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Today I listened to a TV discussion with a Middle East expert who managed to use all of my most heinous examples of glib modern phraseology that has gotta' go - to wit:
  • “… that resonates with”
  • “… must reach out to”
  • “… have to join the narrative”
  • “… need to change the conversation”
  • “… voices that must be heard”
To her credit, she did seem to know what she was talking about, but egad! Red Face


"The smell of the dust they kicked up was rich and satisfying" - Grahame
 
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1910 H. G. Wells New Machiavelli ii. ii. 205 It was one of Altiora's boldly blended mixtures of people with ideas and people with influence or money who might perhaps be expected to resonate to them.


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1912 Publ. U.S. Children's Bureau No. 153. 166 Groups and agencies which are planning to reach out to low-income families with educational efforts in the area of sound family life.


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1824 W. J. Burchell Trav. Interior S. Afr. I. 13 The Boors must be heard, the Hottentots must be heard.
 
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Good Heavens! ... my "modern phraseology" didn't necessarily mean "of recent creation" as much as "of recent overuse into triteness" (similar to the modern tendency to use "home" to mean "house").

There are pervasive modernisms that originated long ago (many with Shakespeare, such as "forever and a day"), but manage not to be ugly. "Ugly", as I apply it here, is solely my opinion of the degree of gluey unctuousness contained in the hackneyed phraseology in question, where the greater the former content, the uglier the phraseology! BTW, "resonates with" listed my post I see as being very different from "resonates to" in your example.

The list I offer up in the spirit of [tacitly?] suggesting that these expressions be considered with an eye to discarding them (in the same way as we might "enclosed please find") from our diction. Of course, anyone is free to do disagree, and is equally free to sprinkle their diction with these expressions - in which case they will certainly have lots of company, after all! Maybe other readers will add their "candidate phraseology" to the list for us to consider. Wink


"The smell of the dust they kicked up was rich and satisfying" - Grahame
 
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Originally posted by WeeWilly:
Good Heavens! ... my "modern phraseology" didn't necessarily mean "of recent creation" as much as "of recent overuse into triteness" (similar to the modern tendency to use "home" to mean "house").



You would need to show that they are more common now than they were in the past. I suspect what you mean is that you notice them more now than you did in the past, which is not the same thing.
 
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You would need to show that they are more common now than they were in the past.
...Egad! ... to what end? That would have nothing to say to their basic "ugliness" (per my explanation), or to my point in posting them (per the third paragraph of my last post). While it is a picayune matter how long these expressions have been in play, I actually do believe their pervasive use is very recent. But, really, who cares? Frown


"The smell of the dust they kicked up was rich and satisfying" - Grahame
 
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Picayune, you say? Why, you besmirch the good name of a fine newspaper! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Times-Picayune

Big Grin
 
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OMG...sorry all to hell! Red Face


"The smell of the dust they kicked up was rich and satisfying" - Grahame
 
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Ww,

Essentially, you are saying you don't like those phrases. To use another well-worn phrase, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder". I agree that some phrases mentioned are verging on being clichés, but don't forget that you were listening to a discussion. It is difficult for anyone to avoid clichés when speaking unscripted. A writer can go back and revise their prose to avoid clichés, jargon and the like; it is much harder for someone speaking off the cuff.

Over here, a footballer, interviewed after his team has won, tends to say he is "over the moon" (meaning happy) for some reason. This is so common that comedians and impressionists parody them simply by using that phrase. The footballers still use it, though.


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
 
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Originally posted by WeeWilly:
While it is a picayune matter how long these expressions have been in play, I actually do believe their pervasive use is very recent. But, really, who cares? Frown


I thought you cared, since you brought it up. You said "modern" and "recent overuse". I don't think we have enough evidence to say that.

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Jackie Gleason use a similar phrase in his old TV show, though with different intent. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=98qw86DsdZ0
 
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I don't mind any of those phrases, but then, it's like arnie says, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.

For example,if you check the limerick thread, you will see that my limerick did not "resonate with" Geoff.
 
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I was careful to state that this was my personal taste, for beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder...and these expressions are liberally sprinkled throughout North American diction.

But I dislike them not so much because they are clichés (I have, for example, no problem with "beauty is in the eye of the beholder"), but rather, because to me they have an "oily" or "unctuous" miasma to them. This may relate to their tendency (IMHO) to be excellent flags for oratory or commentary that is low on real substance (the same place that "the month of January" will be preferred over "January").


