At the rind of the debate

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Here are a couple of puzzling word-choices from Charlatan Magazine, sent to me by someone who was somehow put on their mailing list.

This one is from "The Politics of Immigration", 3/3/2024 [emphasis added]:

While Biden patrols the Texas border (taking a wide berth around the impeachment of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas) he assuages the American voter whose ire toward illegal immigrants under his presidency has doubled. “There were 49.5 million foreign-born residents in the United States (legal and illegal) in 2023,” according to the Center for Immigration Statistics, and the foreign-born population has grown by 4.5 million under Biden's exegesis.

My correspondent identified "exegesis" as a malapropism, but we couldn't figure out what it might be a substitution for. I guess the author might have meant something like "Biden's interpretation (of immigration policy)", though there's nothing else in the article to raise the question of alternative interpretations of such laws or policies.

And here's another odd usage, from "Chasing the Light", 3/10/2024:

The U.S. Senate has passed the Sunshine Protection Act that'll make daylight saving time permanent across the nation. The House has yet to advance the bill out of committee. Likewise, the European Parliament proposed removing daylight saving time altogether across the EU, but the initiative presents challenges for transportation and has yet to be implemented. At the cortex of the debate about clocks lies some science.

Cortex originally meant "the bark, rind, shell, hull", or figuratively "the outward part, covering" of other things, and that seems to be exactly the wrong metaphor for what the Charlatan author had in mind: the fill for "at the ___ of the debate about clocks" should presumably be "center" or "heart", not "rind" or "covering".

Today, cortex is mostly used to mean "the outer or superficial part of an organ or bodily structure", and especially the cerebral cortex. So maybe the author meant to refer somehow to "the brain of the debate" — though that's not a common metaphor. Google finds "about 18,200,000 results" for "at the heart of the debate", and no results at all for "at the brain of the debate" or "at the cortex of the debate".

On the other hand, maybe the article's author is insinuating poetically that sleep science is actually "at the rind of the debate" over Daylight Savings Time?

Charlatan Magazine doesn't provide author information for its articles, but its Editor-in-Chief has the look of someone who might be behind that insinuation:

Update — Readers more creative than I am have suggested that exegesis was a malapropism for "aegis", and cortex was a malaprop/blend of "core" and "crux"…

Meanwhile, maybe someone can give us an exegesis of Charlatan Magazine itself? The production is very polished, and there are lots of contributors and lots of articles, and it's been around since 2007 or so — but there are no ads, no paid subscriptions, no editorial board. Sort of like a blog with a very glossy cortex, though not allowing any comments.



  1. J.W. Brewer said,

    March 11, 2024 @ 6:51 am

    I'm not entirely sure of how plausibly the necessary substitution could have occurred, but "under Biden's aegis" would make sense in context. The vowels and final consonant of the latter match the final two syllables of the former, and the penultimate consonant of the latter matches the antepenultimate consonant of the former. And both words are in a similar register, which might be one in which the writer lacked full competence?

  2. Doug said,

    March 11, 2024 @ 6:52 am

    Woth "exegesis" he might have been aiming for "aegis."

  3. J.W. Brewer said,

    March 11, 2024 @ 7:04 am

    Other possibilities would seem to be:

    1. Writer mistakenly or idiosyncratically thinks that "exegesis" of a federal law includes not merely interpretation in the strict sense but broader notions like "administration" or "application."

    2. Writer assumes or infers (erroneously but it arguably requires some technical knowledge to know that this is wrong) that if administration A and administration B take different approaches to the enforcement of the same federal law they must necessarily be "interpreting" it differently.

  4. Jonathan Smith said,

    March 11, 2024 @ 7:34 am

    re: "the cortex of the debate," interference from 'core'… and maybe 'core'+'vortex'

  5. S Frankel said,

    March 11, 2024 @ 7:42 am

    "… at the core of the debate." Similarly, butchering a deer in the rain is all blood and gore-tex.

  6. Cervantes said,

    March 11, 2024 @ 7:42 am

    It's surprisingly common for people not to know the meaning of fairly common words. I have noticed that many people think "erstwhile" means something like noteworthy, or perhaps honorable. I once triggered outrage from a physician colleague by writing that doctors "exhort" their patents to take their medications. I'm not entirely sure what she thought it means.

    I expect this writer thinks cortex means something like the opposite of it's actual meaning. If you aren't familiar with the anatomy of the brain, but you've heard that consciousness and will reside in the cerebral cortex, you might think of it as meaning something like the center or key area. I agree that exegesis sounds like aegis, which may be the cause of confusion in that case.

  7. Ambarish Sridharanarayanan said,

    March 11, 2024 @ 7:47 am

    Yeah, with "cortex", probably a confusion between "core" and "crux" …

  8. Martin said,

    March 11, 2024 @ 8:13 am

    Came here to vote for 'aegis'. In this case it's probably not so much not knowing the meaning, pace Cervantes, as reaching for a specific moderately uncommon word and not quite finding it.

