Variable Meaning Words



RuleOfThumb-LROne of the things that I’ve been thinking about is how much words vary in meaning. I’ve noted that scientists use many fairly common words but mean something different from most people. For example, a scientist typically feels a “theory” is virtually certain. The theory of gravity, for example. Most non-scientists use the word theory for an off-the-wall explanation. “I have a theory about Kennedy’s assassin.” Scientists often use the word “model” to mean a description of the world that works in a wide variety of situations. Not much like the common meaning.

Part of the reason this disparity came to mind is an interview on NPR. A New York Times reporter essentially said that Donald Trump cannot lie, because a statement is not a lie if the speaker is unaware of it’s truth. Trump certainly engages his mouth or thumbs long before his brain, and in many cases seems to never think about his remarks. Our tweeter-elect usually only seems concerned in fighting and self-aggrandizement.

The word “lie” struck me as one of those words whose meaning wanders. The Twit-Elect may well be clueless about his remarks, as often suggested, in which case they are not lies in the sense the reporter used. A meaning close to that used by the judicial system, but far from common.

Telling a three-year old not to lie is common for parents of young children, despite the improbability of them knowing the difference between truth and fiction. They are lying in the common sense of the word, but not the legal sense.

TumblingLetters-LRSo, as you write, be careful of the spelling of homonyms and homophones and be aware that two characters may use the same word to mean quite different things. A wonderful source of misunderstanding for your protagonist to trip over. Or, paraphrasing Indiana Jones, Truth is for Philosophers. Archaeologists, criminologists and scientists look for facts.


Art Mimics Nature



sandrabyalyucca-hr A spiky metallic plant with colors changing and fading from light purple, blue, and green greets the visitor approaching Albuquerque on I-40 from the east. The public art installation welcomes you to the city. The state’s Interstate Corridor Enhancement Plan and the city of Albuquerque commissioned Gordon Huether to create the project in 2003.

New Mexico’s state flower is the yucca flower, the 1927 legislation did not designate a specific plant of the forty-something species. So Huether, the sculptor, chose the Datil Yucca for his model. The sculpture stands twenty-two feet high and fifteen feet wide. It was created from salvaged aluminum fuel tanks from F-16 aircraft. The tanks were sliced vertically to portray the shape of the yucfucagave-lrca leaves.

The exaggerated size of the yucca celebrates the romance and nostalgic memory of Historic Route 66. The giant yucca illuminated by LED solar energy slowly changes color in an attempt to portray the hues of the desert landscape around Albuquerque and New Mexico.

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New Language


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Election season frequently bring new words into the vocabulary. For 2016 I find that a new one is required after the election.

In 1969 RMD popularized silent majority to describe the people he thought had voted for him and the those he hoped would vote for him in ’72. In many respects this is the same demographic that became a vocal minority when DJT ran his campaign. (Avoiding names will make it less likely that J’s minions will find this obscure blog. Ttrumphose supporters have shown themselves to be a major source of harassment, all the way up to death threats.)

But the feature of the campaign that astounded me the most was the number of J’s contradictions. And, they continue with his cabinet nominees that violate his tweets and speeches. So my term for this group is fact-resistant people, or if you like alliteration, the fact-free faction.

As supporting evidence I suggest looking at J’s tweets on his own tweets and comments about them. That was sarcasm. Or He didn’t mean what he said. Or, referencing that left-wing publication, the Wall Street Journal, “The contradictions of Donald Trump….” Or consider the attacks he made on The Hillary for accepting fees from Goldman Sachs and his proposed appointment of Goldman Sachs Number 2 Executive as his economic adviser.

If one applies Higbie’s Law, “If a politician says something it’s a lie,” but it seems unlikely to apply in this case. Telling a lie implies volition to dissemble. It is doubtful that J’s knows what he’s saying. Logorrhoea, or in J’s case textorrhoea, is more likely a symptom of fact-resistance than intentional falsification.