"The smell of the dust they kicked up was rich and satisfying" - Grahame
 
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Yeah, there are cliches I don't like either, such as "beauty is as beauty does." Depending on what the beautiful thing is, there are plenty of positive effects of beauty. It's a stupid cliche, but my mother used to use it all the time.
 
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The Boors must be heard, the Hottentots must be heard.
... BTW, Goofy, I noticed this before, but this is a bad choice for your "must be heard" rebuttal. This guy couldn't even get "Boers" right! Wink

Also, I again heard today, on the same [daily] TV program I mentioned originally, the expression "...must join the narrative". It was a different speaker on a different topic, but again, a "professional speaker" talking passionately about a pet "soft subject".


"The smell of the dust they kicked up was rich and satisfying" - Grahame
 
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Interesting that you should say "soft subject," WeeWilly because I just heard that terminology today. Apparently in nursing critical thinking, judgment and leadership are considered "soft subjects." Good luck getting along without them!
 
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Good luck getting along without them!
... no kidding!


"The smell of the dust they kicked up was rich and satisfying" - Grahame
 
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What is comprehended under the term “soft subject” is argumentative, to be sure. I did a bit of surfing to see what spray of opinion there is about this, and – since this is a language forum, after all – I thought it might be fun to post my take on this in the form of a little essay.

For me, the closer a subject is to the ordinary life experience, the “softer” the subject. In other words, if simply living and growing older in the world around you causes you significantly to advance your knowledge of a subject, then that is, willy-nilly, a “soft” subject. This includes any subject that is an application or extension of a putative personal talent as, for example, actor, musician, painter, singer, comedian, tailor, mechanic, orator, politician, teacher, etc. To me, most subjects are “soft”, and this includes, among the very dregs, a whole range of pseudo-studies (many of recent manufacture) such as the following:

Religious leader/worker
Child Psychologist
Human Resource Specialist
Grief Counselor
Motivational Speaker/Specialist
Public relations specialist
Ethics or Compliance Specialist
Fashion Designer
Interior Designer

Conversely, “hard” subjects are those that involve knowledge that is most distant, or detached, from the everyday, and where pointed focus and study are required to grok or master them. Mere living gains you pretty-well no knowledge of these subjects, and examples are the following, perhaps loosely listed from the “hardest” down:

Physics
Mathematics (both theoretical and applied)
Chemistry
Computer programming
Engineering
Biology, Biochemistry
Medicine
Law

Subjects such as English (or other language) Literature, Geography, History, Philosophy, Economics, Political Science, etc … are middle-of-the-road. Simply living, and having some sense of awareness of the world around you, can move you quite far down the road in these subjects, but focused study may be required to pick up useful nomenclature, group classifiers, etc.

When looked at as “subjects”, things like leadership, critical thinking, and management (including business administration and project management) are all pretty near the top of the list of “soft” subjects. I tend to place psychology among the “soft” – certainly the softest of the sciences - if indeed it can be classed as a science at all. In my eyes, these subjects are particularly soft because of their added quality that knowledge or success at these is any or all of (a) indeterminate, (b) argumentative, and (c) non-existent. In passing, if you need to be “on the inside” with a subject to judge success, then that subject is among the softest of the soft - and near meaningless!

While I see some of these subjects as reprehensible and blatantly self-aggrandizing rubbish (in particular, child psychology, human resource studies, religious teaching, and grief counseling), being “soft” does not equate with being useless or nugatory – not by a long shot! A good leader, thinker, teacher, or orator can move mountains. Think of Gandhi, Hitler, Confucius, Mao Tse Tung, Jesus or Churchill. Some of humanity’s greatest achievements are owed to the “soft”. Great artists, writers, politicians, actors, and so on, are credits to humanity and might reasonably be listed among its greatest jewels. On a less exalted note, if you have ever worked for a good leader or manager (as I have), you will readily appreciate the existence of good "soft" skills.


"The smell of the dust they kicked up was rich and satisfying" - Grahame
 
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Wee Willy I'll grant you that some of these expressions push my buttons as well.

Just this week-- grumpy from a phone message using "reach out to you"-- I ask my 20-something son what it really means. He says, just another way to say 'contact' or 'call' you. I say, the caller was trying to rush my response to his email-- he was expediting me. Son says, 'that was his way of hurrying you up without being rude.'

I agree with you about the 'oiliness' of such phrases. I would have rather the caller said, 'sorry to rush you but I really need...' (Or perhaps from a fund-raiser, the usual reacher-outers, 'we'd like to pick your pocket') Wink

But I disagree that such phrases should be shunned or purged. Their usage communicates something about the speaker's attitude and motives.