    Along the same lines, I just examined a PhD thesis which had the rather splendid sentence 'Theoretical parametrized and imperial models both require up-to-date measurements of these values'. Took me a moment. Apologies to the student concerned if they are a secret LL reader…

  9. Richard Hershberger said,

    March 11, 2024 @ 9:37 am

    Then there was the hilarious incident from the 1990s of a Silicon Valley vice president firing an employee for writing about pedagogy. That was not something the company tolerated! This hit the news and the company was shamed into rehiring the guy, with the VP circulating a memo that all communications should only use language ordinary people understood. I can only hope that everyone started writing "Dick and Jane" level memos for the C-suite.

  10. Richard Hershberger said,

    March 11, 2024 @ 9:38 am

    I also vote for 'cortex' being midway between 'core' and 'crux.' As for 'aegis,' maybe? That is a rare enough word that we might be giving too much credit to the writer and/or editor.

  11. Cervantes said,

    March 11, 2024 @ 10:18 am

    I don't remember the details, but a local public official in my neck of the woods was fired for using the word "niggardly."

  12. Y said,

    March 11, 2024 @ 11:25 am

    @Cervantes — she may have thought you meant something like "extort".

    As to Charlatan Magazine, Editor-in-Chief Gowing writes in his bio, "A candidate for the JD/MPP in Law & Public Policy, he turned from Boston University to Management Consulting whereto advise leaders in business and government around the globe." He does seem to have a way with the language.

    Another gem (by a different contributor) : "We illicit, examine, and yearn to understand our patient’s relationship to their environment."

  13. RfP said,

    March 11, 2024 @ 11:55 am


  14. Y said,

    March 11, 2024 @ 12:21 pm

    I need to stop looking at Charlatan headlines:

    "Super-intelligent algorithms, brain implants, and zany holograms collide to decry mankind."

    "Charlatan chronicles the disinformation, redistricting, and disambiguation of a free & fair election."

    "They call her the Queen of El Plata. Charlatan checks in to the Four Seasons Buenos Aires…"

    "Charlatan recalls how the Catholics, Mormons and Gays collided to create the New American Family."

    "Contributor Kim Green embarks for Cancun to swim the turtles and discover ancient rituals of the Mayan civilization."

    "Contributor Matthew Flacks opts for a staycation in a quixotic enclave in cosmpolitan London."

    "Charlatan checks-in to the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok and discovers rebuke, reform and the inevitable River of Kings in Thailand."

  15. Roy Sablosky said,

    March 11, 2024 @ 1:16 pm

    I wonder whether "large language models" are involved in this shoddy writing.

  16. Milan Ney said,

    March 11, 2024 @ 1:42 pm

    Given how common malapropism seem to be in the magazine (and taking into consideration the publication's name), I wonder if they are deliberate comment bait. People share the articles on social media to mock the malapropism, giving the publication more reach?

  17. Y said,

    March 11, 2024 @ 2:47 pm

    I think it's just exceptional sloppiness and lack of copyediting. There are some plain bad mistakes ("cosmpolitan", "swim the turtles", "El Plata") and inconsistencies ("checks into"/"checks in to"/"checks-in to", all in the same series about people doing touristy things.) The typography is bad too.

    Oh, and their Masthead: "Charlatan. The Exposé of Politics & Style".

    And the invitation to subscribe: "Make sense of the week's news. Charlatan reviews the world's show & message."

    (I need to stop or I'll get hysterical.)

  18. Xtifr said,

    March 11, 2024 @ 3:01 pm

    @Cervantes: I don't know where the idea that "erstwhile" means honored or renowned came from, but it's one that infected me when I was very young–until I made a whole room full of grownups laugh by referring to my "erstwhile mother". :)

  19. JPL said,

    March 11, 2024 @ 6:37 pm

    BTW, I was struck by another puzzling word choice in a more prominent context: the (bipolar) GOP response to Biden's SOTU speech. The woman, having swung from jollity to intense and bitter outrage, says, apparently trying to refer to "the crisis at the southern border", "This crisis is despicable!" I thought the word 'despicable' is normally used in making a moral judgment about someone's character based on their actions, where the epithet "despicable" is applied to the actions or to the person, but not to events. She goes on to describe the "crisis" as "preventable", which is OK, but if she had wanted to describe the conditions at the border, she could have used a word like "deplorable".

    I also found it odd when earlier she referred to "the true unvarnished state of our union"; I would have thought descriptions or accounts of states could be described as "unvarnished", in the sense of being plain, not mincing words, etc., and wood surfaces could also be described (here literally) that way, but to describe "the state of the union" itself as "unvarnished" I thought was weird. (E.g., "The current state of our union is unvarnished."). (I didn't make it to the end of her spiel.) For descriptive words, the types of objects they are typically applied to is an important part of their "meaning"; this is what Firth was getting at with his term 'collocation', in the text posted here a little while ago.

