Category Archives: Word Spin

Seth gets pedantic about semantics.


This is nothing new.

Most agree that advertisers and political agenda holders will try to mislead us with statistics and emphasis. Indeed, the statement “You can use statistics to prove anything” has been around for a long time to capture our general frustration with the misuse of facts and figures. I think it should be noted, though, that numbers, themselves, are innocent. They are mere quantififactions of mini-factoids, and so in reality, they cannot prove anything you want—but, with clever emphasis (or non-scientific collecting of them), they can be used to imply flawed conclusions.

For instance, a reporter who is assigned to do a story that demonstrates the (alleged) substandard play of the local sports team will take the team’s following list of results—


—and, from one side of their mouth, say that the team is playing so poorly that it has only won two of its last ten games. But if the same scribe is asked by their editor to demonstrate that the team has fared well, then he or she will happily note, from the other side of their mouth, that the team has impressively only lost two of its last ten games.

In reality, when tabulated without emphasis, the statistics are perfectly clear that the team has fared exactly evenly (2 wins, 2 losses, 6 ties) in their last 10 games. The numbers did nothing wrong! The blame should be squared at the interpreter of those stats who cruelly abused their earnest willingness to help and emphasized only the part that seemed on the surface to support their conclusion.

Thus, in defence of statistics—which, when compiled scientifically, are innocent figures, who just want to depict their environment as accurately as possible—I have collected over the past few weeks some examples of emphasis gone wrong:

(A) “The 53 year-old grandfather of two”:

In a recent feel-good story, a reporter was trying to emphasize the impressiveness of a man’s swim across some great distance—especially since he was older than the average practitioner of such an activity. Apparently, the man’s 53 years on their own didn’t sound old enough, so the journalist referred to him as a “53 year-old grandfather of two.” My understanding, though, is that there is no evidence to indicate that 53 year-old grandfathers of two are any older than 53 year-old grandfathers of one, who in turn have not been shown to be any older than 53 year-olds, in general.

(B) “We’ll cover the tax on your purchase”:

It seems on the surface here that retailers are simply trying to capitalize on their customers’ general tax resentment, and so are saying:

“I’m on your side: I’m going to cancel out the tax.”

But, in fact, if they had simply given a discount equivalent to the tax rate, they would have saved the customer more money:

If, for instance, an item cost $100 and the tax rate was 10%, then—before the discount—the total price of the purchase would have been $110. But the noble anti-tax warrior is covering that total tax of $10, so the consumer only pays $100. In contrast, if the company had simply given a 10% discount on the purchase, the pre-tax price would have been $90, which—taxed at 10%—would be $99 total.

Not a remarkable distinction in such a small purchase, but when I recently overheard a car company boasting that they would cover the tax for their beloved consumer, their tax-hating friendship seemed particularly expensive (on a $15,000 car, the distinction between “covering a 10% tax” and “giving a 10% discount” would be $150, i.e. $1500 savings vs. $1650).

(C) “Three-time boxing champion”:

In most sports, to be a three-time champion means that you have three times gone into a championship tournament and won. So the more-time champion you are, the better. In the boxing world, however, the “times” are calculated differently because, in that world, you stay the champion until someone defeats you. So, when you first win, you’re a one-time champion. If you lose your belt and regain it, then you become a two-time champion. Thus, someone who never loses their championship will end their career as a one-time champ, while someone who loses it twice and regains it twice is a three-time champion. This is still impressive, but—unlike in other sports—being a three-time champion is not necessarily better than being a two-time champion.

Nevertheless, when advertising the appearance of a champion boxer, promoters will universally capitalize on the phrase “3-time champion” as though it means the same superior result as it would in other sports.

(D) “The lowest/highest paid X in the country”:

Politicians enjoy defending or criticizing social facts in their own jurisdiction by comparing them to adjacent neighbourhoods. For instance, to prove that BC’s rate of X is too high or low, they’ll say, “BC has the third most/least X in the country” (as compared with the other nine Canadian provinces).

Such a factoid presumes two things:

(1) that there is a significant difference between the highest and lowest, and

(2) that if X is the most, it must, by definition, be too high, and if it is the lowest, it must be too low.