I was surprised to learn from Goofy that the expression has been around at least since 1912!
 
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Wee Willy, the usage and implications of 'soft subject' really get my goat. I like this
treatment of it in The Guardian.

If ever there was an expression to be shunned or purged, this is it! Your definition doesn't quite match the usage I usually see, but that illustrates just how arbitrary it is. Purely a creature of the moment, 'soft subject' is not a neutral term, it is used to derogate the other guy's scholarly pursuit & plump up the speaker's, particularly in the macho worlds of boardroom and govt. Guaranteed: a governmental policy with bad or downright nutty results is a policy based on 'hard' numbers crunched by those softest of 'soft'-scientists, the economists .[Hint: numbers can be crunched to support any political agenda.]
 
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"Soft" does carry marked pejorative overtones among academics. This has always been a lively subject among the cognoscenti, with many biases and prejudices hotly in play. While I was at university, some science students (and some of the science faculty) were indignant that standard tuition scholarships were based on marks without regard to the nature of the courses taken. Extremely soft subjects like drama and English were awarded scholarships for what seemed - to hard-working science students, carrying labs and studying arcane subject matter - a romp in the park. I vaguely remember being involved in some very hot discussions about this!

Anyway, I was heavily in the sciences, but, always a having been a reader - and with most of my friends in the arts - over the years I did audit some English courses (and one in German, and one in psychology). I enjoyed them very much, but I did not see them as real work in any way. There was nothing in the class that was ever hard to understand, or which could leave one groping in the dark! Anyway, in one of those English courses, the professor was apparently wont, each term, to look among his class for some student to [voluntarily] lead a seminar on some topic or other, such seminar to take place at his house, and involving all the students of that class. Anyway, during a term section on D. H. Lawrence, he asked me - the lowly auditing student that term - if I'd lead a seminar on Lawrence's novella, The Fox, the seminar to focus on the parallels between Henry and The Fox, on the roles assigned to gender, and on what tools Lawrence used to create drama, suspense and [strong] sexual overtones! It was fun, and I loved it, but it was play, not work (other than the preparation required to "set and keep the ball in motion" at the seminar)!

The point here is that simply living (and reading for enjoyment) gave me - and presumably, all of us - considerable knowledge of the subject we were studying - if indeed, this can be called study, and not merely participating in a forum to exchange opinions. That young English professor was maybe 25 or 26 years of age, and I was 19, and so we had a comparable knowledge of humanity and the human condition, with his presumably holding a slight edge because of his extra 6 or 7 years of living (and study?)! This is, to me, the very essence of a "soft subject" viz, one that can be mastered, or at least, reasonably understood by simply living and being human!

A counterpart to this in any of my math or physics courses would have been absurd. I was particularly good at math (more-or-less always at the top of my classes), but I and my classmates were often completely at sea during a lecture, where understanding would only come, if it did, with hard study and practice at home afterwards. I remember how true this was, for example, during my first lectures on "limit" and "differential". In such classes, the professor knows the subject and no-one else in the class does! There, the notion that a student might have a valid opinion on the subject would be meaningless drivel. The light of understanding, if it is to dawn at all, will only come later as the result of intense work - to be sure, varying from student to student in accordance with differing personal abilities. This is a "hard" subject - viz, with knowledge that is cut-and-dried truth; free from bias or experience; unable to be argued into insignificance or irrelevancy; and pitiless as to whether one is even able to understand! And, most of all, merely going about the daily business of living in this world contributes nothing meaningful towards an understanding of the subject matter!

Anyway, this is a meandering essay that is far removed from the forum's raison d'être, and I throw this into the mix because (a) there is not much other activity on the forum right now, and (b) it sheds light on what I see as a fairly cogent difference between "soft" and "hard" in this respect. Perhaps this can be stirred into your wine. Smile

Oddly, this snobbishness - if I might so characterize it - used to be the reverse! Material or hard subjects, or subjects that "smelled of the shop", or which were studied merely to further a career, were looked down upon, and the academics of note and reverence were those that studied Greek, Latin and Philosophy - to wit, my "soft" subjects. Go figger'. Isaac Asimov recounted a story where, when he was a professor, during a committee meeting everyone laughed when mention was made of a student called "Milton" who was failing at English. When another professor mentioned a student called Gauss failing at physics, all the science professors laughed. Anyway, that's the gist of it, and I cannot find that Asimov story, but here is the only [very garbled] reference I found to it: Wilmott Magazine article by Aaron Brown.

