anonymity because x

From Ian Ayres posting over at Freakonomics, a collection of reasons given for source anonymity by various news publications following a 2004 change to NYT’s confidentiality policy.

A few of the cited reasons:

  • (Spoke on condition of anonymity because) …of the delicacy of the negotiations.
  • …he did not want to be seen as speaking for the president.
  • …he was not authorized to divulge results.
  • …many people do not know she smokes.

Ian’s writeup touches on some of the variations in both phrasing and the nature of the justification in various citations.  He also mentions that “…by 2005 there were 9,451 articles using the phrase.”  Which is the sort of thing that makes me drool a little.

Of corn and truth

I was surprised by the end of this sentence, from user drpynchon in a comment on Ask Metafilter:

It’s not entirely crap — there are some kernels of corn too in there, but…

The autocomplete function of my brain expected the kernals to be of truth; the persistence of the cliche in action, I suppose.  The use of “corn” instead both is more literal a metaphor and evokes a much more visceral reading of the preceding “crap” than I would have had with the “truth” version.


The phrase “HURF DURF BUTTER EATER” was introduced to Metafilter on February 16th, 2005, in the text of an Ask Metafilter question relating in part to weight issues.  Later that year, the phrase gained visibility on the site thanks to a discussion of the original use, and Metafilter users began repeating and modifying the phrase in a variety of ways on the site.

From the original phrase, variations have developed on Metafilter, including but not limited to:

  • rhyming and non-rhyming adaptations of the original “HURF DURF [object] [verb taking object +er]” form (e.g. “HURF DURF DRAGON-READER”, “HURF DURF BOTTLE BREAKER”)
  • syntactically incongruous puns and rhymes (“HURF DURF BUTTER VADER”, “HURF DURF DEATH EATER”)
  • characterization of dismissive attitudes toward a topic (“hurf durf chauvinism!”, “HURF DURF TAROT”)
  • mocking paraphrases of argumentation (“hurf durf why can’t I tell all my awesome black jokes”, “Hay guyz I hrd DAILY KOS is 2 drs dwn on da left hurf durf”)
  • self-contained utterances (“Hurf durf.”)
  • explicit references to weight (“hurf durf” as synonym for fat; “hurf durfer” as fat person)
  • snowclone integration in fixed phrases (“To hurf durf or not to hurf durf”, “hurf minds durf alike”)

While the use of “hurf durf” or variants thereof certainly predates Metafilter’s use of it (citations have been made back to 2001 at least, and one user speculated that the fixed phrase HURF DURF BUTTER EATER itself dated to mid-90s USENET), the 2/16/05 use of “hurf durf” pre-dates any other on-site use of the rhyming-pair phrase or any variant I could find.

(There are two uses of stand-alone “derf”, however: 1/30/05, 5/17/01.  Both are notes of apology/self-deprecation.  There is also a stand-alone “durf”, 7/11/01, which I cannot make out the meaning of.  There are no earlier standalone references to “hurf”; and while a site search returns more than a dozen earlier hits for “herf”, these appear all to be either botched html [href gone bad] or references to HERF guns.)

I have used Metafilter’s on-site search functionality to examine all comments and posts between 2/16/05 and 4/15/08 in which both the strings “hurf” and “durf” appear.  I have created below an exhaustive chronological index of those posts and comments, grouping replies together and noting context, variations in the form, and other details as they struck me.


Imagine a foo barring a baz — for ever.

There have been a fair handful of references by Metafilter users over the years to this Orwell quote, from his novel 1984:

“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stomping on a human face — forever.”

Some of those references have been direct quotes, with or without irony; others have been less faithful to George. For example: “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a dachsund loading a tennis ball launcher — forever.”

It has been quoted straight by mefites in reference to:

the US gov’t spidering the web
torture by US soldiers
Raytheon’s pain-ray gun
Iraq vet mistreatment
The television show Big Brother
Habeas Corpus

The more creative reinterpretations of the phrase include, aside from the dachsund line above, these:

– imagine a clown kicking you in the nuts — forever.
– imagine a taser being used on anyone who makes a fuss — forever.
– imagine a shoe tapping on a bathroom floor – forever
– imagine a llama spitting on a human face—forever!
– imagine innovative marketing stamping on a human face—forever.
– “imagine a Cole Haan stamping on a human face – forever.” –Young Republican Intern.
– imagine a biodegradable, vegan, pleather stilletto boot stomping on a human face forever

There are also more allusive bits here and there, bringing out one bit or another of the phrase without bothering with the whole quote:

– “There’s that saying about a boot repeatedly stomping on a face, forever”
– “Talk about a boot stomping on a human face, forever.”
– “ Boot stomping on human face forever, etc. etc.”
– “(a boot stomping a face)”
– “a nice picture of a boot stomping a human face?”
– “Metafilter: a boot stomping on a human face — forever.”

And even, like some rug tying this Orwello-canine room together, “Imagine a little dachshund going around in circles in a wading pool forever”.

These are what I could glean from some searching on metafilter alone; I’m sure there’s a lot more that could be culled from some general googling, but this is proof at least of some of the snowclone-ish flexibility of Orwell’s stark caricature.

Greetings, Citizens of Language Log

It has been fun so far watching the ongoing process of Language Log’s rebuild (previously) — both Mark Liberman and our good Dr. Quince have had things to say about some of WordPress’ adventursome quirks, with which I’ve had my own headaches in the past.

But easily my favorite part of the redesign is my inclusion in the updated Language Log blogroll, and right above (for now, at least, and thanks wholly to alphabetic sorting regardless) the wonderful Language Hat‘s slot.

So if you’re dropping by for the first time thanks to that inclusion, welcome. This blog is pretty all over the place, but middling armchair usage observations are one of my favorite hobbies.

It’s times like this I think that I should get in the habit of tagging my posts consistently. I think I’ll go on a crawl for ling-ish posts in the archives.

[Update: well, that was easy.  Most of the stuff I’ve posted about language or usage is now available, unadulterated, in the language category.]

Freakonomics Motto: the Final Chapter

After discovering I was a competitor — and then confirming that I really, really wasn’t the winner — of the Freakonomics US Motto contest, here’s a weird little capstone:

Stephen J. Dubner did a little segment with Diane Sawyer on Good Morning America where they talked about the contest and trotted out some of the mottos.  Sadly, mine didn’t get any airtime, but neither did “The Most Gentle Empire So Far”, and “Caution! Experiment in Progress Since 1776” got flubbed by Sawyer.

The cruelty, though: the bacon motto, my one true nemesis, got mentioned.

Freakonomics on Metafilter vs. Youtube comments

Today on the Freakonomics blog they’ve got a post briefly discussing a project by mefite bertrandom that displays mefi and youtube comments side-by-side.  As a quick spit-take comparison, the project is pretty fun, though there’s a lot of directions the project could go that’d give it some more depth.

The discussion about the project that popped up on Metatalk was interesting (if chock full of inside baseball), but it’s a little surreal for me to see it sort of plopped out for (relatively) main-stream consumption like this.  Congrats to Bertrand, regardless.