In fact, it may be that, even though Canada, let’s say, gives the most per capita of any country in North America to fighting curable diseases in Africa, a moral philosopher still has the right to argue that we should be giving more. Meanwhile, even though a certain population may be the worst paid in their profession in the country, that doesn’t necessarily mean that, ethically, they’re underpaid. Maybe Canada as a whole pays a lot for that profession, and so even the tenth-rated province may still pay pretty well. Similarly, Shakespeare’s “worst” play isn’t necessarily bad. It may still be better than most of us could write.

(E) “50% percent more”:

Anytime someone compares an increase only by percentage, it’s likely that they realize the numbers on their own aren’t impressive enough to compel us. If, for instance, the Canucks are penalized six times compared to with the rival team’s four times in a hockey game, the difference doesn’t sound particularly significant. So our beloved GM Mike Gillis would prefer to say:

We were penalized 50% more times than the opposition!

Wow, that sounds like a lot!

Percentage comparisons, I’m sure, can be useful, but when they’re used without the numbers to justify them, I can’t help wondering what the presenter of them is trying to hide.

(F) “People who do X, tend to…”:

I recently heard an advert on TV for multi-grain cereals stating that those who eat multi-grain foods tend to weigh less. Clearly, the cereal seller is hoping that we will notice this correlation and assume causation:

“It must be the multi-grains that are causing those people to weigh less, so, if I eat them, there’ll be less of me, too!”

In fact, of course, it may simply be that the person who eats multi-grains tends to care about their health, and so tends to do other things for their health as well—such as exercising more often—which in turn may be the actual cause of their leanness.

Obviously, this correlation vs. causation distinction—as with all of my examples—is no great epiphany. We all know that advertisers, politicians, and interest groups manipulate the numbers for their greater good. Moreover, numbers, themselves, will rarely be perfect representations given that the collectors of statistics can so easily over-focus on particular groups or ask leading questions. But at least the statistics’ governing body—the scientific method—aims in good faith to cull such errors in collection. In contrast, the quoting, referencing and emphasizing of particular statistics without considering their context and complexity seems to be occurring without a police officer.

So, for the sake of promoting the integrity of statistics, in general, I think it’s worth pointing out these deceptions whenever we see them so that the well collected and well-defined facts can stand out as the sincere creatures that they are.


Once upon a time in history, citizens were presented with soothsayers whose duty it was to predict the results of athletic events. Some say that the prognosticators were so pure in their perceptions that they did not need to know anything about the subject matter of their postulations. Even more impressive, it has been speculated that the predictors weren’t aware that they were making predictions! Apparently, you see, these Nostradamus impersonators were populated by animals, such as monkeys, elephants and octopi, who were provided references to competing groups so that they could, somehow in their behaviour, indicate the more likely victor.

I’m hoping I’ve tricked you into imagining that I’m referring to an ancient time where animals were sometimes elevated to the status of deities who could apparently see all. In fact, the omniscient creatures that I refer to have existed in our recent history on our televisions, where various broadcasters have competed to provide us with the most endearing animal pundit.

Most recently, I witnessed a local-to-me television station employing a divine critter of their own to anticipate the results of my Vancouver Canucks. Is this continuing ritual meant to be merely adorable, or, in those cases where the animal “selections” prove accurate, are we also supposed to be intrigued as well? When Paul the Octopus selected food from the logo of the team that would win particular football/soccer matches eight out of eight times during the 2010 World Cup, some seemed genuinely amazed and apparently wondered if the animal actually had some extra sensory understanding of the sport.

(I have no idea whether any of these animal surveys are conducted scientifically, but let us assume that there was no accidental or intentional biasing of the subject: it won’t affect the ire of this rant.)

