Monday, March 25, 2013

Scientific Explanations for Why Spoilers Are So Horrible

Studies show that anticipation and suspension of disbelief are both key ingredients in a pleasurable experience—and spoilers have a tendency to kill both.
Jennifer RichlerMar 21 2013, 8:41 AM ET
I was recently the victim of a spoiler. It was the day after the two-hour finale of Downton Abbey, and I hadn't watched it yet. I innocently went on Facebook for my daily dose of family vacation and gourmet dinner photos, and there it was: a major plot twist divulged, courtesy of one of my "friends."
My tale of woe will likely sound familiar to many. The combination of social media, which allow us to react to events in real time, and new technologies, which provide us with countless ways to watch shows after they air, has made it easy to accidentally learn how a TV episode or movie ends before watching it. It isn't surprising, then, that the spoiler issue has been chewed over for years. Way back in 2008, on New York's Vulture site, Dan Kois even proposed a list of statutes of limitations for spoilers, specifying how long writers should wait before revealing important plot twists from TV shows, movies, plays, and books in their articles.

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But this most recent spoiling left me feeling especially outraged—which, in turn, led me to wonder: Why did I care? Why were spoilers so bad? It turns out, I found, there's scientific research that helps explains what it is that spoilers spoil.
Some of this research starts with a fundamental question: Why do people like stories in the first place? As Yale psychology professor Paul Bloom points out in his book How Pleasure Works, it's puzzling that we spend more of our free time exploring fictional worlds—reading, watching TV and movies, playing video games—than engaging in real-world pastimes. "Surely we would be better off pursuing more adaptive activities—eating and drinking and fornicating, establishing relationships, building shelter, and teaching our children," he writes.
So what's with our obsession with make-believe? Bloom and others argue that, on some level, we don't distinguish fact from fiction. There's research to back this up: For example, a study found that people refuse to eat a piece of fudge shaped to look like feces, even though they know it's just fudge. Appearance and reality get blurred. We like stories about sex because we like having sex, and somewhere in our minds, the two are the same. As Thalia Goldstein, a psychology professor at Pace University, explained to me, this blurring actually happens at the neurological level: The conscious, thinking parts of our brain tell us that a story isn't real, but the more primitive parts tell us it is.
This research suggests one explanation for why spoilers suck: They remind us that a story is just a story. It's hard to get transported when you already know where you'll end up—in real life you don't have that knowledge.
Of course, not everyone shares my spoiler hatred. A recent study found that people who heard the "spoiled" version of a short story liked it more than those who heard the "unspoiled" version. But as Goldstein pointed out, the study overlooked a key fact: People only care about spoilers for stories they feel invested in, not those they've heard for the first time a minute earlier.
Spoilers suck because they remind us that a story is just a story. It's hard to get transported when you already know where you'll end up—in real life, you don't have that knowledge.
Some spoiler defenders make more theoretical arguments, such as Time's TV critic James Poniewozik, who wrote, "An unwanted spoiler does take something away, but not, I think, the pleasure of actually reading or watching a story. Rather, it takes away from the anticipation before watching it—wondering who dies, whether they'll get off the Island."
But taking away the anticipation does take away the pleasure of a story. There's plenty of research showing that people enjoy the anticipation of something pleasurable as much as—or sometimes even more than—they enjoy the thing itself. That's why a study found that people would rather postpone a free dinner at a French restaurant by a week than have it right away; they want the pleasure of looking forward to the meal. As Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert says in his book Stumbling on Happiness, "Forestalling pleasure is an inventive technique for getting double the juice from half the fruit."
Others point out that if knowing major plot twists inevitably spoiled stories, people wouldn't enjoy reading the same book or watching the same movie over and over, and wouldn't flock to see movies like Argo, for which most people already know the ending. But watching a favorite movie for the hundredth time affords a kind of pleasure that is very different from—and, I would argue, not as strong as—what you experience when you see it for the first time. Once you know how a story ends, you can no longer have your mind blown; the pleasure is now in the details. Ditto for movies for which you know the ending before they even start. As Goldstein noted, "Nobody goes to a James Bond movie wondering if the crime is going to get solved and justice served—you go to see explosions and whatever the women are wearing or not wearing." Maybe that's one reason most romantic comedies are so bad, as Christopher Orr argued recently in The Atlantic—you already know how things end, and the details aren't very interesting.
What about people who read spoilers intentionally? You know these people (or perhaps you're even one of them): They claim that spoilers free them from the anxiety of watching or reading something suspenseful. Maybe they just don't know what's good for them. Or maybe, for some people, anticipation is agony; hence the expression, "The anticipation is killing me." After all, not everyone in the French restaurant study chose to put off the meal; some wanted to have it sooner rather than later.
In the end, it's hard to know how much spoilers really matter—you can't watch the same movie spoiled and unspoiled and compare your experience of each. Goldstein suggested a clever experiment that gets close: Take a group of people and have them watch two movies that include major plot twists. Half the group watches movie A spoiled and movie B unspoiled, and vice versa for the other half. Then compare people's enjoyment of the spoiled and unspoiled movies.
Until someone does that study, I'm going to stick to my spoilers-are-evil stance and try a little harder to stay out of their way. That probably means I need to avoid social media whenever there's something on the DVR. Either that or suck it up and watch my beloved shows live.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Irish contributions to the English language

