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Malapropisms

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Oct. 14th, 2018 | 08:53 pm

Do you have malapropisms that really get on your nerves? Ones that stand out in any text you read, in any words you hear, and grate? I do.

I dislike the expression "quantum leap" when it's used to refer to a particularly large (conceptual) jump; a quantum leap is the smallest conceivable leap.

Worse than this is "significant", used in the same sense, as "large" or "noteworthy". A difference being significant means it is statistically distinguishable, i.e. unlikely to be an artifact of random chance. Significance has nothing to do with effect size: a small difference can be significant, and a large difference insignificant. (In fact, one must take further care to confuse significance with semantic meaningfulness. As sample sizes increase, any difference, no matter how small, will become significant, but whether this tells you anything is another matter.)

Turning to German there's "anscheinend" and "scheinbar", a pair of words that both mean "seemingly", but with different twists. The former indicates that appearance and reality match; the latter, that they don't. Wilhelm Busch, for instance, wrote: "Scheinbar schlummert der Leib, aber die Seele ist wach": Silen appears to be sleeping, but really isn't. Some people I know consistently (at least they are consistent!) use "scheinbar" when they mean "anscheinend", and it's always bugging me something severe.

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Comments {4}

ungulata

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from: ungulata
date: Oct. 15th, 2018 10:50 pm (UTC)
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The way I understand it, a quantum leap is a sudden change without intermediate steps. I'd say that quantum tunneling is a poster child for subatomic particles ending up in an energetically distant and unexpected location. One small jump for the observer, one impossibly far leap for particle kind! Or so it was at first.

As you said, significance is a function of sample size. Without math, significance is just wishful thinking, it's people saying that some condition seems true to them, so it must be Truth. Math is hard, yo!

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Schnee

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from: schnee
date: Oct. 16th, 2018 05:00 am (UTC)
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Indeed, it is. :) I think people may mean the right thing when they say "significant", that something seems to them to be unlikely to by just happenstance or a random coincidence, but I wish they'd phrase it a bit differently.

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moonhare

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from: mondhasen
date: Oct. 15th, 2018 11:27 pm (UTC)
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I dislike “general consensus “ as it is redundant: a general general opinion.

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Schnee

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from: schnee
date: Oct. 16th, 2018 05:06 am (UTC)
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Oh yeah, good one! I never thought about that.

I think people might reserve "consensus" for unanimous agreement, and use "general consensus" when most, but not all, agree.

If so, "general" would join the ranks of such words as "literally", which also seem to be used differently than they used to these days. ("Literally" is one that bugs me quite a bit, BTW, since it should be obvious it's often malapropos if you think about it for a bit. Utterances like "I literally died laughing" don't make sense, and clearly anyone should be able to see this.)

But yeah, language changes. Isn't it ironic... :)

There's also "begging the question" (which does not mean "raising the question"), but I always found the malapropos use amusing more so than annoying.

And then there's the funny case of "burglarize", which people seem to think is a modern-day abomination of a word and which should be ousted from the language in favor of "burgle" — when in fact "burgle" is the newer one, a back formation from "burglar".

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