Fact-resistant people are not deplorable, at least many of them aren’t, but they did vote their fears, not their wallets or interests. Michael Shermer has an interesting column on typical reactions to conflicts between facts and worldviews in the January, 2017, Scientific American. For a satiric comment, check out John Pavlovitz’s Seussian poem.

To Collect or Not to Collect


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To collect or not to collect is not the question. How are squirrels and writers similar is the question. The furry-tailed creatures gather food and have specific caches for storage. A writer collects words, data and memories. An organized writer, like the squirrel, will have specific holes; computer files, 3X5 index cards, portfolios or slips of paper in a drawer to store the food for writing. The squirrel depends on the sense of smell to remember the location of buried morsels. The human memory and organizational skills will assume the retrieval responses needed.

The squirrel transports from tree to tree with a fluid motion and the writer segues from paragraph to paragraph with carefully chosen words. Sometimes a young squirrel will miss the branch and crash, requiring an adjustment to regain its composure and travel route. Humans, like the errant squirrel, may need to collect themselves when the words roll willy nilly and refuse to form neat rows for delightful sentences.

Young squirrels and novice writers will collect courage, regroup, and continue with writing plans. Vocalizations, either chirrups or words build bravado and facilitate learning and recovery from miscalculations.prariedogstanding-lr

A squirrel’s tail is the rudder that controls the balance, the parachute that regulates its movement and provides warmth and shelter like an umbrella, raincoat or blanket. A writer who collects, organizes, and assembles words is well equipped like the bushy tailed squirrel.

To collect (money) for the written product by retrieval from the writer’s collection of ideas, thoughts and data is rewarding. So like the squirrel’s collection, storage and retrieval of morsels, the activity is remunerative for all.

How are squirrels and writers similar, gathering, retrieval and usage of the saved collection.img_8513

I don’t have a photo of a squirrel because squirrels are not as common as prairie dogs in Albuquerque, so here’s a picture of prairie dog to break up the post.

Okay, we found one.  Without the background, it’s not easy to distinguish them, is it?

Expert Checks


Well, now that our national embarrassment is over, we will get back to our schedule. Though tscarypricing-lrhis doesn’t feel like it yet, on this second Monday, we have Children’s Science.

The “Feedback” column in New Scientist magazine likes to tweak people who publish obvious (to them) nonsense. On 24 September, they published an item Lee sent in about a discount of “÷20%.” To most mathematically inclined this looks like a five times increase in the price, not 20% off, which the store presumably meant.

We have a friend and fellow author, Betsy James, who like many New Mexicans is fluent in Spanish. In one of her classes she mentioned that she would never submit a story with Spanish that had not been reviewed by someone who speaks Spanish as their primary language.

The point of these vignettes is to warn all writers to have someone review statements to be sure they are accurate. A critique group helps with many things, but Flossie Q Fish was reviewed by a vulcanologist to ensure noFlossieCover-LR geological errors. Ebolavirus was reviewed by a virologist, who said it wasn’t even remotely plausible, but at least it wasn’t rated unbelievable. Remember, no source is perfect, not even Wikipedia.

Minor errors will creep in, so to speak. But one of our duties as fiction writers is to be accurate, or at least try to explain away errors of fact or science. No science fiction writer of space oaters needs to worry about faster-than-light travel, but if his star ship makes a trip to Saturn in a few minutes, some foreshadowing and explanation should be provided.

As the virologist who reviewed Ebolavirus said, “You’ve got to get the virology right. More people will learn about viruses from your novel tEbolaCover-LRhan from non-fiction sources.” It would be nice if the thriller sells that well, but her point is important: historical novels are more palatable and much more widely read than historical treatises; mysteries teach more people about police procedure than police academies; and so on.

But, despite our best efforts roadblocks remain. Another fellow Albuquerque writer had a bi-lingual children’s book rejected when the New York publisher’s Spanish language reviewer criticized good New Mexico Spanish as being incorrect. Cuban Spanish and [New] Mexican Spanish vary. For New Yorkers Cuban or Puerto Rican Spanish may be the only acceptable forms, but here in the Southwest, Mexican Spanish is preferred.

