Sunday, July 06, 2014

The Meaning of Meaningless Words and Phrases

As seen on TV

I think I saw this phrase about a week ago as I flung another of the countless flyers we get in the mail into the recycle box.  So how does “As seen on TV” make any product better than any other product, whether seen on TV or not seen on TV.  The actor John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt was paid to act out a script touting the features of the Okey Dokey Wonder Tool.  Is the Okey Dokey company going to say anything about the faults of their Wonder Tool?  Oh, they might have a small print disclaimer like “results may vary” or “not to be used by children under twelve.”

Did you, dear astute reader, catch my meaningless word - countless?  I am going to weasel on that one and state that countless doesn’t mean without end; it means I am not counting them.

Almost endless

How are the uses of any product almost endless?  Or infinite?  No matter how many uses of a product you find, you will have found only a finite number of uses.  If everybody in the world found found even more uses, they will still have found only a finite number of uses.  If all future generations found even more uses, they will still have found only a finite number of uses.  And when the sun explodes or burns out, the number of uses found will still be a finite number.

Seamless operation

I thought this expression had fallen out of use, but Apple CEO Tim Cook used it at the recent developer’s conference.  He really should visit the online Apple User Community to find out how seamless Apple software is not.  Especially how operations that were once simple and obvious have become complex and obtuse.

It seems to me that the more complicated software becomes, the more glitches and operational quirks there are.  Sure, I can do a lot more with computers than I did even five years ago, but I have an even longer list of problems that I haven’t found a round tuit to resolve.

Perfect gift

This “omniscient” phrase appeared in dozens of ads for hundreds of products before Father’s Day.  “Just what Dad wants.”  First, how do these advertisers even know what each and very father wants?  Second, this father really didn’t want any of the products advertised.  Third, our family doesn’t give gifts on Father’s Day.  Fourth, our family doesn’t celebrate Father’s day.  Fifth, this curmudgeonly father doesn’t even care.

Business friendly

Many judge cities and states on how “business-friendly” they are.  That is, are taxes low, are subsidies given for relocation, are environmental laws relaxed?  Rarely are cities and states judged by the “business-friendly” crowd as to how well the police and fire departments operate, how good the roads and utilities are, and how willing people are to move for reasons other than being moved there by the new or expanding company.

“Business-friendly” often means “corporate-friendly”.  Local businesses are often the losers when a corporation moves in.  What happened to the local stationery store when Office Depot moved into downtown Duluth?  How many other local businesses were disrupted?  How long did Office Depot stay in downtown Duluth?  More and more chain drug stores have been opened in Duluth.  When was the last time you visited a locally-owned pharmacy?

The good news is that there are still several locally-owned businesses in Duluth.  Be truly business-friendly and support them with your business.

Voters decided/Investors decided

I wish journalists would stop using these sweeping generalizations to describe the choices of a minority.  I’ve written over and over how a minority of eligible or even registered voters chose the eventual winners of an election.  When it comes to “investors decided”, the proportion of “deciders” is a tiny fraction of “investors”.

First, how often are the “investors” day-traders?  Second, how often are the “day-traders” computers programmed to look for the tiniest advantage?

The real investors are those who buy and hold for years.  They invested because they believed in the purpose of the company, because they perceived long-term growth, or because they wanted steady dividends.  These investors are not deciding the daily gyrations of the stock markets.

Conservative and liberal

It seems these terms have devolved into if you are one of these then you are on the good side and the other is the bad side.  Conservatives have devolved from those who deliberated carefully to those who believe in a long list of bullet points, even if some of these are contradictory, like abortion is bad and war is good.  Liberals have devolved from those who were generous to those in real need to those who support a long list of groups who they see as disadvantaged.

The “conservatives” have managed to put the “liberals” on the defensive.

Maybe someday we will once again have more conservatives like Ross Douthat and David Brooks and liberals like Paul Krugman and Eugene Robinson.  These and several others in government and journalism look at the “big picture” rather than narrow interests.

Mel would have visited three locally-owned businesses the day he wrote this, but he wimped out when the wind blew dust on his contact lenses.

Also published in the Reader Weekly, 2014-07-03 at