If it’s true that some people believe that the only reason the sea creature could have chosen his food so consistently with the results of the matches is because he was powered by some greater force or perception, I think it’s worth pointing out that—when it comes to chance—every unlikely possibility is obligated to come true now and then. “Improbable,” that is, simply means that something is less likely than all the other options combined: it doesn’t mean that it can only happen with the assistance of magic. If, for instance, you flip a coin twice in a row, the chance of getting heads both times is 25%. Thus it “probably” won’t happen, but it certainly might. In fact, it is one of only four possibilities for what could happen:

(A) Two heads in a row
(B) First heads, then tails
(C) First tails, then heads
(D) Two tails in a row

Each of these combinations has exactly a 25% chance of happening, so each possibility is, in fact, improbable, and yet we know that 100% of the times that we successfully flip a coin two times in a row one of these improbabilities will come true. Thus the improbable is to be expected (we just don’t know which improbable is going to occur).

Similarly, each individual who buys a ticket has a tiny chance of winning the lottery, and yet, with every draw, it is likely that someone will come up big. That doesn’t demonstrate that the winning ticket holder was psychic: it simply means that, if you throw a ball into a crowd, it’s probably going to land in someone’s hand even though every person in there had a small chance of getting it.

When it comes to individual animal predictors, then, it is not actually surprising that they are sometimes “right” many times in a row. The law of probability demands it! (25% of the time in the case of two coin flips, 12.5% in the case of three flips, and 0.39% for eight guesses.) Paul feeding “accurately” eights times in a row is to be expected occasionally. After all, every possible combination of eight coin flips had an equal 0.39% chance, and yet one of them had to come true: and Paul’s 1 in 256 prediction had just as good a shot as any other.

It may still seem surprising that Paul would win the lottery right while the cameras were watching him, but how much failed animal predictor footage was thrown away before Paul’s accuracy was brought to the public’s attention?

Sometimes, the coin-flip combination you guess for will be the one that comes up, but once again, that doesn’t make you, nor any confused animal, a psychic. It just means that you and chance were in the same place at the same time. My bet is that, on average, when any of us make predictions that have a 1/256 chance of coming true, we’re probably right approximately every 256th time, so don’t be surprised when your wild guess does come true.

Perhaps, most people aren’t actually impressed when the animal nudges their nose at the right prediction, but are instead pleased to see a cute creature on stage, and so are happy to play along with the prediction game that justifies the non-human appearance. Fair enough, but in that case, instead of imposing psychic behaviours on our animal neighbours maybe the broadcasters could spend the time studying the creatures’ natural behaviours and tendencies.

Unless you genuinely believe there is something more than the standard workings of chance contained in an animal-logo-nudging exhibition, I submit the display provides us with no nutritional content other than the animals’ natural charisma. The spectacle is not even original any more! So, instead of spending animals’ rare time on screen forced to pretend that they care about our sports, maybe we could let them teach us about their genuine interests.

I look forward to the day that the sports announcer says:

“We were going to take this time to show you the basketball game predictions of Humphrey the Hippo, but we realized that we could let you flip your own coins at home, and so—in lieu of such artificially constructed animal behaviour—we would now like to spend one genuine minute with this Hippopotamus and Dr. Henrietta the Hippo Scientist.”

Go Canucks, Go!

UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF LAZY JOURNALISM II: Extra Sensory Perceptions (Of Emotion)

Journalism is vital to a free society; so, too, is criticism of the media. And yet SethBlogs doesn’t see as much oversight of the media’s methods as there is for other vital societal resources. SethBlogs suspects that this oversight oversight provokes a lazy complacency among our favourite journalistic representatives.








I’ve been criticized, in my non-blogging life, for ranting at journalists who attribute particular emotions to people they cover. Consider the following fictional coverage of Jane Newsmaker’s comments on Barry Badguy’s criminal sentencing:

JANE NEWSMAKER: I’m disgusted that Barry Badguy didn’t get more time in jail.

JOHN REPORTER: Newsmaker was angry that Badguy didn’t get more time in jail.

SETHBLOGS: What?! How does Reporter know whether Newsmaker was genuinely angry or not?

CRITIC OF SETHBLOGS: Well, Newsmaker looks pretty angry.

SETHBLOGS: Yes, but it’s perfectly conceivable that Newsmaker’s not actually emotionally involved in the case, but is presenting so for a political purpose.

CRITIC OF SETHBLOGS: No, from a reporter’s perspective, it’s reasonable to describe an angry-looking person as angry.

