Things 93: Wormworld Saga, Newton and Pascal, Idiots and Maniacs

If you like webcomics, or just enjoy seeing examples of excellent use of light in digital paintings, do check out the first chapter of Wormworld Saga.

Einstein, Newton and Pascal decide to play hide and seek. Einstein is it, closes his eyes, counts to 10 then opens them. Pascal is no where to be seen. Newton is sitting right in front of Einstein, with a piece of chalk in his hand. He’s sitting in a box drawn on the ground, a meter to a side. Einstein says “Newton, you’re terrible, I’ve found you!” Newton says “No no, Einy. You’ve found one Newton per square meter. You’ve found Pascal.”

This sprang out of the discussion on language pedantry last week on the RAPP CC list.

In “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” Lynne Truss makes the following observation:

Yes, as Evelyn Waugh wrote: “Everyone has always regarded any usage but his own as either barbarous or pedantic.” Or, as Kingsley Amis put it less delicately in his book The King’s English (1997), the world or grammar is divided into “berks and wankers” – berks being those that are outrageously slipshod about language, and wankers those who are (in our view) abhorrently over-precise.

A similar observation in a different field is attributed to George Carlin:

Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?

It seems to me that grammatical precision and driving speed fall into a very particular category of behavioural spectra in which we seem to be highly critical of others who vary from our own view in one direction or the other, even slightly. Other examples I’ve observed being described in a similar way and heard people comment on with varying degrees of politeness are alcohol consumption, smartness of dress, household cleanliness, and various aspects of personal hygiene.

The question is, what is it about these behaviours that makes us so sensitive to differences?

I’m not at all sure this diagram works fully, but I like it a lot anyway: