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Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit
24

Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

2
(OP)
The story is long and off topic, but the lessons aren't.

BACKGROUND: One of my favorite activities is to judge Forensics tournaments. I debated in high school (mid 1970s) and in my senior year came within an eyelash of qualifying for the California state championship tournament in both Extemporaneous and Impromptu. Not bad for an amateur on a very strong squad of future lawyers. (My HS has for years produced future lawyers like they were coming off a copy machine--there are at least 40 in my graduating class of 535, compared to 3 civil engineers and maybe a dozen engineers total.) I first got involved in Forensics because I knew that public speaking was probably the biggest hole in my skill set for engineering. Well, that and dancing, but my wife has forgiven me for that omission smile. I credit Forensics far more than years of English classes for whatever language skills I now possess.

This past Thursday-Saturday was the Sierra District National Qualifying Tournament at my old high school. The object of this tournament was to qualify three kids/teams for the national tournament in each of the following events: Policy Debate, Public Forum Debate, Lincoln-Douglas Debate, National Extemporaneous, International Extemporaneous, Original Oratory, Humorous Interpretation, Dramatic Interpretation, and Dual Interpretation (I think that's all of them). I had the privilege of judging eleven rounds over the three days, including final rounds in three events. I saw some very talented kids plus a few who need a bit more seasoning.

Specific to this story, for both forms of Extemp each kid draws a different topic then gets 30 minutes to prepare a 5-7 minute speech. They use news magazines, newspapers, the internet (when available), etc to prepare. One round typically has 5 to 8 speakers.

THE STORY: Friday evening I judged a round of 6 kids for International Extemp.

One of the kids had drawn the topic "Should South Korea engage North Korea without preconditions?" He proceeded to deliver an excellent speech, except for one thing. He had assumed "engage" meant "go to war." OOPS! I guess it never occurred to him that the key phrase really was "engage...without preconditions" and that in this form it didn't make sense to mean "go to war." While it is true that one of the many definitions of "to engage" is "to enter conflict or battle", it cannot have meant that in this case.

Except for this error, he was the 2nd best speaker in the round. However, I had to rank him last since his speech didn't actually make sense given his topic. This is the first time in more than 20 years of judging that I have ever decided a non-debate round on the issue of Topicality. (After turning in our ballots, the other judge--who was also very experienced--told me he had done the same.) Even so, the kid must have done well enough in his other rounds because he qualified 3rd to go to nationals.

THE LESSONS:
1. Read everything and read carefully. Read it more than once if necessary.

2. It is not enough to know the definition(s) of a word. It is also important to understand the context. English can be so complex that knowing the definition of a phrase is at least as important as knowing the definition of a word.

3. After reading carefully, defining words and phrases, and pondering the context, ask yourself "does it make sense?" If not, rinse and repeat until it does.

There are certainly more lessons along these lines, but these are the three that I pulled out of this story.

Obvious applications of these lessons for engineers include preparing and reviewing specifications and agreements. Lawyers are generally (but not always) better trained than we are to deal with the nuances of the language. The better we are at handling the language, the better off we will be when disputes arise. Over the years I have won some and lost some because my language skills are good but not great. I'm sure many of you can say the same.

One of my college professors tried to impress these lessons upon his students, but we didn't listen. After all, engineering is all about problem solving with mathematics. I know better now. smile

==========
"Is it the only lesson of history that mankind is unteachable?"
--Winston S. Churchill

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

I think you ranked him harshly.  The topic may have deceived me in the same way.

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

interesting . . .

"engage...without preconditions"

i would interpret the situation as war because in war, there are no "preconditions" (i.e. "kill" or "be killed").  Or at the least, dictate to North Korea what South Korea conditions are and accept no alternative.

now i realize that "today's" wars have conditions as the war environment has changed (i.e. better weapons).  for example, do not kill civilians or take action near civilians.

regardless, your lessons are applicable and I have suffered from "not reading the instructions".

thanks!
pmover

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

Poorly worded question.

Or purposely ambiguous to cause exactly what happened.  

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

(OP)
Actually, I don't think I did, especially for a National Qualifying tourney. One of the keys in competetive forensics is to be scrupulously on topic, and that applies to Extemp as well as debate. I agree that the topic question was not instantly clear, but after a careful reading (or rereading) a high school kid competing at this level should be able to underdstand it. In my experience, about 25% of the Extemp topic questions require a that extra effort. This was just the first time I have seen a speaker misread a topic so badly.

The issue of Topicality comes up most often in Policy Debate. This year's topic is "Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase its exploration and/or development of space beyond the Earth's mesosphere." It's a great topic and appeals to my love of astronomy and space exploration.

In the first round I judged on Thursday, the Affirmative team proposed to gather up all the nuclear waste on Earth (apparently some 135 million pounds) and send it packing to the vicinity of Venus' orbit with some unknown number of rockets. In debate, it's not the judge's job to determine if AFF is on topic, it's NEG's job. (In debate, the judge acts like a combined judge/jury in a court case and the debate teams are like the attorneys.)

In this case, NEG offered a reasonable dictionary definition of the word "develop" (AFF offered none) and correctly pointed out that while the AFF plan "uses" space, it doesn't "develop" space as required by the resolution. AFF had no cojent response and lost the round mostly (but not entirely) on that voting issue.

I later talked to a fellow judge who had listened to a plan to combat light pollution. A worthy endeavor, but NEG correctly pointed out that this plan had nothing to do with "exploration and/or development of space" and didn't even venture to the "mesophere", let alone go beyond it. Needless to say, he voted NEG. She and I were both surprised that anyone would run such an obviously off-topic plan at a NatQual tourney. At least the plan I heard wasn't quite as obviously off-topic. Regardless, if AFF's plan is off topic, it doesn't matter how great it might otherwise be.

For those who have never judged Policy Debate, the prefered judging method looks at five issues (with simplified definitions):
-- Topicality (is AFF on topic?)
-- Inherancy (among several subpoints, has AFF identified something in the status quo that prevents a solution?)
-- Significance (is the problem(s) AFF has identified significant?)
-- Solvency (does AFF's plan actually solve the problem(s) indentified?)
-- Advanatages/Disadvantages (is AFF's plan a net positive or net negative?).
 AFF builds the boat and whether NEG puts one hole in it (i.e., cleary wins one of the five issues) or several, the boat sinks and AFF loses. It's not as lopsided as is sounds; over the years my ballots are pretty close to 50/50. When there is no clear winner on one or more voting issues, I look at the entirety of the debate for both sides.

Now, back to Extemp. Because Extemp is done without an opponent (just a series of speakers in a round), the judge essentially takes on the role of one of the attorneys. Comments are never given directly to a speaker, so the comments on my ballot serve the function of a legal brief. When a kid gives an Extemp speech, it's the judge who decides topicality. Had this been a Novice or JV tourney, I certainly would have cut some slack. I would have made topicality only a portion of my decision, then made some instructive comments on my ballot.

However, this is Varsity-level and at the NatQual tourney, no less. These kids are the best of the best and misreading a topic so badly is much less forgivable. Basically, he was asked to speak on one topic and ended up giving a speech on another topic. He didn't deserve to be ranked above those who stayed on their topics.

I always write instructive--rather than destructive--comments and when he sees mine (he probably got a copy Saturday night), I hope they will help him when he get to Nationals. I wrote something along the lines of "Great speaking style, very fluid with no stumbles, clear and easy to follow, good volume and inflection, excellent eye contact, bring all your gestures to above your elbow (too many were at your hip). However, "engage...without preconditions" means to "discuss or negotiate with initial demands" and does NOT mean "go to war". Therefore I could not rank you higher than several of your competitors whose style was not as good as yours, but who were on topic."

==========
"Is it the only lesson of history that mankind is unteachable?"
--Winston S. Churchill

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

I'm not a high school kid, and I still think the question is ambiguous.

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

(OP)
pmover:
In international diplomacy, "engagement" means "discussion" or "negotiation". A "policy of engagement" is designed to prevent war, not cause it. A well-studied senior in high school, competing at this level, should know that.

It's possible his misreading was more along the lines of a brain freeze than a true misunderstanding. Part of success in a long Forensics tourney is the ability to manage adrenaline and energy level, both of which can affect judgment. the same is true for chess players. In fact, I think this is the main reason I didn't qualify for the state championships. Halfway through StateQuals for Impromptu (my best event) I was in the lead, with one of my teammates in 4th. Both of us were unable to maintain our energy levels through the final rounds and ended up out of the running. State Quals for Extemps wasn't much different. Halfway through I was in 2nd and ended up 6th. This tourney was won by a teammate who was also a varsity basketball player and in better shape than I was. It wasn't until AFTER the tourney that I learned some of his secrets for managing adrenaline and energy. He also went to Nationals in Policy Debate.

When I did Extemp, all of the questions were based on the last three months of Newsweek, Time, and US News & World Report (it's different now). To prepare for tourneys, many of spent time reading the magazines. I even volunteered to be mamager of the magazine file and to prepare the index we used to speed up finding relevant articles (I did this enhance my preparations). Had I or one of my Varsity teammates been given this question, I can guarantee we would known what it meant.

MintJulep:  Most Extemp topics should be clearly understood by a Varsity competitor upon one reading. However, I estimate that about 25% of the topics are deliberately worded so as to require a deeper level of reading and understanding. Forensics stretches kids intellectually in a way that few things do at the high school level. Of all the non-math, non-science stuff I did from Kindergarten through college, Forensics was by far the most important.

==========
"Is it the only lesson of history that mankind is unteachable?"
--Winston S. Churchill

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

In international rugby scrummaging, "engage" means GO FOR IT AND TAKE NO PRISONERS.

I thought debating was about ideas, not nuances of local dialects of language.

- Steve
 

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

Well I read the theme for the debate same as the OP, in context the meaning was quite clear to me.  That said, perhaps it should be 'engage with' but still, doesn't sound like go to war.

None the less the 3 points the OP raises are quite valid.

[As to that 'engage' malarkey in the scrummaging - what's that all about.  It's almost as annoying as the scrum half diddling himself behind every ruck for 2 minutes instead of passing the darn ball.  If I wanted to watch a stop-start sport I'd be watching League or even convert to 'football' (as in the North American version).  Of course when I was an active blindside flanker I would have educated the opposition scrum half to off load the ball ASAP even if it cost a penalty/free kick.]

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What is Engineering anyway: FAQ1088-1484: In layman terms, what is "engineering"?

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

I thoroughly enjoyed judging when my daughter was on her high school's forensic team.  I did extemp, Lincoln-Douglas debates, and cross x debates.  It was great fun.

I'll tell you a story about one extemp.  The question read, "Should North Korea be treated as a rouge nation?".  The first three were fairly boring boilerplate type discussions on the typical talking points, but the third presenter read the question carefully.  He talked about how red was often used as the color for communism, e.g., the Red Chinese, and that since NK was a communist nation, using "rouge" as an adjective for them was quite appropriate.  He did say that his answer would be different if asked about NK being a "rogue" nation, but that's not how the question read.  On my ballot, he was easily the #1 presenter.

Good Luck
--------------
As a circle of light increases so does the circumference of darkness around it. - Albert Einstein

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

"In international rugby scrummaging, ..." ... actually it's every level of rugby (above minis); and i won't go further off topic.

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

Yeah, you are right. My buddy confirmed that it's like that in his kids' school too. We didn't do rugby at my school (a catchment area comp), hence my ignorance.

- Steve
 

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

Are you bored?? Or just like writing long narratives??

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

2
I saw a comic in the paper today:

Woman: "Would you say I'm fat?"
Man: "I'm fat."

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

"In international diplomacy, "engagement" means "discussion" or "negotiation.""

I guess I missed the part about the debate centering around diplomacy.

You state that context is important, but what context was provided other than the topic statement?

As I read point 3 advice above, I fail to exclude non-preconditional conflict.

You said the student "misread" the statement. How can we be assured that you read it properly?

