More words: Fail (and win), Protectionism, Humanism

Let’s talk about some words that have come up lately. Normally I write a piece every so often about a new word that comes into the public consciousness or is part of that series of tubes (that in itself is a reference that only a select number will get) known as the internet. I shall address three words today. Fail, an internet term that has gained so much notoreity it has become very difficult for me to understand. Antoher word is one that has come up in the news, I pinpoint the date roughly around the first day after it was announced that some Italian workers were being employed for a building project, and sparked a national discussion about foreign workers (the word foreign itself should have an article on it, I note).

The final word is an old word that has new meaning for people, some old European customs have been forgotten in such a way that the people who rediscover it think its new, like atheism.

Fail/win, the epic new words of the day

Internet culture has its fashions, and this one is going to be around for a little while (unlike the Christian Bale tirade). The concept of fail, I think, unifies internet phenomena into a single and possibly user-friendly concept. Some older internet citizens may remember the phenomenon of Engrish, which involves laughing at horribly translated English by (usually) Japanese translators on public signs and posts etc. The notion of the fail builds on the singular phenomenon of Engrish and also combines it with embarrassing videos of the kind you might see on ebaumsworld, bizarre news stories, and recently, user-submitted footage used to explicitly exploit or embarrass (often for righteous causes) others. Let me give three examples of a fail:

Exhibit 1: Product placement

This is a piece that shows very poor product placement, to suggest very strongly that this is the worst possible name for a product that you could give. Another example of this is a fish bone remover which involved the product name of boner.

Exhibit 2: Humiliation

This involves a slightly sinister (excuse the pun) enjoyment of someone’s misfortune, often this involves physical pranks, trying to impress people but ending up (usually) head first in the concrete (toboggan fail for instance).

Exhibit 3: Win

This is where the concept of a fail comes to confuse me. A win, I suppose is the opposite of a fail, but there are so many ways that a win is realised, a win can involve pointing out a fail, pre-empting failed product placement, or is actually simultaneous win and fail. There ones are generally funnier and rarer than a fail, it is, if you will, a superfail, (or you might say, epic win).

Now on to the other terms at hand.


I hate ‘isms’ people throw them about in such a way that they don’t know what it involves (relativism and postmodernism especially) such that it ruined the original meaning of the word, which, whether you agree with it or not, actually had something important to discuss. In the example I noted, they are even seen as simultaneous.

Protectionism is, one of those words, that seem to me made up to just be an ism, and not a doctrine; for instance, relativism is a philosophical doctrine, perfectionism is an ism. There are notably ambiguous cases of -isms; stocism in the normal non-philosophical usage, scientism and rationalism are terms which are often abused. In some respects the putative term of rationalism is so redundant it is more a normative epistemic imperative than a doctrine concerning reason. Reason again is another word that is abused. But it is not so clear that protectionism is a wood cooked up by journalists and fed into the meat grinder (ie. newspaper press). It sounds as if it’s a genuine doctrine and term, although if anyone is an economist let me know if there is a literature on this issue.

What is protectionism? I suppose the two big factors about defining it are:

1. There is a major economic recession and oncoming national unemployment (okay, so three factors)
2. It has the word ‘protect’ on it.

National fears of unemployment + the word ‘protect’ = Protectionism. It seems to be the notion that there is a desiderative imbued in the employer’s preference set to recruit people who are in the local area (oh, and are skilled and competitive, people forget to mention or acknowledge that part).

There are some legitimate issues about the discussion of this ‘protectionism’. One thing is that it is polarising and polemicising the issue of unemployment to look like an issue about foreigners taking local people’s jobs away. Dress it up as you may, but this is a foil for racism and xenophobia. On the other hand it is, and I gasp as I say this, a serious issue that major political parties aren’t fully addressing. The serious issue is that economic deprivation leads to wider social problems.


This is a word that, during the early to mid naughties, I heard many people say that Humanism was a post-war phenomenon and since the late seventies it became as empty as Church of England masses (I’ve also heard from the same person that Anglican was a synonym for being an atheist). This same person, who has many coinable phrases, also used to say that humanism was atheism+ churchgoing.

I’ve found that lately with the mobilisation of the New Atheists, and the increased records of student grassroots initiatives for secularist causes; we find that it’s not a bad time to come out as an atheist. The notion of freedom of speech had been discussed over the past two weeks with the whole Geert Wilders insident, and the anniversary of Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. It would be nice to cite lovely enlightenment period quotes but you have heard enough of that from Michael.

Although I am discerning about the reduncancy of the label Atheist (especially when it seems to imply that you have to have a PhD in a science/engineering subject and or philosophy to be part of it), and the fact that so many people are just default atheists without feeling any need to identify with anything). Humanism seems to be a thing I welcome, especially for Michael and Sinistre* as they mentioned that there is a new ‘non-religious’ ‘thought for the day’ podcast by the Scottish Humanist society and they can hear their favourite philosophers Anthony Grayling and Julian Baggini [!].


Rhetorical devices

Lately I have been thinking of argumentative devices that can sometimes be used to rhetorical effect; of course, when I say ‘argumentative devies’, that is not necessarily to give such strategies credence. Here are some once that have been going through my head of late:

Appeal to ‘defining terms’

This one is actually not terribly bad, but it is all too often used as a rhetorical, or a delaying device. The longer you can delay someone in a discussion, the more you may distract them from a point that you are afraid they may raise. Distract someone and you might get away with a criticism that you deserve.