  20. Terry Hunt said,

    March 11, 2024 @ 8:38 pm

    It's not uncommon for a publication to copyedit submissions, whether articles or letters, in part to eliminate simple errors, cut down unnecessary verbiage, and achieve some consistency of style. I did this myself in my former editing career, and the signs are obvious in many periodicals I read.

    Given the multiple writers in The Charlatan apparently exhibiting the same idiosyncratic style of malapropisms (assuming they are real people), my suspicion is that the Editor/s is/are using some form of LLM-based system, or perhaps some other type of program, to copyedit submissions and, being less literate (or less competent) than he/they probably think/s, is/are unable to spot such faux pas on a re-read, or perhaps accept/s the output without checking it. (Another headline I just spotted includes a reference to a "vangelical Christian".)

    One might think that the journal's title is unintentionally apt.

  21. Y said,

    March 11, 2024 @ 11:11 pm

    Nearly all the contributor bios are written in this style as well. Even the editor's mini-bio in the main post above, "His tenure on Capitol Hill confirmed that publishing ensures, supports & shapes the world of politics," is meaningless word salad, though without obvious howlers.

  22. Philip Anderson said,

    March 12, 2024 @ 5:08 am

    Wasn’t the GOP response just contrasting the true state of the union and the President’s (allegedly varnished) report of the state of the union? In that context, it seems quite reasonable to label the former as the unvarnished state.

  23. Peter Taylor said,

    March 12, 2024 @ 5:48 am

    @Y, "El Plata" isn't a mistake, although the headline is unnecessarily ambiguous. (It's Buenos Aires which is la reina del Plata, not the Four Seasons hotel). Rivers are masculine in Spanish, even when named after feminine precious metals.

  24. Y said,

    March 12, 2024 @ 12:14 pm

    @Peter Taylor: Yes, thank you.

  25. JOHN SWINDLE said,

    March 13, 2024 @ 4:02 am

    "For 75 years, Punch + Charlatan has endeavored to be 'A Trusted Voice' across a diverse continuum of a global community. To chronicle their histories; connect their concerns; indemnify their customs; and to direct, enlighten and endow the approach to Politics-as-Lifestyle."

    "Since 2008, Charlatan censors & celebrates the Year's Most Important Stories"

    Comment: Is it intended as a spoof? If so, it's pretty elaborate. Google thinks it's based in Charlotte, North Carolina. Apparently "Charlatan" is a jocular term for a resident of Charlotte. Another "Charlatan" is a satirical student newspaper at Carleton University in Ottawa.

  26. Julian said,

    March 13, 2024 @ 10:42 pm

    My personal favourite for "word that I've never been able to work out the meaning of" is –
    "Predicate" as a verb: "X is predicated on Y"
    I suspect it's mostly just a pretentious way of saying "X depends on Y." I may be wrong.

  27. Terry Hunt said,

    March 14, 2024 @ 8:03 pm

    @ Julian – I've always taken it to imply, loosely, that X follows from Y assuming that Y is valid. I'm aware that it probably has more precise meanings in specific contexts.

  28. John Swindle said,

    March 14, 2024 @ 11:27 pm

    @Terry Hunt: "X follows from Y assuming that Y is valid" can be taken to mean that Y implies X. To me "X is predicated on Y" is closer to an assertion that X implies Y. Julian's "X depends on Y" works for me as a translation.

  29. Pamela said,

    March 15, 2024 @ 11:14 am

    Are those Charlatan headlines really malapropisms? They seem almost unique in their faux erudition and simple lack of thought about what words are. I think "aegis" is a very good guess for what "exegesis" was supposed to be in the first cited passage. But I also sense in the Charlatan entity a fervent wish that words would magically convey more meanings that only Charlatan is reaching for. So I thought "exegesis" might be substituting for a word that doesn't exist, but that somebody who doesn't know what "exegesis" means might hope it would mean–like "executivity."

  30. Philip Taylor said,

    March 16, 2024 @ 10:13 am

    My understanding : "X is predicated on Y" ≡ "X IFF Y", not "Y IFF X". So X ⇒ Y, not Y ⇒ X.

  31. Matthew said,

    March 22, 2024 @ 5:50 am

    Isn't it possible that these oddities are just the resolve of typing on a mobile keyboard by swiping, such as Google's Gboard? Of the obligation is basically a blog, then only the original writer will see the text, and it's all too easy to see what you *wanted* to type, instead of what you actually typed, especially when you are worked up about the subject, or have a long argument drafted in your mind that you want to get down quickly.

    (I have left in the oddities produced by store-tripping this reply in order to illustrate the problem).

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