Open? Close?

Below you see a familiar sight; the “open door” and “close door” buttons found in the elevators of many downtown office buildings:

Maybe it’s just me, but I can never figure out which button to push. To be precise, by the time I figure out which is the correct button, it’s too late. The reason is that my brain cannot decode the symbols because I don’t know if they represent the state of being or the state of desired being. Also, there is the complicating factor of the visual representation of openness and closedness implied by the triangles if thought of as nouns, versus the opposite message implied by the triangles if thought of as arrows, or verbs.

Take the one on the left. It shows a line in the middle (presumably representing the seam between the closed doors) and a pair of triangles pointing to the seam. To me, this can mean:

  • The door is currently open, so I should push the button if I desire it to be closed. (The triangles are arrows, indicating what will happen if I push the button.)
  • The door is closing (moving in the direction of the arrows) so I should push this button now if I want to change the state and make them open. (The triangles are arrows indicating the current state, which is not necessarily the desired state.)
  • Push this button to put the doors into a state of being open. (The triangles are not arrows; their flat ends represent the edges of the door. As such, the symbol on the left implies wideness, or a state of the doors being open).

Similarly, the one on the right can mean:

  • The door is currently closed, so I should push the button if I desire it to be open. (Again, the triangles are arrows, indicating what will happen if I push the button.)
  • The door is opening (moving in the direction of the arrows) so I should push this button now if I want to change the state and make them close. (Again, the triangles are arrows indicating the current state, which is not necessarily the desired state.)
  • Push this button to put the doors into a state of being closed. (The triangles are not arrows; their flat ends represent the edges of the door. As such, the symbol on the right implies the edges of the door are close together, or in a state of being closed).

There’s no need to explain to me what the symbols really mean. If I think about it, I come to the conclusion that the one on the left means “close the door” and the one on the right means “open the door.” But its one of those things that never gets processed beyond short term memory, so when I’m in an elevator and the doors are closing and somebody comes rushing up to it from the outside, I have to go through all these mental gymnastics all over again, every time. Similarly, when I’m standing there and the door is taking forever to close, it ends up closing by itself before I can figure out which button to push.

For this reason, I always go right to the back of the elevator, as far away from the console as possible. That way, when someone rushes up to the closing door, I just shrug because I couldn’t reach the button in time anyway. Unfortunately, people probably think I’m doing that just to avoid letting them in.

So I come off as an elevator meanie, when in fact I’m just a regular guy with an overly analytical and somewhat defective brain.

Try and Speak Correctly

Languages evolve, yes, and sometimes they evolve in annoying but understandable ways. But sometimes they evolve in annoying but not-so-understandable ways. My current pet peeve along these lines is the evolution of “try to” (e.g., “I will try to speak correctly”) into “try and” (e.g., “I will try and speak correctly”). It’s one of those things that we barely notice, as we live in times of many contractions and much mumbling (e.g., “I’ll try’n speak c’rectly”). But this morning I heard it on CNN, from the mouth of a professional broadcaster. She said “Israeli troops have entered southern Lebanon, where they will try and cleanse the area of Hezbolla fighters.”

Aside from the questionable editorializing in the use of the word “cleanse” in this context, and aside from the fact that my pet peeve about this language issue is the smallest concern when it comes to the Middle-east right now, I cringed when she said that.

But there it was, right on television, from the mouth of a broadcaster. This error is primarily found in spoken language, but occasionally one even sees it in writing. Few people seem to object, so it’s just a matter of time before it becomes the norm.

That would be sad. One of the things that make languages work is when they make sense – whether or not we are conciously checking the logic. In this case, the use of “and” makes no logical sense.

Here’s why: when you say someone will “try to cleanse” something, it means they have a goal and are taking action towards that goal. They are making an attempt at cleansing. When you say someone will “try and cleanse” that means they will do two things: (1) they will try something (which is undefined), and (2) they will cleanse something.

That’s a whole different thing. And it makes no sense because it doesn’t explain what will be tried (cleansing is a whole other issue because it is conjuncted with “and” instead of “to”) and because it assumes in advance that the cleansing will be successful. In other words, there are two different things being discussed: trying something, and cleansing something. It’s like saying “they will eat and they will sleep.” The two are independent of each other. So “try and cleanse the area of Hezbolla fighters” means they will try something independent of cleansing the area, and they they will (not “attempt,” will) cleanse the area of Hezbolla fighters. So in other words, the CNN broadcaster is saying that the Israelis will cleanse the area – as if she has some kind of Coca-Cola-sponsored foresight that lets her know in advance that this “cleansing” will be successful.

Bollocks.

On the other hand, the human brain has the ability to fill in gaps and to make assumptions about things. We see this with various optical illusions and other amusements where we see our minds making unconcious leaps of faith to connect dots over gaping holes in logic and information. It’s wonderful that we can do that, but should we base our language on that ability? (Disclaimer: I’m not talking about metaphorical language, or poetry, or other forms of language that purposefully unfold on those other planes of understanding – I’m just talking about straight-forward yakkity-yak.)

stupid vonageI’m so easily brought to boil over these things. This entire rant was brought about when I saw an ad on a Web site. It’s a Vonage ad “warning” against cable-based IP telephony. That warning is itself inherently stupid (although in this case it’s apparently just based on price), but what caught my eye was that the cable companies are going to “try and sell” me phone service. There it is in writing, folks. The cable company is going to try something (but what?) and they are going to sell me phone service. It’s not that they will attempt to sell me phone service – according to this ad they will sell me phone service, all the while trying something that no one seems to want to talk about.

So there you have it. A very long rant about a very stupid problem. Thank you for visiting the blork blog. I hope you will try and come back some time.

I am so blogging THIS!

Loyal readers of ni.vu.ni.connu will recall the “bise moi” kerfuffle from a few months ago. For those of you just arriving, “bise” is a slang word in French for “kiss,” so this unbearably sweet anglo one day said, to M, my francophone girlfriend, “bise moi!”

The sentiment did not go unnoticed, and neither did the grammar. I still don’t understand the subtleties, but apparently that simply isn’t how one says “kiss me” en français. I wasn’t even allowed a bit of poetic license for chrissakes! At least my faux pas was considered to be sweet, not stupid. (Good thing my GF isn’t Louise B., or surely I’d be locked up in a dungeon now, still enjoying the lashes.)

So there we are a couple of days ago, escaping the heat and humidity by skulking around inside the air conditioned Maison de la Press Internationale on Ave. Mont-Royal and guess what I find M reading? Some skanky rag called “Technikart” with a very interesting cover. You can see it here, and I heartily encourage you to click this link…

:-)

Go Canada!

Check out the column header on page 524 of The Canadian Oxford Dictionary (first edition, 1998). You have to wonder what the editors were thinking. If they wanted to avoid such an eye-popping header all they had to do was add a few words on the previous page, or change the spacing slightly, and the entry that comes before this one (“fist fight”) would have bumped to the top of this column and thus become the header.

On the other hand, if the editors are juvenile miscreants like me, they might have spent time adjusting the previous page to ensure that this entry took the header position.

oooooo, baby!

There’s no way they didn’t see it–a project like The Canadian Oxford Dictionary doesn’t get out the door without a high level of scrutiny.

My vote is is with the juvenile miscreants. Bookish people may seem dull, but they have a nasty underbelly. I can imagine the editors of this tome giggling like school girls at the thought of grumpy grannies and tight-assed grade-9 teachers getting their knickers in a knot every time they’re in the “F” section of the dictionary. Or even better… the high school principal! Bwaah haaa haa haa haaa!!!!