This message has been edited. Last edited by: WeeWilly,


"The smell of the dust they kicked up was rich and satisfying" - Grahame
 
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But I disagree that such phrases should be shunned or purged. Their usage communicates something about the speaker's attitude and motives.
Bethree5: Your point is certainly valid, for their usage does do all you claim! For me, I shall avoid these expressions, precisely because of what and how they communicate about my attitudes and motives! I like none of their vagueness, their oiliness, their triteness, nor their prevalent association with the nugatory. Using any of this diction in a piece of communication tends (in my eyes) to give a particular [faintly religious or litanous?] stamp to the entire piece, and it is a stamp I want to avoid!

Of course, all this is an intensely personal choice, and, as always, others may see this quite differently.


"The smell of the dust they kicked up was rich and satisfying" - Grahame
 
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my feeling loquacious aren't we Wink

RE: soft & hard pursuits...
I belonged for years to a book club whose members were mostly ex-pats (in the US). It was interesting to contrast attitudes about such things from one society to the next. Our Italian member put foot in mouth (RE: Smilla's Sense of Snow), opining it was hardly credible that the female protagonist was a mathematician. Our Portuguese mathematician tartly responded than in her country of origin, women couldn't get into engineering schools; applicants were politely recommended to the 'soft' field of mathematics (abstract, considered without much real-world traction) Big Grin
 
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Interestingly, that whole science/math bias also goes to ethnicities.
 
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Over here, there's been some criticism of schools entering students for 'soft' subjects, rather than 'hard' ones, and artificially inflating the schools' results. It is perceived to be easier to get a good grade in a 'soft' subject like design and technology, say, than a 'hard' one like maths.

As I see it, the difference comes down to marking schedules - it's possible to mark a maths paper strictly according to the schedule - an answer is either right or wrong. With the 'softer' subjects, much of the marking has to be subjective as there is not necessarily only one right answer. Even with the 'hard' subjects a student might get almost full marks for using a correct method even if the answer comes up wrong (because of a slip in arithmetic, perhaps).

Whether 'soft' subjects are in fact easier to score well in than the 'hard' ones is probably a moot point.


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My experience is the following:
  • Soft subject is easy to pass
  • Hard subject is easy to fail
  • Soft subject is difficult to score 100%
  • Hard subject is easy to score 100%
... where the reason for this strange distribution of difficulties is probably obvious - to wit, the utter indifference that the hard subject matter has to its assessor's biases, something that is not true of the soft subject! To illustrate: (a) to get 100% in a math exam, simply answer the 5 questions correctly; (b) if you do not know the answers to any of the 5 questions in the math exam, you will score 0; (c) if you don't know the answer to any English lit exam question, then, for Heaven's sake, write something about it, and you are unlikely to fail (here, I am assuming that you have read the piece!)

To me the following story is apropos...

I was in math and science, and my very good friend at university was an English student, Milton (not his real name). Anyway, I met Milton for lunch after his 3-hour exam in his [difficult] elective course on Chaucer. Milton came out of the exam exhausted and indignant, and he showed me the one question on the exam: "The Knight's Tale in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales is a philosophical square dance. Discuss". (Egad, please don't kill me for my ignorance, for I cannot recall whether it was indeed the Knight's Tale, and not the Reeve's Tale, that was so characterized!). Milton asked me "How is anyone supposed to answer that?"

His contention was that the question was severe! I said he was talking rubbish (I knew Milton well enough for this terseness), and that this question actually gave him maximum leeway to write pretty-well whatever he wanted, and simply invited him to supply a little imagination. Dammit! He had 3 hours to answer the *&^%$& question! Anyway, I suggested that the logical approach to this would be to think about the Knight's Tale on the one hand (Milton did know the subject matter), and think about a square-dance, on the other. Then, after reflection, and cherry picking your points beforehand, begin answering by describing whatever putative aspects of a square dance you have yourself chosen (bearing in mind the Knight's Tale, and how you already intend to use those aspects of a square dance you have cherry-picked), and then go on to show how the Knight's Tale parodies or allegorizes those aspects.

The question is a gift, and the exam is basically impossible to fail for anyone who knows the subject matter. But I'll bet anything you like that, no matter how well you answer this question, you won't score 100%. BTW, Milton did fairly well on the exam ... of course he did! Smile

... all of which says the same thing as arnie, but with whole lot more words! Big Grin


"The smell of the dust they kicked up was rich and satisfying" - Grahame
 
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Ahhhh...I bet arnie would do well on that question!