I have been baffled more than once to find that smart people are not always convinced by my perfectly logical rant on this point, so I was delighted to hear from CBC radio, yesterday, proof in an example.

As you probably know, there is speculation (based on an apparently leaked draft of a report by Canadian Auditor General, Sheila Fraser) that the Conservative government of Canada have been up to some inappropriate financial dealings:

MICHAEL IGNATIEFF: The Conservatives have been spraying money around like drunken sailors in Tony Clement’s riding…

CBC COMMENTATOR: Ignatieff was clearly shocked [by the controversy].

Shocked?! I have no idea whether or not the leader of the Canadian Liberal party is indeed startled by the controversial happenings in Tony Clement’s Huntsville riding, but I can see plenty of reason why it would benefit him to be perceived as shocked. After all, to be seen as a leader with integrity is a highly coveted position in a political campaign and so—if one politician is caught in a controversy—it looks good on their rivals to be so far above the alleged misconduct that they are dismayed by it.

In support of that very point, the possible Conservative villain Clement, himself, accused his critics of using the controversy to score unearned political points. He claims that the final report by the Auditor General will exonerate him, but he says because his rivals know that Sheila Fraser won’t reveal those details until after the election, his enemies are merely feigning rage about what she’ll eventually say.

I hope Clement is wrong about the Liberals’ intentions, but his counter-criticism is now part of this political dispute. For the CBC reporter to state outrightly that Ignatieff “was shocked” is to take a position on the debate. It is to suggest that, in fact, Ignatieff is speaking from his heart on this issue. I’m not saying that he’s not, but a reporter should not make a claim in any direction on what is motivating any political leader. Leave the opinion-making to editorialists (and bloggers, of course :)).

I doubt the CBC journalist made this inappropriate psychological claim with any intention to bias his audience. Instead, I think he is merely guilty of lazy journalism probably as a result of the common trend amongst reporters to describe their subjects with the emotions they perceive in them. It is simple and effective to characterize someone who is yelling as “angry,” since it seems so clear that they are piping mad. And what’s the harm? some would argue. In many cases, such attributing of emotion to newsmakers appears innocuous. For instance, when a widower responds to his wife’s death, it seems so right to note that he is grieving.

Nevertheless, the fact is reporters never know with certainty what any newsmaker is thinking and in turn they do not know whether or not a person may be presenting an emotion (that they don’t actually have) for a political purpose. For instance:

WIDOWER: I loved my wife dearly. I will spend the rest of my life trying to track down her killer.

REPORTER: The football star was devastated by his wife’s death.

Unfortunately, the possible truth of the matter is that the widower was,the killer. Once this fact is suspected, the lazy reporter will have a lot of explaining to do:

SETHBLOGS: What made you so sure the athlete was devastated? Did you really just take his word for it?

To avoid such an embarrassing fate, my suggestion is simply that reporters stick to the facts:

CORRECTED REPORTER: The teary-eyed football star vowed to find his wife’s killer.

In that case, if it turns out that the widower is the killer, the reporter would no longer need to recant his testimony because everything he said was true (there was indeed tears in the famous athlete’s eyes and he did promise to find the killer). All that journalists need to do is make a habit of always reporting only what they can verify about their newsmakers and they’ll never have to worry about accidentally making outrageously false claims.









Several times now I’ve heard articulate TSN hockey commentator, Pierre McGuire, comment during a hockey telecast that a certain performer is not only a great player,

“…but an even better person!”

This irks me each time because, although I don’t doubt that the athlete possesses a delightful personality, I can’t help wondering if Mr. McGuire is taking liberties with his definitions: it seems to me that a hockey player would have to be a pretty awesome human being to outshine the hockey skills that have gotten them into professional hockey.

My concern was brought to rant, then, when McGuire referred to superstar, Steven Stamkos (who is currently the league’s second leading scorer) by this same “even better person” claim.

So let me get this straight. According to my friend Wik, there’s well over 1.44 million registered ice hockey players world wide, and Stamkos is probably one of the top 10 best of those people. That is to say, he’s in the approximately 99.9993th percentile of hockey players. But he’s an even better person! So he’s in at least the 99.9994th percentile of human beings. He’s basically the best person in a 145,000 person radius! Not bad for a 20 year old!