Some days you can’t win. Keep trying and ask others to help. Often they’ll love to.


Moving Politicians


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I’ve heard many threats of moving to Canada, and even New Zealand, if xxx (pick your favorite target) is elected. It seems to me that everyone might be well advised to consider four years of imwithstupidtravel outside the U.S. My analysis leading to this stems mostly from The Donald’s pronouncements. (Cartoon from The reasons for moving if he wins:

  • Don’t want none of my tax money going to a billionaire
  • Given four years, he is certain to make some inflammatory remark about the head of a nuclear state, which could start a nuclear weapon exchange
  • I don’t want to be governed by a rapist (the rape started with his threat to sue accusers and will end with the suit if he’s inconsiderate enough to follow through)
  • How can a person with zero empathy possibly do a good job ruling?
  • How can a person who is always right ever learn anything

The reasons for the extended vacation if she wins:

  • I would never trust a lawyer who shows no sense of humor
  • If she is so badly informed about technology (not understanding email), how can she be trusted to do anything concerning science and engineering correctly?
  • The probability of a civil war is too high, one started by the polemics of her opponent
  • I want Obamacare repealed (just keep giving me free medical care)
  • Who wants to hang around with someone who thinks you’re deplorable?

The polls and show several things that should confirm our Sysyphian existence:

  • After about a few billion dollars and many kazillion adds, approval and disapproval ratings have barely changed
  • Dismantling trade agreements will hurt our economy. A few jobs have been exported, but automation has taken many more, and they will never come back
  • So much of our food comes from outside the US, food prices will rise, especially in winter
  • Building a wall will eliminate the primary source of farm labor (jobs few Americans are willing or even able to do). Pearls before Swine has another take on this.
  • American prosperity has been largely based advances in science and technology
    • Hillary seems to have no understanding of the issues
    • Donald pays no attention to the people who understand science

On the plus side, humorists should have a field day with a President Trump, and probably with a President Clinton II. My doubts in the second case are because I expect accusations of sexism will stifle some of it. On the other hand, post-election bumper stickers in the past have proclaimed XX Million Americans can’t be Wrong. And that was just a minor bad-loser whine.

Recommendation: Make sure you have plenty of hot shower water when you go to vote, but do vote.

Rhetoric from Egomaniacs – III


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What a wonderful season for political comics or bloggers. Never expected this one topic to go on for so long. I’ll start with a couple of saws that writers can use in characterizing people (characters). I hope our delicious candidates prove useful to many of you.

  1.  Never assume conspiracy when stupidity will explain something.

This is a special note for the dems who find some Russian-led conspiracy in the poking around in our election software. Though that is possible, the probability is low. Much more likely is that some Putin lone-wolf friend is behind the hacks. But, none of this would be happening if the election officials weren’t so naive as to have easily hacked systems that they keep on-line. And, one reason that none of this is apt to have much affect on the results is the distribution of the system. With 50 state systems, 3000 county systems, and a gazillion other entities, it strains any intelligent person’s intellect to expect anything significant to happen from hackers.

True, if there were a very close election, it could be done, but even then it is more probable that local election officials commit the fraud than some outsider could do it. Most of those thousands of election boards have to be watching for outside hacks.

2. One indication of a weak mind is assuming a conspiracy

Mark Cuban’s advice to Hillary (before the first debate, quote below) was to impugn Donald’s intelligence. Like the observation of his short fingers, the BearSchoolSongobservation of his modest intellect drives him nuts (and on the attack). All Donald’s talk of a conspiracy is another proof that Mark was correct.

“Donald Trump has got unlimited number of insecurities. But the No. 1 one thing, I would say, is his insecurity with his intellect. There’s a reason why he always refers to where he went to college and … that [he’s] a smart person.” – Mark Cuban, 10 September.

