goodness, nerd

English is purposely fucking with you

It occurred to me recently that there’s a difference between “on purpose,” “purposely,” and “purposefully.”  Although they’re all similar, they imply subtly different levels of enthusiasm for committing an action.

seriously, Louise, wtf?

If a hypothetical lady, Louise, were to throw a kitten “on purpose,” she did so with intent.  Her intention was to throw a kitten, and she did.  She doesn’t have to have any other reason for throwing the kitten.

However, if she were to throw a kitten “purposely,” this would imply that she had some underlying goal to achieve, and throwing the kitten was simply a step toward achieving that goal.  There is some implied (potentially malicious) intent behind the purposely executed action.

“Purposefully” is, in a way, the strongest of the three phrases.  It implies that as Louise throws the kitten, her reason for doing so is in the front of her mind and it is strong enough to drive her to action (she is literally “full of purpose”).  To do anything “purposefully” gives the action a sense immediacy, and urgency that doing something “purposely” or “on purpose” would lack.

I’m inclined to say that “on purpose” and “purposely” are, in essence, interchangeable.  After all, if Louise throws the kitten at a man “purposely,” with the implied malicious intent of hitting him with it, he has every grammatical right to turn around and exclaim, “You bitch, you did that on purpose!”  So perhaps the two have the same meaning, and are just used in different forms.  Still, I would argue that there’s a very subtle difference between the two in common usage.

humor, life

Fun with numbers

I discovered while walking to the car today that my grasp of the English language is, at times, tenuous at best.

i don't get it

I overheard a snippet of a conversation: “…by a twenty-year-old…” and I thought “huh, that kinda makes the number 20 an adjective.”


But wait, 20 is describing how something is, not what something is (as in How old are you? 20).  Describing how is an adverb’s job (how did you do on that test?  I did well).  Describing what is an adjective’s job (What color is that?  Blue, old man!).  So what does that make 20 in this case?

Whenever I’m having trouble distinguishing adjectives from adverbs, I stick the color blue in the sentence to see if it makes sense.

How old are you?  I’m blue years old.

Ok so that doesn’t really work.  How about this:

How old are you?  I’m many years old.

The answer makes sense, even though it doesn’t answer the question.  So that makes many, and therefore any word you could logically stick in that position, an adjective, right?  Right.  Let’s do another example:

I have blue crayons.

I have many crayons.

I have 20 crayons.

They’re all adjectives!  Hurrah!  So why does the question How old lead to an adjective for an answer?

How old is really asking Please describe the number of years this person has been alive.  People are nouns, and adjectives describe nouns.  But wait!  That’s not really what we’re being asked to describe.  Look again:

Please describe the number of years…

How can years be described?  With numbers, yes, but with adjectives too, like difficult (adjective), blurry (adjective), and fucking (adverb) awesome (adjective).

But we’ve specifically been asked to describe the number of years.  The only way to answer that is with a number.  Answer: The number of years is twenty.  Wait a second, this makes twenty look like a noun!  Let’s use math to figure this out:

x = y

The number is twenty.

number = twenty

If number is a noun, twenty must be too.  So even though it sounds like twenty is describing the number, all it’s really doing is acting as an alternative for the concept of the number of years someone has been alive, which is a noun.

Mystery solved!

Note: I think about this kind of thing all the time, especially walking to or from my car, or while driving.  Anything that requires less than 80% of my attention automatically receives only 25% of my attention, while the other 75% works at figuring out whether numbers can be adjectives.  This is my life.

UPDATE: I just looked up twenty in the Oxford English Dictionary online.  Holy shit.  I love dictionaries, but holy shit.

this gentleman from the OED agrees... i win.

It sounds like they reach just about the same conclusion I reach, which is that twenty stands in the place of a noun, thereby allowing it to take on the properties of a noun.  Which of course means…


goodness, life

Endless vocabulary

James Murray of the OED

April 2, 2010: I posted this on Facebook, and quickly realized that if I was going to be this hilarious and brutally clever, I needed what any self-respecting college graduate working 12-hour days needs: a blog.

English is an amazing language. With over half a million words, it’s the largest, and best-known language on the planet, and it’s still growing. But there isn’t a word for everything.

Non Sequitur
I was watching some reality TV the other day (the hair cutting one), which mostly consists of a bunch of hair stylists being super friendly one minute, then brutally snappy the next. A couple of them were having a pointless argument which I was mindlessly enjoying when I realized that one of them was using nothing but non sequiturs to win the argument. And it was working. It went something like this:

x-You don’t know how to do a pixie cut.
o-Where did you learn to cut hair?
x-New Jersey.
o-I bet it was ghetto.
x-Your pixie cut looks like crap.
o-Your pants look like crap.

I’ve had conversations like this; they make me crazy, and I’m not ashamed to say that the last time this happened (philosophy class at USC), I snapped. I ended up completely abandoning our discussion to berate this guy on derailing the conversation just to gain the illusion of victory. I remember saying things like, “Stick to the topic, or stop talking,” and “I feel like we’re having two different conversations, and yours is dumb.”

Why isn’t there a word for this person? The English language has a word for just about everything, so why not someone who depends solely upon non sequiturs to win a discussion?

Instead of making up a whole new word, I propose that this word already exists; all we need to do is modify the definition to include those brainless shells of people who choose to free associate their way through conversations.

Though currently confined to use within the railway community, derailer is an English word for a device that intentionally takes a runaway railcar off its track. I can think of no better metaphor for people who obliterate coherent discussion with their inconsequential input on a regular basis than a device whose sole purpose is to screw up the forward progress of a strong, useful machine.

Derailer. Use it, people. Use it to shame your family, friends and coworkers into becoming more useful conversationalists, and save them from the vengeful gaze of the ghost of Productive Conversation (yes, it’s dead, you killed it).