I totally agree with your assessment of "hard" versus "soft" courses.
 
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I don't think they held square dances in Chaucer's day. Smile Aren't they an American invention?

However, I agree that with 'soft' subjects the idea behind many questions is to find out what the examinee knows about the subject, so if they carry out an 'info dump' - putting down as much as they can about the subject, however tenuously connected to the question's comparison - they have a good chance of gaining decent marks.


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Originally posted by arnie:
I don't think they held square dances in Chaucer's day. Smile Aren't they an American invention?

Well, you had Morris dances, and square dances evolved from English dances of this and that variety.
 
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I don't think even morris dances were about in Chaucerian times, although I could be wrong. In any case, they don't resemble square dances in any way other than by including the word 'dance' in the name.


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I doubt that Chaucer could ever imagine posing that question about his work, even in the signally dubious event event he had a glimmer of what a square dance might eventually turn out to be! Indeed, it is far more appropriate to have a modern question on dancing (also a "soft" subject): "The square dance is a practical rendition of the Knight's Tale in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Discuss." Frown


"The smell of the dust they kicked up was rich and satisfying" - Grahame
 
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I don't think they held square dances in Chaucer's day. Smile Aren't they an American invention?


It looks like, as Geoff says, square dancing started in Europe, though perhaps the western style developed here in the U.S.
 
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Bethree:
quote:
my feeling loquacious aren't we
... Egad! - hardly unusual, whenever I sit down to enjoy a time on this forum! Wink

Through oversight, I didna' reply to your post before, and I should have, particularly as my wife is an actuary, and a damned good one at that! Your "Italian member" needs to wake up. Without doubt, actuaries have the highest average intelligence among the professions, and I know many that are female. One can only become an actuary (in NA or Britain, at least) by passing ridiculously difficult exams focused tightly on mathematics, and secondly on aspects of medicine, law, and accounting. It is also the profession with the highest average salary (by far). The point is that - unlike the female specialists ubiquitously heading up Human Resources and Customer Service departments - the women in this profession are NEVER there, and do not draw down these salaries, solely because of some sort of "positive action" or "gender quota" requirement. They are there because they are good at it, and have proved it in pitiless surroundings! Actuarial work is very demanding applied mathematics, and has nothing of the "soft" about it! Eek


"The smell of the dust they kicked up was rich and satisfying" - Grahame
 
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Well, I am changing my mind, based on your post, WeeWilly. While many would agree with you about "hard" and "soft" courses, I think none of those posted jobs (above) are "soft" when the worker is successful and good at what he/she does. For example, it takes a lot of talent to be an interior decorator. I'd not call that "soft." Actuarial work may be demanding in that it requires applied mathematics, but interior decorators must have a knowledge of colors, textures, human behavior (different people like different things), etc. So I am going to take back my agreement above about "soft" and "hard" courses. When taken seriously, all courses are "hard." They just take into account different kinds of talents.
 
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Based on my carefully defined notion of "soft" and "hard", interior decorating is a poster child for "soft"! However, I was careful to note that "soft" does not equate with "useless". Remember that my notion of "soft" boils down to the more "intuitive" the subject, the softer the subject! And surely, nothing is more intuitive than the arts.


"The smell of the dust they kicked up was rich and satisfying" - Grahame
 
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Hi Kalleh;

My definition of a "soft" subject is not one that is "easy". My definition is what I stated earlier:
quote:
... the closer a subject is to the ordinary life experience, the “softer” the subject. In other words, if simply living and growing older in the world around you causes you significantly to advance your knowledge of a subject, then that is, willy-nilly, a “soft” subject. This includes any subject that is an application or extension of a putative personal talent as, for example, actor, musician, painter, singer, comedian, tailor, mechanic, orator, politician, teacher, etc
... and my definition of "hard" is not "difficult", but rather, the logical "other end" of "soft", to wit:
quote:
... “hard” subjects are those that involve knowledge that is most distant, or detached, from the everyday, and where pointed focus and study are required to grok or master them. Mere living gains you pretty-well no knowledge of these subjects


"The smell of the dust they kicked up was rich and satisfying" - Grahame
 
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I find it subjective and a little bit arrogant to categorize subjects as "hard" or "soft". It seems like math and science are more important than liberal arts and literature. That is clearly not the case. At first I agreed, but then in thinking about it I realized the fault in the thinking. I have a science background so of course I wanted to think my areas of study are "harder" than others'. But I was wrong.