In an attempt to tie this into the title of this blog, relate it to the earlier ones, and to balance my attacks, note Hilary’s egotism has (seems to have ??) prevented her from admitting obvious mistakes. Even her advisers don’t seem able to convince her to act contrite about the obvious mistake in using her own email server.

Remember Higbie’s Law about Politicians: If a politician says something it’s a lie. Most politicians don’t lie because they never say anything. Last verifiable assertion I can remember was 20 years ago, “I did not have …”

Rhetoric from Egomaniacs – II



How much egotism does it take to drive out atrump person’s empathy and compassion? Or is it something else? It is hard to imagine any empathy for a person whose favorite expression is “You’re fired.”

Anybody else wonder if Trump was pandering to the Brexit group when he used the British spelling for judgment [judgement] when he questioned Hillary’s credentials? There seems to be a large similarity of angst and anger in both groups, just as there is a similar dislike of Hillary’s obscurantism.

There must be a term from rhetoric describing someone who comes down squarely and decisively on both sides of an issue. I hope a reader can help me with that, because for every issue I can think of, Donald Trump has done just that. What I’m looking for is the antithesis of diallage (accent on second syllable, final e is pronounced).

A fun comparison can be made to the logic in Soggy Sweat’s 1952 address to the Mississippi Legislature. His speech began with, “I will take a stand on any issue no matter how fraught with controversy.” The body of the speech came down clearly for and against repealing prohibition and ended with, “That is my stand. I will not retreat from it. I will not compromise.”hillary

In light of the news, I think I can now safely tighten two of my predictions about the election.
1. By November tenth, there will be vocal claims of election fraud and stealing the election.
2. By the end of April, 2017, there will be calls to impeach the winner.

And, just to give everyone a few big words:
1. The Donald’s descriptions of opponents are nearly always dysphemisms (the antonym of euphemisms).
2. It is easy to argue that politicians are misologists or obscurantists, people who hate logic or people who wish to befog not clarify. That seems like a more benign interpretation of their rants than Higbie’s Law.
3. Politicians’ orations are normally , intended to please the mob.
4. An argument that combines both sides to make its point is diallage.

Remember Higbie’s Law about Politicians: If a politician says something it’s a lie. Most politicians don’t lie because they never say anything. Last verifiable assertion I can remember was 20 years ago, “I did not have …”

Rhetoric from Egomaniacs – I


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An explanation of the title. I believe anyone who runs for president must be so self-confident and convinced of his or her own SaboJulieRestinggreatness, they must be egomaniacal. One reporter who worked on the Senate side of the Capitol told me he could not stand to spend more than five minutes in the same room as any senator with only one exception. The other 99% were egotistical to the point of near complete insufferability. Taking into account his hyperbole, probably 95% of our senators are intolerable egotists.

Remember Higbie’s Law about Politicians: If a politician says something it’s a lie. Most politicians don’t lie because they never say anything. Last assertion I can remember was 20 years ago, “I did not have …”

For those of you who are intrigued about rhetoric and understanding some of the ways politicians manipulate us, or at least try to, Jay Heinrichs has written two fun books on rhetoric. [Sounds like an oxymoron, but it is my assessment of them.] I guess he’s a rhetor, but the books are not dry and unreadable. The first one is Word Hero, which you can find described at The second is Thank You for Arguing, which has the web site The author’s web site is Of course, orators, advertisers and dictators also use these techniques and those three sites are cross-linked.

One of common rhetorical devices politicians use wheBearSchoolSongn apologizing for a misdeed, is to move blame to an unidentified entity. The most common amphilogism, at least among pols, seems to be “Mistakes were made.” Who do they think sexted the intern? What fraction of their audience believes it was an unknown person? Who are they kidding?

This year’s group of would-be Presidents often seem immune to logic and given to fact-free decisions. My current favorite example is the new word I derived from Gary Johnson’s Q&As. A leppo is a betise, or bêtise according to Wiktionary, from a particularly well uninformed candidate, usually based on lack of information or misunderstanding a question.