(This article first appeared inthe March 2013 edition of Lexpert under the title "Ireland's Gift to the English")

Few Irish words in English? What a load of malarkey!


                       Howard Richler

Tis claimed that on Saint Patrick's Day everyone is Irish. While this may or may not be true, it is a fact that the original Brits were the Celts who arrived in Britain and Ireland by 500 BC. After the Romans left Britain in the fifth century AD, the country was dominated by non-aligned Celtic chiefdoms. It didn't take long for the isle’s neighbours to glean that Britain was ripe for invasion without Roman protection. In poured hordes of Jutes, Angles, Saxons, and Danes who pushed the Celtic Britons to the isle’s periphery of Wales, Cornwall and Cumbria. Around the same time the Celts also settled in Ireland.

As I mentioned in a Lexpert article two months ago, I believe many linguists have greatly understated the contributions of these Celtic people to English. In fact, the OED shows approximately 1000 Celtic contributions to English such as bard, bug (as in bugbear), caber, clan, and glen, with the majority of them coming out of Ireland.

Other Celtic words filtered in later on. The word “bog” is a 16th century adaptation of the Irish bogach. “Bog” has the connotation of “soft” in the Celtic word bog-luachair “bulrush.” Also coming into English in the 16th century are the pair of plaid from the Gaelic plaide and Irish ploid, “blanket’, and the word “slogan” from the Gaelic sluagh-ghairm, “host-cry.” The word “galore” is a 17th century rendering of the Irish go leór , “to sufficiency.” Whiskey” is an 18th century cropping of “whiskybae,” and is a variation of the Gaelic uisgebeatha, “water of life.”

The term “Tory” has the distinction of not only being Irish in origin, but a rather nasty insult to boot. It is really an anglicized spelling of the Irish tóraidhe, “pursuer,” and originally denoted an Irish guerilla who, to revenge being ousted from his land by the British, took to plundering Ireland’s occupiers. The OED highlights this origin in its first definition of “Tory”: “In the seventeenth century, one of the dispossessed Irish, who became outlaws, subsisting by plundering and killing the English settlers and soldiers.” It quickly became a term to refer to any Irish Papist and by the middle of the seventeenth century the word was often used by British commentators as a synonym for “bandit,” as in this mid- seventeenth century reference found in Bulstrode Whitelocke's Memorial of the English Affair: “Eight Officers . . riding upon the Highway [in Ireland], were murder'd by those bloody Highway Rogues called the Tories.” At the end of the seventeenth century the word was applied to a group of English politicians who had originally opposed the deposing of Roman Catholic James and his replacement with the Protestant duo, William and Mary. Eventually, this loose assortment of politicians became regarded as a political party, the Tories. Even later, however, we find the word used as a derogation of the Irish. Catharine Macaulay, in her The History of England, written in 1849 writes, “The bogs of Ireland . . . afforded a refuge to Popish outlaws, much resembling those who were afterwards known as Whiteboys. These men were then called Tories.”

However, even the aforementioned total of approximately 1000 words of Celtic origin may be understated. Linguist Loreto Todd argues convincingly in the journal English Today that many other words might have an Irish lineage, These include:

Ass (animal) This word appears to be a modified form of the Irish term asal. The OED hypothesizes that the Irish word comes from the Latin asinus but is possible that the Latin term may have come from the Celtic one.

Bat (stick) Many etymologists see this word derivinf from the Old French batte. However, according to the OED, “the supposed Old English bat is by some referred to a Celtic origin. Compare Irish and Gaelic bat, bata, staff, cudgel.”

