hurts so much that I will have to look for another man who has a smaller one [penis] and can do it in a way I can enjoy." According to the study, 6.2 percent of the 545 females had affairs during the six-month study. Other factors that increased the likelihood of women straying outside the marriage included domestic violence, being denied sex or denied preferred sexual position, being under age of 25 and a lack of sexual satisfaction. "

Why are women more opposed to abortion? - "A 2013 YouGov poll on behalf of the University of Lancaster found 26% of men supporting a reduction or ban, versus 43% of women. Interestingly, 53% of women in that survey believed that life begins at conception, against 35% of men – not exactly "every sperm is sacred", but not too far off. The difference even holds up when you poll Catholics... if it were left to women to vote on the issue, with men out of the picture, there’s a good chance that the result would be in favour of restricting abortion. On the flip side, if only men voted, they’d almost certainly vote in favour of women’s reproductive rights... Husband-and-wife economists George Akerlof and Janet Yellen touched on the problem in a famous (and controversial) 1996 paper on the impacts of new "reproductive technology" in the late 20th century. In it, they suggested that the availability of abortion changed men's attitudes to unplanned parenthood, as neatly expressed by an unnamed "internet contributor": "Since the decision to have the child is solely up to the mother, I don't see how both parents have responsibility to that child." Where prior to the 1960s men would have felt culturally bound to "do the right thing" by sexual partners who became pregnant, medicine now provided them with a convenient get-out clause. It is therefore not that surprising that they'd resist any changes that would threaten that. As for women, there’s the heavy weight of centuries of cultural baggage and social expectation"
I think the reason is that women want children more than men do. And they feel the mystical link to what is inside of them.
Being "pro-women" doesn't mean listening to women; somehow only women are victimised by "centuries of cultural baggage and social expectation"

PERSONALITY TRAITS OF WOMEN WITH BREAST CANCER: BEFORE AND AFTER DIAGNOSIS - "A statistically significant decrease in scores on three scales (Rationality, Emotional Expresion-out, and Emotional-Control) was reported by the patient group"
The stereotype of people who have survived serious illness is they come out nicer and milder. But some become angry, combative and bad tempered

Models Dive 25 Meters To An Underwater Shipwreck In Bali For A Literally Breathtaking Photoshoot

Human-on-dolphin sex is not really that weird - "Truth is, these hands-on techniques have a far more common, everyday application: the breeding of animals. How else do you think semen samples are collected?... I asked Wallen why it’s considered acceptable to manually stimulate animals in order to collect semen for breeding purposes when the same behavior is often forbidden in a research context. “It is strange, isn’t it, that masturbation for commerce is seen as normal and appropriate, but masturbation where its end point is sexual arousal is not,” said Wallen. Sex has an uncanny way of revealing the inconsistencies in our thinking. “I have always suspected that it reflects the odd feelings we have about sexual pleasure,” says Wallen. “It is not pleasure in general, but specifically sexual pleasure.” It’s an important distinction: We think nothing of scratching under a cat’s chin while it purrs, of course, but look askance at a human stimulating a cat in heat. (Although — surprise! — there are videos of people doing that on YouTube too.) As Lovatt learned this week, sex is one arena where nuance is forbidden."

13 Words That The Author of "25 Common Words That You’ve Got Wrong" Got Wrong

Most “you’re using English wrongly” articles have a lot of errors, and yet people love to share them.

The latest example, shared by 3 people on my Facebook:

25 Common Words That You’ve Got Wrong

This one was particularly egregious, since I spotted several glaring mistakes.

So I've consulted the OED, "The definitive record of the English language" to correct the writer (whether you believe dictionaries are prescriptive or descriptive with regard to usage, either way he's still wrong):

3. Ultimate

What you think it means: The one, the only. The best.
What it really means: The last item of a list...

That is actually the proper use of ultimate. There is no other context or added context. It simply means the last one.


