Beating out the bacon — Freakonomics motto contest update

Update time! Here’s some follow-up on yesterday’s post about my unwitting status as a Freakonomics motto competition finalist:

Early polling has pretty much been vindicated. As of 3:11 pm and 412 comments into the voting thread, it’s motto number 5 (“Our Worst Critics Prefer to Stay”) by a crushing margin. Voting is still open for another day or so, but I’d be surprised to see any real sea-change.

My own entry, “You Should See the Other Guy”, is in distant forth with a signficant (but, considering the small absolute numbers, not quite comfortable) lead on the fifth place motto.

The fifth place motto is about bacon. I’m not sure how to feel, here.


Of the first 412 comments in the voting thread, 390 had clear statements of preference for one (or more — one voter declared a dead split on #2 and #5) of the five finalists. The remaining comments were discussion and/or suggestions of write-in candidates (both originals and favored mottos from the original thread).

From those 390 first-place votes, the numbers break down thus:

1 – 16.2% (63/390)
2 – 7.6% (29.5)
3 – 28.2% (110)
4 – 4.1% (16)
5 – 44.0% (171.5)

Allow for rounding error on those percentages. The half points on 2 and 5 are from the split vote mentioned above.

So #5 by a mile, right now, with #3 comfortably in second and #1 holding third. A bacon uprising could hurt my chances for forth.

Some voters allowed for second (and third, fourth, and fifth) choices; #3 and #5 split the lead for runner-up with 5.5 votes each, while #1 has 4. I’m tied with #4 at 1 vote each, here. Motto #1 got the most 3rd place votes; #4 leads on 4th place votes; and my own #2 has the honor of winning (slimly) the most explicit fifth place votes.

There were a few comments that non-numerically expressed an explicit dislike, and even an explicit most disliked status, for specific mottos, but I didn’t tabulate those into the results as it seemed a bit too fuzzy.


Of the 390 votes tallied, a significant minority came with some amount of commentary. I noted all the comments that were substantial (that is, more than e.g. “definitely #x” or “#y FTW” or “I like #z”); while I haven’t done an explict count, an eyeball estimate puts the distribution of rationales as similar to that for votes themselves. The variation in the content, length, and theme of various motto votes’ rationales is interesting, though. There are too many in total to quote, but I’ll note some examples here:

#1 – The Most Gentle Empire So Far

“Speaking for the rest of the world dependance on a generally benign, pragmatic, or apathetic economic superpower is preferable to domination by a grumpier one.”

“ha.. for us living outside USA the pick would be Number 1 by far..though I´m not so sure about the gentle part…”

“Can you imagine what Rome would have done in the current situation? Think about that Chavez.”

2. You Should See the Other Guy

“I think #2 is by far the most honest, but I suppose most of the people voting are probably americans…”

“I vote for #2. Anyone voting for #5 must be thinking of the inmates at Guantanamo, but they don’t actually have any choice in the matter, so “prefer to stay” is a euphemism”

“I voted for #2, and have been watching how unpopular it is. Maybe I voted for it because I’m Brazilian, and have an outsider’s POV.”

3. Caution! Experiment in Progress Since 1776

“I hear comments about the “ongoing democratic experiment” from people of all political stripes.”

“We may not be perfect, but for 230+ years, this experiment is the best the world has ever seen!”

“(I’m a scientist)”

4. Just Like Canada, With Better Bacon

“I love bacon!”

“Anyone who mentions bacon has the inside track to my heart!”

“cuz I’m Canadian and we seem to define ourselves in relation to the USA (despite the schadenfreude and other psychological nastiness that the definition causes).”

5. Our Worst Critics Prefer to Stay

“it both encapulates the the fact that america is a pretty decent place, but also that it is not quite perfect and could use improvement. it reafirms that many internal critics of america have a fundamental respect and appreciation for it, and as such a critic i deeply respect that.”

“It is true because its better to be on a bully’s side.”

“If #5 doesn’t run away with this, I will move to Canada. Wait…”

I’m handily losing the Freakonomics US Motto competition.

A couple weeks ago, Stephen Dubner over at the Freakonomic blog posted a contest: suggest a six-word motto for the US.  The reponse was pretty solid; there’s 1,291 comments in the thread right now, pretty much all of which feature one or more suggested mottos.