One good way to do this is by appeal to definition. We might say, for instance:

i. But this depends on our terms
ii. It all depends on how we define x

Actually I don’t think that this is too bad, making definitions, clarifications and distinctions are very important so as to ensure that one is addressing the same concept, operator or referent. It is, however, an interesting strategy for use by a rhetorician towards one who may be afraid of expanding notions or addressing definitions. Some people try to give the iceburg illusion to others, that there is more depth towards what they might say, as a way to provoke or suggest the embarassment of the other, as if to suggest ‘I know more than you, don’t even try it’; it may be an interesting intimidation strategy, but is pretty bad to use in a bullying way.

That said, the ‘iceburg’ analogy can also ve very useful; simplify ideas for an audience, and do not let on everything either because it is unnecessary, too long, or simply, to provoke others to do their own independent research. Now to consider another rhetorical device…

Appeal to vocabulary (unnecessary jargon)

In a way, this is a twin principle to the first appeal to definition. If you throw in words without defining them, that is worthy of invoking an appeal to definition (this, I say, is a very legitimate use of such an appeal). Examples:

1. The problem with the current economy situation is the general problem of the subject becoming and object unto himself and others and engaging in the commodity fetishism of the capitalist economy (Marxism)

2. It is because of feminine values that women are discriminated; masculine values permeate the workplace (appeal to patriarchy)

If you impose terminology, we may impute it without assent to agreement; who is to say that these terms we may accept, who is to say that the vocabulary is properly defined, or if it is relevant? it is for this reason that in the presentation of an argument or any such case, definitions and initial terms beyond the common language, and even (nay, especially) terms of common language which have a very technical meaning (objective, representation, ‘if’-terms, ‘is’-terms) must be addressed.


New vocabulary: pwnd

The more I think about it, the more I find the word pwn, or pwnd, very very complex.

pwn suggests defeat, but defeat is too old fashioned a word to be an equivalent

pwnd suggests shame

pwnd, for the very fact that it uses a ‘p’ for an ‘o’, and no vowels whatsoever, makes it elevate from the original variant (owned – apparently it was a typo in an online game, I think counterstrike), makes it an elitist word, a clique word, a word that outsiders are not permitted to use; its a kind of word that, when uttered, you either understand, or you dont. And if you do, you are part of the joke, part of the number ‘who gets it’

pwnd suggests a kind of loss of face

pwnd suggests an embarrassment

one can engage in self-pwnage


Sexed up new words and douchebag phrases

Very often a new word or phrase comes into the english language in common use. ‘Sexed up’ is a phrase that was used to refer to the Iraq report on its weapons; where it was overplayed about the weapons capacity of the country (2003). In 1993, or was it 1999, the phrase ‘Institutional Racism’ was used to refer to the police’s conduct of the Stephen Lawrence case; of a black teenager who was murdered by a gang.

Yesterday came out a statement from the Chancellor who said that he was aware people were “pissed off” at the conduct of the labour government. “Pissed off” is a very interesting expression. In the United States, its’ a fairly normal, or if anything, regular phrase. It is a little rude but only in the sort of way that you can’t say it in children’s cartoons, but you can say it on Friends. In the UK, “pissed off” enjoys a more sever status. Not as extreme as “fuck” or “shit”, but above “damn”, and just below “bastard” (bastard is allowed to be said in most US television, I note).

On the way to seeing Sinistre, I passed a few shops; generally, shops and adverts tend to reflect what is, or has become commonplace language. I’ve talked about in the past, of the phrase “for sure” which has just suddenly appeared as commonplace among middle class upper educated people. I find the term “douchebag” quite an interesting one. I’ve learned its meaning from Robot Chicken and Family Guy. There was a sketch where Stewie says something like, they ruined [x] like how douchebags ruined the guitar, and what followed totally encapsulated what a douchebag was, I suppose the UK equivalent (although not structly equivalent logically) is the stereotypical Jack Wills consumer of clothing, the upper-class sonofabitch who wears a tracksuit while still looking posh. perhaps in decades of the future people will parody such a look. I hope no one ever parodies how I look!

Anyhoo, so the one phrase that I saw on the shop was “credit crunch”. I listen to a lot of BBC radio, watch a lot of BBC news, and lots of the stories are (sadly) the same; the difficult economy, the food situation and the ‘biofuel’ argument vs. india’s growing economy as reasons for the latter. Okay, so people seem to be using the phrase “credit crunch” to describe the economy situation. One the one hand I thought it apt because since everyone is using the same word to refer, everyone understands what we mean by this phrase. However, I am aware that the USA loan situation, or the situation with UK banks are hardly the prime reason for the economic situation; other factors come into play:

  • housing,
  • people betting on the stock market for how inflation goes (quite self-indulgent in a way),
  • Employment oursourcing
  • The growing economies of asia
  • (aforementioned) energy/food/resource management issues
  • The initial explosion of consumer spending, which is now slowing down

The point I am making is, that “Credit Crunch” isn’t the best word to use to describe this period, “depression” is a bit of a better one!! I looked up on wikipedia what “credit crunch” refers to, and it says that it describes a shortfall when many debts are taken which leads to high interest rates and changes in lending activity. Fine, that’s a good word to use in the case of the subprime instance. But for the economic situation genera? No its not. But the more people use it, the more people use it in adverts, television etc. The more it just becomes accepted.

Seeing a word that is new on an advert reminds me of how commonplace a new thing can become. I am immediately reminded of the dotcoms that became big during the late 90’s and early 00’s. How there were so many advertisements for (now defunct) dotcoms! So, that’s another instance of new phrases that we can understand in our public consciousness. “Ebay it”, one may say, or “I got it from Amazon”.