A Better Word for the Grammar Nazi

I have, today, read a Cracked.com article which describes the mental state of one such as myself.  It is in relation to my previous post, and is more concise than “pedantic literary zealot”.

The word is “pilkunnussija”.  It is Finnish, and it means “comma fucker”.

It is described by Cole Gamble of Cracked.com as:

“A person who believes it is their destiny to stamp out all spelling and punctuation mistakes at the cost of popularity, self-esteem and mental well-being.”

A hyperbolic description, but not bad.

Pedantic Literacy Zealot vs. The World

Those who read the earlier incarnation of my blog will remember a post concerning words, and the misuse of them.  I feel very strongly about this subject, and I find it hard to see why other people don’t.  Language, and the proper use thereof, is what allowed civilisation to flourish.  I dislike the idea that it is being molested and left in a rainy alleyway by the grubby fingers of the educated illiterate.
It’s a little bit like having a country where the government passes acts and statutes designed to only help them and their corporate friends, and cares very little about the sliding conditions of the plebeians… hey, wait a minute…

Many have called me a “Grammar Nazi”, which is catchy, fun, and illustrative.  It is also wrong.

In my FAQs, I refute the label, on the grounds that grammar is only one important part of the whole, and it does not take into account things like punctuation, semantics, context, or spelling.  I therefore offer the title of “Pedantic Literacy Zealot”.  It’ll catch on, I’m sure of it.

I will also be making this post a page on my blog, so it will be available for everyone to learn at a click.

Anyway, I hereby follow with an account of the ten most common literary errors that bother me, what they mean, and my prescribed punishment for failing to rectify them:

1.)  Capital Letters

This should not be difficult to understand.  It is not difficult to do.  Capitalise the first letter of every sentence.  Capitalise the first letter of every name.  Capitalise the subjective pronoun “I” and its derivatives.  Capitalise job titles, not descriptions, eg:

…Executive Vice President, Harry Jinglebob.

…company spokesman, Harry Jinglebob.

There are other rules governing the use of capitalisation of Platonic ideas and hyperbolic emphasis, (or “pride capitalisation”,) but for daily use, they are less important.

This is a terrifyingly common error, and therefore, every time one fails to adhere to it, they should probably have a friend rap his knuckles on their head until it sinks in.

2.)  Commas

Even I get a little absent minded about how to use commas sometimes, and this is primarily because there a so many different ways to use them.  If you are writing a simple sentence, there should be no need for a comma.  If you write a sentence with  two or more clauses in it, they must be separated by a comma and a coordinating conjunction like “and or “but”.  If you forget to put “and” after the comma, it is called “comma splicing”, and it is wrong.

Use a comma to separate two adjectives instead of the word and.  If you wouldn’t normally put the word “and between them, do not use a comma.

Use commas to separate a list of nouns or pronouns, instead of using “and”.

Use commas before or around a name or title if that person is being directly addressed: “Could you, Harry Jinglebob, do this?” or “Could you do this, Harry Jinglebob?”

Use commas around an expression which interrupts the sentence flow: “I have, as you might have guessed, spoken to Harry Jinglebob.”

You know what?  That’s enough of that.  You get the gist, and there are over twenty distinct rules for using commas, some of which are fairly complex, not to mention modifications like the “Oxford comma”.  If you want extra points, look it up.

Because the misuse of commas is both widespread and easy to do, a pointed expression should be sufficient reprimand.

3.)  Apostrophes

This is probably my biggest pet hate.  It is very simple:

An apostrophe before the “s” means it “belongs” to the noun before the “s”: “The lizard is Harry’s.”

An apostrophe after the “s” means that it belongs to plural, or collective nouns: “I am reading the students’ essays about the lizard.”

If you have two words like “do not” or one word like “cannot”, and you cut part of one word out and put them together or shorten it, the apostrophe shows where the cut was made: “don’t” or “can’t”.

“Its” means “something that belongs to it”.  “It’s” means “It is”.

Similarly, if you cut any part off as part of a colloquialism, or for any other reason, you place the apostrophe where the cut was made:  “What an ‘orrible little man!”

An apostrophe is never ever, ever used to indicate a plural – ever!

These are simple rules.  You are taught them from a young age.  I have even seen official prose, DVD cases and signs which fail to use the apostrophe correctly, or use it to denote a plural.  This is not acceptable.  Anyone caught doing so should be whipped with a willow twig, and doubly so if they are doing it in a publication.

4.)  “Irregradless” is not a word

Seriously, it isn’t.  Cut that shit out.

A swift rap across the knuckles should suffice.

5.)  Learn the difference

“There”, “their” and “they’re” are three different words.  Learn the difference.

“Loose” and “lose” are two different words.  Learn the difference.

“Your” and “you’re” are also two different words.  Learn the difference.

The same goes for “to”, “too” and “two”, or “affect” and “effect”.

