Saturday, 28 February 2009

If you could pass the guacamole, that would be awesome

I've been reading a book recently that outlines how how language is understood on multiple levels rather than in a singular, literal sense. In everyday life, we anticipate our listener's ability to read between the lines and slip in requests that we feel we can't blurt out directly. Consider the following sentence:

"if you could pass the guacamole, that would be awesome"

this doesn't actually make much sense. Why would it inspire awe for someone to pass you the guacamole? Well, it's clearly a request. But why don't people just say "gimme the guacamole", instead of pussyfooting around?

This polite dinnertime request - what linguists call a 'whimperative', can be explained. When you issue a request, you are presupposing that the hearer will comply. But unless you're addressing employees, or you're a bossy kind of person, you probably wouldn't want to speak to people in that way. But you do want the guacamole. The way out of this dilemma is to couch your request as a stupid question ("can you pass the guacamole?"), or a pointless rumination ("I was wondering if you could pass the guacamole") or a ridiculous overstatement ("it would be great if you could pass the guacamole") or some other blather that is so incongruous that the listener can't take it at face value.

The person you're talking to intuits what you actually mean, and at the same time they sense that you've made an effort not to treat them as some kind of assistant. Thus you've done two things at once - communicate your request for guacamole, and signal your understanding of the relationship.

Sunday, 22 February 2009


I was musing to a friend recently about how I find it odd that when I ask people what sort of music they like, they normally say "a bit of everything, really". This is invariably followed by either "except heavy metal", or "except country music". I don't understand what people have against heavy metal or country music, but credit to any genre that forces people into having an opinion about it.

At any rate, my friend replied that she doesn't like country music either - except for the song "Jolene" by Dolly Parton which she likes very much. I had another listen to it today, and it is indeed a terrific song.

Besides the fact it has a pleasing melody and the guitar interacts well with the percussion, it's a good theme for a song. The general gist goes that Dolly is singing to a woman who could easily seduce the man that she loves, and she's pleading her not to. For Jolene, who is beautiful, it would simply be another conquest but for Dolly, she would lose her only true love and be left with nothing.

This presents a dilemma which women in relationships might more often face than men. Dolly knows that her partner, whom she loves, would cheat on her given the opportunity. In her heart, she understands that, accepts him and forgives him for it. But she just doesn't want to see it happen.

So I wonder two things: firstly, is this something that is commonly felt by women in relation to their boyfriends or husbands? Do women frequently feel threatened by other women? Secondly, do we judge each other's moral characters in terms of what the people around us have done, or what they would do, given the chance?

If we could accurately predict one another's response to a variety of given situations, it would probably lead to a lot of friendships and relationships becoming very strained very quickly. All sorts of unspoken anger and disappointments. So I guess part of the mechanism by which human relationships of any kind are allowed to operate is by sweeping certain doubts we have about our friends and lovers under the carpet, and only judging them as and when we're in a position where we're forced to.

Or maybe I'm being pessimistic. I'm not sure.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Monday, 16 February 2009

Pictures with self-contained stories Pt 1

There seems to be a thriving culture of people who collect strange and splendid images and share them online. I decided to start collecting them a little while ago, and this is the first half of the ones I decided to add to my blog.

I love how they frame one another, despite the fact they were all taken in different contexts, for different reasons. Together, there is a strange internal logic to it all. All of these images contain miniature stories and that, for me, is a part of their delight. Each one asks for a moment's contemplation.

Disclaimer: many of these are cherry-picked from my pal, Michael Crowe. So all credit to him!

More pictures to follow....

Thursday, 12 February 2009

We saw some animals

I went to the zoo with Sandie last weekend, we had a splendid day out!

