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March 10, 2017  |  Friday words, 2017-03-10  |  257 hit(s)

Oh, boy, oh, boy—daylight saving time this weekend. I think I'm the only person who likes DST. Tho I will admit that it does give us one hour less for words on Sunday.

Speaking of which, what new-to-you words do we have today, Mike? Well, we have a pair that's kind of related.[1] The first term is benevolent deception. As the words suggest, this refers to a deception—lying—under what might be considered justifiable circumstances. Benevolent deception is a topic of interest in medical ethics. As Marc Agronin noted in The Atlantic:
Every clinician has encountered situations in which being too bluntly honest about a diagnosis can actually be harmful to the patient, and so we employ what is euphemistically referred to as "benevolent deception."
I actually found this term in an article about software, where it was used to refer to user interface (UI) design that deceives the user, but in a good way. Examples:
Benevolent deceptions can hide uncertainty (like when Netflix automatically loads default recommendations if it doesn't have the bandwidth to serve personalized ones), mask system hiccups to smooth out a user's experience (like when a progress bar grows at a consistent rate, even if the process it's visualizing is stuttering), or help people get used to a new form of technology (like the artificial static that Skype plays during quiet moments in a conversation to convince users the call hasn't been dropped).
A specific kind of benevolent deception brings us to the second new-to-me term today: the labor illusion, which I got from the same article. It turns out that if the user thinks a task should be hard, but the computer does it easily, the user can experience a kind of disappointment. In such situations, UI designers might add an "artificial wait" using widgets like (fake) progress bars or "Working on it!" messages. According to the Harvard researchers who invented the term labor illusion in 2011, "operational transparency increases perceived value." By golly, if I paid $29 for Turbo Tax to do my taxes, I want it to look like it has to break a virtual sweat to do them. Goes the theory.

On to origins. Not long ago someone said that they were going "stir-crazy," so of course I got to wondering where that had come from. The term stir-crazy refers to becoming deranged from being confined. The crazy part is pretty clear, but what does stir refer to? Well, it seems that stir is a slang term for prison. The OED records it from a London source in the 1850s in the expression in stir to mean "in prison." Most sources list its origin as obscure, sticking with "slang" or "argot" or "cant," but Douglas Harper takes a stab at it: it might originally have come from a Romany (a.k.a. "Gypsy") word stardo meaning "imprisoned," then evolved into start (an attested word from the 1700s for prison) and then into stir.

As an aside, I got curious about words in English that derive from Romany. Wikipedia has an article that lists about 20, including drag (car), lollipop, nark/narc, pal, and shiv, and togs. It's Wikipedia, so, … you know.

For more word origin fun this week, see James Harbeck's piece 15 Words We Stole from Arabic.

Like this? Read all the Friday words.

[1] "A pair ... that is related." There's something off there.