I do not propose to write an ode to dejection, but to brag as lustily as chanticleer in the morning, standing on his roost, if only to wake my neighbors up.
Henry David Thoreau
October 15, 1999
“Chanticleer* Calls”, a twice-monthly newsletter for discriminating readers, thinkers, feelers, speakers, listeners, and cogitators.
I received an interesting email this week:
I am a french student in Management and I just visited your site. I think that you can really help me. I’ve got to talk about Teams for my management class, for Friday 15th October. But there is one problem…a difference that makes a difference!! I cannot seem to find what is the difference between a team and a group.
Can you please help me?
Thank you for replying as soon as possible, I’d appreciate your help.
How would you have responded to this? What are your thoughts?
I take this opportunity to point out two important but overlooked aspects of language:
- the arbitrariness of verbal classifications; and
- our willingness to get wrapped up in these arbitrary, verbal classifications
I like music, and own quite a few CDs. I keep most of them in a 200-CD changer. As you can imagine, this presents an organizational challenge. Every few months, as I buy new CDs, I have to rearrange the changer.
What is THE best organizing scheme for this?
Well, probably the first approach is alphabetical order by artist. At my house, if the TV’s not on, the stereo is – continually. So I’ll turn the CD on and it will play from one CD to the next. If I organized by alphabetical order, in some cases this would result in some reasonable transitions, such as:
Blues Brothers; Blues Fest, Blues Traveler
Cole, Nat (King); Cole (Natalie)
But, a strictly alphabetical listing would also result in some pretty ‘jarring’ changes, genre-wise, like:
Gee, Kenny; Genesis (okay, just forget I even own a Kenny Gee CeeDee)
Lennon, John; The Lettermen
Sinatra, Frank; Squirrel Nut Zippers
See what I mean?
Think about the different ways I could arrange my CDs:
- by alphabetical order
- by Category (Jazz, Blues, Swing, Rock and Roll, Top 40, Easy Listening, Soundtracks, Comedy, Classics)
- by Time Period, Chronological Order (pre-1900,1900-1950, the 50’s, the 60’s, the 70’s, the 80’s, the ’90s)
- by order I purchased
- by a ranking of how well I liked them
- etc. …
You can, perhaps, imagine the difficulties awaiting … what do I do with groups that cross classifications? What about somebody like Billy Joel who spans three decades? How do I deal with all the compilation CDs – “Best of the Disco Years”, etc.?
(Yeah, yeah, I hear some of you shouting, “OXYMORON! OXYMORON!”)
Of course, I could just randomly put them in the changer.
Which is the point …. It’s arbitrary. I can make the rules, and I can classify them as I wish. If I want to put Madonna in the “Top 40” instead of “Rock and Roll”, I can do that. If I want to put Tony Bennett in “Easy Listening”, Mel Torme in “Swing”, and Frank Sinatra in a class by himself, I can do that.
The classification doesn’t change the music.
The classification is NOT the music.
We face similar arbitrary ‘problems’ in everyday language. But a lot of people don’t recognize the arbitrary nature of how we ‘classify’ things with names, labels, descriptions, etc. (Think about this – how much of what you ‘know’ is what to call things, and how to classify things?) To a lot of people, these names, these labels, these titles, these categories, really do mean what they say.
What do I mean?
Take politics (please!): “conservative“; “liberal“.
Need I say more?
For the next 13 months, we will be collectively bombarded with these labels, and classifications, and names, and a lot of people will think they are communicating something when they say:
“He’s a liberal!”
“She’s talks like a conservative, but she’s not!”
“He’s not liberal enough.”
And a lot of people will respond to these labels and vote for candidates solely because of whatever category, classification, name, label, moniker, title, etc., is used most often and most effectively. Lost in the verbal confusion will be the actual actions, behaviors, platforms, positions, opinions, judgments, etc., of the candidates.
Ooh, suddenly-seen irony – the word candid is actually in “candidate.”
I think not! (Patting myself on the back for that one.)
