Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

steepholm steepholm
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Triad of the Tried and True
1. "Do you have a larger-scale map?"

Does larger-scale mean showing a larger amount of territory in the same amount of space? Or does it mean the opposite - i.e. making the territory appear larger on the map itself? Both make sense to me.

2. "We put the meeting back a week."

Does this mean that the meeting has been "put back" into the past - i.e. it will now happen one week earlier than originally intended? Or does it mean it it has been delayed - i.e. it will happen one week later? I can never remember.

3. "Up to 50% Sale."

Does this mean that the highest price of all items in the sale is 50% of its RRP? Or that that's the lowest price? Is the glass half full or half empty?

Currently I know the answers to all these questions, because I just looked them up. But I've done that before, and I know from experience that I will forget again very shortly. We can explain the problem by reference to the inherent ambiguity of these phrases, but then all language is ambiguous. The problem lies in me, surely - but is it a problem at all? I read in Mary Butts's journals that she (a fluent French speaker) could never remember the difference between demain and hier - which speaks to me of a similar trick of the brain. She saw this as a sign of her mystical semi-detachment from the realm of linear time, rather than an inability to learn basic vocabulary. That's base self-flattery, of course - but it's a tempting thought.

I love Mary Butts. I should read her journals.

I was always puzzled by "You can't be too careful." Did that suggest excessive caution was dangerous? Of that extreme caution was warranted?

I once had a collection of ambiguous proverbs and apothogems. Is it good or bad to gather no moss. In the conflict between the best and the good, whose side should one take?

My ex edited the journals (and wrote the biography), and hence I did a lot of research in what we may call Butts studies. (There's a rather dismissive mention of me in the Acknowledgements - I think she found my enthusiasm rather oppressive by the end.)

I remember being confused by "Spare the rod and spoil the child," which was clearly a recommendation that one should eschew corporal punishment and buy the kids lots of luxury goods, but never seemed to be used that way.

Then there's "I could care less," which doesn't make sense from any angle, at least to my English eye.


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