For the record, what would the study of linguistics be, "hard" or "soft?"
 
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The study of linguistics is abut the same level of softness as, say, psychology! Nowhere near as "hard" as physics or mathematics, but a far cry from the super-soft pseudo studies such as child psychology or grief counseling!

You persist in equating "soft" with "easy", and "hard" with "difficult". I don't, and never did, even if there is undoubtedly some marked correlation! I noticed that you were doing this, and so, I quoted my definition again! Also, it is not a question of importance or anything like!

If you are a science person (as I am), just imagine making the famous statue "David" - or dammit, any credible statue! Or write a compelling story, or draw a picture of a ballerina dancing that doesn't look like something you used to wipe the table (as mine would). These tasks are what I see being among the softest of the soft (my definition), but to most of us, they are not just difficult, THEY ARE ^%$##%^ IMPOSSIBLE! You might as well ask me to make a living person (on my own, mind!) as making a statue, for both tasks would be equally beyond me.

Let me pound at this again: A "soft" subject is one that a person can learn [a lot?] about by simply living. The more one can learn about that subject by simply living in this world, the softer the subject! Physics, math and computer programming are, by this definition, the "least soft" subjects in existence because you can learn nothing - or next to nothing - about them by simply existing [intelligently or not] in this world. They are only accessible through pointed and applied study of them. They are largely non-intuitive, pitilessly factual, and, once you are into them to any depth, they are abstract beyond comprehension to those who have not studied them. Any opinions expressed about the substance of these subjects by those who haven't studied them aren't worth a wooden nickel!

Here's a math definition of "compact", out of topology, that may illustrate the point. In the following sentence, you can understand every word, and yet have not a snowball's chance in hell of understanding it: "A compact set is one where any infinite cover of that set can be reduced to a finite sub-cover." You'll note that "infinite cover" can be replaced with "open cover". Of course, I am having fun here, but of interest is that it's not just the words that cause the hang up (even child psychology can produce some beauts that, in fact, are probably used to describe concepts that wouldn't confuse an intelligent 10-year-old) - it's the concepts involved. Anyway, I remember when I first ran across this elusive definition, and trying to grok it, and it cost me much misery - and I was good at the &$%^ subject! Today, I could not begin to undertake proving whether a set was compact or not! I'm sure that linguistics can produce legitimately "hard" concepts (ie, ones that need pointed study to understand beyond what is mere learning the argot that is an earmark of every subject), and so can psychology (grown-up psychology, I mean), and philosophy, etc. and so these subjects have elements of the soft and the hard.

Child psychology is a favorite whipping boy of mine, not particularly because it is "soft" - it is that - but because it purports to contain expertise (that it persists in seeing as "knowledge") about raising children, when in fact, its knowledge is LESS accurate, correct or practicable - stunningly so - than what one learns by simply living! Raising children is not difficult (even if can be an emotional challenge), for, in common with the rest of the animal world, we have known how to do this for years. Child psychology is, in simple terms, a scam, a con job, that is given far more credence than it is due. Frown


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Fine arts, acting, playing a musical instrument, and so on are all things that I see as "soft" to varying degrees because they are not characterized by "being mysterious" or beyond comprehension if you don't study them (and I see this last fact as the earmark of "hard" as I define it). True, you need a talent to do these things, and in some case lots of work, but if you have the talent, they are all within grasp, and "understanding" was never an issue with them.


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The study of linguistics is abut the same level of softness as, say, psychology! Nowhere near as "hard" as physics or mathematics, but a far cry from the super-soft pseudo studies such as child psychology or grief counseling!

It is nice to have a scale with which to measure fields of study. My undergrad major was in linguistics, and my graduate work was in computer science (another "soft" study no doubt). I found them both to be of the same difficulty to study: by effort and time to complete assignments and pass tests.

I have known folks who thought that learning another language or studying graph theory was an impossible thing to do. Others find those things easy and infinitely enjoyable. Ah, well. To each their own.


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Physics, math and computer programming are, by this definition, the "least soft" subjects in existence because you can learn nothing - or next to nothing - about them by simply existing [intelligently or not] in this world.
I've known or read about many, including my husband but also major scientists, who have talent in these subjects and have learned much of them on their own. As for child psychology, scientific research is the foundation of that respectable science. There may be scams (as there are in computer programming, physics and math as well), but the scientific foundation underlying child psychology is rigorous. I suspect there is some personal opinion that is keeping you from respecting that subject.