- Verbal classifications are arbitrary. Useful, appropriate, well-intended, purposeful … but still arbitrary.
- Oftentimes we respond to the verbal category as if we were responding to something ‘real’ and specific and identifiable. In those cases, we have been conditioned to respond in a pre-determined way and therefore susceptible to …?
This week on CNBC I casually listened to an interview with Mark Logan, the Chairman and CEO of Visx (VISX), a fast-growing maker of surgical equipment used in the exploding field of laser vision correction. My ears perked up when, in response to a question regarding future growth opportunities, Mr. Logan stated, “We’ve just begun to scratch the surface.”
I was out walking the other day and noticed that the bus stop around the corner is Route # 404. I wonder how many Internet-savvy riders board this bus … betcha Steven Wright wouldn’t.
My window to the world, aka, the Dallas Morning News, reports an escalating dispute between the Texas State Board of Education and textbook publishers. Seems several months ago the state bored (I mean, “board”) established a requirement that “a majority of the words in their first-grade readers had to be phonics-based”. This was, at the time, generally interpreted to be 51 percent, so the textbook publishers generated their texts accordingly. Now, however, some of the bored (I mean, “bored”) members think the 51 percent standard is too low, preferring an 80 percent standard. (The article doesn’t indicate how, or who, does the math on the phonics.) The textbook industry is crying phoul, since it would cost them $millions to revise and re-print the books, most of which are already on the shelph.
The article notes that the bored board has no authority to reject textbooks …. BUT, they do classify them as either “conforming” or “nonconforming” with the standards.
(In this case, shouldn’t that be “conphorming” and “nonconphorming”?)
I would give credit if I knew who first pointed this out, but all you need to know to understand what “irony” means is …. “phonics”.
AND FINALLY: “Hope” Happens
If you’ve enjoyed George Carlin’s hilarious insights and observations over the past 30 years, you probably can’t help but laugh out loud just reading the title, “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television.” According to yesterday’s Dallas Morning News, the third (by my recollection) of those previously forbidden words will make its network debut on the CBS show, Chicago Hope.
In the delicate wording of the morning news, the event occurs “when a character says the phrase … [Expletive] happens.”
The article explains: “The exchange occurs in a scene that features Dr. Jack McNeil, played by Mark Harmon, being interrogated by a medical board after something goes wrong with one of his patients.”
The show’s Executive Producer stated: “It comes down to a phrase that embodies the feeling of the whole hour. There’s no other way to express it.”
A network spokesman said, “The producers felt strongly that the line was important for artistic truthfulness.
We wanted to support their creative vision, but clearly, this is not something that will happen on a weekly basis.”
This leaves me wondering …
- So … [Expletive] happens – but not on a weekly basis?
- So … [Expletive] happens – but only as the result of “creative vision”, and when it conveys “artistic truthfulness”?
- So … What happens when [Expletive] doesn’t happen?
Wonder what Carlin’s The Hippy-Dippy Weather Man would have to offer on this?
Pertinent to this subject … my daughter recently recounted an incident at the golf driving range when one of her friends “dropped the F-bomb.”
I have no idea why her friend was carrying a bomb at a driving range, or where she got it. Probably off the Internet. Fortunately, nobody was hurt.
Postscript: Wouldn’t we all feel just a little bit more maturely intelligent if we didn’t have to appease the antiquatedly silly sensitivities of those who require the use of you-know-what-I-mean-but-I-can’t-actually-say-it-(wink-wink) devices like “[Expletive]”? Yuh, right – …. that’ll be the frickin’ day.
“Another conventional wisdom regarding the Wedgewood shootings in Fort Worth. A comment from a lady interviewed was, “I just can’t believe this could happen in Fort Worth, Texas!” While we were away on vacation this summer, there was a murder two doors down from us. The media made a big deal on how something like that could happen in such a nice neighborhood. People who think that mass shootings, domestic violence, drugs, rape, and all other crimes only happen in someone elses’ backyard are in denial. Ignorance is not always bliss.”