Thursday, April 24, 2014

Lazy, stupid misuse of great words #2: countless

I've already done one of these for the word "countless", but the lazy, stupid abuse of this wonderful word seems to be popping up a lot these days... or maybe I am just noticing it, for some reason.

A few days ago, shortly after I'd posted about how much I enjoy National Public Radio, I was driving in my truck and heard a music review on NPR about some musician -- I think he was a Brazilian in his seventies -- and the reviewer was enthusing about how this musician had "recorded countless albums".


"Countless albums"?

It's such a mind-bogglingly stupid misuse of "countless" that it makes my head hurt.

Let's assume for the sake of argument that the musician in question is seventy-five years old. Let's also posit that he is an amazing prodigy who has recorded ten albums per year since he was twenty years old (obviously a ludicrous number, but bear with me). That's ten albums per year over the course of fifty-five years. Basic arithmetic gives us, then, a total of five hundred and fifty albums. I can count that high... can't you? Five hundred and fifty is so staggeringly, brain-bendingly not even close to "countless" that it takes my breath away.

There is no way -- not even REMOTELY -- that this musician, or any other, could have "recorded countless albums". -- PL

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

WEFEing #2

I am a little reluctant to file the following under "WEFEing" (short for "Witless Exaggeration For Effect"), as it actually does contain a certain amount of wit, but I am going to include it here because other than that dash of wit, it does suffer from the same silly use of language that a typical example of WEFEing does.

I love National Public Radio -- it offers so much in the way of news and information and opinion, in an unhurried way which is so different from most other media. I mostly listen to it in my truck, or sometimes when I am working at home.

But it is not without its faults, small though they may be. One such tiny fault is contained within a short promo for NPR that I have been hearing on the local NPR station (WFCR in Amherst) often in recent months. It is this line, apparently from a Terry Gross interview with one Charles Fishman, author of a book titled "The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water". The line in question goes like this:

"Every drink of water you take, every pot of coffee you make is dinosaur pee."

Every time I hear this, it drives me a little crazy… because undeniably clever as it is in making the important point about how water is recycled ad infinitum, it is literally NOT TRUE. Yes, while that drink of water you just had may have, in whole or in part, once, many many many millions of years ago, been for a short time the urine of a dinosaur, it no longer IS. The ongoing cycles of purification through evaporation and condensation and/or filtering through the soil changed that dinosaur pee to just water.

See, that snappy line wouldn't have quite the ear-grabbing, attention-getting, gross-out effect if it read this way instead:

"Every drink of water you take, every pot of coffee you make was once dinosaur pee."

Of course, the less-snappy version of the line DOES have the virtue of actually being TRUE. -- PL

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

What the -- ?!

This was the view outside our bedroom window this morning.

I thought it was spring already! -- PL

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Fighter jets over Northampton

While bicycling around Northampton with my friend Rick a couple of days ago, we kept hearing the thunder of fighter jets passing overhead -- unusual for this area. We stopped to get coffee at Smith College*, and, while sitting outside enjoying the warmish spring weather, heard the jets passing overhead once again. 

I whipped out my little Pentax camera and managed to get a shot of the planes -- four of them -- as they roared overhead in a tight formation. I've NEVER seen that here before.

We speculated about what they might be doing -- Practicing for an air show? Getting ready to fight the Russians? Just having fun? -- but conceded that we really had no clue.

As we finished our coffee break and got back on the bikes to head back to Mirage Studios, the planes appeared overhead once more, this time with one of the pilots "waggling" his plane's wings. -- PL

         (*When I first typed this up, I inadvertently left the "m" out of "Smith", resulting in "Sith College", which made me -- as a "Star Wars" fan -- chuckle.)

Wednesday, March 19, 2014


     In yet another example of what I think I will start to call a "WEFE" (Witless Exaggeration For Effect") or perhaps "WEFEing", I note the following in an article titled "Gut Check" by Joseph Hooper in the March 6, 2014 edition of the Valley Advocate, a free once-weekly newspaper distributed in the Hampshire County area of Massachusetts. Here's the stupid exaggeration in question:

"But not until the recent advent of genomic sequencing that can read the DNA of our cells did biologists appreciate just how many of them [microbial cells] there were within us: for every one human cell in our body, there are ten microbial cells.
"The idea that we're more microbe than mammal is as or more profound than the theory of evolution," says anthropologist Jeff Leach, one of the founders of the American Gut Project, which is devoted to genetically mapping the microbiome."

When I first read this, I was immediately struck by what seemed to me to be it's essential wrongness -- that is to say, it seemed to me fairly obvious that the bulk of a human body, no matter how many microbial cells versus human cells there are, is made up of human cells. In other words, if one were to weigh or calculate relative volume, human cells would surpass microbial cells.
My gut (no pun intended) told me that it was likely that individual microbial cells were smaller than individual human cells, and a little searching on the Internet turned up the proof of my intuition:

  "All the bacteria living inside you would fill a half-gallon jug; there are 10 times more bacterial cells in your body than human cells, according to Carolyn Bohach, a microbiologist at the University of Idaho (U.I.), along with other estimates from scientific studies. (Despite their vast numbers, bacteria don't take up that much space because bacteria are far smaller than human cells.) "


To assert that "we're more microbe than mammal" because there are more individual microbial cells than human cells in our bodies is akin to saying that because an average human being has more hairs (somewhere around 100,000) than muscles (somewhat less than 1000),  an average human being is more hair than muscle. Obviously, this is ridiculous… and just one more example of the distressing tendency towards ludicrous exaggeration in our society.

  To me, it points to a real lack of confidence in what one is trying to say -- that one needs to exaggerate so profoundly to make what one is saying seem worthy enough. -- PL

Friday, February 14, 2014

Valentine's Day!

What a delight to find these waiting for me on a snowy Valentine's Day morning...

.... freshly-baked cranberry-apricot muffins!

The temptation to eat them all is nearly overwhelming, but I will be good and only have two for breakfast, to fortify myself before cranking up the snowblower and doing battle with the drifts.

Thanks to my Valentine, Jeannine! xoxoxo -- PL

Monday, January 27, 2014


… doesn't look a whole lot different than fifty-nine.

Or does it? 

Which is which? -- PL