Your definition of "hard" and "soft" subjects is probably closer to the general meaning of "soft" and "hard" than mine because, as I said previously and because of this discussion, I no longer think there are hard or soft subjects. It's more a matter of personal preference or opinion. Of course, everyone wants to think they have studied a "hard" subject as compared to a "soft" one, at least by the ordinary understanding of "hard" and "soft" subjects, which do indeed equate with "difficult (hard)" or "easy (soft)."

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It's more a matter of personal preference or opinion.
Well, actually, no it isn't, not by the definition that I very carefully laid out for "soft" and "hard" from the first, before I ventured down this path! You (and zmježd too, apparently, if I am to judge from his sarcasm?) can't seem to come unhitched from the notion that "soft" means "easy", and "hard" means "difficult". If you interpret my comments with that notion, then all bets are off! Your evaluation of my remarks is unjust in that you have superimposed your notions of "soft" and "hard" onto my remarks to produce a position that is not mine, and indeed, which has little to do with what I either said or believe!

By the way, I hope Goofy is watching this with interest, for it supplies a lot of substance for thought around some of the remarks he has made about language, and implicitly, about communicating! Egad, I hope he doesn't ask me to go back to try to find them! Wink


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Kalleh, about "hard" subjects:
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..have learned much of them on their own
Indeed, but this does not in the least counter anything I have suggested. The point is that you can't do this by simply living and interacting in society; you have to step out of "everyday living" to sit down and study them.

Your remark following:
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Of course, everyone wants to think they have studied a "hard" subject as compared to a "soft" one ...
... leaves me profoundly aghast, regardless of how "hard" and "soft" are interpreted! Really! Where in tar-nation would humanity be if everyone had such a silly aspiration? And why the "of course"? We have a free society, and anyone can study a "hard" subject if they so choose. But I hope that society is never reduced to such straits as having everyone's wishing to do that!

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zmježd mentioned a subject en passant, "Computer Science", that offers some interesting scope for comment, if you'll allow me to focus on one piece of it, "computer programming". By my definition, this is a "hard" subject if there ever were one. For a year (1973), I was a TA at a Canadian university where, among my duties, was teaching computer programming (Fortran) and "applied programming". True, they were "hard" subjects (by my definition), but were easy to learn, and indeed, most students saw them as gift courses. So "hard", as I have been using it here, is no synonym for "difficult"! Similarly "soft" is no synonym for "easy".


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This business of having my remarks hopelessly, if innocently, mis-interpreted, followed by others’ rushing in to take offense, is very unsettling. I am not upbraiding anyone, for it is patent that, yet again, I am at fault for lack of clarity! Anyway, by now, hopefully it is clear that I am using “hard”, from the first, in a way that may vaguely parallel its use in “hard” facts – to wit, those that are not interpretive, or opinion-based.

Some time ago I did quite a bit of volunteer work in “Distributed Proofreading” through a website (DP Website) run by a wonderful group of people bent, ultimately, on making all the works of literature available on line. This is a massive undertaking, where the comprehensive website is designed to coordinate volunteers’ efforts to help with this process. The way it works is that each book, magazine, or other piece of printed matter is scanned and the image made available in an image library as a “project”. Also made available in “parallel” is the digitized version of each page of that printed matter. The idea is that volunteers will compare, page-by-page, each page image with the digitized copy of that page, and then methodically mark all the corrections, formatting and so on, required to match the digitized page to that page in the original work. It is a massive and detailed undertaking, particularly as the work proceeds in multiple phases (three proofreading phases, and two formatting, plus more) before being posted as a finished work (by Gutenberg, for example) available to the public.

So, a “newly recruited” volunteer (viz, anyone who signs up and offers his services) must undergo the training exercises and be tested before being allowed to work on anything. Anyway, once that is complete, the volunteer is free to sign in at any time, select one of the projects listed, and start work on the next available page. On some of the difficult projects, it can take weeks – even the better part of a year - to finish just one pass of all the pages of a work, and this long passage of time occurs where volunteers constantly avoid that project as being too difficult or tedious to work on. And some are very difficult indeed! Of course, other projects simply whisk through the phases.

Anyway, one of the books I selected to work on was a large and learned linguistics text on the Mikir language that was working its way achingly slowly through the passes (as I recall, the book was sitting in phase 1 proofreading for 6 months or more when I arrived). I would sign in to it, and select the next available page, and get to work. It would take me an hour or more to proofread and correct a single page (with its markups, accents, footnotes, etc in the original text), before moving on to the next. I might do two or three pages in a single session, and then leave it; maybe a week would elapse before I was ready to tackle another page of that difficult text! Anyway, inevitably, when I came back to it a week later, no-one had advanced the pass by even a single page in the interim!