Among those was mine: “You Should See the Other Guy”.  It didn’t feel golden, exactly, but I liked it well enough to drop it into the (already monstrous, at that point) thread with a grin.

But I just hopped over there this afternoon to see that they’ve opened voting on finalists, and, hey, neat: my motto is one of the five they picked out:

1. The Most Gentle Empire So Far
2. You Should See the Other Guy
3. Caution! Experiment in Progress Since 1776
4. Just Like Canada, With Better Bacon
5. Our Worst Critics Prefer to Stay

Judging by the voting so far — there’s been 160+ comments in the first three hours since they made the new post – motto number 5 is the likely winner.  Numbers 1 and 3 are both doing well, too, while number 4 and my own number 2 are both tailing badly.

I voted for myself, natch.  No sign of the other authors, yet; I may be the first finalist to have noticed the thread.

The voting holds for 48 hours; while I expect there’s a rush right now and that voting will slow down after the first few hours (with perhaps an upswell tomorrow morning?), there’s still a lot of time left here, so who knows how the race could evolve over time.  Will my (verbose, in a thread consisting mostly of single-numerals-as-votes) comment draw any contemplation from voters?  Will a real campaign shape up here?  Any chance of an underdog movement, rejecting the nominal leader we have now in motto number 5?

Or have I just been reading too many primary/caucus blogs?

by[e] the by[e]

Something caught my eye in an Ask Metafilter comment just now:

“I experienced it as a light trance state similar to the one I was in for smoking cessation (which, by the bye, worked amazingly well — I haven’t had a cigarette since my first hypnosis session more than 22 yeras ago).”

The version I’m accustomed to is “by the by”; I have no idea what the story behind this idiom is — an alternative to “by the way”, essentially, but from where? — and so it doesn’t seem surprising to me that different folks might analyze “BY” in different ways.  What struck me was the asymmetry — that it was neither “by the by” nor “bye the bye”, which I can only figure I thought was odd because it implies an analysis of the idiom that treats the two BYs as semantically distinct items instead of just a repition of one.

Is that actually odd at all?  I don’t know.  Idioms are funny beasts, that way; I have no idea what folk etymolgies might be deployed for “by the by” (and variants), but I’d be surprised if they didn’t vary from person to person.  And speaking of variants, some quick google counts:

by the by: 7,500,000
by the bye: 605,000
bye the bye: 21,300
bye the by: 1,930

And with “way”, for comparison:
by the way: 10,300,000
bye the way: 300,000

So “by the by” isn’t much less common than “by the way”, which surprises me a little; “by the by” feels a lot more stilted, affected, like something you’d choose to say rather than something you’d just say.  But that may just be an expression of what I grew up around in my family or my region.

And the argument toward symmetry I made earlier — that repetition of a single semantic unit would beat out two distinct but homophononous versions, “by” and “bye”?  Blown out of the water, consider how many more matches there are for “by the bye” than for “bye the bye”. 

So, new improved theory: the “by the…” variants trounce the “bye the…” variants, since the former is a pretty plausible prepositional construction where as the latter is not so much.  This effect, the preference for leading “by…” over leading “bye…”, is a lot stronger than my symmetry argument; but within either variant (“by the…” and “bye the…”), the version that features repetition has a lot more hits than the version with two distinct semantic units.

Phrasewatch: “Justified Reliance”.

At about 3000 google results right now, the phrase “justified reliance” isn’t totally obscure (it’s no “presidential preference event”, to be sure).  It’s new to me, but I’m very much not a law nerd — it’s apparently a term of art, with legal references being easy to find in the search results.  

But I’m wondering if it’s going to spike in the near future, what with US Attorney General Mukasey dropping the phrase, in congressional hearings today, as an explanation for why breaking the law is okay if the Department of Justice tells you to do it.  Is it, as one of the commenters on TPM suggested, the new “plausible deniability”?

Viva l’ Presidential Preference Event

Here’s a new one by me, spotted in an AP story running in (among other places) the Portland (Maine) Press Herald:

“Maine’s is the only presidential preference event this weekend.”

Seems to be a clarifying shortcut for “primary or caucus” — give one name to that umbrella of events and sidestep some complicated phrasing?

It’s not common, at least not at the moment: a google search for “presidential preference event” yields ten whole hits; five of those are from stories similarly referencing the Maine event this weekend; the other five break down like so, the first two both links from the DNC’s site:

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