Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘L.A. Times’

Fuzzy Math

Posted by Admin on February 27, 2013

When you read or hear about fuzzy math, what’s being suggested is that the arithmetic doesn’t add up. It’s a phrase that’s oftentimes used to dispute government programs and taxes.

Paul Krugman wrote about fuzzy math in his book, “Fuzzy Math: The Essential Guide To The Bush Tax Plan” published in 2001, and the phrase has appeared in a number of newspaper headlines over the past decade.

On July 3, 2010 the Boston Globe published a Letter To The Editor written by J. Whitfield Larrabee of Brookline, that addressed the subject of the risks of using painkiller medication. The article was entitled, “Fuzzy Math Used To Help Make Case” and the first sentence read:

Even though I am just a lawyer and not a mathematician, it seems to me that biotech entrepreneur Christoph Westphal used some fuzzy math in his recent op-ed, “The Myth Of The Perfect Drug,” June 28.

The L.A. Times opinion staff (yes, that’s the actual designation) provided an OpEd piece on June 22, 2007 that discussed fuzzy math and the court system. It compared how the New York Times viewed the court decision arrived at with regards to challenging a sentence that fell within the guidelines issued by the United States Sentencing Commission, and how the L.A. Times editorial board viewed the court decision. The editorial was aptly entitled:

Fuzzy Math At The Supreme Court

In an Editorial published in the Providence Journal on June 3, 2000 entitled, “Beware Fuzzy Math” the dangers the latest math (newer than new math) were discussed. The Editorial began with this commentary:

In recent years, elementary schools across the nation have increasingly adopted a newer version of the “new” math that was such a widespread disaster in the 1960s. The latest fad is called the “constructivist” method. Critics, both enraged parents and troubled mathematicians, refer to it, sardonically, as “fuzzy math. According to a long report in The New York Times (April 27), they have begun rebelling against it. May their tribe increase.

Safire’s Political Dictionary by William Safire states that the expression was promoted by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics in 1989. Whole math (as it was known) no longer required students to memorize those math functions that could easily be handled by a calculator (for example, multiplication) and focused on discussions of word problems instead. When parents proved to educators and administrators that students were oftentimes unable to perform the basics of adding and subtracting, the Council moved away from the approach.

But no one popularized the expression more than George W. Bush when he took on Vice-President Al Gore in Boston back in 2000. So while the expression actually came about in 1989, this one has to go to George W. Bush in 2000 for making it part of the lexicon.

Posted in Idioms from the 21st Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Talk Is Cheap

Posted by Admin on November 19, 2010

The phrase “talk is cheap” is actually a shortened version of at least two other commonly used American idioms —  “talk is cheap but it takes money to buy whisky”  and “talk is cheap but  it takes money to buy a farm.” 

The phrase means that it’s easier for someone to say that he or she will do something than to actually do it.  In its earlier incarnations an example was provided to assist with internalizing that message.

An article headling in the Portsmouth Times published on August 21, 1958 carried the headline:  “United Nations: Talk Is Cheap.”  The story was about another skirmish in the Middle East and reported in part:

Those who have criticized the United Nations for doing nothing but talk can be thankful there has been a place to talk, which is cheap and much to the preferred over armed conflict, which is costly.

Years earlier, on October 2, 1926 in the Gridley Herald and the Lyon County Reporter — just two of several newspapers who carried the same Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company Bell System advertisement, the focus was on talk being cheap. It was a quirky yet effective advertisement with a quaint story that stated:

Talk is cheap — but it takes money to buy a farm!” Many a school yard argument of boyhood days has been ended with this homely bit of philosophy.  For the American telephone user, talk is truly cheap — cheaper than anywhere else in the world.  But it takes money to keep his telephone service cheap and to make it ever and ever cheaper.

Bell was pushing their motto of “one policy, one system, universal service.’  What’s interesting about this is that it implied that the phrase “talk is cheap but it takes money to buy a farm” went back at least one generation, to when the decision makers in the home and business worlds were merely school children.

Indeed, the L.A. Times printed an article in July 23, 1896 wherein a news story reported:

It is that talk is cheap, but that it takes votes to elect a President. The Detroit Journal calls the platform adopted at the Chicago convention “a platform of cranks, by cranks, for cranks.”

The earliest date for publication of the phrase “talk is cheap” is found in the Chicago Daily Tribune on November 21, 1891. 

Although no one can say on what date exactly Phineas Taylor (P.T.) Barnum said “talk is cheap until you hire a lawyer” but it’s believed it was some time after 1856, when the Jerome Clock Company of East Bridgeport in Connecticut —  the company in which Barnum had invested heavily — declared bankruptcy.  P.T. Barnum lost all the money he had invested into, and loaned to, the company which was a sizeable amount by then.  For P.T. Barnum, this began four very long — and expensive — years of litigation and public humiliation.

Posted in Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Iron Out The Kinks

Posted by Admin on June 22, 2010

Kink” is derived from the Dutch word “kink” which means to twist or  twirl  — as in a rope, wire, or a lock of hair — to such a degree as to create  especially a noticeable obstruction.   The phrase to “iron out the kinks” was well entrenched in American English as evidenced by various newspaper articles from the turn of the 20th Century.

The phrase was used by candidate William Randolph Hearst as reported in an article in the New York Times on October 23, 1906.   He reportedly said that he would spend the greater part of the week “in the city in an effort to iron out the kinks in the local situation and try to get his fusion to fuse.”

His opponent, Patrick E. McCabe, member of the State Committee and leader of the Democratic organization in Albany, was less convinced of Hearst’s ability to do so. 

However, the phrase is much older than this.  The Calendar Act passed in 1751 in the British Isles and her Dominions and in North America caused the loss of eleven days.  It was written that this Act presented to the British Parliament by Lord Chesterfield, Philip Dormer Stanhope, was passed by the British Parliament in order to “iron out the kinks” in the Gregorian calendar.

The phrase to “iron out the kinks’ is an old expression that still fits all modern day mental, emotional and physical connotations.

Posted in Idioms from the 18th Century, Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »