A World Without Whom

To whom it might concern…

Ever get in one of those moods?

You ever get in one of those moods?

Do you ever get in one of those moods?

I do. I am tired of the object pronoun, whom.

I started a petition to eliminate whom from the English language.

Don’t get me wrong, I still have fond memories of the word—a couple anyway.

For Whom the Bell Tolls — Hemingway or Metallica

Even if we retain it in a written form, perhaps we can agree to relinquish the M to silence. We’ve already seeded the ground. When M precedes N at the start of a word, it’s silent, so that gives me hope. Although to be fair, most of these words are silent in general. Save for mnemonic, I can’t say I’ve used any—and how often have I written mnemonic save for now? just to show off. Nobody ever seems to notice the silent M in pterodactyl.

Whom Protesters

But verbally, aurally, in speech, perhaps we can all agree to drop to M—a sort of silent protest. Sure, there are other solutions. Take ‘With whom am I speaking?’ as an example. When is the last time you said or heard this?

I mean, Who am I speaking to? only shifts the problem to be defended by other language guardians. And it’s really a grammar challenge of two fronts, as—misplaced, split infinitive aside—it should rather read Whom am I speaking to? That limits the battle to a single front. But if we drop the M-sound—making it silent—, we can slide this one by. And who would have the occasion to write ‘Whom am I speaking to?‘ This is something that is a spontaneous speech act.

Of course, we could simplify it further to SMS-speak: who dis? or who dat? This might create as many problems as it solves. Some people seem especially interested in the SMS-driven decline of the English language.

If you are tired of pretentious, dusty old words, help me to usher this one into retirement.

If a lion could speak

If a lion could speak, we could not understand him.

— Ludwig Wittgenstein

As much as I love Wittgenstein’s quote on language, I find it vastly more amusing aside the lion of Gripsholm Castle in Sweden. Because as talking lions come, this one is certainly more unintelligible than most.

If a lion could speak (Gripsholm Remix)

I also appreciate Daniel Dennett’s retort that if we could manage to communicate with this one talking lion—not, of course, this lion in particular—that it could not speak for the rest of lionity. (Just what is the equivalent of humanity for lions?)

If a lion could speak (traditional)

Ludwig Wittgenstein famously said, “If a lion could talk, we could not understand him.” ( [Philosophical Investigations] 1958, p. 223) That’s one possibility, no doubt, but it diverts our attention from another possibility: if a lion could talk, we could understand him just fine—with the usual sorts of effort required for translation between different languages—but our conversations with him would tell us next to nothing about the minds of ordinary lions, since his language-equipped mind would be so different. It might be that adding language to a lion’s “mind” would be giving him a mind for the first time! Or it might not. In either case, we should investigate the prospect and not just assume, with tradition, that the minds of nonspeaking animals are really rather like ours.

Daniel Dennet — Kinds of Minds: Toward an Understanding of Consciousness (p.18)


Why is it that one can only justify reason through reason?

Yellow card infraction.

Within Critical Thinking, we have a useful definition: Grounds, for example, for making a claim to knowledge or holding a belief. (Black et al., 2012, p. 100.) In fleshing out this particular definition, let’s consider what grounds means within a critical thinking context. It means, “a reason or reasons for a claim or belief,” (Black […]


Trolly Dilemma

Tom Guald wants us to imagine a different trolly dilemma but with a different pair of options. Or is that the telephone game?

This image speaks for itself, so I won’t editorialise at the moment, save to mention that I find the scenario to be hilarious. If you like eating cooked lobster, I suppose that the elephant path makes the most sense—and of course, the elephant is already on fire.

What would you do?

Design and Purpose

This viral TikTok by @viral_actor demonstrates with humour how designs and purposes don’t always coincide. The narrative of the clip is that the woman on the left designed a shape sorting toy. Metaphorically, we could assume that the design is the user interface for some software application or game.

The tester, in the right frame, ‘tests’ the interface. One way of testing is to provide the tester with a purpose and little else, as this is how much people will approach a new product. It’s quite likely that the instruction was to put the shapes into the bin. The design, on the other hand, was supposed to pair a unique avenue for each block shape (in a particular orientation) with each opening through which to insert the shape.

Let’s be clear, the user who inserts the blocks ‘incorrectly’ relative to the design is doing nothing wrong (morally or kinetically). The problem is that the designer had an intent in mind and didn’t consider full domain of possibilities. This interface design can be improved to solve for the unique 1:1 piece-hole relationship. In fact, the testing feedback provides input for an engineering—or interface design—solution.

The tester, having been giving the task of putting blocks in a bin might be justified in entertaining the belief that the best design might have been a lidless bin—or that a single hole would have sufficed.

In this case, the video producer is employing humour, so we can ignore that an adult is not likely to be the target audience would probably be infants or to test persons for visual-spatial perception. If this is the case, the tester group should necessarily be infants. Below, we can see a similar problem, again using humour.

The parents are overjoyed to see their infant distracted by the hanging mobile. Little did they anticipate the enduring trauma it would commence.

Most people with experience in the design space have seen many of these design faux pas. Here are some design-experience chestnuts. Notice the common thread. It’s also good to remember our maths lessons: The shortest distance between two points is a straight line—as evidenced axiomatically by the hypotenuse is the square root of the sum of the squares, and so will always be shorter for any right angle (and even this slightly obtuse rendition). Thanks for that, Pythagoras.

Next, we have evidence that a designer created a barrier against bicycle traffic. To be fair, it did deter bicycle traffic from that path, but somehow I don’t think that was the sole intent. I’ll also imagine that the designed footpath route is as well travelled as the alternate path.

Design versus Experience
Please Use Sidewalk

For the image above, it seems that the path traversers (users) should put up their own sign, but for now they protest performatively.

Below, we see an intentional and mostly effective design meant to keep bicycle riders off of this footbridge.

None Shall Pass

One final note is to illustrate the difference between user interface design (UI) and user experience design. At teh top, we see two catsup (ketchup?) bottles. The traditional design on the left opens at the top and would not balance well upside down. On the right, the bottle opens down, and it sets well in this orientation. (To be fair, I’ve stored the top-right bottle upside down in my fridge, so perhaps a visual signal, say a narrower top, might obviate this habit.

At the bottom, we see the experiential result of the interface design: The age-old challenge of getting the product out of the bottle on the left versus the instance on the right. It also appears that the narrow top of the left design was intentional to slow the flow, so perhaps widening the aperture may have countered that requirement. The righthand design does have an even smaller aperture, but the egress is broader until that point, and the orientation must compensate for it.

We’ve also seen this design carry over to shampoo bottles.

So there you have it…

Ye Olde Wordes

Hear ye! Hear ye! Should I rather have titled this Every Rose Has its Thorn?

Am I alone in this? Are there others who also cringe when they hear period-piece reenacters pronounce the word ye as ‘yee’, or is it just me? Be honest now.

Those as pedantic as I, know that ye was a solution to a technological limitation of early European printing. Prior to the printing press, Old English had a þ character pronounced thorn. Phonetically, it sounded like the modern English voiced dental fricative expression of the th digraph— IPA: /ð/.

Given this, ye would have been spelt þe and should be pronounced the (IPA: /ði/—not necessarily /ðə/) and not yee (IPA: /ji/). I am not sure if a hand-printed (or painted) sign of the day would have conformed to the pre-press spelling or the post-press variant. I wonder how long it took for thorn to pass by the wayside.

I am aware that language is a human construct and even that language is like a living organism. But in this case—as with Latin—, thorn is dead. It seems we should not revise the pronunciation of a fossil of a word. It seems to me it should be frozen in the amber of time.

Bonus Round 1

Back in the day, not only was the abbreviated as ye in printing, but this was abbreviated as ys and that was shortened to yt, as in the Mayflower Compact. Don’t ask why someone felt that it was important to abridge 3- and 4-letter words to 2 characters.

Herbert Manuscripts (excerpt)

Bonus Round 2

It’s may be important to note that the ye of Ye Olde Shoppe fame, which is simply a shortened form of the, is not the same ye of biblical fame, ‘Judge not, that ye be not judged‘, which was the plural form of thou, which is now rendered as you—the plural form.

And now you know…

As for the pronunciation of the ye of hear ye (hear ye), I am not sure which concept is being captured. If you know, then let me know.