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March 31st, 2016 (Permalink)

What's New?

I've added a new contextomy to the Familiar Contextomies page, this one from Oliver Stone's conspiracy theory movie JFK. Check it out.

Source: John F. Kennedy, Familiar Contextomies


March 24th, 2016 (Permalink)

Can You Untie the Nots?

Here's a quote from a comment on a hockey website devoted to the Edmonton Oilers:

…The management team needs to be certain this kid wants to be here or risk having him walk and get nothing out of all this. … Agree with me or not, you can't deny that it isn't a possibility he opts not to report after being drafted.

Say what? That second sentence has a few too many negations in it; there are five: "not", "can't", "deny", "isn't", and "not" again. Can you figure out what the writer meant and determine whether it is what he or she in fact wrote? If and when you think you have done so, click on "Untie the Nots", below, to er, um, untie the nots!

Untie the Nots


March 16th, 2016 (Permalink)

Silly Celebrity Endorsements

One traditional feature of the American presidential campaign is the celebrity endorsement. This election year is no different, except that it's getting hard to tell the difference between the celebrities and the candidates they endorse. Here are some examples that caught my eye:

  1. Actress America Ferrera has endorsed Hillary Clinton, so Clinton can truthfully use the slogan: "Endorsed by America!"
  2. Ben of Ben & Jerry fame―where's Jerry?―has endorsed Bernie Sanders. New Sanders position: Free ice cream for everyone!
  3. Both actor/body builder Lou Ferrigno and professional wrestler Hulk Hogan have endorsed Donald Trump, so Trump has definitely got a lock on the incredible Hulk vote.

Why do campaigns continue to seek celebrity endorsements for candidates? Will anyone actually vote for Hillary Clinton because Carole King endorsed her? Unsurprisingly, research on whether such endorsements help get votes appears to be mixed with some studies that find no effect and some that do―see Sources 1, 3 & 6, below; I haven't had time to study the research closely.

However, in our celebrity-obsessed culture, the one thing that a celebrity endorsement is sure to get for a candidate is free publicity, so as long as media outlets report them they will likely continue. Moreover, it seems increasingly likely that we may see the success of the ultimate appeal to celebrity in politics, namely, the election of a celebrity to the presidency. That would surely be some evidence that the appeal to celebrity is effective.

Sources:

Fallacy: Appeal to Celebrity


Untie the Nots: Let's use a step-by-step procedure to untangle the second sentence:

Agree with me or not, you can't deny that it isn't a possibility he opts not to report after being drafted.

The first "not" in this sentence occurs in the first phrase, "agree with me or not", which is separated by a comma from the main part of the sentence and modifies the remainder. "Agree with me or not" assures the reader that the following sentence is true even though the reader might not agree with something that the writer had written previously. As a result, the negation in the clause just adds additional confusion, and we can drop the whole clause without changing the meaning of the sentence, as follows:

You can't deny that it isn't a possibility he opts not to report after being drafted.

That's one negation down and four to go. Here we go again: the phrase "you can't deny that" has two negations in it, but it simply assures us that the following claim is undeniably true. So, let's drop it:

It isn't a possibility he opts not to report after being drafted.

That's three down and only two to go. At this point we can use a principle of modal logic to the effect that the negation of the possibility of something negated is equivalent to the necessity of the thing negated. In other words, "not possibly not" is the same as "necessarily". Therefore, we can eliminate the last two negations:

He necessarily will report after being drafted.

However, this is clearly not what the writer intended to say as shown by the previous quoted sentence: "The management team needs to be certain this kid wants to be here or risk having him walk and get nothing out of all this." There would be no risk of his "walking" if it were necessarily the case that he would report. Thus, we can see that the negations were so tangled up that the writer ended up saying the opposite of what was intended.

Source: "The Oilers Win Draft Lottery!", Oilers Nation, 4/18/2015

Via: Mark Liberman, "Negation density record?", Language Log, 2/18/2016

Resource: Paul Herrick, "Modal Logic", The Many Worlds of Logic, 2011. A brief, non-technical introduction.

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