Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Slimed by the Hedge Language

There are words in any language that have been co-opted in a great conspiracy. Actually, they’ve been co-opted into every conspiracy, whether great or small. I’m talking, of course, about all of the hedge words like “may” or “might” or “could”, words that can be inserted into basically any statement and simultaneously present a point of view while distancing the writer or speaker from any responsibility for either that POV or the consequences of writing/stating it. You know what I mean. Simply take a look at the Sunday papers and read a headline or two. “The election may increase blankety-blank in thus and such.” “So-and-so said blabbity blah which could result in a decrease in the weinerschitzel index.” “We think CrossFit might cause a significant change in the daily usage of pitbull greenhouse gas effluent.” It’s the same with all of the bloviation about COVID-19 and the coronavirus pandemic. Nothing but “may” and “could” and “might” in the headlines and on SoMe. Stuff like that simply litters our information pipeline.

A defining characteristic of statements like these is that the exact opposite may also occur. Indeed, it is entirely possible that the obverse is actually more likely to occur. Accuracy of this sort is precisely not what the speaker or writer is interested in, though. No, what people who write or speak like this are interested in is the projection and proliferation of a worldview that likely won’t stand up to either data or reality. Even more so, they are doing this without regard to the consequences for those who may share the sentence with the slippery and slimy hedge words. The reality is that they typically mean some sort of harm to that person, institution or idea.

They just lack the courage to not only place their flag in the sand, but to also stand next to it, defend it, and face the consequences.

Come on. Anything COULD happen. There is certainly enough uncertainty in the world that any statement with “might, could, or may” in it would turn out to be accurate. The reality is that we also live in a probabilistic world in which data can be used to give a bit more guidance. In so doing we can put the fire to the feet of those who are so careless with their regard for the effect of these words on others and too cowardly to willingly step on the fire.

How many times have we read or heard someone look at a CrossFit WOD like Deadlift 1-1-1-1-1-1-1 and say: “CrossFit may be dangerous; it might cause injury in individuals who are lifting heavy weight.” A fact-based examination of this WOD would certainly acknowledge that injury is a possibility, but the more likely outcome is that “athletes who perform a full-body functional movement like the deadlift with proper technique with relatively high intensity will gain strength.” Will. Flag firmly planted. Data available to date shows that vaccination with any of the 3 vaccines available in the U.S. will reduce the likelihood of severe illness and death by 2 ¬†orders of magnitude. Not “may” or “could” but WILL.

Flag planted.

There most definitely IS a lesson here: statements with “may”, “could”, “might” and similar hedge words are a warning that you are reading or listening to someone who is either unsure of what they are stating, or that they are very sure that they can neither prove their thesis nor defend themselves if it is shown to be false. An agenda too often lurks behind these words, and it behooves us to look for that agenda whenever we are triggered by these words.

Sadly, there is no safe space in our connected world for us to escape this kind of slime.

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