If the student took an ambiguous question and proceeded to give an excellent speech, the student should score well regardless of whether he/she shares your view of what the question means.   





  

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

(OP)
stevenal...
Do a Google search for "engage without preconditions" and you will see that my interpretation was correct. The other five speakers in the round did not make the same mistake. Also, this was Extemp, not debate, but even debate topics can wander into diplomacy.

The students are given just a single-sentence question and it's up to them to interpret the question and the context and come up with a speech. For context and content they are supposed to consult the sources I mentioned above. In addition, I would hope that a high school senior with the cajones to compete at this level would come in with at least some knowledge of world affairs. One of the requirements of Debate, Extemp, and Impromptu is to be on topic and I cannot reward a non-topical speech. To give a more extreme example, what if the kid had totally blown off the Korea question and instead gave a speech about his mother's chicken soup?

CajunCenturion's story is also very instructive and shows the other side of the same coin. Words matter and I have to give the kid a LOT of credit for how he handled his topic and we was rewarded appropriately.

MikeTheEngineer...
Actually, I WAS bored. My wife was bringing dinner home but she was running late.

==========
"Is it the only lesson of history that mankind is unteachable?"
--Winston S. Churchill

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

==> it's up to them to interpret the question and the context and come up with a speech.
Agreed, but in my opinion, it's not required that they come up with the same interpretation that I would given the same question, nor that I agree with their answer.  I don't think anyone is questioning the interpretation that "engage without preconditions" means to engage (in diplomacy) without preconditions is a valid interpretation.  I think the issue is whether that's the only valid interpretation.

One could argue that abiding by the terms of the Geneva Convention is a precondition to engaging in war.  One could argue that that not using nuclear weapons is a precondition to engaging in war.  I would not penalize any student in any way if he/she presented sound argument for engaging (in war) without preconditions, whether they answered "yes" or "no" to the question, provided their reasoning was consistent with their answer and that their arguments was topical to their chosen definition of engage.

For example, "Should South Korea engage North Korea without preconditions?"
Answer:  No, they should not.  They should adopt at least two preconditions before going to war.  They should accept the precondition that they will not use nuclear weapons and accept the precondition that they'll abide fully with all aspects of the Geneva Convention.  If the student then continues the topic along those lines, or something like that, they'll be judged fully on the case they present, in no way being penalized for choosing a different interpretation of the verb "to engage" than another speaker.  By the same token, if they answered "yes - to hell with the Geneva Convention and any and all weapons are on the table", etc., and then continued to develop the topic along those lines with logical and consistent arguments, then they are going to be judged on the case they present.

It's not about whether I agree with their answer, or whether it's the same context of the verb "to engage" that I would choose.  It's about whether they chose a valid definition of the verb and then developed arguments consistent with their answer and appropriate the context of the definition they chose.  But that's just me.

Good Luck
--------------
As a circle of light increases so does the circumference of darkness around it. - Albert Einstein

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

"Do a Google search for "engage without preconditions" and you will see that my interpretation was correct."

My Google search verified only that your interpretation is a valid one, not that it is the single correct one. At 4400 hits, I don't have time to look at each one even if I were to accept that the internet is the final authority.




 

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

CajunCenturion said it better than I can.  Pompous insistence on one's on interpretation is not in the spirit of this type competition, in my opinion of course.  

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

(OP)
Cajun...

I agree to a point. Certainly interpretations can differ between individuals. However, the speaker in question never even mentioned "without preconditions" except when restating the topic question at the very beginning of his speech. That's one way I knew he misunderstood the question. The other judge picked up on the same thing. BTW, the other judge also competed in Extemp in high school and has even more judging experience than I do and I have >20 years. When I turned in my ballot, the tourney official who reviewed it agreed with my comment and interpretation.

In addition, a quick Google search (like the one I mentioned above and like he had the opportunity to do) would have revealed to him that in the context of international relations "engage without preconditions" ALWAYS means discussion or negotiation without initial demands. The phrase certainly has other reasonable meanings based on the words used, but not in this context. Think about how many words and phrases in engineering have meanings peculiar to our fields and when used outside have completely different meanings.

The example you cited was a very clever kid who read the question as written, which was almost certainly not what the author of the question intended. I'm sure the kid was well aware it was a typo. I had several similar situations on college exams where questoins were poorly written, and I answered along the lines of "I think you meant [A], but you said [B].  Since I can't be sure you meant [A], I must answer [B]."  I PO'ed the profs but in every case I won the subsequent argument about my interpreation. However, I didn't always get the points I deserved. When you have wounded the pride of some profs, they take it VERY personally. smile

==========
"Is it the only lesson of history that mankind is unteachable?"
--Winston S. Churchill

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

2
@fel3,

If you're going to rely on a Google search of "engage without preconditions" to demonstrate that YOUR interpretation of the ambiguous phrase is "THE" correct interpretation, I'll challenge you to another point:

In my experience, "forensics" refers to "crime scene forensics" and / or "forensic engineering"; i.e. using scientific / engineering expertise to resolve the circumstances of some event, such as a crime or a structural failure. I therefore found your opening paragraph very confusing - what the heck does a story about "debating" have to do with "forensics tournaments"?! Surely a "forensic tournament" would be exactly the sort of thing some students at my daughters' school competed in recently - they were presented with some evidence from a crime scene, and were challenged to determine what had happened using their science training in a Lab environment.

When I type "forensics" into Google, your interpretation (which I assume is something like Merriam-Webster's definition no. 1 of 3: "belonging to, used in, or suitable to courts of judicature or to public discussion and debate") is only the fifth entry in the list of "hits", and only comes up once on the first page of "hits". All other "hits" on at least the first page related to "crime scene forensics" and related topics.

On your own measure of correctness of interpretation of an ambiguous phrase, you have not addressed the topic correctly.

I therefore rate your OP as a "fail"!

http://julianh72.blogspot.com  

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

(OP)
jhard1...

I only suggested a Google search for the phrase in question because it was the fastest way to prove my point. The hits include various news organizations (typically quoting politicians, diplomats, and commentators), the Library of Congress, websites focused on international relations, etc.