If you catch someone doing this, twist their ear and hold it there until they can tell you what they did wrong.

6.)  “I could care less”

This one is just stupid.  How do you mix it up?  “I could care less” means “I could care less”!  You mean, “I couldn’t care less”.

The same goes for a phrase I heard a lot when growing up: “I’m gonna kick the shit into him.”  That is not sensible.

Just shoot them in the face.

7.)  Can you?

This is something my teachers would often respond with when asked: “Can I go to the toilet?”  They want you to use the word “may” instead of “can”.  Let me lay it to rest for everyone.  When a person uses the question, “Can I go to the toilet?” they are using “can” in its secondary modal form as a speech modifier, indicating a request for permission, not in its other form, indicating a query about ability.  Now shut up.

If anyone responds to your question with: “I don’t know, can you?” you have my full support in quoting the above sentence, verbatim.

8.)  “Then” for “than”

“I would rather have a sore finger then a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.”

“I would rather have a sore finger than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.”

Give them both.

9.)  Using the wrong word

It happens to everyone sometimes, but to some people, it’s as if they have no idea what they are talking about.  Using words like “illusions” instead of “allusions”, or “sedate” instead of “sedentary”.  There are probably inexhaustible examples of this.

Hit them across the ear and tell them why.

10.)  Making a big mess with assorted alphanumerical characters

You know who you are.  Those people who say “dat” instead of “that”, or “urs” instead of “yours”.  People who say “l8r” in place of “later”, and “dun” instead of “did”.  These people are everywhere, and they take text speak, (which is acceptable – only for text messaging,) and mutate it, and throw in a liberal splash of broken ebonics, and “chav-speak”.  Then, they take a shit on it, and carefully wipe off the actual words.

Those people.

These people should be crucified as an example.

An honourable mention – Alot

I leave this until last because it has been covered by Hyperbole and a Half here.  People say”alot” when they mean “a lot”.  “Thankyou” and “thank you” is another example of this, as is “alright” and “all right”.

So, you have the rules now.  I expect to see a lovely turn-out of well phrased discussion in future.  Do not disappoint me.

Genesis 1:27

Like my previous lightbulb, I have just deduced something something amazing about betentacled cosmic monstrosities, so, like any reasonable human being, I made a demotivational poster about it:

 

Future humanity is in for a very trying afternoon when those guys start a union.

 

The Sheep

Many years ago, during my mid-teens, although I do not know the exact date anymore, my father and my step-mum, before thy got married, lived in a bungalow in a rural part of South Wales called Trostrey.  This bungalow belonged to the local farm, and was owned by a lovely couple, Mr and Mrs Scott, and their son, Alistair, (who, coincidentally, once helped me build a wooden crossbow so huge, that it was probably suitable for hunting.)  One weekend, I invited a friend of mine over to stay.  I will call him Mike, for that was his name.  When we got there, my step-mum made us a fantastic soup for dinner, (sometimes, this term causes confusion.  When I say “dinner”, I mean the evening meal.  Some people I know more often call it “tea”, and to them, “dinner” means “lunch”,) which was traditionally eaten with chunks of ham and cheese floating in it – yes, it was delicious.  We watched a film that evening with my sister, and talked until the small hours of the morning, when we went to bed.

The next morning, after my step-mum had gone to work, we awoke to the sound of birdsong and the brilliance of the summer sun.  To be honest, one of us should have suspected something from that moment on, because few days, in my experience, start that quaintly that do not descent into discord and confusion later.

As the morning wore on, Mike and I discovered an old compound bow in the master bedroom, complete with arrows, which we swiftly approached my father with.

Me: “Dad, you know you love me?  Can Mike and I make a target and shoot the bow at it?”

Dad: “Um, I’m not sure.  I haven’t discussed it with Jill, and I don’t know if you should really be playing with it.”

Me: “Oh, go on dad, we won’t do anything stupid.”

It was a fairly short conversation, mostly because my father is a big softie, but, as he will read this, I should add that it is because he is a wonderful, affirming man who likes to see his children happy.

Obviously, like all good offspring, I was more than capable of manipulating my father into allowing Mike and me into shooting the bow at the shed door, (afore-said shed being dilapidated and not long for this world in any case.)

The shed really was that shade of green

As one final, damning statement, which was both a light-hearted joke and, like most jokes made by parents, a subtle, desperate plea, my father said:

“Just don’t shoot any sheep, okay guys?”

How we laughed.

So, while my sister was elsewhere, although, I cannot recall what she was doing, Mike and I went into the garden, filled with excitement at our control over such a formidable weapon – you know – because we were boys.  We stood at the far end of the lawn in front of the bungalow and I prepared the bow.

Yes.

I had the fucking power.  In that moment, I was a mighty hunter.  I could shoot a motherfucking bear from two-hundred paces with my bow.  I could have put an arrow through a charging buffalo and gone off to wrestle some alligators to unwind, right after eating some pickled guns for breakfast.

