July is the month we say goodbye to some regular writers who have aged out or are moving on to other projects. We’re extra thankful for Tony today—he’s been writing with us since August 2017.
Sometimes people will try to be profound by saying something like “just making my way through this crazy thing we call life” or “really enjoying this beautiful thing we call love.” This is not profound. All things are the thing we call the thing. By which I mean it’s obvious that the word “life” is not identical to the concept of life, but the word “life” is exactly the sound/image that we use to signify “the thing we call life.” Obviously the word “look” isn’t the action of looking and the word “dog” isn’t an animal, but saying “look at that dog” is much easier than saying “do that action we call looking at that thing that we call a dog.” It’s easier, and it means the same thing. Denying that isn’t profound; it’s deliberately misunderstanding the entire purpose of language. Words mean things because we all just sort of agree that they mean things. Indeed, I contend that it’s more profound to appreciate the fact that so many people in so many times and so many places can agree on a sound/image to signify complex things like life and love and looking and dogs. Undermining that with obfuscation is exactly the wrong thing to do.
I used to have a pair of jean shorts (which I’ll abbreviate to “jorts”) that I wore a lot. I liked them, but most of the people who looked at them did not. It can be difficult to tell someone that their clothes look dumb, so at first only my close friends told me how dumb my jorts looked. Over the years, the radius of the social circle willing to comment on the jorts grew. When I decided to remove the jorts from my wardrobe (for reasons of my own) (not because people were making fun of them), my plan to donate them to Goodwill was laughed at, so I threw them away. This was about four and a half years ago. I miss those jorts.
For some reason, even today in America in 2019, people insist on appending “-gate” to the names of scandals (there’s an entire Wikipedia page). The Watergate Scandal happened in the early ‘70s! We’ve had plenty of scandals between now and then with plenty of available suffixes and prefixes to better indicate scandalous behavior. Because here’s the thing: the scandal had nothing to do with water or gates. Like, if the Watergate Scandal had involved gating some water in such a way that the suffix “-gate” was a nod toward the illegal activity, the whole thing would be a lot easier to understand. As it is, it somehow simultaneously comes off both lazy and contrived.
Side note: as I was digging up a picture of those jorts, I realized I brought up the “-gate” issue on Facebook a few years ago and got this very helpful input from my friends:
YOU CAN’T DETERMINE THE FUNCTIONAL FORM OF A GROWTH RATE WITH ONLY TWO DATA POINTS.
ALSO “EXPONENTIAL GROWTH” AND “FAST GROWTH” ARE NOT THE SAME THING.
Sometimes somebody will say something like “the number of <some thing> used to be <number>, but now it’s <a bigger number>,” and then somebody else will say something like “wow that’s a really large increase in a really small amount of time; it must be growing exponentially.” This is wrong for two reasons:
- You can’t determine the functional form of a growth rate with only two data points. Could be linear, could be logarithmic, etc. Of course, we can’t rule out exponential growth with only two data points, but we can’t rule it in.
- “Exponential growth” and “fast growth” aren’t the same thing. Exponential growth can happen slowly and non-exponential growth can happen quickly. “Exponential growth” just means “growing at an increasing rate.”
So, the proper response is “wow that’s a really large increase in a really small amount of time; I’d certainly call that growth fast, but without more data, I can’t say what the relationship is between growth and time; thank you for sharing that fact; I look forward to learning more about <that thing you brought up>.”
This is my last post on the post calvin. Goodbye and thanks for reading.
Tony graduated in 2012 with majors in mathematics and economics. He now lives in Chicago and is pursuing graduate study in economics. He also has a very good cultural trivia podcast called “Here’s My Number, So Call Me Ishmael” available on Libsyn, iTunes, and Google Play.