Friday, July 29, 2016


Naming no names--because it's not necessary--the word has come up a bit lately. I think I know what a demagogue is, though I can't quite define it, and it's high time I put an end to that. In this political moment, we need to be able to define our terms more precisely.

Joseph McCarthy

According to the Oxford Dictionaries a demagogue is "a political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument". Which maybe sounds a bit like all politicians everywhere. Perhaps it's a matter of degree.

"Demagogue" entered English in around 1640. The Greek demagogos meant leader of the people, demos being "people" and agagos meaning "leader", according to the Online Etymology Dictionary. So it seems not to have originally been a pejorative term. But the same dictionary also mentions that the word has been used as a pejorative often since its first use in Athens in the fifth century B.C.E. The dictionary also quotes one Loren J. Samons II, who in his book What's Wrong with Democracy? writes:

Indeed, since the term demagogos explicitly denotes someone who leads or shepherds the demos, the eventual use of this word as the primary epithet for a political panderer represents a virtual reversal of its original meaning.

George Wallace

It seems that the relationship between the leader and the people can be a bit of a two-edged sword. In this short piece by Megan Garber for the Atlantic, she seems to have hit upon the salient point, saying:

...the key thing about demagogues, historically, is that they have been people who, by way of their very popularity, threaten the populace. They undermine the stability of a “by the people” form of government particularly by turning “the people” against each other. They represent a danger not just to electoral outcomes or political parties, but to democracy itself.

Huey Long



Monday, July 25, 2016

camel and palm tree illusion

This is just a funny thing that came up when I was looking for an image for my last post. I googled "camel palm tree" and Google filled in "camel and palm tree illusion". I didn't have time to look it up till just now. Without further ado, then, the camel and palm tree illusion:

That is a rather famous one which appears on many websites. However there is yet another optical illusion involving a camel and palm trees. This one comes to you courtesy of and no, I don't know where they got it either.


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

"So You're Coming to Tripoli"

When my mom died a few years ago and we were going through her possessions, we came across a little pamphlet called "So You're Coming to Tripoli". It was my intention at the time to post the cover, which is rather charming, but I didn't and don't have a camera suitable to the task and somehow the picture of it that one of my sisters took of it didn't work. So I let it go.

Just today, though, a Wheelus Airbase alum (if that's the right word) named Cathy Speegle sent me a PDF of that very booklet.

Much to my surprise, I figured out how to get it on to the Wheelus Air Base blogpost, where I think the most people who would be interested in it would find it, but as no one else is going to scroll down that far and I happen to have the link all set, I'll just say that you can find it HERE. It is very much of it's era and I'm glad to have finally fulfilled an ambition to get it posted on this blog, so thank you, Cathy. And if any of your friends from those days  should happen to see this, I hope they'll feel free to email me at the address in my profile and I will try to get you both connected.

This picture is actually from Algeria and was taken before 1900, but you get the idea...

                                                                                      Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, July 17, 2016

I could(n't) care less

This one is sure to cause some teeth gnashing in certain sectors of the Confessions of Ignorance readership, but it's pleasing as punch to me. I am among that portion of the population that has been known to say," I could care less." I then brace myself for the usual response, which is that this is the wrong way to say it and doesn't make any sense. Up till now, I've acknowledged the rightness of my opponents, while continuing to use the expression. But all that is about to change, my friends.

The reason for this is that somehow in the last week, I came across an interesting post on this very subject at in their previously unknown to me section called Word Fact. Here they explain that the expression "I couldn't care less" popped up in British English at the beginning of the twentieth century, but that the variant "I could care less" took root in America in the 1960s. They then go on to point out that the fastidious among us find the American version to be logically flawed. Obviously, if you could care less, then you care more than you might. Here's comedian David Mitchell's rant on the topic. 


Nevertheless, the aberrant expression persists. Word Fact goes on to say that some etymologists have attempted to explain it like this:

“I could care less” emerged as a sarcastic variant employing Yiddish humor. They point to the different intonations used in saying “I couldn’t care less” versus “I could care less.” The latter mirrors the intonation of the sarcastic Yiddish-English phrase “I should be so lucky!” where the verb is stressed.

But  Word Fact isn't having any of it. It goes on to present my real defense:

The argument of logic falls apart when you consider the fact that both these phrases are idioms. In English, along with other languages, idioms are not required to follow logic, and to point out the lack of logic in one idiom and not all idioms is…illogical.