With a surprisingly good aim, I managed to hit the knot in the shed door that I was pointing the arrow at, and I was damn proud of myself.  I slayed that door and it never knew it was coming.

Me mighty hunter.

Grrrrr...

After a couple more goes at it, I was all awash with manliness, and Mike turned to me and said:

“Awesome, can I have a go now?”

Me: “Yeah, sure!  Here’s a tip: if you stand a little further back, it seems a little easier to aim.”

Mike: “Okay, cool.”

At this point, I remembered that I wanted to get some wood for that evening, (the bungalow had a proper hearth in the living-room, and we often made a fire in the evening out of coal or wood.)  There was a big pile of wood faggots, (many will be amused at this, as was I, but truly, big lumps of wood for fires are technically called faggots,) on the other side of the bungalow, and I explained to Mike that I was just popping off to get some firewood, and that I would be back inside a minute.

At this point in the narrative, it is prudent to mention that the bungalow and its surrounding gardens sat in the middle of some farmland and, only a short couple of feet behind the shed we were murdering for entertainment, there was a livestock field.  Sometimes it held cows, and other times, sheep.  This season, it was sheep, and they mostly spent their time at the far end of the field, because my sister and I were generally noisy kids, and sheep can be fussy about that sort of thing, apparently.

After grabbing a bunch of faggots, (tee hee!) I turned back toward the front of the bungalow.

I was just in time to witness an arrow clear the roof of the shed.

Time slowed to a crawl, and the universe filled with horror and uncertainty.  I watched as the arrow sailed gracefully over the shed roof, through the dense limbs of the tall tree standing right behind it, and into the open field.

I thought: “that’s okay, there’s never any sheep this close to the garden.” – first mistake.

In all the visible parts of the field, there was only one sheep that could be seen.  Yep, it was about thirty yards behind the shed and the tree, milling around, chilling out, and chewing the cud.  It was pretty insubstantial as far as Welsh sheep went.  Most were big, fleecy roadblocks with all the temperament of petrified wood and all the brains of a rubber band.  This one was small.  It was a scraggly, ratty little sheep, and it was the only one in sight.

“Surely, it’s pretty safe out there.” I thought. “I mean, it would have to be pretty unlucky to get in the way of that tiny little arrow.”

“No, I mean, look at all the space.  That arrow is going to fall short, I’m pretty sure.”

“It looks pretty close there.  What if it hits the sheep?  What the hell am I going to do?!”

“Oh God, it’s going to hit the sheep, isn’t it?  Why is this happening to me?”

The arrow struck the sheep.  It was hit in the rump, and it didn’t have the faintest idea what had just happened to it, but it did know, however, was that it wasn’t slightest bit amused.

I would almost be prepared to testify before a court, (and don’t think that I wasn’t considering the possibility of that,) that after the arrow hit the poor creature’s backside, it raised its head, thrust out its hooves, grew fucking fingernails and used them to grab hold of the dirt and catapult itself forward into the yonder.  All the while, it let out a never-ending scream – not of pain, nor or fear, but what seemed to be mostly shock, and unmistakable disdain.

While I watched this happening, Mike witnessed something so Monty Python-esque it was suspicious.

He stood where I told him was best, he strung the arrow properly, and took his time aiming at the shed door, staring it down like a real man stares down his prey, and finally, he let loose the arrow.  He watched as it left the bow, and as it travelled half-way across the garden, and as it appeared to suddenly gain about seven feet of height between him and the shed.

Mike saw the arrow disappear over the shed roof and away, not for one second expecting the sole apparent occupant of the adjacent pasture to be relaxing on the other side.  After the arrow went, his first thought went something like: “Oh, no!  I’ve lost the arrow in the bloody field.  What am I going to tell everyone?”

It was less than a second after this thought had finished that he saw a really angry sheep with an arrow in it charge out from behind the garden hedges to his left and tear away into the distance.

Clutching the logs to my chest as if they were a security blanket, I rushed down the length of the bungalow, and met Mike at the corner, who was clutching the bow in exactly the same way.

Me: “Mike… you…”

Mike: “I shot a sheep!”

We were horrified.  We were going to die.

Long gone were the manly hunters.  We never actually meant to hunt stuff, but now, somewhere in the field next door, a really angry sheep was probably organising a hunt of its own.

Silently, and cold with horror, we went inside and met with my father, who was drinking coffee and listening to music.  He looked up at us amicably and smiled a fatherly smile.

Mike: “Dave… I shot a sheep.”

There was a nauseating moment of uncertainty, which seemed to go on and on, and my dad broke into a grin and laughed.

He thought we were joking.

After another endless moment, he stopped laughing.  His expression shifted, and he understood.

Dad: “Oh, God.”

It was quickly established that it was an accident, by means of Mike and I explaining exactly what happened at high-speed, in stereo, and in the shrill tones of absolute terror.