Clock-The OED states that “clock” does not appear to derive from any Germanic language and adds that it was “known since about the 8th century in Celtic Irish cloc, Gaelic clag, Cornish , cloch, … (but) not found in southern Romanic languages where campana is the word for “bell.”

Another word that may have an Irish origin is “kibosh.” Its first OED citation occurs in Charles Dickens' Sketches by Boz written in 1836. The OED states, “Origin obscure; it has been stated to be Yiddish or Anglo-Hebraic.” Some etymologists, however, believe that it derives from the Irish phrase cie bais “cap of death.” The word bais is pronounced “bawsh” and cie is pronounced with a hard initial consonant, somewhat like “kai.”

Irish contributions to English may not be as sparse as generally supposed. They are to be found in considerable numbers, assuming one knows what shamrock to look under.

A happy St. Patrick's Day to all.

Howard Richler's latest book From Gay (Happy) to Gay (Homosexual) is being published by Ronsdale Press in 2013.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Facebook Quizzes-251-300


251-Name the personality whose name is an anagram to “wonder trash.”-

252 -Name the personality whose name is an anagram to “Him? Feet all clay!”

253 -Name 1 state, 5 countries & 2 world capitals whose letters are only in first half of the alphabet.

254- What do these words and expressions have in common? Gone with the wind, scapegoat & sour grapes

255-What is the only 4 letter element that isn't a solid.

256-What do these words have in common? amethyst-bridal-bevy

257-What do these words have in common? cashed-asked-squad

258-Name 2 palindromic placenames that combined have population of almost 800,000

259-Name a 10 letter word that can be expressed by 5 letters.

260- Discern these anagrammatized actors: canadien-protectoral-declension

261-Discern these anagrammatized NHLers: soldiering-tinwares-disable

262- What do these words and expressions have in common? Beside himself, two-edged sword-& eat drink and be merry.

263-What do these words have in common? daisy-window-atrocious-inoculate

264-What do these words have in common? grapevine-slogan-blockbuster

265-What do these words have in common? bedchamber-chameleon-sledgehammer-epiglottis-aboard

266-What do these words have in common? syphillis-mentor-stentor

267-Unscramble these musicians:   treescape-cornwallis

268-What do these words have in common? pussy-dove-supply

269-What do these words have in common? scornful-reappearance-appraising-fortunate

270-What do these words have in common? Dixielander, interregnum, transmigration

271-What do these words have in common? porpoise- porcupine-steward-hyena

272-Name 2 1 syllable words that become 3 syl words by adding 1 letter.

273-Name a tree of 8 letters made up of letters that double as Roman numerals.

274-Aside from starting with a b, what do these words have in common? bachelor-bugle-bulimic-bucolic

275-Name a country that when you change the first letter you get 2 former world leaders.

276-What do these words have in common? eminency-obesity-examiner(aside from vowel beginning)

277-Name at least 3 North American placenames where the letters only appear in 2nd half of the alphabet.

278-What do these words have in common? skill-window-scowl-sky

279-What do these words have in common? pandemonium-infinitude-sensuous-impassive

280-What do these words have in common? honor-valor-courage-fool

281-What do these words have in common? mattress-sofa-zero-admiral

282-What do these words have in common? uncomplimentary, unnoticeable, subcontinental

283-What do these words have in common? bonanza-guitar-corral

284-What do these words have in common? job, nice, polish

285-What do these words have in common? slave-cravat-bungalow

286-What do these words have in common? blurb-quark-boondoggle-googol-grok

287-Rearrange 1 letter in a South American city to get the name of a former US prez, then change 1 letter in this name to get a state capital.

288-What do these words and expressions have in common? information superhighway-tweet-subprime-hashtag

289-Change the first letter in the surname of a former world leader to get a)A middle east city b)another former world leader c)a former #1 tennis player.

290-Change 1 letter in the surname of a former homerun champ to get the name of a European city, change 1 letter here to get a civil rights activist.

291- Name a former Hall of Fame QB whose surname is an anagram to a former #1 tennis player and a Russian diver.

292-Name a former Middle East diplomat whose surname is an anagram to 2 actors.

293-Name a famous island that is an anagram to an award-winning actor and a former hockey star

294-Name a famous twin whose name is an anagram to a world leader and to a group of Europeans.

295-Name a former US Sect of Defense whose surname is an anagram to a European country and a resident of an Italian city.

296-What do these words have in common? blatant-braggadocio-shiny-violin

297-What do these words have in common? alcove-algorith-algebra-tariff

298-What do these words have in common? chap-perk-spawn-logo-lags-bran

299-What do these words have in common?cookie-yacht-smuggler

300-What do these words have in common? cowslip-poppycock-mistletoe


(This article was published recently in Arts & Opinion under the title 1001 Phobias.)

