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Peripheral control nerdview

In various areas of Edinburgh there are signs that say "Peripheral Controlled Zone." What exactly would you do if you encountered one of these signs? What would it mean to you? Not much? That's the hallmark of nerdview. What is peripheral to what? Who is controlling what? What is peripheral control? Why are you being […]

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Password nerdview

Steve Politzer-Ahles was trying to change his password on the Hong Kong Polytechnic University system, and found himself confronted with this warning: You may not use the following attribute values for your password: puAccNetID puStaffNo puUserGivenName puUserSurname Attribute values? This is classic nerdview.

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Bus sign nerdview in Sydney

It's good to find a prominently displayed list of local bus routes that you can consult when you arrive at the train station in a big city that perhaps you do not know. And Sydney Central station in New South Wales, Australia, has exactly that. There is a big board headed "Find your way" at […]

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Post Office nerdview (capped)

Postal orders are a way for people in Britain to send money by post without having a checking account, but there is a fee, dependent on the face value of the order. For a postal order with a face value of more than £100 the fee is shown on the Post Office web page as […]

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Biomedical nerdview

My new hobby, as Randall Munroe sometimes says, is asking biomedical researchers what "sensitivity" and "specificity" mean. The modal response is "Um, yes, I always have to look those up". But recently, preparing a homework assignment about the evaluation of binary classifiers, I had a flash of insight. My new insight answers one of the questions […]

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Fan-fold ticket stock nerdview

We have not discussed any examples of nerdview on Language Log for a while. But Bob Ladd told me of one the other day. He was at the Edinburgh Airport dropping someone off, and pulled up next to the ticket dispensing machine for the short-stay car park. He pushed the button, but no ticket appeared. […]

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"Bladed items": nerdview?

After teenager Casey-Lyanne Kearney was found dying in a park in the northern England town of Doncaster yesterday, 26-year-old Hannah Bonser was arrested and charged with murder; but according to various news sources (e.g., Sky News and The Telegraph) she was also "charged with two counts of possessing a bladed item." Why would anyone use […]

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Xtreme nerdview

I don't do surveys, so don't ask. I cannot afford a quarter of an hour answering an ill-designed list of questions for you so that your manager can use the scientifically worthless results to make out a case that your service unit is doing a good job. And don't call me on the phone and […]

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Of garbage, seagulls, civic pride, and nerdview

I haven't revisited the topic of nerdview for some time now, but I thought of it again when I saw the utter, dispiriting uselessness of the sticky label I saw on Thursday morning: THIS REFUSE HAS BEEN CHECKED FOR ILLEGAL PRESENTATION. What the hell, I hope you are asking yourself, is that about? You need […]

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Mixed cardboard only: a subtle case of nerdview

On a recycling dumpster outside an office building in Edinburgh: MIXED CARDBOARD ONLY. That, although it's subtle, is a case of the phenomenon for which I have been using the (not exactly ideal) term nerdview. It is an example of a linguistically misleading communication in which the failure is not of grammar or meaning but […]

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Language Log readers may appreciate the following classic example of writing in technical terms from the perspective of the technician or engineer rather than from a standpoint that would seem useful to the customer or reader. I was engaged in reserving a rental car on the web, and got the date syntax wrong. Instead of […]

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"This massive monster of incomprehensibility"

Atul Gawande, "Why doctors hate their computers", 11/5/2018, underlines the often-noted difficulty of working with badly-designed software: I’ve come to feel that a system that promised to increase my mastery over my work has, instead, increased my work’s mastery over me. I’m not the only one. A 2016 study found that physicians spent about two […]

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COVID-19 testing: a warning

Everyone is talking about the importance of more extensive COVID-19 testing in determining who is infected, and (eventually) who has been infected. But nearly all the discussion that I've heard and read has been based on the assumption that the relevant tests are accurate.  And this assumption is false — the available tests for this […]

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