My father sat, very still, and very quiet, for almost half a minute.
Finally, he announced that he had no choice but to go out, into the field, and catch the wretched creature, so he could remove the arrow before the farmer found out – because he would kill us, possibly by being excruciatingly disappointed with us, or possibly with a shotgun.

My father stood up and called my sister to tell her that he was quite possibly going to go and euthanize a wounded sheep before it died of Mike’s arrow.  My little sister, being a child, (what with children being suspiciously into all things morbid,) decided this sounded like ripping good fun, and decided that she was going too.  Mike, feeling kind of responsible, and still holding the bow, insisted on joining them.
I was left feeling a little awkward, because I wanted to go, but wasn’t sure whether my father actually wanted to be accompanied by the fellowship of the ring, especially since two of them were responsible for the trouble in the first place.

Me: “Shall I go with you guys?”

Dad: “No, it’s all right.  You can put the kettle on and keep the dog occupied.  I think we will all want a cup of coffee when we get back.”

Dad didn’t sound particularly annoyed, and I suspected that he was secretly enjoying himself at our expense, so I didn’t push it.

Ultimately, it took half-an-hour to retrieve the arrow.  I watched as the angry sheep charged fiercely up the hill, followed by Mike, my sister and my father, followed by the rest of the flock, who appeared to be joining in on general principle.

Then, I watched as the angry sheep charged fiercely back down the hill, followed by Mike, my sister and my father, followed by the rest of the flock, who seemed to think it was jolly good fun, and were really getting into the stride of things by this point.
This continued until the arrow shook loose of its own accord, and the sheep ran off into the corner of the field to plot our painful demise.

When they returned, my father looked bedraggled, my sister looked like she had just been to Disneyland, and Mike had a look of relief on his face that was approaching the obscene.  I was handed the arrow, which was mostly covered in tufts of wool, and showed little signs of bodily fluids, and we were all made to swear that we would never speak of this to my step-mother, or the Scotts, unless we wanted to be killed in nasty ways.

Later on that evening, we were chatting in front of the hearth-fire made of burning faggots, mostly about things which were as un-related to shooting farm animals with primitive projectiles as was humanly possible, when my sister looked over to my step-mother and asked:

“What’s for tea, Jill?”

My step-mother turned on us slowly, with an evil glint in her eye, and with a terrible, knowing grin, she responded:

“How about lamb chops?”

You Can Easily Blow the Mind of a Man…

I would like to recount for you a thing that happened to me on Facebook a little while ago.  It involves a spirited debate between myself and a friend of mine, wherein we become entangled in a complex of ethics, semantics and anthropology, and then have our minds blown by some kind of fucking mental-ninja.

I was looking through some photos on Facebook, when I came across this image, and decided to post it to my wall:

D'awwwww.

The first response I had was from a vegetarian friend of mine, who made a very concise, pertinent hole in my reasoning for posting it:

WILL

You have them killed then you eat them, don’t you Dev?

Oh no he di’ent!

Well, as you may imagine, I took exception to this, and, in the acceptably patronizing way many friends begin a debate, when they know they can get away with it, I said:

ME

Oh dear, Will, those animals are called livestock. They are decidedly counted amongst “those who can do stuff for me” – namely, feed me.
Of course, (since I am the subject implied in the accusation,) prior to slaughter, “I” have them fed and looked after medically, and protect them from other predators.

Yeah.  Come at me bro.  I went on to say:

ME

Interestingly enough, most livestock are better provided for in terms of basic care than most humans, who are regularly denied access to necessary medical treatment, attacked, incarcerated, lied to, poisoned, robbed and worked to death by their civilized masters.
Humans are treated abysmally by other humans, and they are expected to feed, care for and defend themselves, while still submitting absolutely to the will of another.
Also, before anyone says that “penned” is the same as “incarcerated”, no it isn’t. Humans have a far greater ability to understand and experience suffering than the vast majority of other animals, and our sense of personal space, and our idea of what constitutes “overcrowded” is radically different. This is due to our level of sentience.
Most domestic pets, higher-order primates and similar “super intellectual” animals have levels of sentience approaching our own, and are capable of great suffering, stress and depression, and grief. Most livestock have reasonably complex levels of sentience, and so, need to be treated carefully and considerately, or they will become incapable of providing anything worth keeping them for. Fish have debatable sentience, if any, therefore calling their ability to experience suffering at all into question.
Arachnids, insects and other mini-beasts have no measurable sentience whatsoever, meaning that they do not suffer, and are not aware of themselves.
The laws made governing our keeping of livestock and the quality of their living conditions and slaughtering techniques are not made arbitrarily. They are made and revised based on these and similar criteria, and are maintained better than human rights laws.
So no, I don’t just have them killed and eat them.
Concerning those who actually cannot do anything for me, provided they are in my care or the care of one I associate with, I treat them exactly as I would treat a friend or family member. In terms of those who are bred to eat or similar, I support a system of treatment which goes far above and beyond their basic requirements for care and comfort, and far above what they would receive in the wild for a comparable lifespan.