"Putting an end to further continuance, development, or action; final, decisive."
"Forming a final stage, point, or limit; beyond which there is no advance or progress."
"Beyond which no advance can be made by investigation or analysis; forming a limit or final stage in respect of nature or quality; fundamental or elemental."

Granted none of these senses explicitly means "The one, the only. The best", but they come a lot closer to it than "The last item of a list".

This is to say nothing of how ignorant saying that there is "no other context" is of any common English word (or indeed, probably any common word in any language) - the OED lists 6 general adjectival senses of the word. None of which, incidentally, is "the last item of a list".

5. Peruse

What you think it means: To skim or browse.
What it really means: To observe in depth.


"To examine in detail; to scrutinize, inspect, survey, oversee; to consider, to take heed of. Now also (influenced by sense 4c): to look over briefly or superficially; to browse."
"To read through or over; (generally) to read. In later use also: to browse, skim."

Notably, there is also a note here (which I have never seen before in the OED):

"Modern dictionaries and usage guides, perh. influenced by the word's earlier history in English, have sometimes claimed that the only ‘correct’ usage is in reference to reading closely or thoroughly (cf. senses 4a, 4b). However, peruse has been a broad synonym for read since the 16th cent., encompassing both careful and cursory reading; Johnson defined and used it as such. The implication of leisureliness, cursoriness, or haste is therefore not a recent development, although it is usually found in less formal contexts and is less frequent in earlier use (see quot. 1589 for an early example). The specific sense of browsing or skimming emerged relatively recently, generally in ironic or humorous inversion of the formal sense of thoroughness. Cf. scan v. for a similar development and range of senses."

8. Nauseous

What you think it means: To feel ill.
What it really means: To cause feelings of illness.

This is another understandable mishap that a lot of people make. If you actually feel sick then you are nauseated. The object that made you feel ill is nauseous.


"orig. U.S. Of a person: affected with nausea; having an unsettled stomach; (fig.) disgusted, affected with distaste or loathing."
"lit. Of a thing: causing nausea. In later use: esp. offensive or unpleasant to taste or smell."

So here the writer is taking the literary meaning as the only correct meaning.

11. Terrific

What you think it means: Fantastic, good.
What it really means: Horrific, to inspire fear.

This is another one that we expect will be changed in the dictionary eventually because barely anyone uses the real meaning anymore.


"Causing terror, terrifying; terrible, frightful; stirring, awe-inspiring; sublime. Now rare."
"As an enthusiastic term of commendation: amazing, impressive; excellent, exceedingly good, splendid."

Here, we can see that the author subscribes to the etymological fallacy and takes a view of language as eternal and unchanging (maybe he thinks 'nervous' should mean 'strong and vigorous'), even as senses fall out of use.

Especially notable is that the sense he calls "wrong" has its first example sentence from 1871. And his "right" sense has its last example sentence from 1914.

12. Effect

What you may think it means: To cause something to change.
What it really means: An event that causes a change.

OED (n):
"That which results from the action or properties of something or someone; results in general; the quality of producing a result, efficacy."
"As a count noun. Something accomplished, caused, or produced; a result, consequence. As a count noun. Something accomplished, caused, or produced; a result, consequence. "

OED (v):
"To bring about (an event, a result); to accomplish (an intention, a desire)." (there are examples of this usage from 1581 to 2000)

This is especially bizarre, because the common usage of the noun effect is not "an event that causes a change" but rather "the outcome of a change".

13. Disinterested

What you think it means: Bored.
What it really means: Neutral.


"Without interest or concern; not interested, unconcerned. (Often regarded as a loose use.)"
"Not influenced by interest; impartial, unbiased, unprejudiced; now always, Unbiased by personal interest; free from self-seeking. (Of persons, or their dispositions, actions, etc.)"

The "wrong" sense is attested from as far back as 1631, up till 1970.