It is of course possible that a hockey player (Trevor Linden) is as great at being a human as he is at playing hockey, but it seems a fairly daunting task, and so I can’t help wondering how exactly Pierre McGuire defines the words “even better person.” I’m guessing Mr. Stamkos is very likable and easy to be around, and makes Pierre feel comfortable to be himself. But has Steven made great efforts to change the world for the better?

I looked around the web to see what sort of work the Steven Stamkos Foundation must have done for charities in Africa, and how much money the millionaire himself has surely donated to save wounded polar bears.

Strangely, I didn’t find much evidence of anything particularly generous coming out of the Stamkos Empire. But, on the website for the Tampa Bay Lightning (for whom Stamkos works), I found, from 2009, a “Steve Stamkos Answers your Questions” page, and the following query from a fan:

“…have you thought about using your celebrity status to bring awareness to a certain cause or charity?”

“Yes,” Steven cheerfully wrote back, “it’s definitely crossed my mind. I won’t go and say I’m a celebrity, but I definitely thought of that.”

(See, that’s the kind of modesty from a young star that certainly does make him seem like a delightful fellow. I see what you’re saying, Pierre!)

He goes on:

“I attended numerous charity golf tournaments this summer in and around my hometown of Markham, Ontario. I also donated some jerseys and sticks to great causes. I’ve thought of having a Steven Stamkos Charity Golf Tournament back in my hometown. I think we’ll wait a couple of years and see how the next two seasons or so progress, but having a charity event is definitely on my mind and will be coming in the near future.”

Very nice. Definitely sounds like a great fellow. He might have a charity golf tournament (which I suspect is all work and no play for the celebrity name behind it) and he’s donated some of his used equipment to auction off to people willing to pay a lot to a charity for them. Very very nice.

Now, at the time of that quote, Stamkos was only 19, so go easy on him, SethBlogs! But, before you rant back at me for being too hard on the young star, be advised: I’m not actually meaning to imply (with my sarcastic tone above) that he’s not a very good person. In fact, I think Stamokos seems very likable, and I wouldn’t kick out of a conversation if I met him. However, perhaps Mr. McGuire could hold off on ranking him as one of the top 2000 people in Canada (per the math of his statement) until he’s done a few more good deeds?

Thanks so much.

SELF-AGGRANDALISM II: If Your Critics Don’t Believe In You, No One Will

In the face of difficult questions, the most talented egos use impeccable sleights of language to rebrand their behaviours to seem heroic. This series is dedicated to those rhetorician-magicians.









In the interest of full disclosure—and Seth-promotion—the spirt of this rant, and other works of Sethiquette, is now available in my book, How to Cure Yourself of Narcissism.

In sports, when underdogs win unexpectedly, there seems to be an almost unanimous tendency amongst such winners to suddenly deride those who predicted they wouldn’t win.

INTERVIEWER: How does it feel to win?!

UNDERDOG CHAMPION: Yeah, everyone was counting us out. They were all bashing us. Nobody believed in us, but ourselves, and we proved them all wrong!

I find the indignant tone of such remarks to be a wee bit confusing. It’s as though the vindicated athletes think the pundits were maliciously targeting them in a manner akin to someone telling a child they would never amount to anything:

PUNDIT: I predict the Rangers will beat the Blazers 4-2.

BLAZERS’ PLAYER: Oh, great, so you’re saying I’m not good enough to win?! You don’t believe in me just like my parents never believed in me! Thanks a lot.

Surely the players understand that—if predictions are to be made—someone has to be estimated to lose, so their designation as underdog was not necessarily mean-spirited. But maybe I’m missing the point. Perhaps the players simply don’t like being predicted upon at all:

INTERVIEWER: So how does it feel to go into this tournament ranked number one?

HIGH RANKED PLAYER: Actually, I find the whole notion of rankings to be disrespectful: I’m tired of being treated like a piece of meat whose results can be anticipated by non-players. Instead of typecasting us based on past performances, why don’t you just wait and see what happens? Whatever will be, will be!