When you hear politicians, diploamts, and commentators use the phrase in question, it ALWAYS means discussion, NEVER war. Regardless of other reasonable definitions for that phrase in other contexts, in international relations it has the one meaning I provided. Thus, it was NOT ambiguous given the context provided by the wording of the Extemp question. It may not have been obvious to the kid who fumbled the topic, but it was not ambiguous.

Just as you were unfamiliar with the use of "Foresnics" with respect to a speech tournament, I had never heard of the type of tournament you mentioned. I have known since at least high school that the word "forensics" is used in the crime investigation, medical, and engineering fields, though I was unaware of other types of forensics tournaments. However, I don't buy your objections since the context for my use of the word was clear by the second sentence.

Certainly, I could have inserted "(speech)" or "(competetive speech)", but instead I provided the second sentence. This sentence mentions three events, the names of which all refer to forms of speech. The words "debate" and "extemporaneous" most commonly refer to spoken activities and "impromptu" often does. When capitalized, these terms have more specific meanings given the context. Just because you are unfamiliar with this particular context does not mean that my use of these terms is ambiguous, only that you are unfamiliar with the context.

How many engineering documents have you read where it takes a couple of sentences or even paragraphs to provide all of the context necessary to understand the rest of the document? Unless you like all-page lawyer sentences, the context sometimes has to be spread over a few sentences.

Thus, I think your objections are unreasonable.

==========
"Is it the only lesson of history that mankind is unteachable?"
--Winston S. Churchill

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

Those of us who visit this forum do know that language matters, but most of us are not quodlibetarians.  There is a "Forensic Engineering" forum on this site, but it has nothing to do with debating.   

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

(OP)
The reason I brought up this subject in the first place is to emphasize the importance of handling the language with precision. After all, we are up against lawyers who do this for a living and love to split hairs. In general, engineers are better splitting mathematical hairs.

==========
"Is it the only lesson of history that mankind is unteachable?"
--Winston S. Churchill

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

I have, on more than one occasion, been bitten in the ass by applying my interpretation of what I wanted something  vague and ambiguous to mean.

I try very hard to not let that happen again.

It was a poorly phrased question.

Had the topic statement been "should South Korea engage North Korea in negotiations without preconditions" it would have been perfectly clear, and the contestants could have focused on the speaking exercise, not a pedantic matter of vocabulary.  

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

(OP)
MintJulep...

I disagree. Extemp questions are designed to get the kids to think before they speak. Some questions are a bit tricky and require a subtle reading (as I discussed above), but frankly I don't think this one was particularly difficult. The topic obvously dealt with international relations, the key phrase (mentioned above) is easily parsed, and the sole contextual meaning of the key phrase is easily determined (as I demonstrated). The speaker didn't even acknowledge the last two words of the key phrase and that caused him to fumble the question.

If you want an example of subtlety, I turn to my junior year Policy Debate topic (1974-75): "Resolved: That the United States should significantly change the method of selecting presidential and vice-presidential candidates." There were many teams that ran a plan to elimate the Electoral College in favor of direct popular vote. However, such plans are clearly off topic because they deal with "electing office holders" and not "selecting presidential candidates." That some teams were successful with this plan I blame on the NEG teams they encountered. My partner and I beat every Electoral College plan we faced, but we can't take credit for forming the argument about "election" vs. "selection." That credit goes our school's #1 debate team.

The topic the next year was "Resolved: That the development and allocation of scarce world resources should be controlled by an international organization." Topicality was much less of an issue that year, at least with the best teams.

==========
"Is it the only lesson of history that mankind is unteachable?"
--Winston S. Churchill

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

(OP)
Another point...

Extemp is all about current events, so current that topics are based on the past three months of world (IX) or national (NX) events. A successful Extemper keeps up with current events, learns the terms used to describe those events, and should be able to carry on at least a basic conversation about them separate from a tournament. A varsity Extemper in a NatQual tourney should be among the best at this. The kid simply fumbled a not-to-difficult question. Besides my own judgment, when another experienced judge and a tourney official agree, I know I made the right decision.

In the final round, I ranked the kid third and that was his average placement out of five judges. He goes to Nationals and I wish him well. I also hope he takes my ballot comments to heart because they can improve his performance.

==========
"Is it the only lesson of history that mankind is unteachable?"
--Winston S. Churchill

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

If this teaches us anything about the use of language, then it is that you should avoid ambiguity if you are trying to get a clear message across and you should not use technical jargon out of context.

IF a competitive debater is expected to know the meaning of the phrase, then to mark them down is appropriate. But...

The low number of Google hits combined with the number of possible definitions of the word "engage" combined with the number of not altogether ignorant folk (including me) admitting that they would have made the same mistake combined with your statement that is "is all about current events" suggests that an interpretation of "engaging in war" is not so silly after all.

It IS a badly worded question and MintJulep has it absolutely right - two simple extra words would have solved this.

M

--
Dr Michael F Platten

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

After many, many years on the radio, "Just a Minute" is being shown on TV. For those not familiar, a panelist is required to talk for a minute on a given subject without repetition, hesitation or deviation. Basically it's a light-hearted English language word-play competition.

On last night's show, two amusing subjects were:

"Night School". The first speaker leapt off into how hard it is training to be a knight with all that horse-riding and jousting.

"Fencing". Similarly, the first speaker desribed all the problems with erecting a fence.

You have to love the English language with all it's possibilities for misunderstanding, whether intentional or not.

- Steve
 

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

(OP)
MikeyP...

You and several others have actually proven my original points, but probably not in the way you intended.

Given the context of current events and the universal meaning of the phrase in question in international relations, there is absolutely no reason to interpret the phrase any differently than I have described. EVERY TIME "engage without preconditions" is used by a politician, diplomat, or commentator, is means discussions not war. EVERY EVERY. Can anyone provide a counter example?

The point here is that it's not enough to define words and claim understanding, it is imperative to define words AND phrases AND in their context. If the question is amgiguous to any of you, it is because you are focusing on the words as separate entities and how you have used them in the past, rather than focusing on the phrase "engage...without preconditions" as a single entity and on the context in which this phrase is used.