14. Irregardless

What you think it means: Without regard.
What it really means: Nothing.

... Irregardless has been used so often that it actually is in the dictionary now and that’s kind of sad. Even though it is technically there, there are a large number of people who don’t consider it a word.

One wonders just how this person thinks words come about and what he considers the Gold Standard for the English language (maybe "my own prejudices").

To paraphrase Dan Brown,

"The English language did not arrive by fax from heaven. The English language is the product of usage, my dear. Not of self-righteous authors. The English language did not fall magically from the clouds. Man created it as a historical record of tumultuous times, and it has evolved through countless translations, additions, and revisions. History has never had a definitive version of the language"

15. Chronic

What you think it means: Severe.
What it really means: Over the course of a long time.


"transf. Continuous, constant. Used colloquially as a vague expression of disapproval: bad, intense, severe, objectionable; also something chronic adv. phr., severely, badly." (examples start from 1861)

Sure, when you talk about an illness you shouldn't use "chronic" to mean severe. But for everything else, it's fair game.

17. Decimate

What you think it means: To destroy or annihilate
What it really means: To destroy ten percent.

This one is really goofy and one day this won’t be true. For the time being, decimate actually means removing only ten percent of something. If you know a little bit about words it’s not difficult to figure out. The prefix “dec” means ten. However, the traditional definition of this word is antiquated and it’ll probably be changed eventually. Until then, it’s technically correct to use a word like exterminate or annihilate instead.

OED (1894, not fully updated):

"To kill, destroy, or remove one in every ten of."
"rhetorically or loosely. To destroy or remove a large proportion of; to subject to severe loss, slaughter, or mortality."

Oxford Dictionary:

"Kill, destroy, or remove a large proportion of"
"Drastically reduce the strength or effectiveness of (something)"
"historical Kill one in every ten of (a group of people, originally a mutinous Roman legion) as a punishment for the whole group"

This item annoyed me the most and was what prompted me to write this blog post.

Approximately no one uses "decimate" to mean "to destroy 10% of" anymore.

Since the writer subscribes to the etymological fallacy, I shall propose a 26th Common Word That You've Gotten Wrong:

26. Hysterical

What you think it means: Characterized by convulsive emotion or excitement
What it really means: Describing a woman whose womb is dysfunctional and so goes crazy

19. Fortuitous

What you think it means: Lucky.
What it really means: By chance.

Oxford Dictionary:

"Happening by chance rather than intention"
"Happening by a lucky chance; fortunate"

It is one thing to say a word can mean something different. It is another to say that it MUST mean something different.

20. Plethora

What you think it means: A lot of something.
What it really means: More than is needed.


"Usu. with of. Originally in pejorative sense: an excessive supply, an overabundance; an undesirably large quantity. Subsequently, and more usually, in neutral or favourable sense: a very large amount, quantity, or variety."

Examples come from 1835 to 2003.

Here we see that "more than is needed" is not even the primary meaning now.

23. Can

What you think it means: What is permissible.
What it really means: What is possible.


"To be allowed to, to be given permission to"

Interestingly, one of the examples here is from Lord Tennyson's play The Falcon: "Can I speak with the Count?"

25. Obsolete

What you think it means: Old, out of date.
What it really means: Not produced, used, or needed.


"No longer used or practised; outmoded, out of date."

The examples make this more clear:

"Two female servants, whose prim and obsolete appearance were perfectly consistent with the venerable aspect of the place of their habitation."
"On the Pacific station..we have one obsolete ironclad, the Swiftsure."
"Nothing is more hazardous in military policy than rigid adherence to obsolete ideas."

So we can see that "Old, out of date" still works as a definition for "obsolete".

Ironically, the author ends the article with the lines:

"The English language is a finicky one but it’s also ever changing. Words are updated and definitions change. New words are added every year and some are retired."

It looks like he should take his own advice and keep up with changing definitions (as well as some old ones that never went away).
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