Choose Your English (iii)


assure / ensure / insure
Although these three often show up at the same party, mostly while giving hugs, they are by no means the same: to assure is to tell someone everything is in order, to ensure is to make certain, and to insure is to protect financially.

bare / bear
Bare means naked, but to bear is to carry something. The noun bear is also a brown furry mammal of the Ursidae family.

capital / capitol
A capital is either a stash of money or the government headquarters of a state. A capitol on the other hand is simply a building.

climactic / climatic
Climactic describes the high point, the most intense part of a film, play, song, et cetera. Climatic refers to the climate, like the current climatic changes we can observe at the North Pole for instance.

complement / compliment
Both are very welcome on a first date — a complement means to complete something, but a compliment is flattering. If you feel you and your new friend complement each other, maybe it’s because he or she has been giving you so many compliments, like for instance when he or she says you look like Roger Waters or Anna Chlumsky.

See other: Choose Your English

On English


“Let’s face it – English is a crazy language. There is no egg in eggplant nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins weren’t invented in England or French fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren’t sweet, are meat. We take English for granted. But if we explore its paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

And why is it that writers write but fingers don’t fing, grocers don’t groce and hammers don’t ham? If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn’t the plural of booth beeth? One goose, two geese. So one moose, two meese? One index, two indices? Doesn’t it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend? If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?

If teachers taught, why didn’t preachers praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? In what language do people recite at a play and play at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Have noses that run and feet that smell? How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites?

You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out and in which an alarm goes off by going on. English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race (which, of course, isn’t a race at all). That is why, when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible.

And finally, why doesn’t “buick” rhyme with “quick”?”

- Richard Lederer

28/viii mmxiv


Clyde (of Bonnie and Clyde) Barrow’s middle name was ‘Chestnut’.

On her eighth birthday in 1936, Shirley Temple got 135,000 birthday presents.

The US states of Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina and Maryland have legislation which forbids an atheist from holding public office.

In Danish, the word ‘forgive’ means ‘to poison’.

Because of his squeaky voice, Reinhard Heydrich was called ‘the goat’ at school. He became a heavy drinker and a sex-addict. While serving as an officer in the SS, he opened an exclusive brothel.

See other: Quite Interesting Facts

Reflection and Occam’s Razor


‘Ned thought for a while. [...] ‘Some – I don’t know – some conspiracy brought me here and I need to understand what it was.’
‘We are merely the starstennis balls, Ned, struck and banded which way please them.’
‘You don’t believe that. You believe in will. You told me so.’
‘Like anyone with a sliver of honesty in them I believe what I find I believe when I wake up each morning. Sometimes I can only think we are determined by the writing in our genes, sometimes it seems to me that we are made or unmade by our upbringings. On better days, it is true that I hope with some conviction that we and we alone make ourselves everything that we are.’
‘Nature, Nurture or Nietzsche in fact.’
‘Ha!’ Babe clapped Ned in the back. ‘It’s coming on, the creature is coming on,’ he boomed to the wide uncomprehending lawn. ‘Listen,’ he said, tucking has arm in Ned’s, ‘if you want to understand your own situation, can you not apply some of the logic it has cost me so much brain blood to teach you? Take out Occam’s Razor and cut away the irrelevant and the obfuscatory. Set down only what you know.’

- Fry. S. 2010. The Stars’ Tennis Balls London, Great Britain: Arrow Books (2014) p. 210-211

Problems with Occam’s Razor


‘Three axioms presupposed by the scientific method are realism (the existence of objective reality), the existence of observable natural laws, and the constancy of observable natural law. Rather than depend on provability of these axioms, science depends on the fact that they have not been objectively falsified.

Occam’s razor and related appeals to simplicity are epistemological preferences, not general principles of science. The general principle of science is that theories (or models) of natural law must be consistent with repeatable experimental observations. This principle rests upon the unproven axioms mentioned above. Occam’s razor supports, but does not prove, these axioms.’

- Courtney. A., Courtney. M. On the Nature of Science, Physics in Canada, Vol. 64, No. 3 (2008), p. 7-8

Wittgenstein on Occam’s Razor


As for Occam’s Razor, consider Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus:

3.328 If a sign is not necessary then it is meaningless. That is the meaning of Occam’s Razor. (If everything in the symbolism works as though a sign had meaning, then it has meaning.)