Each of the three words in this phrase has multiple meanings, but most combinations of these meanings would be nonsensical, especially given the context of the question. I could just as easily say that this phrase means "promise of marriage sans a pre-nuptual agreement". While this actually is the domestic equivalent of the international meaning, it makes no sense in context and not one of you would agree with that interpretation.

Extemp questions and debate resolutions are written very carefully (excepting the typo in Cajun's example) and very purposefully by people who know what they are doing. They strive for brevity and clarity and they don't define the terms for the competitors. Sometimes they purposefully write questions that require a subtle reading, but frankly I don't see that much subtlety here. There was nothing ambiguous about the question as worded and no extra words were needed. The sentence is easy to diagram and the word and phrase meanings are not difficult. I have already described the fairly simple line of reasoning required to understand it, and that line of reasoning is well within the capability of a Varsity Extemper, let alone one good enough to get to a NatQual tourney. That's the nature of the competition.

The long and short of is that the kid misunderstood the question because he seems to have missed the key phrase. That's his fault, not the question writer's fault. Perhaps it was because the phrase was split or perhaps he was nervous or in a hurry. It doesn't really matter why because at this level he is supposed to be able to decipher the phraseology, age 17 or not.

The best Extempers will know as much or more about the facts of current events than many adults and could give quite a few of them a run-for-their-money with respect to understanding those events.

Because this was the first time in 2 years of competition and 22 years of judging that I had come across a non-topical Extemp speech I consulted with a tourney offical before turning in my ballot and the other judge afterwards. We all agreed that the question was fair and appropriately worded, that he was off topic, and deserved last in the round because of it. Over the years, I seen many questions that were more complex than this one, but it's the only time I've seen such a gross misreading.

BTW, I did not intend for this to devolve into a critique of speech competetitions, but it's obvious many of you don't understand the nature of the competition.  That's not a criticism--I would be just as flumoxed by the other Forensics (crime scene) competition mentioned above.

==========
"Is it the only lesson of history that mankind is unteachable?"
--Winston S. Churchill

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

fel3,

i'd bet you more than a quarter that if a survey were conducted using the information you wrote in your initial posting, a majority of people would not agree with your interpretation.  i just might conduct a survey with other nearby engrs.

that aside, thanks for the exercise and differing perspective.  I believe we all have experienced similar situations at one time or another . . .  Like MinJulip states, experience has taught us to be more observant and careful to avoid such situations.

CajunCenturion,
i read/understood/thought "rouge" and was a little perplexed until i read the entire posting.

-pmover

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

Quote (Napoleon):

Engage the enemy and see what happens.

Now, let's tackle

Quote:

"Resolved: That the United States should significantly change the method of selecting presidential and vice-presidential candidates."

Again, a poorly worded question.

The United States, as an entity, does not select presidential and vice-presidential candidates.  This task is the purview of individual political parties.

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

My point was that "engage ... without preconditions" is technical jargon. If you don't live in that world, then it is not clear what it means. Sure, give me 30 seconds with Google and I would have worked out that it is an verb phrase that has a very specific meaning, but unless you know or have the means to find out that meaning then there is ambiguity. That ambiguity could have been removed by adding the words "in negotiations" and would have resulted in the phrase being interpreted correctly by 80% of the population instead of 10%.

There is no shame in not understanding technical jargon outside your own field and there is no shame in using technical jargon within the field in which you are trying to communicate. Jargon is a useful shorthand provided both parties understand it. If understanding the jargon of international diplomacy is an expected skill of a competitative debater, then fine, he was right to be marked down.  But you should not feel smug and superior when people who are not expected to understand the jargon of a certain topic misunderstand what you say.

M

--
Dr Michael F Platten

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

I'll disagree with topic premise, that language matters less to "math types." Clearly language matters a lot to those who have responded. We apparently are quick to find ambiguities and have little tolerance for language that is designed to deceive by avoiding clarifying words.

And as "math types" we understand the "ALWAYS" is an absolute that we would nearly always use with a qualifier that would make it more relative, such as "nearly;" in order to make a statement more defensible.

 

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

If you don't know that a certain set of words is a jargon phrase with a specific technical meaning, then what else are you supposed to do other than try to interpret the individual words within the context of the sentence? If you have never heard the phrase, then how do you know it is only ever used in that context?

M

--
Dr Michael F Platten

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

(OP)
MintJulep...

Napoleon's quote is fine, but doesn't mention preconditions.

There is a problem with that debate topic, but it is not the one you propose. You are correct that the United States does not select candidates, but that's not the object of the resolution. The object is the "method" of selecting candidates. Since the "method" is specified by various federal and state laws and implemented by those gov'ts, that part of the resolution is fine.

BTW, depending on your interpretation, "United States" can be just the federal gov't or federal plus state gov'ts (that distinction did get argued). Also, within the "method" are different "methods" used by the several states (i.e. primaries and caucuses). However, since no one state makes the actual selection, it is appropriate to refer to the "method" (singular/group singular) rather than "methods" (plural). When were just starting out, my debate partner (who is now a business law attorney) asked about "method" vs "methods" and we were given the above explanation by our #1 debate team (one is now an attorney and the other is a political consultant) as well as a broader lesson in how to slice and dice the meanings of Debate and Extemp topics.

The real problem with the debate topic is an obscure technicality. The Unites States of America is not the only country that uses "United States" in its name. Mexico's offical name is Estados Unidos Mexicanos. This is often translated to English as "United States of Mexico" although "United Mexican States" may be better. In addtion, previously several other countries used "United States" in their name, but apparently none remained by 1974 except Mexico and the USA. My debate partner and I figured this out near the end of the debate season, but never came up with a good way to make use of this fact. I never heard of anyone else using Mexico. I still think Mexican selection methods might have made a good plan and an even better NEG counter-plan.

==========
"Is it the only lesson of history that mankind is unteachable?"
--Winston S. Churchill

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

(OP)
pmoyer...

