One cannot underestimate Feynman’s contributions to physics

I was listening to a podcast about the physicist Richard Feynman and I heard some professor utter this sentence. He meant the exact opposite, of course. What he wants us to understand is that Feynman’s contributions to physics were immense — that is to say, even if you tried, you couldn’t overestimate them. Garner’s Modern American Usage notes similar similar sentences from the Post, the Times, and the Globe. He compares it to the phrase “could care less”, which in informal usage is understood to mean the oppose of what the words seem to imply — that is, we use it to mean “couldn’t care less”.  Garner rates “could care less” a 3, which means “Widespread but still considered incorrect”. He rates “impossible to underestimate” a 1 — that is, “Rejected”.

I have trouble with “impossible to underestimate” myself, so I have sympathy for the professor on the podcast. There’s some kind of double negative going on in the phrase that makes the logic hard to work out. If you just said, “Don’t underestimate Feynman’s contributions…” the usage would be correct, but “impossible to underestimate” just heads in the wrong direction.


One space or two?

Between the first draft of my novel and the second I went cold turkey and switched from two spaces after a sentence (which I’ve been doing for half a century or so) to one space. I did a global search-and-replace through my manuscript and changed all eleventy-billion occurrences of “period-space-space” to “period-space”.  I typed all my new sentences with one space between them. I switched over to single spaces in my emails as well. And I will never look back.

Yes, I know, this was an amazing achievement. Appreciate the congrats. I did it mainly because those extra spaces were going away when the document was prepared for publication. Also, at work I work on a lot of documents with multiple authors, and it is moderately important to be consistent. Also, I just wanted to show myself what I was capable of.

Anyway, here’s a study that purports to show a slight benefit to two spaces after a period. This gets the authors a feature article in the Washington Post, but the study has lots of issues, as this wonderful article in Lifehacker points out. The key issue is that the study uses a monospace font. But nobody nowadays uses a monospace font, except for showing computer code or the like!

[R]eading a proportional font and a monospace font are two completely different scenarios. The study even acknowledges this: “It is possible that the effects of punctuation spacing seen in the current experiment may differ when presented in other font conditions.” Of course it’s possible—that’s what the whole debate is about! Why would you use Courier New!

So the study is pretty bogus, but I suppose the money from the two-space lobby will continue to roll in, and the researchers will go on speaking tours, write best-selling books, appear on major talk shows, etc. Good for them. But I will have the quiet satisfaction of having done the right thing by switching to one space, even at enormous personal cost. Not all heroes wear capes.

“Analysts poured over satellite images…”

That’s the sentence I read in this morning’s Boston Globe, reprinting this Washington Post article. Oddly, the online Post article spells the word correctly: pored. Here we can read about the difference.

Did the Post article originally have the same error, and someone subsequently corrected the article on its web site? Or was the article at the Post correct all along? That meant someone at the Globe must have read the phrase, decided that “pored over” couldn’t possibly be correct, and made the change to show that folks in Boston know how to spell.

Either way, sheesh.

Every day Twitter shows us that famous people, including writers, don’t know how to spell. That’s fine. Everyone needs an editor. Where are they at the Globe?

Second draft of the novel is done

Appreciate the congrats, as our president would say.

It clocks in at 112K words, down about ten percent from the first draft. Yay! Lots of little stuff to take care of, but I think it’s about where it needs to be.

Its name, by the way, is Home.

In celebration, here is video of David Pastrnak’s hat trick against the Maple Leafs last night. That third goal is simply amazing.

Eighty-two percent done with my second draft

Finally identifying a couple of chapters I could just cut entirely has certainly helped progress — it’s easier to increase a percentage by lowering the denominator!

I’ve done a lot more reorganization than usual in this rewrite; the plot just seemed to work better with a different sequence of chapters. I’ve also changed my point-of-view character a good bit, and that basically involves an entire rewrite of the scene.

Still hoping to be done with the draft by the end of April. Seems like a bit of a stretch, though.

Silly grammar jokes

For silly grammar people, of whom I am definitely one.

A dangling participle walks into a bar. Enjoying a cocktail and chatting with the bartender, the evening passes pleasantly.

A bar was walked into by the passive voice.

An oxymoron walked into a bar, and the silence was deafening.

Two quotation marks walk into a “bar.”

A malapropism walks into a bar, looking for all intensive purposes like a wolf in cheap clothing, muttering epitaphs and casting dispersions on his magnificent other, who takes him for granite.

Hyperbole totally rips into this insane bar and absolutely destroys everything.

A question mark walks into a bar?

A non sequitur walks into a bar. In a strong wind, even turkeys can fly.

Papyrus and Comic Sans walk into a bar. The bartender says, “Get out — we don’t serve your type.”

A mixed metaphor walks into a bar, seeing the handwriting on the wall but hoping to nip it in the bud.

A comma splice walks into a bar, it has a drink and then leaves.

Three intransitive verbs walk into a bar. They sit. They converse. They depart.

A synonym strolls into a tavern.

At the end of the day, a cliché walks into a bar — fresh as a daisy, cute as a button, and sharp as a tack.

A run-on sentence walks into a bar it starts flirting. With a cute little sentence fragment.

Falling slowly, softly falling, the chiasmus collapses to the bar floor.

A figure of speech literally walks into a bar and ends up getting figuratively hammered.

An allusion walks into a bar, despite the fact that alcohol is its Achilles heel.

The subjunctive would have walked into a bar, had it only known.

A misplaced modifier walks into a bar owned by a man with a glass eye named Ralph.

The past, present, and future walked into a bar. It was tense.

A dyslexic walks into a bra.

A verb walks into a bar, sees a beautiful noun, and suggests they conjugate. The noun declines.

An Oxford comma walks into a bar, where it spends the evening watching the television getting drunk and smoking cigars.

A simile walks into a bar, as parched as a desert.

A gerund and an infinitive walk into a bar, drinking to forget.

A hyphenated word and a non-hyphenated word walk into a bar and the bartender nearly chokes on the irony.