In short, I treat them comparatively better than I am often treated by my own government.

Uh-huh.  I thought I was pretty slick with that one.  Okay, I was a little rambling with this one, but I set out to point out the flaw I perceived in the statement and was fairly sure I did. Needless to say, he countered with the following:

WILL

Oh dear, Devin, the difference between pet and livestock is what you do with the animal, which is what the motivator is talking about. Most animals called pets could be eaten, and in other parts of the world with less of a cognitive disconnect, often are eaten. They could almost all feed you, not sure how much meat there is on a budgie though. Also you could keep pretty much any animal as a pet. I forget, do you eat bacon and/or pork? 

One could equally argue that there is nothing that could “do nothing for him” because every animal, down to the arachnids and other mini-beasts (heh, don’t think I’ve used that term since juniors but I should do) are capable of bringing joy to us. 

Treat others as you would wish to be treated. Is it acceptable if I give you a slap-up meal, have you blindfolded and shot in the head before I eat you? No, presumably not. Besides, I wouldn’t wanna eat you, I dunno where you’ve been. 😛

Fish exhibit symptoms of stress. Even rats, animals we view as either pets or pests, are capably of _empathy_. As for “most humans”, not most humans in the UK or any other sufficiently civilised country. We get free at point of use for healthcare, one can live off welfare benefits with frankly too much ease.

Touché.

I avoided going off on a tangent about how some people I know work full-time, live alone in bedsit-flats and still don’t have enough money left to buy food and pay bills, when, on benefits, you can often just about afford to do both.  It wouldn’t have been very relevant, but I mention it now, because it’s an interesting political contradiction, and I am a misanthropic dissident, and generally pedantic ass.

Instead, I chose to address and define what I saw as a perceived flaw in the fundamental nature of the quote:

ME

Well, yes, obviously in many parts of the Western world, we enjoy a greater access to medicine and social benefits. We are still treated like a resource.
If, indeed, any living thing is capable of doing something for you, then either the quote itself is a redundant statement, or we must make a mental adjustment based on what “do nothing for us” means.
In this instance, an addendum of “within reasonable definition” is applicable. I own two degus and a cat. I eat chicken, pork, beef, etceteras.
While I could eat my pets, it would provide little reward for enormous effort. Livestock animals are bred, and have been bred for consumption since about 10,000 BP.
I would broadly define this as the difference between “something” and “nothing”.
While I agree with the “do unto others” statement, the first purpose of livestock is for consumption. If we stopped doing so, they would be returned to the wild as a domesticated species, and would likely experience a mass die-off, and prove ultimately incapable of surviving.
The average life-expectancy of said animals would decrease, and their quality of life would plummet.
We are not yet a species capable of totally sustaining itself on the resources it has, let alone minus the single most efficient and compound source of nutrition available.
Regardless of all this, the debate is centred around the statement in the photo, and if the thing in question is incapable of providing any consistent, measurable advantage to our physical person, it can do “nothing for us”.
What you said about killing and eating only covers those animals with a tangible, material benefit to us. And therefore is a question of ethics, not semantics.

“Fair enough”, I thought.  Fast-forward a few hours:

WILL

After taking my time, I realise that it doesn’t require a long response because you’ve missed the point entirely and presented the only two wrong options out of three.

“We are still treated like a resource.” – The way you say that says that you think that it’s inherintly wrong though, right?

“either the quote itself is a redundant statement, or we must make a mental adjustment based on what “do nothing for us” means.” – You are missing the point I’ve been trying to make and the fundamental message of the statement we are debating. No, we just improve the way we treat others. Be that great apes, pigs or rats. We stop treating animals (including humans) as a disposible resource.

I didn’t think I missed his point at all.  I thought I made it fairly clear when I made the distinction between ethics and semantics.  The options I presented were in relation to the semantic problems with the quote, and not the ethical conundrum which had been spinning between us.  It was at about this point that I understood that we had started debating two different things based on two different viewpoints, and neither of us had realised that they were also in two different contexts until it was too late.

Before we began arguing at cross-purposes, I disappointedly, (after all, the debate was fun, but about to go off in completely different directions,) called a halt:

ME

I was about to start writing a counter to this, but I have been getting the creeping feeling for some time that both of us have taken the original meaning of this quote far out of context, and imbued it with complex socio-political gravity, when we both know exactly what it meant in the first place.

WILL

Yeah, the image implies the quote extends to the treatment of animals whereas I would assume neither James D Miles nor Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (that Miles was allegedly quoting) intended that. 