Which bring us to question, what is an idiom? The Online Etymology Dictionary is very good on this. It tells us that the  word entered English in the 1580s and meant a form of speech peculiar to a people or place. It took until the 1620s for it to have our more current meaning of a phrase or expression peculiar to a language. Coming to English through the typical French route, it goes back to the late Latin idioma, which meant "a peculiarity in language", to the Greek idioma.  Fowler, of Fowler's Modern English usage, has this to say: "A manifestation of the peculiar" is "the closest possible translation of the Greek word". The root idios we know from words like "idiosyncratic" and means "particular to oneself".

And from the same entry, another quote Fowler:

[G]rammar & idiom are independent categories; being applicable to the same material, they sometimes agree & sometimes disagree about particular specimens of it; the most can be said is that what is idiomatic is far more often grammatical than ungrammatical, but that is worth saying, because grammar & idiom are sometimes treated as incompatibles

I rest my case.

(The signage at the top I found on Jenz Grammer Tips. I think you can guess which side she weighs in on.)


Friday, July 15, 2016

Fruit and veg

My friend and fellow Santa Cruzan Leslie Karst  has just put up a blog post titled When is a Fruit a Vegetable? over at her blog Custard and Clues. Frankly, it falls very much in the province of Confessions of Ignorance, especially since I didn't have the foggiest about all this. And the one thing I thought I did know, which is that tomatoes are actually fruits, is maybe not so true.

Or maybe it is. A lot depends on who you're talking to. In any case, she has researched the topic far more thoroughly than I would have. Go check it out.

Leslie's recently published mystery novel

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Nothing but a Heartbreak

Just popping in quickly here to say that I have put up a short piece on rarely attended to blog Story Dump, as my friend and former co-worker Maryse Meijer has a collection of short stories out called Heartbreaker, and you can find a link to the title story there.

I'm also thinking that I will be reviving that rather moribund blog as I seem to have fallen in with a bunch of short fiction writers lately, and if I can find the time and energy to do it, I will be featuring some of the links to their work there. I'll probably also be posting mention of new entries here, just to help generate some interest.

But don't worry. The whole ignorance thing isn't going away any time soon...


Tuesday, July 5, 2016

another think coming

As any casual reader of this blog will quickly deduce, there are a lot of things I don't know about. How disconcerting, then, to discover that something I felt quite certain about has shifted over to the "you know nothing about it" category. I am not young, people. You'd think that by this time, the things I feel confident in are a pretty stable, if small, collection. Unfortunately, this isn't always the case.

Yesterday I was reading Peter Rozovsky's blog post on Marlon James' A Brief History of Seven Killings. Although in general enjoying the book, he did have a slight qualm when he saw James (or James' character) mistake the expression "another think coming"  as "another thing coming". My original assumption was that this was just a typo. Of course it's "you've got another thing coming". Everyone knows that. Right?

Wrong. The original expression was "you've got another think coming". A nice piece at Grammarist tells us that the original expression was "If that's what you think, you've got another think coming." Several examples are cited of early usage, all of which use "think", not "thing". But gradually the word shifted to "thing", so that in our day, it is the more common usage. the Grammarist  writer says that example of "thing" were a lot easier to find than "think" in current usage.

a play by Arthur Lewis Tubbs (1867-1946)

I have several very unscientific, unproven thoughts on all this. Although the contention is that "thing" made more sense to people than "think", my own belief is that people don't really think that much about phrases making sense when they repeat them, they just mimic what's been said to them because they think they already understand what is meant. I think in this situation, "think coming" and "thing coming" sound pretty much identical. So as I commented on Peter's blog, I have never heard anyone say "another think coming". But that doesn't mean they haven't said it. I may have just assumed " thing" because I "knew" that to be correct, while everyone else may have been saying "think" all along. I doubt it, but it's possible.

Secondly, as Peter pointed out, he has never actually heard anyone say "another think (or thing) coming", but has seen one or other of the versions in print occasionally. Now I have to admit that probably no has ever said that to me, because if they had, they would have had another thing coming--like my fist. But I do think I have heard it used, though probably more in drama than real life. Or maybe in the heightened speech of someone who was worked up, where I have noticed that people do tend to resort to clichés.

An interesting thing, though, is that I don't think the two phrases mean exactly the same thing. Having another think coming really means you should think again, reconsider. Having another thing coming is more of a warning--if you persist on this path, you may be in for a surprise. Probably an unpleasant one, too.

Well,  we now  know  where  Judas Priest  weighs in on  the  issue. But I'm curious how familiar others are with either phrase. Did you already know all this, or did it come as a surprise?

Have a think on it and get back to me.