Showing posts with label Tautology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tautology. Show all posts

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Too Much Is Bad For You


WHY TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING IS BAD FOR YOU

I was about to write a long and fascinating post on Myles Coverdale and his psalter. It was going to be great: no journalese, just a learnèd exposition of the metonymic meaning of the Hebrew word nefesh. Then I toddled down to lunch and found my place at table usurped by an opened copy of the Sunday Times. Here is the offender, bluetoothed from paper to your screen:


I could hardly have missed it, could I? It's a quarter of a broadsheet page.

Palaces of wisdom aside, how could too much be good for you? Too much is too much. By definition it is bad: that's what too means. Any negative judgement on too much is pleonastic.

It's astonishing how often people employ this tautology making useless statements like don't eat too much, walk too fast, go too far, try too hard, try too little. It's very trying.

A similar paradox oppresses the question "Do you believe in the supernatural?"

Well of course not. I believe in ghosts, telepathy, the power of crystals, dream-catchers and leprechauns which means I believe all of them to be natural. It would be impossible to believe in the supernatural.

Without wishing to allow mission creep to tiptoe into this blog I think I can...

After that aposiopesis I shall limit myself to the following: Sesquipedalianism is the use of overly long words. Sesquipedalianism is therefore autological: it is a word that is an example of itself. Word is also autological because word is a word. A trochee (a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed one) is a trochee. Polysyllabic is polysyllabic.

Monosyllabic, on the other hand, is heterological because the word monosyllabic is not monosyllabic, it's polysyllabic. Got that? Hyphenated, iamb and unpronounceable are all heterological.

So, here's your question for Sunday: is the word heterological heterological?

If it is then it isn't, so it is, so it isn't, so....

This is called the Grelling-Nelson Paradox and there's more on it here.



This illustration is for the reference above to "The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom", which is from William Blake's Proverbs of Hell along with "The cut worm forgives the plough [or plow]." A friend of mine once sent me an e-mail with the subject line "The cut worm forgives the plough." The body of the e-mail read simply "Like fuck it does."

Monday, 9 November 2009

Unintended Mistakes and Cartographers' Follies


I was just listening to The World at One. The main story was that Gordon Brown had made what he called an "unintended mistake". This gladdened me as it would have been odd if he had made an intended mistake. I'm not sure that a mistake can even theoretically be intended, unless it's a cartographer's folly.

My word! I was just googling for a link to explain what a cartographer's folly is and could find almost nothing. So here goes. Maps are very easy to plagiarise. Rather than going out with theodolyte and measuring rod you can just reprint the Ordinance Survey map and claim it as your own. If the OS try and sue, you just pretend that you really mapped the area and that your map is identical to theirs because it is of precisely the same place. To stop such skullduggery, in every map you see published there will always be one small, deliberate error. It will be so tiny that it could never harm an orienteer but it will be there like the slight assymetry in a Persian rug and it will be enough for the original cartographer to be able to identify his work and sue.

I have often wondered, spending as much time as I do sniffing dictionaries, whether there is such a thing as a lexicographer's folly.