4.04 In the proposition there must be exactly as many things distinguishable as there are in the state of affairs which it represents. They must both possess the same logical (mathematical) multiplicity (cf. Hertz’s Mechanics, on Dynamic Models).

5.47321 Occam’s Razor is, of course, not an arbitrary rule nor one justified by its practical success. It simply says that unnecessary elements in a symbolism mean nothing. Signs which serve one purpose are logically equivalent, signs which serve no purpose are logically meaningless.

6.363 The procedure of induction consists in accepting as true the simplest law that can be reconciled with our experiences.

Occam’s Razor


Occam’s razor is a logical and philosophical principle stated by the medieval scholar William of Ockham (1285–1347/49). It gives precedence to simplicity; that is to say, of two or more competing theories, the simpler explanation of an entity is to be preferred. The principle is also expressed as “Entities are not to be multiplied beyond necessity.”

In other words, Ockham used the principle to dispense with relations, which he held to be nothing distinct from their foundation in things. According to Ockham:

pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate
“Plurality should not be posited without necessity.”

Explanations can become needlessly complex. It could become coherent to add the involvement of say, leprechauns to any explanation, but Occam’s Razor would prevent such additions, unless they were causally necessary.

“The simplest hypothesis proposed as an explanation of phenomena is more likely to be the true one than is any other available hypothesis, that its predictions are more likely to be true than those of any other available hypothesis, and that it is an ultimate a priori epistemic principle that simplicity is evidence for truth.” – Richard Swinburne

Consider the following example: Two trees have fallen down during a windy night. There could be two possible explanations to account for the fallen trees:

  1. The wind has blown them down.
  2. Two meteorites have each taken one tree down, and after that hit each other and removed any trace of themselves – that, or those pesky leprechauns again.

Choose Your English (ii)


ambiguous / ambivalent 
Something ambiguous is unclear or vague, like the end of a short story that leaves you scratching your head; but if you are ambivalent about something, you can take it or leave it.

amicable / amiable
Amicable refers to a friendliness or goodwill between people or groups. Amiable refers to one person’s friendly disposition. A group might have an amicable meeting, because the people there are amiable.

amuse / bemuse
People often use the word bemuse when they mean amuse, but to amuse is to entertain, and to bemuse is to confuse. In Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, the White Rabbit amuses Alice as he frolics, but then the Cheshire Cat bemuses her when he tells her to go two directions at once.

appraise / apprise
To appraise is to estimate the value of something, but remove the second “a,” and you have apprise, which means “to tell.” If you hire someone to appraise your house, you might have to apprise your family of the fact that you now owe the bank more than your house is worth.

assume / presume 
Assume and presume both mean to believe something before it happens, but when you assume you are not really sure. If someone bangs on your door in the middle of the night, you might assume it’s your mad neighbour. If your neighbour knocks on your door every night at 6:30, at 6:29 you can presume he or she is coming over in a minute.

See other: Choose Your English

On Foolish Beliefs


“The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd; indeed in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a widespread belief is more likely to be foolish than sensible.”

- Bertrand Russell

21/viii mmxiv


Berliner Luft is a dessert cream, liqueur, and canned air – a famous Berlin souvenir – a small can filled with air supposedly from the German capital.

Camels store fat in their humps, not water.

One day on the Moon is 29 1/2 Earth days. This rotation coincides perfectly with its rotation around the Earth so that we always only see one side of the Moon.

On 11 February 2013, confirmed Pope Benedict XVI would resign the papacy on 28 February 2013 as a result of his advanced age, becoming the first pope to resign since Gregory XII in 1415. The move was considered unexpected. In modern times, all popes have stayed in office until death. Not only that, Benedict will be the first Pope to have resigned voluntarily since Pope Celestine V in 1294.

In the Eon Production James Bond films, the third actress to play Miss Moneypenny was called Samantha Bond.

See other: Quite Interesting Facts

Why Study Latin?


