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February 10, 2017  |  Friday words, 2017-02-10  |  2435 hit(s)

Of all the things that happened this week, waking up to 8 inches of snow on Monday was about the least expected. What with this being Seattle in February and all. On the other hand, what is expected is words on Friday.

The new-to-me term this week is another law: Brandolini's Law, to be exact, which says that "the amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it." Alberto Brandolini made this proclamation, labeling it "bullshit asymmetry," in a tweet about 4 years ago:

I don't remember exactly where I got this from, but there's a great blog post by Guillaume Nicoulaud (I think! attribution is hard to come by on that blog!) that first labeled the aphorism and credited it to Brandolini, who's an Italian software developer.

The blog post takes a few pains to note analogues, like "a lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on," variously attributed to Twain or Lincoln or Einstein or Gandhi, like everything else on the internet. (Actually, the post attributes it to Spurgeon. Or Swift.) Commenters on the blog also note similar observations, like the Gish Gallop (a.k.a. "proof by verbosity") and "If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, then baffle them with bullshit." None of these seems to quite capture essence of what Brandolini is getting at, though.

Me, I reckon this all might be an excuse for me to buy the book On Bullshit by Harry Frankfurt.

On to etymology. The other day I was reading something about WWII and ran across the term bayonet. I've known this word since I was a wee war-books-reading boy, but I had never wondered where the name came from. The -et ending sounds French, of course, and indeed it is. (A note I found said that in early borrowings from French we used the -et ending, but later started using the -ette ending.)

There seem to be two theories of the origin of bayonet. One is that it refers to the Bayonne region in France, where bayonets were invented or initially deployed or particularly popular. (I made up that last one.) "I shall tickle the Huns with my little knife of Bayonne!" said no one that I know of. (Except they didn't say it in French.)

The second theory is that bayonet is a diminutive of bayon, referring to an arrow or crossbow shaft. This also seems plausible, and is supported, kind of, by words in Spanish and Italian that might also refer to a dagger or sheath.

Either way, this etymological investigation led me to want to have a look at some bayonets. Which was interesting, but made me a bit queasy.

Like this? Read all the Friday words.