This really isn't about my interpretion or your interpretion. The phrase I mentioned has a single, specific, and well-known meaning in international relations. Given the context of the Extemp question, there is only one proper way to interpret that phrase. I grant that outside this context other meanings may be valid, but context matters here, Kids who compete in Extemp know that they will confront jargon specific to some field or another and that they will have to figure out that jargon if they don't already know it. This kid missed it.

We all deal with jargon in our profession, our hobbies, etc. If you're inside the field, you should know the jargon; if you're outside the field, all bets are off. Extempers and debaters are inside the field by choice and they either learn the jargon or they fail. It's not as harsh as it sounds because win or lose, it's an amazing learning experience.

==========
"Is it the only lesson of history that mankind is unteachable?"
--Winston S. Churchill

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

(OP)
MikeyP...

In no way am I trying to be smug about some people not knowing what the jargon meant. All of the objections raised so far have ultimately been due to not considering the specific context of the Extemp question or understanding how competitive speech is done and why it is done that way. But, these are just tangents. The lesson from my story and the subsequent posts simply circles right back to my original points. Language matters: sentence structure, context, and all the rest. The precision with which we handle the language, or the lack thereof, has major consequences. I don't claim to be the expert or even an expert.  

The kids who participate in speech tournaments know they have to deal with jargon, interpreting language, etc. That's one of the reasons Forensics exists: it sharpens the mind in many ways, including how we deal with language.

==========
"Is it the only lesson of history that mankind is unteachable?"
--Winston S. Churchill

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

(OP)
stevenal...

My thread title was tongue-in-check, but it does not state that language matters less to us "math types". In fact, it states the opposite.

I doubt any of us became engineers because our love for language exceeded our love for mathematics or other things engineering. For many, the gap between these levels of love was probably very wide. In this I followed my dad (engineer) and not my mom (math major, English master, wonderful writer, and a 4-year "A" student in Latin...the first ever in her high school). One of the hardest things I ever did (not really) was to admit to my mom that she was right about the importance of language mastery. That's one of the reasons why I used the phrase "want to admit". (BTW, this happened when I started Forensics and I quickly learned that success in competition meant significantly elevating my game with respect to the language.)

The point what most forcefully driven home, however, as I moved up out of a strictly technical engineering position into one that required writing and reviewing specifications, reports, agreeemnts.

==========
"Is it the only lesson of history that mankind is unteachable?"
--Winston S. Churchill

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

By your own argument, "United States " is almost universally understood to be the United States of America; by a far greater proportion of the population than understands the diplomatic meaning of engage without preconditions.  

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

(OP)
MintJulep...

You are correct that "United States" is ALMOST universally understood to be the USA. Probably only an ardent Mexican patriot might argue otherwise. Still, it would have been an interesting argument to advance in Debate.

However, the phrase in the Extemp question is UNIVERSALLY understood, within the context of the issue, to mean what I described above. It's subtle differences like this that keep lawyers employed.

Are you familiar with the Arian controversy in Christianity in the early 300s AD? The issue can be boiled down to the use of two Greek words to describe the position of Jesus Christ with repsect to God the Father: homoiousios vs. homoousios. The first term (Arian) means "simimlar essence"; the second term (orthodox) means "same essence". Riots broke out several times over the inclusion or exlusion of the "i". It might look like just a letter, but the implications of including or excluing it were enormous.

==========
"Is it the only lesson of history that mankind is unteachable?"
--Winston S. Churchill

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

Apparently not universally understood, since a national championship caliber debater, trained to understand such subtle nuances, managed to misunderstand it.

There, I've run rings around your logic haven't I?  

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

2
@fel3,

I'm with MintJulep on this one: _MAYBE_ the phrase "engage ... without preconditions" is "universally understood" in diplomatic circles, and _MAYBE_ it _SHOULD_ have been universally understood in the context of a formal debating competition (I wouldn't know), but the evidence here would seem that it is _NOT_ universally understood in the context of professional engineering - which is where you chose to bring the subject matter up!

http://julianh72.blogspot.com  

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

fel3,
I think we have beat up on you enough.  This is a tough crowd.  Most of the posts on the site are questions, and there are frequently different opinions offered as answers.  Your post, I think, has been perceived as a sermon, and that doesn't go over so well here when you insist that there is no possibility of misinterpretation.

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

I moved around a lot growing up and while the 'formally educated' don't get confused until 5 syllable words come up (most are 4 with a modifier anyway) the 'common' person usually gets more from the mis-'conotation' of the words than the literal meanings.

I had a vocabulary course as a senior in high school which wasn't about the words like previous vocab classes, but rather the roots of the words- very worthwhile for all.

In the manufacturing environment I make a joke about bilingual cut sheets needing to be greek and latin. It really isn't that far from any other would be version (most of our hispanic employees speek an indian dialect rather than 'polite' spanish).
anyway my .02$
Mike
 

Murphys law 28th corollary- If there are five ways for something to go wrong, and you circumvent all five, a sixth will promptly develop.
Kwazai's addition- if you circumvent the sixth a seventh will develop, etc. etc.

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

(OP)
I've been on vacation and am just now getting another look at this thread. As I look over the various posts, old and new, I am bemused by several things. While I told a story to provide a foundation for the points I wanted to make, I did not think this would take off on such a tangent and with such misunderstaning on the part of most respondents. Certainly the story is fair game, but the reactions to it have proved my points time and again.

Only one respondent indicated prior experience judging speech tournaments. Yet, in spite of my several explanations, many of you have continued to criticize the wording of the question and how I judged it. Let me repeat: the wording was clear within the context of the question and this was verified by a tournament official. With respect to judging, here is what the National Forensics League "Competition Events Guide" says under "Judging Speech Events, Extemporaneous Speaking":
    
"The extemporaneous speech should not be regarded as a memory test of the material contained in any one magazine article, but rather as an original synthesis by the speaker of the current fact and opinion on the designated topic as presented by numerous sources.

The contestant therefore should be held accountable for strict adherence to the precise statement of the topic drawn and discounted severely for shifting to some other phase of the topic on which s/he might prefer to speak. The information presented should be well-chosen, pertinent, and sufficient to support the central thought of the topic."