Strangely, though, such railing against complimentary predictions happens rarely. Instead the players only seem resentful when they’re not picked to win. Actually, that’s not completely true. More accurately: they only object when they’re not picked to win, but end up winning, after all. However, I’ve yet to hear an assault on predictions of losing when they prove accurate:

INTERVIEWER: So, how do you feel about your 5th place finish?

5TH PLACER: Well, let me first point out that everyone predicted I would come in 5th. And I just want to say ‘Screw you!’ to all those people that didn’t believe in me.

INTERVIEWER: So you feel you should have been predicted to fare better?

5TH PLACER: Yeah! It would have been nice if someone would’ve believed in me. I see that all sorts of people believed in Mr. World Record Holder over there. Isn’t that nice for him? So not only does he get the glory of winning, he also gets the pre-event accolades, too. Couldn’t those predictions have been shared out evenly? Or better yet, here’s an idea: why not treat us all like we have an equal chance of winning and not predict at all!?

So, given that the athletes only object when they are inaccurately predicted to perform worse than they do, maybe their objection is not that their results were estimated, but instead that the alleged experts got it wrong. Hmm, but the problem there is that if inaccuracy of prediction is the only issue, wouldn’t the “overdog” players predicted to win complain when they lose?

INTERVIEWER: So how does it feel to lose after being the favourite in this tournament?

OVERDOG LOSER: Well, the truth is I was a little irritated in the first place when we were ranked so highly. Clearly, the so-called experts don’t know what they’re talking about. They said we’d come in first, and did we? No. I just feel really bad for the fans who were given false estimates by the pundits.

So I’m not sure what the solution is to the incrogruity that predictions seem to be okay so long as pundits don’t predict certain teams to lose. When I coached kids’ rollerblade hockey, a four-team tournament was divided into “Gold Medal Winner,” “Gold Medal Runner-up,” “Silver Medal Winner,” and “Silver Medal Runner-up.” Admittedly, one of my ten year old players approached me afterwards, and said:

“Why are we being called ‘Silver Medal Runner-Up’? Didn’t we come in last?”

Despite the youngster’s ability to see through the trophy-based re-framing, perhaps sports prognosticators can learn from such efforts to protect people from ever thinking they’ve lost:

PUNDIT: I believe equally in all four teams in this tournament. They’re all ranked number one in my books! If I had to choose—and it’s basically a coin flip—I would rank the Bears ‘1A,’ the Tornados ‘1B,’ the Lions ‘1C,’ and the Ravens ‘1D.’

RAVENS’ PLAYER: Awesome! We’re ranked number 1!

For delightful illustration of the above, consider below Jim Carrey’s (Academy Award worthy) Lloyd Christmas in one of the greatest (and most underrated) comedies all all time, Dumb & Dumber. In this wonderful scene, Lloyd masterfuly reframes a situation in which first glance might suggest he hadn’t succeeded.

SPOILER ALERT: Don’t view you if you haven’t yet seen this brilliant movie!










I notice, from the previews, that the new movie, The Tourist (starring Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie), features the following conversation (approximately):

DEPP’S CHARACTER: You look ravenous.

JOLIE’S CHARACTER: You mean “ravishing”?

DEPP’S CHARACTER (confidently): I do.

Hee, hee, very funny, but I call accidental inverted plagiarism! That is, my brother has been mixing up those two words in the reverse manner for years:

SETH BROTHER: Man, I haven’t eaten all day. I am so ravishing!

SETH: I think you might mean, “ravenous”.

SETH BROTHER: Yeah, that’s what I said.

SETHBLOGS: Yes, I’m sure it was: I just hope you’ve been telling people all day about your “ravenous” self-analysis.

SETHBLOGS NOTE: As a result of comments from my readership, I have discovered that my claim that the tourist engaged in “accidental, inverted plagiarism” may be inaccurate. Please read the below comments for details.


So, many years ago, my second-placed sister (featured in the background of and I were wandering through a bookstore, whereupon we spotted an autobiography by a famous hockey player (who shall remain anonymous, but may be featured in my “HOWE TO TRICK YOUR FRIENDS” post). The interesting thing about this autobiography—unlike any other that we’d observed before—was that it was an “Authorized Autobiography.”