I picked this up because you chose to share the image with the implied message as opposed to just quoting. I agree with both the implied message of the motivator and the quote itself. That said, I’ve not read the original, nor am I presumably able (not speaking German), so I don’t know the context of the original. *shrugs*

Well, damn.  It was all based on the both of us making unfounded assumptions instead of asking first.  I guess that only goes to sh…

Then someone I will refer to as “Tømas the Brain Ninja” posted this photo:

WILL

Is that Hitler feeding a deer?

Tømas the Brain Ninja

‎:P

ME

WILL

The only sensible reaction.

This was either the single most magnificent piece of trolling I had ever witnessed, or Tømas was a mother-fucking genius.

Will and I had spent hours building and honing our arguments.  Okay, I was mostly debating semantics while he was mostly debating ethics, but our reasoning held up.  We just completely failed to take reality into account.  All the talk about treating animals and humans as resources, and changing how we view them.  All the shtick about reasonable parameters and redefining broken aphorisms.  We were applying theoretical fixes to the world, but we didn’t ask the world if it was compatible with such foolish absolutes.  We couldn’t just stop and view our beautifully crafted machine and think: “is there any possible way that the ugly truth could lurch ominously out of the festering night and gleefully rape our delicate, finite philosophy to death with the jagged, septic handle of a rusty vacuum-cleaner?”

Hitler was feeding a deer.

Our arguments were invalid.

I would like to credit Will and Tømas for allowing this post to be epic.

UPDATE

Will summed up the moment of change very succinctly after reading this post.

“A wild Tømas appears!  He uses an obscure image!  IT’S SUPER EFFECTIVE!”

At World’s End

Though it is slightly late in the game for this subject to be discussed, and fairly early in terms of this blog, (being as it is primarily satirical and this being some pretty heavy stuff,) I am moved to write about the problems behind this wretched S.O.P.A/P.I.P.A. business.

Now, I’m no expert, but having indulged in my fair share of piracy, I intend to present an account of what I understand.  This does not automatically mean I am saying this is “right”, but certainly, why it works.

There are very good reasons why some supporters of the bill are supporters.  Pirating music, games and films is undermining to the individuals and teams who put in the hard work necessary to create the product.  Many of the people who are actually responsible for the gruelling effort put into creating these works, re-creating them, polishing them up and painstakingly tearing out weeks’ worth of work to please the producers, all in a surprisingly restrictive amount of time, are not being paid exceptionally well to begin with.  Most of the money, as well we all know, goes to the companies, and their masters.

It must be made clear that, in all that follows, these guys, and those who slog to allow the products to actually reach the users, are usually most in need of the boost that legitimate sales generate, even when they don’t see a penny of it.

There are, however, some truly compelling reasons why millions of people regularly pirate digital media, that don’t have to do with being a reprehensible criminal.  Whenever I hear or read the terms “illegal downloading” or “digital pirates” or suchlike, it always conjures up images of sinister fellows, sitting in darkened basements, flanked by walls of expensive server equipment full of blinky neon lights, (presumably, the purchase of this equipment being what necessitates the illegal downloading in the first place.)

It’s been made to sound dirty, like you expect the words “child pornography” or “Hitler” to turn up any moment.

Naturally, of course, most online piracy is conducted by normal people trying to save  a bit of money for food, or important things like heroin.

It’s Free

Yes, I know, it’s both obvious and a little redundant to mention, but it is probably the most pertinent reason there is.

Let’s face it, we’re in a recession, the EU is poised to collapse under its own inadequacies at any moment, unemployment in countries across the world is terrifying, (9% in the US, 8.3% in the UK, and an average of 9.8% across the entire EU,) everybody owes money on credit cards, loans, insurance, etc., and government bodies are making cut-backs to social benefits, and taking the money straight back out of people’s hands.

Who is really buying, (pun intended,) the crap that spending hundreds of pounds a year on films, games and CDs that may or may not be worth the asking price is fine because it’s only £15 for this new DVD, or only £10 for that new album, or only £40 for the new release for the Xbox 360?  What a bargain!

Regardless of the deals available, it will always be attractive, because it won’t cost anything, and people are going shopping less nowadays, and are willing to wait for a couple of hours for a film to torrent so they don’t have to pay for something they may not even enjoy, which brings me neatly to…

It’s No Big Deal if it Turns Out to be Crappy.

It’s true.

How many times have you bought a new album you’ve been waiting for, for something hovering around the £10 mark, just to discover it isn’t really that world-changing?  You will listen to it maybe a few times, over the course of a month, but then you will put it away and forget why you were so excited about it in the first place.  DVDs and Blu-Ray films are even more expensive, and if you haven’t experienced the sting of the following, just imagine:

You have been told about this new game coming out on your favourite platform.  You have read reviews raving about how attractive and immersive it is, and your friends are exited, and have been psyching you up about it.  You are certain that it will be a good buy.  No contrary evidence has come to light.  You wait patiently for the release date; to discover that it costs somewhere near £40, but it must be good, because otherwise, why would it be so expensive?  You take it home, pop it into your machine, and discover that it is, in fact, a big shiny turd with polygons.