The first sentence in the second paragraph in the quote above justifies why I judged the speaker last. He was the only one in the round who spoke off-topic, and decidedly so.

Second, the continued protestations regarding the interpretation of "engage without preconditions" are simple wrong. I'm not trying to be smug here, but context matters and in the context provided by the Extemp question, there is but ONE meaning for this phrase. Trying to interpret it from outside the field of international relations is doomed to failure.

This idea should not come as a shock to anyone, since precise and unique contextual meanings occur all over our language. Let me provide two examples (there are many, many more):
a) In music "metal" is a style (generally horrible). In astronomy, "metal" is every element heavier than helium. To a chemist, "metal" is a specific list of elements having metallic properties. To a metalurgist, "metal" includes the chemist's definition plus a host of alloys. Thus, four different definitions by context. Even though three of them partially overlap, each is specific and unique to their fields. In addition, "heavy metal" means different things to a musician and a water quality engineer.
b) "Planetary nebula" has but one meaning, determined by astronomers. However, it has nothing to do with planets. Had a competitor drawn an Extemp question about planetary nebulas (very unlikely) and given a speech about planets, I would have ranked him last just like I did the kid who punted the Korea question. There is no functional difference between the two situations. The point here (again) is that the good Extemper will figure out the meaning of the topic question. That's actually part of the competition.

So, do I feel beat up? No. I do think, however, that labeling my story a sermon is condescending. Other people on Eng-Tips have also told stories to make a point. Given the critical responses, I think what I did was very valid. Finally, the reason I brought up a non-engineering story in an engineering forum is that it was background for lessons valid in and out of engineering. We're not just engineers, we have (I hope) lives outside our profession and when we move into other areas of our lives, our "engineering definitions" will not always be valid. We must know the context.

==========
"Is it the only lesson of history that mankind is unteachable?"
--Winston S. Churchill

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

Quote:

The contestant therefore should be held accountable for strict adherence to the precise statement of the topic drawn and discounted severely for shifting to some other phase of the topic on which s/he might prefer to speak.
As far as I know, he did not purposefully divert from his given subject, so he did nothing wrong. I'm no native English speaker so I don't know about the "engage without preconditions" thingy so you may be correct there.
You could argue that, had he discussed whether they should invade
with or without preconditions, he was still kind of right. If his debate was about whether or not they should engage, he misunderstood the question.


Quote:

In music "metal" is a style (generally horrible)
That's just plain wrong :)

NX 7.5
Teamcenter 8

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

(OP)
Walterke...

The point is that the kid DID divert from the subject. Whether or not it was purposeful is irrelevant. He is required to correctly interpret the topic question and deliver a speech that is on topic. Instead, he misinterpreted the question and delivered a speech that was off topic.

As I explained above, the key phrase in the topic question has a singlular (and easily discovered) meaning in international relations. In spite of certain posts above, the phrase actually makes the most sense when interpreted the way I have described. This is not the case with some phrases (e.g. "planetary nebulas").

It appeared to me that the kid's problem was that he focused just on the word "engage" and not the complete phase "engage...without preconditions". One meaning for "engage" is "go to war", but it has many other meanings. In the context of international relations, "engage...without preconditions" ALWAYS means to "discuss without intitial demands".

In the end, the other judge and I did the kid a favor. He still goes to Nationals by virtue of his 3rd place finish in the local tournament, but he also goes with some very valuable comments from two very experienced judges. I can virtually guarantee that at Nationals he will make sure he understands the topic questions dead-to-rights before he delivers his speeches.

==========
"Is it the only lesson of history that mankind is unteachable?"
--Winston S. Churchill

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

2
I think Fel3's lesson is a very simple one:  Context matters.

You cannot expect to win at "Extemp" (whatever that is) just by applying the rules of everyday conversation - any more than you can expect to win a bout of Mornington Crescent using just a Tube map and the known laws of physics.

"Us math types" need to remember that human thought stretches beyond the physical world into realms that aren't bound by the laws of maths and physics:  In the same way that we find it strange for a speaker to be penalised for not following the strict laws of a game, many of our friends can find it very strange when engineers, scientists and other "math types" insist on interpreting everything so literally.

A.

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

"interpreting everything so literally"

Words like "power", "force" and "pressure" spring to mind.

- Steve
 

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

fel3 said:
"Finally, the reason I brought up a non-engineering story in an engineering forum is that it was background for lessons valid in and out of engineering."

I think I might find an Extemp / Debating forum, and post an amusing anecdote about how all of my Mechanical and Electrical Engineer colleagues insist on referring to concrete pavements and slabs as being made out of "cement" (which comes out of "cement mixers"),and how I always feel compelled to correct them on their usage of the technical terminology.

Sure, their usage may be clear enough within their own circles (and to the general public), and they accuse me of being pedantic, but I feel it is important to correct them on things like this. "Cement" and "concrete" are Civil Engineering terms, and ALL Civil Engineers should unambiguously know that "cement" is only a component of "concrete" - one does not build slabs out of "cement". Woe betide anyone who dares to confuse the two terms within earshot of a Civil Engineer!

After all - the choice of language and its context matters more than we want to admit!

;)

http://julianh72.blogspot.com  

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

Kenat,
It whiles away a rainy Wednesday afternoon.

Ho-hum.

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

I couldn't understand what 'forensics' had to do with what I would call 'debating'; to me, the whole 'engage...without preconditions' question is moot; 'forensics' involves cutting up bodies and investigation, not talking.  None of them should have gotten good rankings if all they did was talk!

How's that for language and comprehension!

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

2
I think zeusfaber summed it nicely.

Quote:

You cannot expect to win at "Extemp" (whatever that is) just by applying the rules of everyday conversation

Had people bothered to research what Extemp and forensics meant in the context of the OP (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extemporaneous_speaking) and discovered what the hell the OP was talking about (I hadn't a clue), the responses may not have been so negative, nor so many. Especially when the OP had stated the "off topic" nature in the opening sentence.

