Google are literally trolling

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Pedants on the web have been all het up this week as Google added this definition of the word ‘literally’ to its annals.


This second definition, for clarity, being the meaning used by ignoramuses who don’t know the word ‘figuratively’.

Used to acknowledge that something is not literally true but is used for emphasis or to express strong feeling.

Let us just look at this second meaning; where the definition requires use of the word that it itself is trying to define, in order to define it. The recursive nature of the phrase should immediately have alarm bells ringing and show that the definition is spurious and worthy of skepticism.

So we pause and read it again and see that not only is the phrasing recursive, but it negates itself. The statement is of the logical form “x = not x”. This definition cannot even be logically correct. It is just plain wrong.

Now it may be that the meaning it is trying to describe is indeed in such prevalent use as to be considered a correct meaning, but that does not justify the slapdash work of Google in describing the apparent dichotomy. We already have words in the English Language that have meanings that are their own opposite. Cleave for instance, means both to split apart and to join together. Google seem to cope perfectly well with that one.


The more I think about this, the more I worry that the problem isn’t the decline of English; languages will always evolve and Canutes like us will continually, futilely attempt to resist the tide.

The reference guides that are the formal record of matter for such things have a duty to present not only the de facto usage of words, but also the etymology and responsibly, accurately describe where there are issues. Here, for instance, there is a problem when Google (surely, these days, this organ must have a duty of care to the quality of information it propagates) allows a definition of a word to be logically inconsistent. Were a user of Google to rely on it for dispute resolution (eg, to reference it within a company’s style guide), then this will obfuscate instead of clarifying.

So whilst I rail against the abuses of language, my real despair is that this particular case calls into question the veracity and reliability of the supposed backstops of the facts of the matter. What next; will we find that Wikipedia isn’t really peer reviewed by academic experts?


Bread & Roses

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For two brutally cold winter months of 1912, the textile workers of Lawrence, Massachusetts went on strike. The strike was over the usual things; wages, hours and conditions. Due to the large number of women (average life expectancy – 26!) involved (about 20,000), the brutal tactics against families used by the bosses and the children of strikers being evacuated from Lawrence to sympathisers all over New England, the message from this strike was that life is not only about being able to live, on a basic level, but being able to live decently. The Lawrence textile strike became known, then as the Bread and Roses strike. The slogan originated in a 1911 speech given by Rose Schneiderman; “The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too.”

I think of this strike (or more specifically, I remember the brilliant Utah Phillips/Ani DiFranco song about it) when my friends or I are going through a rough patch. It’s important to ‘problem solve’ and try to deal with whatever it is that’s getting you or your friend down. You probably do need to try and understand what happened (or as the Americans say ‘get closure’.) but when you are trying to understand other people’s behaviour that is not always possible.  People want to talk things through, and that’s really important. But life isn’t just about bread, it’s about roses, too. Sometimes, whilst you do need to get to the bottom of whatever your ailment or situation is, you shouldn’t forget to do those things that make life feel good.

When stuff happens – a relationship breakdown, a setback at work, a tough time at home or another bump in life’s road – we often feel as if we are permanently changed by it, we are not the same person we were.  It is important, then, to reconnect with yourself and to remind yourself that you are still you.  Do the helpful things that have always worked for you.  Take a walk in the park, go to the gym, go for a run, have a (sensible) drink, socialise with friends, have good sex, get great hugs, have a wank, get fresh air (possibly not those last two at the same time) go on dates, do something good for someone else, whatever it is you need personally to get your serotonin and dopamine levels up. You shouldn’t feel guilty for a moment about finding time to enjoy life when things are tough, however hard that may seem. Do it for yourself. Help your friends do it.

When you’re in a tough place, it is easy to make really bad decisions. It is important when things are in a spin not to change your routine too much; make sure you keep doing the things that you knew you were comfortable doing before. Stick with the friends you know you can trust, don’t expose yourself to unhelpful behaviours or people who will take advantage (and there are a lot of those); now is not the time to suddenly change everything (or indeed take up historic unhelpful distracting behaviours!) Talk to your good friends, share with them when you think you’re making bad decisions. Think about life’s stress factors and don’t exacerbate the tough place you’re in by making things harder.  One of the things some people do after a foul-up is to get back to the life they had before they entered that relationship or situation – this is one of the reasons why long-married people will, after a divorce, sometimes be tempted to go out with someone the age they were when they entered the recently-ended relationship.  We revert to old patterns – people who have long eschewed smoking will suddenly remember that 15 years ago they used to smoke and that ‘helped’ with stress, so they develop an unhelpful thinking style that suggests ‘I’m a person who needs a cigarette when I am very stressed’.  This is actually just old-school superstition, and very few people thrive in a life governed by this.  We revert to random behaviours that we have imbued with meaning, as if they can help us, but they can’t. We are all grown-ups and, in the dead of night when it is just us and our ticking minds, we know what we are doing.

Humans are delicate things, but we are bouncy although some of us are easily bruised and take a while to bounce back. Don’t forget to laugh. Look out for yourself and your friends. Problem solving is great, sure, learning from situations is vital; the human must have bread, but must have roses, too.

Much love to all my friends having a tough time. xxx