You take it back to the shop, and you are told that no, you cannot return the game, because it isn’t broken, but you can sell it back as second-hand for about £3.50.

If your chosen gaming platform is a PC, like me, it’s usually even worse, because there is no hope of a refund.  The game’s unique security code has already been used once, by you, and you could have copied the data and spread it all over the internet, and the best they can offer is to exchange it for another game you don’t really want.

That’s right, some people end up pirating games on the internet as a result of being sick of accusations of piracy, (and losing £40 to a shiny turd with polygons.)

The other reason you might scream for your £40 back when you game on a PC is that, sometimes, it might be every bit as boner-inspiring as you dreamed it would be, but, for some unquantifiable, mind-bending, aneurism-inducing reason, the game simply just “isn’t compatible” with your system.

What. The. Fuck?

The point here is that, when you download a new game from the web, instead of paying £40 for it, and finding out that it sucks balls, or is incompatible with your PC because of some undetermined quantum dickery, you can delete it, and you will never have to worry about it again.

In actual point-of-fact, many people who download a game from the web that they think is genuinely brilliant, will actually buy the licenced version at the next opportunity they get, because they think that it is worth the money they are going to pay for it, and, if they already spent £80 that month on two or three games that were terrible, they wouldn’t have the money left to spend on the kind of titles that they believe actually deserves financing.

On a similar note…

Downloads are Disposable

Let’s face it.  Many people just feel like watching a film for an evening’s entertainment, or listening to an album to get a feel for the artist.  This is, in light of what was previously mentioned, because they may not be that fussed about it, or because they may not watch it again.

There’s little point in spending money on a hard copy of something if you aren’t going to use it more than once or twice.  Most of the films, games or albums people download are throwaways or just not that brilliant, and the chances are, if you really want a copy you can use again and again, you are probably going to spend the cash to get it.

Sure, you could say: “why not go to the cinema, and make an evening of it?”  Mainly, because the cinema costs an extortionate amount of money and most people just don’t see the whole palaver as worth the three hours and £35 it will take out of the precious time between work and bed.

The Service You Get is Great

Sure, you may have to wait a while for it to download, but you got to choose a version based on quality of download, size of download, file format, reputation of uploader, song, album, discography, episode, season, series, version and language, all because you did a search for it.  No menus, no customer service representatives, no “experience tailored to you”, no weird mouth-breathers standing an aisle back watching your every move like they plan to start masturbating if you start flicking through the “easy listening” category.  You just type in exactly what you’re looking for, and there appears a list of just that, with all the previously mentioned variables there for you to see.

Not only this, but every single upload has a list of comments right underneath it, with previous users describing the pros and cons.  Not only that, but with games and programs, users post any problems they might have had with it, and usually, a list of possible solutions to those problems.  It must be made clear that most of these problems are not simply because the file is illegally shared and is badly encrypted.  Usually, these are bugs and glitches already inherent in the software, revealing that most of these pirates are better at solving programming issues than the programmers who wrote the bloody things in the first place.

That last bit was important.  These people, who have no excessively large reason to be invested in their uploads, (they are not paid for it, and any acclaim they get is strictly limited to the underground world they move in,) are going out of their way to solve a problem that they were not responsible for, just because someone told them it was there.

I have even seen downloads where the pirate not only distributed the software for free, but had solved issues the software contained from the start, and had partially re-written whole chunks of the programming, thereby significantly improving the software it took a team of ten people six months and $15,000 to build.

I have seen downloaders distribute albums internationally, with hidden content, single b-sides and music videos as extras.

Some of the things available from torrent-based websites are not only free and well-seeded, but they are, in real life, unimaginably rare and almost impossible to find.

Bear in mind that all these digital copies had to have come from an original, licenced version to begin with, so some of these uploaders not only work to acquire, fix and improve these downloads like it’s an unpaid second job, but they do it at the expense of purchasing the originals to begin with, and all so they can make it available and unrestricted for anyone.

This is the kind of service I am talking about.

Think about it, when was the last time you experienced this level of customer service while purchasing legitimate media online or in-store?

Finally

It isn’t a perfect way of getting at the data and media you want, but it’s better than most, even if it is illegal.  The reason it’s so good is that piracy has no agenda, or at least, no agenda outside the obvious.  Piracy is going to continue, one way or another, because these people are clever, resourceful, respectful, (in their own misanthropic sort of way,) and they believe in easy access and truly great customer-care, and until retailers are able to offer the same level of quality and assurance of product, they will always fall short – always.

Skirmish

When I first began to write this post, I sat quietly for a minute to allow the momentum to build up behind my brain, and wrote “Skirmish” in the title bar.  I didn’t give it much thought.  I thought “Skirmish” was a reasonably good working title, and I liked its associations with small forays into the field of battle, and it seemed to fit in with my first foray into posting for this blog.