There’s Nothing to Fear (except the Bogeyman)


             Howard Richler

Four score years ago minus one, Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared, “We have nothing to fear, but fear itself.” Well, it appears Roosevelt was wrong. The site lists over 500 phobias that might plague someone. Some of these phobias aren’t widespread, such as cherophobia, “the fear of gaiety,” leukophobia, “the fear of the colour white,” geniophobia, “the fear of chins” and genuphobia, “the fear of knees.” Moreover, one suspects that with a fear like arachibutyrophobia, “the fear that peanut butter will adhere to the root of your mouth,” and hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia, “the fear of long words” there is more neology at play than psychology.

Years ago I was convinced that my wheaten terrier suffered from automatonophobia because he once barked at a scarecrow. The aforementioned list defines this condition as “the fear of ventriloquist dummies, wax statues, anything that falsely represents a sentient being.” I was made aware of this condition thanks to an article I had just read in Time magazine in 2001 about phobias. This article also highlighted a woman who wore rubber-soled shoes when opening a refrigerator and in the event of a light bulb not functioning would wait hours for someone to change it for her. Nor could she shop for clothes lest static on garments impel her to run screaming from a shop. Also swimming at night was out of the question, lest underwater lights electrocute her. This woman suffered from electrophobia, “the morbid fear of electricity” ; lists it before eleutherophobia, “fear of freedom,” and after eisoptrophobia, “the fearing of mirrors, or seeing oneself in a mirror.”

Fears may have a flip side. If you possess uranophobia you’re afraid of heaven– hadephobia, your aversion is hell. Calignephobia denotes a fear of beautiful women and cacophobia, a fear of ugliness. If you’re afraid of all your relatives, you have syngenesophobia. If you’re afraid of your mother-in-law, you have pentheraphobia; if both your in-laws terrify you, your condition is called soceraphobia and if stepdad terrifies you, vitricophobia is your bane. Medomalacuphobia is the fear of losing an erection, medorthophobia is the fear of an erect penis while ithyphallophobia, is the fear of seeing, thinking about, or having an erect penis. Who knew?

Many of the phobias listed are recorded in the OED including aerophobia, “fear of drafts,” bogyphobia, “fear of bogeymen,” coprophobia, “fear of feces,” deipnophobia, “fear of dining, siderodromophobia, “ fear of rail travel,” tæniiphobia, “fear of tapeworm” and triskaidekaphobia, “fear of the number 13.” If you suffer from papaphobia, the OED relates that you possess a “distempered dread of the pope or popery.”

Xenophobia is the fear of foreign people. One can, not suprisingly given the plethora of phobias, specify which particular group freaks you out. Some examples are Anglo-(English), Bolshe (Bolsheviks), Franco or Gallo (French), Judeo (Jews), Sino (Chinese), Teuto or Germano (German) and Waloon (Waloons), French-speaking people living in southern Belgium). However, if you are afflicted with Hellenologophobia, you are not afraid of Greeks, but of Greek terms or complicated scientific terminology. On September 26, 2012, after Canadian diplomats at the United Nations walked out when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave a speech, the Iranian leader accused Canada of “Iranophobia.” This coinage, however, has not yet been approved by the OED.

Seemingly any animal can make someone cringe: bird (ornithophobia), cat (ailurophobia), chicken (alektorophobia), fish (ichthyophobia), frogs (ranidaphobia), horse (equinophobia), mice(musophobia), otter (lutraphobia), shellfish (ostraconophobia), snakes (ophidiophobia), spiders (arachnophobia), toad (bufonophobia), and wasp (spheksophobia).

The word and suffix phobia comes from the Greek phobos, “fear.” Phobos was the son of the Greek god of war Ares. When he accompanied Dad into battle, Phobos had the affect of instilling fear in all whom he encountered. The first citation of “phobia” in the OED is in 1786: “I shall begin by defining be a fear of an imaginary evil, or an undue fear of a real one.” Samuel Coleridge is credited with the next citation in a letter he wrote in 1801 in which he employed a facetious usage ; “I have a perfect phobia of inns and coffee-houses.”

Roosevelt was right about one thing. We must fear fear itself. This is listed as phobophobia– the fear of fear itself.

Howard's next book How Happy Became Homosexual and other mysterious semantic shifts will be published in April by Ronsdale Press of Vancouver, B.C.