I dwell on this because (a) any of you who haven’t done any distributed proofreading might just enjoy the process generally, and (b) the Mikir language text itself was an extremely difficult work in linguistics. The linguist who authored the work (G. D. Walker, I think?) was obviously brilliant, as evidenced in the translations, his explanations, and his classification of the various linguistic elements at work in this language and very foreign way of thinking – to say nothing of his invented “conventions” for written characterizations of the various sound elements.

So, linguistics no doubt has much “soft” knowledge, but it also has lots of “hard” knowledge as well.

Again, here I do not equate “soft” with “easy”.


"The smell of the dust they kicked up was rich and satisfying" - Grahame
 
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Well, actually, no it isn't, not by the definition that I very carefully laid out for "soft" and "hard" from the first,
While we could both go on and on forever with this, as you and goofy did previously on another subject, the whole point is that we both need to start with a clear definition - not our own. I refuse to go with yours, and I am sure you feel the same about mine. Of course you can logically explain your position when you use your own self-developed definition. I looked for an authoratative definition, but because it's two words I found none. What I did find was opinion, which is what we are seeing here (mine just as much as yours).
 
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not by the definition that I very carefully laid out for "soft" and "hard" from the first

Of course, you are welcome to define your terms any way you want, but the caveat is, if you define them in such a way as to disagree in large measure to how other speakers do, you run the risk of reducing communication when your definitions grate up against the group's. (As a linguist, I find that the definition of "grammar" that I am used to in reading the literature in the field is quite different from the man on the street.)

The problem is mostly with "hard". Hard means to most people, "not easy", so you can perhaps see how folks might misinterpret your other term "soft".

But I think you knew exactly how your readers would take your posting. You can tell in the slightly defensive tone your posts took before you got around to your definition of the terms "hard" and "soft".

As for the difference between "computer programming" and "computer science" (and/or "electrical engineering"), having taught beginning programming (in a number of programming languages) to both graduate and undergraduate students, I say there's more to a degree in "computer science" than just programming: e.g., algorithms, data structures, discrete math, analysis and design of programs, etc.

As for your definition. I'd say it's a matter of degree (which could probably be better served meaning-wise with less loaded terms). With many of your "hard" subjects of study, it takes a lot of "coming up to speed" or "learning the basics (or basis). The thing that shocked me most as an undergrad in linguistics was that we were being taught those basics while at the same time being exposed to a critical historiography of the same. A lot of our undergrad opinions were still naïve and under-informed, but it was exhilarating to be exposed to some of the legitimate gripes of the grads and professors. (My introductory syntax and semantics class had over a third of those enrolled that quarter being post-docs and visiting professors who had come to hear what the professor who was lecturing had to say. Again, it's a matter of degree: imagine starting an introductory physics course discussing string theory or differing theories of cosmology or starting off in math with non-Euclidian geometry or graph theory.


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So interesting because I am at a meeting of nursing deans here in Washington DC, and they were talking about nursing being included in the STEM courses. One dean said that she was at a meeting where they wanted to call them STEAM courses, with "A" being art. I suppose these STEM courses are supposed to be the "hard" ones, while others are "soft" ones.
 
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In Ww's defence, he didn't coin those uses of 'hard' and 'soft' to describe types of subject. We've had them over here for years as I mentioned above. As I also said at the time
quote:
Whether 'soft' subjects are in fact easier to score well in than the 'hard' ones is probably a moot point.


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
 
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The problem is mostly with "hard". Hard means to most people, "not easy", so you can perhaps see how folks might misinterpret your other term "soft".


It might also mean, "not soft" just as often, don't you think? Anyway, this is why I took the trouble of defining my usage as soon as I noted the problems!

Cheerio.


"The smell of the dust they kicked up was rich and satisfying" - Grahame
 
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In Ww's defence, he didn't coin those uses of 'hard' and 'soft' to describe types of subject.
Yes, I know. However, he did coin his own definition, and that was what I was responding to. Other definitions about "hard" and "soft" subjects (as seen online) are not consistent. I am sure that's because those people are expert in "soft" subjects object. I suppose my major, nursing, is considered "on the bubble." Yet, I've had 9 statistical courses, physics, biophysics, organic and inorganic chemistry, biology, anatomy, physiology, microbiology, just to name a few - and these are considered "hard" courses by "those in the know." Thus the reluctance to give in on this one.
 
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