Good editing

In an email I was writing just now, I accidentally typed “sitting over the week” when I meant “sitting over the wing”. This kind of error is appearing frequently with me — typically I replace one word by another with a similar sound. Luckily, I caught this one before sending the message. I’m a pretty careful editor.

I think this is pretty much the condition of ageing. Your engine loses power, and you cover yourself with a lifetime’s experience in editing.

[10 October 2014]

Flying posh

An urban myth has it that the word “posh” comes from port out, starboard home. On the old steamship journeys between England and India, to avoid the worst of the heat, wealthy passengers would book cabins on the port side going out, the starboard side coming home. What makes the notion fun is the geometric fact that to avoid the sun, you need to be on different sides for the two journeys.

A similar bit of geometry pleases me today. I’m on BA 178, a daytime flight from New York to London. I like window seats, but I hate having the sun streaming in on me, so I arranged to sit on the left side of the aircraft. Here in the morning we are heading northeast, with the morning sun to the southeast. In the afternoon we’ll be heading southeast, with the afternoon sun to the southwest. The poor lubbers on the starboard will be roasting all day long while I sit here in shady comfort, the plane slowly turning to stay between me and the sun. There’s Boston on my left now, magnificent in morning sunlight.

[10 October 2014]

Mastery of the contrapositive by an infant

On a New York sidewalk today I passed a stand selling baby outfits with this message printed in big letters across the chest,

“If I don’t sleep, nobody sleeps!”

We have here a fine case study in logic. The negatives on both sides are a tipoff that there’s a simpler equivalent formulation, the contrapositive,

“If somebody sleeps, I sleep!”

So why does this one feel so wrong? It’s the distinction between implication and causation. Yes, if somebody sleeps, that logically implies that baby must sleep. But it doesn’t cause baby to sleep, and indeed it’s baby who must drift off first before anyone else will get a chance. “If I don’t sleep…” says it right because it aligns the logic and the causation. Maybe it adds to the fun that we dimly sense this twist.

[29 September 2014]