1. @ Non Sequitur: “Think of it as evolution in action.
    P.S. Most of the “bar” jokes I’ve heard in the past have had three participants, but maybe the “athiest” (or “cowboy” or “lawyer” or whatever) got lucky, was knocked unconscious, and was taken to the emergency room, so he didn’t have to fill out any forms here.
    P.P.S. I don’t think this “bar” was a drinking establishment, I think it was some sort of low horizontal beam.
    P.P.P.S. Yes, I know that these are all LOLs.

  2. Recently I’ve been noticing prescriptive comments various places, saying there’s a problem with the use of “steep learning curve” to indicate high difficulty. I see the technical point, if we understand it to be a graph of accomplishment on the vertical axis and time on the horizontal. Then a high angle means you got much better very fast, so it was likely easy.

    But why is it accepted as given that the y axis is “learning accomplished”? Maybe it’s more like “improvement required” but not guaranteed – – then the disparaged popular usage would fit well.

  3. Hmm, I’ve always assumed that the y axis showed learning required, not learning accomplished. And it’s never showing how you personally did, but the requirements of the job. So, to me, steep learning curve always means something is hard and must be learned quickly, with an underlying implication that if you don’t learn fast you fail (often painfully).

  4. Oh, and one of my college friend’s favorite bad jokes was: “A baby seal walks into a club.” (rimshot)

  5. I love this place! Yay! for Mitch4 and Wendy, I’ve had the exact same reaction to the recent pedants on this phrase, only I’ve not been able to articulate it as succinctly.

  6. I have a comparable reaction to the term “quantum leap” (or “jump”), which seems to be always used as meaning “a huge leap” — which is true, but it also means “the smallest possible leap” (you can’t have a “leap of half a quanta”), so when I read something like “The new machine represents a quantum leap over last year’s model,” my brain insists on thinking “that’s ambigious, and even though I can guess what you thought you implied, it would have been better to phrase it another way.” Picky, picky brain!

  7. “I have a comparable reaction to the term “quantum leap” (or “jump”), which seems to be always used as meaning “a huge leap””

    It means that there was a change from A to B without passing through any of the points in between. This doesn’t imply that there was a huge leap, just that there’s a noticeable difference rather than an evolutionary improvement. For a couple of thousands years, human transport speeds could be improved a bit by breeding faster horses. Shifting to motorized transport is a quantum leap from horse-driven transport because it’s different, not because it’s so much faster.
    Of course, the shift from horse carriage to horseless was just the beginning. Formula 1 drivers go more than a little bit faster than jockeys, but “motorized transport” really picks up when to throw flight into the mix. Horses go in the double digits of MPH, while orbital travellers get into five digits.

    Of course, that’s all assuming you’re talking about someone who’s used the term correctly. Yes, there’s definitely cases of people who use words and phrases incorrectly, but, well, they’re already definitionally incorrect, and for the most part, probably don’t want to hear about how they’re doing it wrong.

  8. The word “factoid” was coined by Norman Mailer to mean literally a thing that appears to be a fact but is not a fact because it is not true, or more practically a soundbite; a false statement presented as true for marketing purposes. “John Smith’s favorite book is the Bible” would be an example if John Smith is campaigning in the Bible Belt. But now “factoid” means a trivial but true fact: “Donald Trump was born in New York City.” This leaves us with no word for a statement like “John F. Kennedy was a self-made man.” But I suppose we didn’t have one before either.

  9. MiB, I’m sympathetic to your point, that sometimes there is a precisely known first coining use of some new expression, or some new sense of an existing word. Then we can think there is a firm case for saying it is used this way or spelled this way, or pronounced this way, upon authority of the original coinage.

    I myself have given in to that temptation, and used to delight in circulating the brief audio clip that went “This is Linus Torvalds. And this is how I say ‘Linux’: Linux.”.

    But Linus himself, in accompanying text, pointed out he was just telling us how he says it, and not trying to issue a ruling on how we all should say it.

    Unlike the awful campaign for a soft g (dzh) on GIF. Sorry, Jif is a kind of peanut butter, and never an image file format. And it makes no difference how any claimant to owning it thinks it is said.

    I do kind of like Mailer’s original sense for “factoid”, of something not really fully true, and thus not really fully a fact. But I don’t eschew the slightly later altered sense, of a small (and probably true) “fun fact”; and don’t think the people using it that way are mistaken. Origin does not grant authority.

  10. @Mitch4 – Jif is a kind of peanut butter? Eww. In the UK, it was a brand of kitchen cleaner, until it changed its name to Cif. (Maybe it’s a dream topping and a floor wax?).

    It’s still called Jif by lots of people here (I imagine because of some association with “this’ll clean it up in a jiffy”), but the attempt to change the name worldwide seems half-hearted as it is also marketed as Viss and Vim in some places, and Jif still in Iraq. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cif#Name

  11. A long while back there was a tagline joke that made the rounds, playing on the indeterminate pronunciation of the file format (*.GIF), as well as a well-known TV ad for the “Jif” brand of peanut butter: “Choosy perverts choose GIF!” (meaning for NSFW images, of course).

  12. P.S, @ Mitch4 – Thanks very much for the “Linux” clip. In German, “Linus” is normally pronounced similarly (Lee-nus), but I’ve heard the English version (Lie-nus) used for specific famous individuals (such as “Pauling” or “Van Pelt”). I wasn’t sure which version is normally used in Finland.

  13. “Sorry, Jif is a kind of peanut butter, and never an image file format.”

    Jif is a brand of peanut butter, and GIF is an in image file format. They’re spelled differently, have different meanings, but sound the same.

    Because it uses proprietary compression algorithms, GIF is a deprecated format. Choosy users choose .PNG. You’d have hoped that would have settled the people who insist on mispronouncing “GIF”, but they keep popping up, even now.

  14. “a thing that appears to be a fact but is not a fact because it is not true”


  15. I’m of the GIF like “gift” rather than “jif” camp. I used to be a “long i” Linux guy, but had to surrender on that one.

  16. ‘“a thing that appears to be a fact but is not a fact because it is not true”

    Or verisimilitude.

  17. OK, how is PNG pronounced?


    How ’bout an alternative pronunciation for GIF: Gee-Eye-Eff?

  18. Old joke redone…


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