I saw Nellie the Elephant

Here are some big horned beasts that were feasting on hay. I can't remember what these are

I saw a Gorilla that sat peacefully and ate some leaves. As I watched, I imagined that this must be what prehistoric man looked like for most of the day. Just sitting around eating quietly

I saw this creature and said to Sandie, "what is that?". She replied "I don't know but it sure likes oranges". She was right. I think we read somewhere that it's related to Raccoons. So his name is Rocky Raccoon

Finally, here is a muddy Rhino. I don't know if Rhinos like wallowing in mud or what. Maybe they do it to keep cool - I've heard pigs do that. It might just be an unkempt Rhino. I thought about how Rhinos look wrinkly pretty much from birth. Their not old or anything, that's just how they look

I enjoyed myself enjoying the animals, if that makes sense. It's a simple pleasure, looking at stuff and going "ooo! look at that"

Restaurant Etiquette

This has happened to me a couple of times now: I'll go out for a meal with some friends, and we all order whatever we fancy. I'll ask for something a little more modest, because I'm either not as hungry or because I don't particularly feel like spending too much money.

Then, the bill arrives and someone says "right, shall we just split between the four of us then?".

On both occasions, I just didn't want to bother arguing that I shouldn't be paying the same as everyone else because it's unfair. So I cough up the money and try to forget about it (though I'm writing this blog so I obviously can't).

Walking home today from campus, I was thinking about both sides of the argument. I basically saw one argument for each side of the debate. Those in favour of sharing the bill evenly, I presume, believe that we're all friends anyway so a little less or a little extra doesn't matter - it's a gesture of good will. Those who prefer not to split the bill evenly, such as myself, prefer to feel like we're being fair. I wouldn't want to feel like I was over-paying, and I wouldn't want someone else to pay extra just because I ordered a more expensive dish than them.

As I see it, neither one of these arguments actually refutes the other one. Rather, they simply both draw out different aspects out of the same social convention. So it's not as though two people having this debate could undermine the other persons argument with their own point. It's simply two things that are true. So it's a case of which truth you choose to focus on.

After having this thought, I wondered if that is the nature of all sorts of discussions and disagreements people have. They aren't actually disproving one another during a debate, they just focus on different aspects of the same thing.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Mysterious Magpie in a Misty Miasma

This is a photo taken by my friend Emma Shaw. Between the two of us, we came up with the title of this blog post. That put me in a good mood.

Thanks Emma!

Monday, 2 February 2009

25 Random Things About Me

1) I frequently tap melodies with my fingers

2) I am politically to the left, but I mistrust any group that consistently polarizes towards the same opinion

3) I enjoy experiencing bad art, because I can think about what is wrong with it

4) The points of focus between my two eyes don't properly converge

5) My fringe has inspired a comparison with Dogtanian

6) As far as I understand, if you are atheist then you have to believe that consciousness is a side-product of the firing of neurons. To me, this requires a substantial leap of faith. Therefore I believe in God

7) I always mis-spell the word necessary. For some reason, "neccesary" looks right to me

8) Instead of having a song played at my funeral, I'd rather have the short film "Rainbow Dance" by Len Lye screened (it's on youtube if you're curious - though it's a blurry copy)

9) I don't think that all religions are the same at the end of the day

10) I really like my life at the moment

11) I am gluten intolerant, pescetarian, I avoid artificial sweeteners and high-glycemic index food, and I try to stay away from dairy and peanuts

12) I resent Pythagoras for developing the chromatic scale

13) I think that wearing gold jewellery is odd and a little perverse

14) I don't like 'folk wisdom' (e.g. "everybody is different", or "just be yourself")

15) I feel good when I cry, even if it's about something sad

16) I think that the best use of the english language can be found in modern day, working-class Jamaica

17) My mum hypnotized me to treat my phobia of spiders. It was helpful

18) I try and pay attention to noise that is sent to my visual cortex, rather than just the retinal impression of things

19) I once asked someone what "ionic" means while I was in a restaurant in Broadstairs. As they were explaining it to me, Bob Geldof walked past the window. I got distracted, and still don't know what ionic means

20) I think that Bassett Hounds look a bit like Rabbits

21) Three of my favorite artists - Spalding Gray, Stan Brakhage and Harry Partch

22) I once saw a girl with a dog on a train. She ate a bag of crisps, and then let the dog lick her salty hand

23) I think that New Scientist is a great magazine

24) I threw a snowball at a tree today

25) Provided nothing unexpected should happen, I would hope to live long enough to see the 2050s