‘The foregoing paragraphs make it clear why Latin forms so important a part of modern education. We have seen that our civilization rests upon that of Greece and Rome, and that we must look to the past if we would understand the present. It is obvious, too, that the knowledge of Latin not only leads to a more exact and effective use of our own language, but that it is of vital importance and of great practical value to any one preparing for a literary or professional career. To this it may be added that the study of Latin throws a flood of light upon the structure of language in general and lays an excellent foundation for all grammatical study. Finally, it has been abundantly proved that there is no more effective means of strengthening the mind than by the earnest pursuit of this branch of learning.’

- D’Ooge. B.L. 1909. Latin For Beginners Boston, Massachusetts, United States: The Athenaeum Press, Ginn and Company (1911) p. 3-4

Intelligence of Cows


According to extensive research, and opposed to widely held beliefs, cows are generally very intelligent and socially complex animals. Animal behaviourists have found that cows interact in various and complex ways, developing friendships over time and sometimes holding grudges against other cows who treat them badly.

Bos Primigenius or Cow, in this case the Holstein variety

These gentle giants mourn the deaths of and even separation from those they love, even shedding tears over their loss. The mother-calf bond is particularly strong, and there are countless reports of mother cows who continue to frantically call and search for their babies after the calves have been taken away.

Cattle form deep friendships and strong family bonds. Like humans, when cattle have their preferred partner with them, their stress levels in terms of their heart rates are reduced compared with when they are with a random individual.

“I could dance with you till the cows come home. Better still, I’ll dance with the cows and you come home.”
– Groucho Marx

Research has shown that cows clearly understand cause-and-effect relationships—a sure sign of advanced cognitive abilities. For example, cows can learn how to push a lever to operate a drinking fountain when they’re thirsty or to press a button with their heads to release grain when they’re hungry. Pressing a panel to get food may not seem like such an astonishing bovine act to us now, but it wasn’t long ago when scientists gauged ape smarts by comparable feats.

Researchers have also found that not only can cows figure out problems, they also, like humans, enjoy the intellectual challenge and get excited when they find a solution. Professor Donald Broom from Cambridge University explains that when cows solve problems, “[t]heir brainwaves showed their excitement; their heartbeat went up, and some even jumped into the air. We called it their Eureka moment.”

“As for butter versus margarine, I trust cows more than chemists.”
– Joan Gussow

A herd of cows is very much like a pack of wolves, with alpha animals and complex social dynamics. Each cow can recognize more than 100 members of the herd, and social relationships are very important to them. Cows will consistently choose leaders for their intelligence, inquisitiveness, self-confidence, experience, and good social skills, while bullying, selfishness, size, and strength are not recognized as suitable leadership qualities.

Not too long ago, an academic from a German university discovered (by using Google Earth) that out of 8,510 cows, most tended to face either north or south, giving rise to possible claims that they can sense magnetism.

“A Range Rover – 10.000 miles a day – produces less methane than a cow farting. So something has got to give, cows or cars. It has got to be cars. [...] We have got to get rid of the cars. Milk, I can’t do without that; shoes, burgers…”
– Jeremy Clarkson

On a sad note, we are beginning to learn that raising cows in unnatural conditions, such as crowded feedlots, is very stressful to them because it upsets their hierarchy and keeps them locked in a very unnatural, dark and secluded environment for life. University of Saskatchewan researcher Jon Watts notes that cows who are kept in groups of more than 200 on commercial feedlots become stressed and constantly fight for dominance. (Unfortunately, feedlots in America hold thousands of cows at a time.)

By expanding our awareness of animals’ feelings, we are gradually being forced to acknowledge that a new relationship to them is needed. For instance, lawmakers in the Spanish region of Catalonia have recognized that: in July 2010 they voted to ban bullfighting – if one is a little familiar with Spanish culture, one will understand the magnitude of such a development.

Lastly, some cow-related trivia:

  1. Mountain lions and mountain cows do not live near mountains. The mountain cow is a form of tapir.
  2. As opposed to widely held belief, there are no sacred animals in India. The term Sacred is a Christian one and therefore does not really apply to India – there are no cow deities et cetera.
  3. Cow shoes were wrong by bootleggers during prohibition in the US. The footprints they made looked like cow footprints, and they were worn to trick the police.
  4. Cows move their legs in no particular pattern. Camels walk with their legs in unison.