It was then that I thought: “what if skirmish doesn’t really mean what I think it means?”

You guys get that too, right?  You will use a word in a conversation or an explanation about something, thinking that it’s a nice choice and that it sounds meaty and makes your statement sound pertinent and well-considered, and then you suddenly get a little doubt in the back of your head.  It doesn’t seem like anything at first, making no more than a metaphorical “plink” as it lands on the aft decks of your cognition.  You ignore it for a second, thinking: “I know what that is, I’ve heard it a thousand times already.”  But then it’s too late!  You start thinking again: “I know what that word means, it means… err, I think it means… I mean, it could mean…”  But the world has turned upside-down by this point, and you are flailing wildly in a sea of uncertainty.  That little “plink” on the aft decks you thought was nothing more than a gentle droplet of seawater from some ocean spray, carried over the rails by a deft breeze was really the ominous “plink” of a mutated claw-sucker coming to rest on the decking, rendering your foolish self-assuredness as unto naught in the face of the horrible, quivering octopus-monster lumbering, unfettered, toward you and the crew, all big and wobbly and glistening with ooze, and… and I forgot the point of this metaphor.

Aaargh! Kill it with fire!

Anyway… oh yes.  I thought about it for a moment, and the doubt set in.  I was fairly sure I knew the meaning of “skirmish”.  I had heard it many times over the years of my life.  It was only when I took a few moments to consider this, that I realised, I had only really seen or heard the word in videogames like Rise of Nations, or in films, (dozens of the bloody things, I don’t need to make a list.)  I had never actually looked it up, or even asked an empirically reliable source, like my friends, or my father, (fathers being universally accepted as knowing everything.)

So, I asked of the Google: “Oh Google, what meaneth this word, skirmish?”

And the Google did press unto my sight a disembodied definition by the prophet Dictionary.com:

skir·mish/ˈskərmiSH/

Noun:
An episode of irregular or unpremeditated fighting, esp. between small or outlying parts of armies or fleets.
Verb:
Engage in a skirmish: “reports of skirmishing along the border”.
Synonyms: clash – brush – scrimmage – encounter

My first response was: “Ha ha, scrimmage!”  My second was to raise my eyebrows in shock and despair, for I had indeed been mistaken for all these years.

Okay, not badly mistaken, but mislead by computer-games into thinking that “skirmish” meant: “a foray into enemy territory, with the intention of quickly capturing small areas of insignificant ground, and using this subtle advantage to expand military influence quickly and unexpectedly into poorly protected adjoining areas.”

Apparently, “skirmish” just meant “an unplanned scuffle between small numbers of soldiers.”  It seemed underwhelming to say the least.  What I thought was a good umbrella term for a tactically complex piece of clever military manoeuvring, basically, just meant “a kerfuffle with guns.”

The complex strategy I was thinking about is sometimes known, on a small scale, as “storming”, (as in “storm-trooper” – yep, that’s what they were invented for,) but is mostly just called “attack”.

By this point, I was damned if I would just give up there and not seek any sort of affirmation for my long-held understanding of the word “skirmish”, so I went and looked it up in the incontrovertible fountain of all Earthly knowledge, Wikipedia.

Wikipedia, amidst my intermittent interruptions of: “But! But!” explained that a “skirmisher” was, classically, a lightly armed, lightly armoured foot soldier, usually part of a small unit called a “skirmish line”, whose sole purpose was to rush at the enemy, ahead of the main battle line, throw stuff at them, and run away again, like guerrilla fighters who got horribly lost on their way to a small Cuban outpost, and found themselves stuck in a real Mediaeval war.  Wikipedia then went on to tell me that they were sometimes armed with nothing more than big rocks and harsh language.  This created a confusion in me, as their behaviour could either be seen as “throwing stuff and running away”, and therefore could be broadly described as “vandalism”, or it could be seen as “running out into the space between two huge, charging armies, armed with nothing but rocks and pointy sticks, and doing their damnedest to wreck somebodies shit”, which could be legitimately described as “badass”.

It was at this point, that I realised that I had spent so much time learning what “skirmish” meant, that I had thought about it too much, and now, it was reduced to nothing more than a couple of slurred, meaningless syllables.

Skr-msh…

Skrr-mshh

Skrrrrmshhhh

It made me think: “this word sounds silly; who the hell thought it up?”

So, I typed “skirmish etymology” into the Google, and it told me this:

skirmish (n.)

c.1300, from O.Fr. escarmouche “skirmish,” from It. scaramuccia, probably from a Germanic source (cf. O.H.G. skirmen “to protect, defend”), influenced in M.E. by a separate verb skirmysshen “to brandish a weapon,” from O.Fr. eskirmiss-, stem of eskirmir “to fence,” from Frankish *skirmjan, from the same Germanic source. Cf. also scrimmage.

And, my last thought was: “Ha ha, scrimmage!

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