After reviewing the comments on my post about the opposite of the word dense, I began to think more about the possibility of a word like weight to describe the spectrum dense <=> rare. (Weight, of course, describes heavy <=> light.)

It occurred to me that dense is probably a latinate word while weight should come from the German, and a bit of research confirmed this hypothesis. Weight comes from the German Gewicht (adj.: wicht) and dense from the Latin—say it with me—densus, meaning not only dense but also close, crowded, and frequent (or so I hear).

Looking up density in German to find an analogue to Gewichte led me to Dichte, with the adjective form dicht. The parallel to the German words concerning weight is quite close, though I should say I don’t know the language well enough to deal with that Ge- prefix.

At any rate, the symmetry between wicht and dicht makes think that a word looking something like deight ought to be in place to describe the spectrum along which things can be relatively more dense or more rare. I think I’ll use it from now on, as clumsy as it sounds.

Incidentally, in a classic case of the English language’s notorious hodge-podgery, although light comes from German as you might expect, heavy arrives in our language by way of Old Norse.

Wheel of Fortune Before & After Rejects

I don’t know at what point I should consider this embarrassing and stop posting my rejected McSweeney’s lists, but I guess I’m not there yet.

Rejected Wheel of Fortune “Before and After” Puzzles





Giving a Shit About Cheap Shots in the NFL

In response to Drew Magary’s assertion that “No One Gives a Shit About Cheap Shots”:

  1. Magary’s obviously wrong to think this was just one weekend of hits followed by some out-of-the-blue media shitstorm. Coverage has been steadily increasing for years, especially this past year, when I’ve read about the issue in the New Yorker, the Atlantic, the New York Times, the fucking Post-Gazette, and in perhaps a half-dozen other places—and that was all before week six. Hell, I even wrote about it myself last year.
  2. Every time I post a link to some article about brain injury in the NFL on Facebook, I get a long thread and the odd private message from people who either aren’t watching football anymore or who are but really wish it were different. I think hard-core sports fans—like just about everybody Magary seems to be in touch with—don’t give a shit about the hits, but they’re not as much in the mainstream as they might like to think. I myself turned off the RedZone in week six (of all weeks!) in part to give myself a break from all the carnage. It’s honestly more than I want to see most Sundays, and it’s getting harder and harder to watch.
  3. NFL players have indeed been subject to shorter life spans for a long time, but they’re getting shorter and shorter with every passing decade. And the argument that people know what they’re getting into is horseshit. When you’re in college getting drafted, you know what you’re getting into. But when you’re a fucking nine-year-old running back whose NFL dreams are already changing the decisions you make in life, you are in no way capable of evaluating the consequences of your repeated head traumas. Frankly, even high-schoolers—who get some terrible concussions and subconcussive brain injuries playing football—simply don’t have fully-developed cognitive architectures yet, and in particular, they’re terrible (on average) at thinking about futures and consequences (which is obvious on the face of it, but also backed by plenty of good science). In short, once you’re in the NFL, it’s way too late to back out. People are simply not equipped to back off of a dozen years of attachment to a dream because suddenly some team lawyer is reading them a bunch of legalese about the risks of concussion. (And that’s to say nothing of the overwhelming majority of high-school players who never get to the NFL. Where’s the payoff for their brain damage?)
  4. This is a societal problem, not a sports problem. Magary’s not the only one to miss that point. On SportsCenter, Trent Dilfer defended the as-it-has-been NFL by using the word “gladiatorial.” But there’s a reason dogfighting is illegal, a reason certain kinds of bloodsporty mixed martial arts are illegal, a reason we don’t fucking bait bears anymore. As a civilized society, we understand the dangers of indulging human instincts that may well be natural. (Or at least, we did at the time of the release of The Running Man.) That football has become gladiatorial is an argument against its current role in our society, not for it.

A Like-Button List

Had another list rejected by McSweeney’s, but I like this one enough to show you the whole thing. Without further ado:

What I Might Mean When I Click the Like Button Next to Your Comment on My Facebook Status Update

I like your comment.

I like you, though your comment leaves me disinterested.

I like that you left a comment, though your comment leaves me enraged and I don’t know how much I care for you anymore.

I don’t like you or your comment, but I worry about the consequences of your knowing my feelings.

I don’t like you or your comment, and I don’t care whether you find out, but I worry that others involved with this thread might think it callous of me not to acknowledge your comment, since everybody knows you have no friends and we all feel bad for you.

I don’t like you or your comment, and I don’t care whether you or anyone else finds out, but I’ve had a few to drink and in a moment of dizzy compassion, I thought I should Like your comment. I wake up to find myself mistaken, but I think that Unliking your comment the morning after would be too cruel a way to treat even you, given the night we’ve just had together, and given that I forgot my wallet and will have to borrow money from you for the breakfast we’re eating right now, while I check Facebook on my iPhone.

The Truth as Stronger than Fiction

In this week’s New Yorker, Daniel Mendelsohn has a fascinating look at the ancient and recent histories of the memoir genre. Naturally, he can’t help but address what might now be termed a subgenre, the “fraudulent memoir.” Wrapping up the section, he notes:

When readers defended Frey on the ground that his book, however falsified its “memories” were, had nonetheless (as he had hoped) provided them with the genuine uplift they were looking for, they were really defending fiction: an uplifting entertainment that can tell truths but cannot tell the truth.

Mendelsohn provides insightful evidence that James Frey’s own defense of A Million Little Pieces was indeed a defense of the role fiction has traditionally played. (“‘I wanted the stories in the book to ebb and flow, to have dramatic arcs, to have the tension that all great stories require,’ Frey explained.”) But the claim that Frey’s third-party defenders take up the same argument doesn’t quite fit, because we don’t process fiction in the same way that we process non-fiction.

That is, I would bet that a recovering addict reading Frey’s book would only be so inspired if she thought that the book were true (in the “the truth” sense Mendelsohn mentions, not the “truths” sense). Her awareness of the book’s falsifications would interrupt the particular kind of attachment to the narrative that’s necessary for “uplift” to obtain. “If I can’t hang my hopes on somebody actually having made this kind of turnaround,” she might think, “what good is it?”

In other words, what we think we’re reading greatly affects how we feel about reading it—and this emotion, formed at the time of reading, cannot be erased from the history of our experiences once reading is through. Even now, we don’t read Frey’s book as fiction, exactly; it would no doubt make for a lousy novel, composed too far outside the structural and linguistic conventions of that form.

Instead, we read Frey’s book and others like it as partially made-up memoirs, as ruses that didn’t hold up, as fodder for our amateur detective sensibilities. That’s an entirely different experience—and, as I mean for my title to suggest, a weaker one (on affective terms)—than reading a novel for its “truths,” or than reading a memoir for its “the truth,” as it were.