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

==> However, the speaker in question never even mentioned "without preconditions" except when restating the topic question at the very beginning of his speech.
We can only take your word for that as none of us heard the actual speech.

==> That's one way I knew he misunderstood the question.
That's the one way you knew that he did not understand the question similarly to your understanding of the question.  Again, (see my post of 28 Mar 12 14:39), I'm not questioning the validity of your understanding of the question; I'm wondering if that's the ONLY valid understanding of the question.  You've made it clear that in your mind that IS the only valid understanding and that's fine.  And you judged accordingly.  That's fine, too.  But that doesn't mean anyone or everyone must agree with you, nor with your interpretation.  What it does mean is that's the interpretation used by the judge for that round of extemp, and that's what matters for that round in that event.  Period.  My only point is that just because you're right doesn't necessarily mean that everyone else is wrong.

==> The other judge picked up on the same thing
That can only be true if the other judge was in the room and actually heard the extemp speech.  Otherwise, the other judge was responding only to your comments about the speech, not the speech itself.

==> When I turned in my ballot, the tourney official who reviewed it agreed with my comment and interpretation.
Of course they will.  Unless the ruling is so overtly egregious so as to require extraordinary action, the judge is the authority and what the judge says stands.  No tournament official would that critical of judge, nor undermine the judging during a tournament, especially since there's nothing wrong with your interpretation, nor in your ruling and rankings.  However, judging is inherently subjective (and even moreso in the dramatic events) and part of the student's training, if you will, is to learn to deal with the subjective vagaries of very different judges from tournament to tournament.  That's part of forensics, and the students have to learn from those experiences.

Good Luck
--------------
As a circle of light increases so does the circumference of darkness around it. - Albert Einstein

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

(OP)
Cajun...

The other judge WAS in the room and heard the same speech, which I think I mentioned above. He and I had quite a conversation about it after we turned in our ballots. His interpretation of the topic question matched mine exactly; his interpretation of the kid's speech matched mine almost exactly. Like me, he also noticed that the kid never used the words "without precondition" again after reading us his Extemp question. That omission seems to have removed the key part of the context from his mind so that he then focused on a particular meaning of the word "engage" (="war") that was not appropriate given the context.

Tourney officials sometimes do request judges re-evaluate their ballots and this actually happened after one of the final rounds (I was one of 5 judges in the round). The tourney official noticed that one judge had penalized one speaker for talking beyond the grace period but the rest of us did not. It turned out she had misunderstood the timekeeper's statement of the elapsed time for the speech.

With regards to your second point, there is ONLY ONE valid interpretation for the Extemp question based on the context. That's one of the points I've been hammering since the beginning of this thread. I'm not the one who dreamed up this interpretation, though it makes far more sense than one referring to war.

==========
"Is it the only lesson of history that mankind is unteachable?"
--Winston S. Churchill

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

Never heard the term "extemp" either. Thanks for the link CBL. I assume it all has to be done "without hesitation, repitation or deviation"?

- Steve
 

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

Quote (TenPenny):

I couldn't understand what 'forensics' had to do with what I would call 'debating'... 'forensics' involves cutting up bodies...
I expect that was a bit tongue-in-cheek, but it goes straight back to Kwazai's point (041116 Apr) about the value of understanding the roots of words.

The "Foren.." root comes from a word meaning "Forum" - which became convenient for talking about things which happened in courts of law, then for talking about things which happened in the course of criminal investigations.  Although I'm not used to seeing the term "Forensics" used to describe what we here would call "Debating" or "Public Speaking", I can see why it does.

A.

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

I guess it is the argumentative nature of the citizens of this forum, but I'm not really buying the criticism of the OPs story.

Within the context of international diplomacy, there is no abiguity to the phrase "engage without preconditions".  Without that context, I can think of numerous possible interpretations, but, based on fel's description of the competition rules, it was a requirement of the speaker to correctly read the statement.

Certainly, if the author of the statement had meant "go to war", his choice of words would have been judged to be incorrect, within the appropriate context.

As I understood the OP, he was saying that context matters as much as word choice or structure in interpreting the meaning of a sentence.  Seems like a valid point to me.

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

The proposition could have stated "engage in negotiations without preconditions", or even identified what the negotions were to be about, such as "nuclear armament negotiations", and it would have eliminated any questions as to its meaning.  Words are important and they have different meanings in different context, therefore it is incumbent on the speaker to be clear and definitive.

Ask any woman if her husband understands what she is saying or vice versa.  

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

I have to say, after googling the phrase "engage without preconditions" practically every site I encounter talks about diplomacy and not about war.
However, most text add the word "in negotiation" somewhere in the sentence to clarify that they are, in fact, not going at war with them.
however-ever, I can't find any example of the term "without preconditions" being used in combination with going to war.

 

NX 7.5.5.4 with Teamcenter 8 on win7 64
Intel Xeon @3.2GHz
8GB RAM
Nvidia Quadro 2000

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

"Within the context of international diplomacy, there is no abiguity to the phrase "engage without preconditions".  Without that context, I can think of numerous possible interpretations...",

Where exactly was it stated the contest was limited to international diplomacy? The wiki  CorBlimeyLimey linked says nothing about diplomacy, it speaks of current events and politics. While diplomacy can be part of either category, so can armed conflict. As I recall, the North recently shelled the South (not sure what their pre-conditions were), and the state of war has never ended. These are current events as well as political.  

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

stevenal,

I should have said international affairs rather than international diplomacy.  

I've never heard the phrase "engage without preconditions" used in the sense of "go to war", I have heard the phrase and many variations on the phrase used in the diplomatic sense.

I (like many others here, I'm sure) did a little background searching to see if I could find a counter example where the phrase was used in the "go to war" sense-- I could not.  I can understand the point some are making that the statement could have been made less ambiguous (to be clear in menaing even out of any context), but I gather from fel3 that analyzing the sentence within the context is part of the competition.

 

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

What we do here in this "forum" are "forensic" discussions.

saludos.
a.

RE: Why language matters more than us "math types" often want to admit

Brevity is the soul of wit, as well as lingerie. Most of the posts here read like long johns on a honeymoon.

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