“Hmm,” I said to my sister (she’ll claim it was the other way around, so don’t be alarmed), “if this is an authorized autobiography, what exactly would count as an unauthorized autobiography?”

“Yeah,” my sister quickly caught on, “how exactly would you write and publish a story about yourself without getting permission from yourself first?”

“I guess maybe you could write it in your sleep?” I said.

“Yes!” my sister said. “And then I guess maybe you might find it in the morning, and—without realizing what it was—you might instinctively send it in to a publisher without realizing it was a tell-all about yourself. Oh no! By the time you realize what you’ve done, it’s too late: the unauthorized autobiography is already out there, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Yup, it all made sense. I hope I never write an unauthorized autobiography. I know a lot of my secrets and could definitely portray myself in a negative light.

Seth celebrating his first Stumpy Cup victory. Photo submitted to Sethblogs by Seth without Seth’s permission. 


In basketball, the phrase “Nothing but net!” indicates that a player has made a shot so accurate that—on its way to the hoop—it touched neither backboard nor rim, but instead travelled unencumbered straight into the arms of net. It’s a term of endearment, therefore, for shots that not only score, but are accurate in a particular, elite way. Such shots can arise from various basketball plays (jump shots, hook shots, Michael Jordan vs Larry Bird advertising McDonalds shots), but, let me repeat: to be counted as a Nothing but net shot, the ball must travel from the player’s hands to the net without touching anything but that net.

I reiterate this definition because it is apparently not as simple as it sounds. Twice recently I’ve overheard television announcers witness an excellent basketball scoring play, but in which the ball hit the backboard before going into the net, and yet the commentator has nevertheless claimed, “Nothing but net!”

“But,” I replied from my couch, “it hit more than net… it hit backboard… and then rim… and only then net.”

After several hours of soul-searching, I realized that these commentators did not actually realize that the words in “Nothing but net!” have meaning beyond being a cool bit of emphasis. You see, during their commentator training, they must have noticed the phrase was always expressed in excitement towards a great shot, so the newcomer announcers logically must have assumed that “Nothing but net!” was just a fancy way to say, “Great shot!”

If you don’t believe me that newbies to expressions can sometimes confuse emphasis for meaning, consider the statement: “He’s literally out of his mind!”

For those who aren’t familiar with the error in this usage, I’ll bring in guest SethBlogger, Dr. Frasier Crane, for illumination. Frasier, take it away:

Hee, hee, well done, Frasier! Special SethBlogs’ Contest: can you identify the voice of the literally defeated caller? I’ll give you a hint, this isn’t the first time he’s been accused of being Dumb & Dumber (and it’s not Jim Carrey)


I gathered recently with some friends and siblings for what I thought would be some wholesome family fun.  Unfortunately, someone challenged us all to a strange word game, titled Bananagrams, wherein each contestant is given letters from which to try create a full crossword faster than their opponents.

Quickly, it was noticed by me that I was slower than my rivals (generally I was just finishing sorting the letters into alphabetical order when the others were completing the grueling task).  Thus, I suggested that I be given some sort of handicap to make things more fair.

“How about,” a creative participant suggested, “everyone but Seth has to get at least one dirty word in their crossword.”

This was accepted and the group set to the lewd chore.

Several moments into the noble endeavour, one of my sisters—for no apparent reason—announced, “I have sex!”

“Okay, then,” I replied, “thanks for letting us know, but for now, can we concentrate on the game?”

My sister tried to cover up her inappropriate announcement by explaining she’d found the word “sex” in her letters, but we knew she was just embarrassed, so—to make her feel better—we spent the rest of the evening sharing made-up sins of our own. Some announced that they read dirty magazines; others were voyeurs; and most of us liked S&M.

Artwork supplied by


So a friend of mine sent out a group email requesting participants for a survey that a friend of hers was conducting. She concluded her call for assistance with the phrase, “Feel free to pass on.”

Wow! Reminding people of their right to die seems a bit harsh—especially when you’ve just asked them for a favour!

When I confronted the impertinent emailer, she explained that she just wanted to make sure people knew their options.