Archive for July, 2010

The Logic of Rules and Exceptions

It is a frequently stated truism that, “There is an exception to every rule.”  But many people have pointed out that some rules seem to have no exceptions.  Take, for example, the rule that the circumference of a circle is pi times the diameter.  This is always true, no exceptions.  That seems to contradict the rule that, “There is an exception to every rule.”  But I take a different view.  The statement that, “There is an exception to every rule,” is, in itself, a rule, and therefore exceptions to this rule must exist.  Right?  Of course.  Those rules for which there are no exceptions do not disprove or devalue the rule, they are, in fact, the exceptions to the rule that, “There are exceptions to every rule.”

It’s clear as mud, but at least it covers the ground.

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A Few Comments on Modern Word Usage

I want to set down a few comments on word usages I’ve heard over the past several years. Two of these come from combat situations, which isn’t unlikely since we’re fighting two wars. I heard on the news yesterday that three American troops were killed in Afghanistan. This use of the word “troop” in that context isn’t common, but it isn’t too unusual either. “Troops” as plural has several meanings in the military. It can mean a vague, undefined group of military personnel, as in, “thirty thousand US troops were sent to Iraq.” Also, “troop” is an old cavalry term for a group of soldiers corresponding roughly to today’s infantry company. But the use of the term on the news seemed to indicate that “troop” meant one individual soldier, and that’s not in my dictionary. If three troops were killed, what is one “troop”? Can one “troop” be one soldier? That seems an affront to the killed, especially when they’ve given their “last full measure of devotion,” to reduce them to the point where they’re nothing but a single member of a larger group.

Another word usage I’ve heard frequently has to do with the distinction between “wounded” and “injured”. To me, “wounded” means injured by a high-speed projectile, as a bullet, or a piece of shrapnel, or bomb fragments. “Injured” is a much broader term and takes into account any way of getting harmed. I don’t see getting “wounded” in an auto accident, but I’ve heard it on the news. I would hope we could keep the distinction, but because so much of our news comes from war these days, the two terms seem to have merged into interchangeability.

Then there’s Sandra Bullock’s use of the word “impactful” to describe one of her latest movies. (I hope I’m spelling it correctly.) I don’t know if she thought it up, or if someone in the studio’s PR department suggested she use it. I don’t really care, I just hope she doesn’t use it again.

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