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Theory and Practice

Posted by Dirck on 3 April, 2013

I’m going somewhat off my rails today.  A persistent irritant at The Regular Job had finally pushed the irritatometer assigned to it into the red, and it’s either vent or set fire to my waste basket.  It’s going to be a bit of a circumlocution to not give Regular Job specifics, so those with low tolerance for that sort of thing might want to take a hike.

My problem is the use of the phrase “in theory,” and its gross abuse by a co-worker.  I’m sure you’re all used to it.  “In theory, a fountain pen’s flow rate will always keep up with demand for ink on paper.”  It’s a jolly useful mode of expression– in an ideal world, this situation obtains.  The usual implication is that since the world we live in is somewhat short of ideal, the true situation is otherwise.  “In practice, clogging, poor feed setting and point deformities can lead to skipping.”

My co-worker, who daily flirts with a serious telephone beating (that being the handiest object in terms of size, availability and proximity), does not quite understand this common use.  Co-worker, and I use this as a pronoun to conceal gender, will say things like, “In theory, you are breathing air.”

“In theory, I have half a muffin left.”

“In theory, I caught my bus this morning.”

No.  No.  NO.  Co-worker means, of course, “in fact.”  It’s not unlike the mis-use of “literally”, which is a common failing in the modern context, but it somehow grates more.  I think it’s something to do with trying to sound slightly more intelligent, and since in theory* Co-worker is not of much more than average intelligence, Co-worker is missing the target.

*(As a practical matter, I’ve done no testing, so I can’t really speak on Co-workers intelligence in a quantitative way… although Co-worker’s apparent habit of watching FOXnews programming (which is recited at some length the next day at work) is suggestive in a qualitative way.)

There.  That’s out of my system.  You know what?  I hardly feel better at all.  Let me conclude on a high note, though; the outdoor temperature is, contrary to forecast, above freezing!  Just like it’s supposed to be about two weeks ago!  Hoorah!

Today’s pen: Cross Century II
Today’s ink: Noodler’s El Lawrence

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2 Responses to “Theory and Practice”

  1. Andrew said

    I have a professor who uses literally on occasion. It rubs me the wrong way literally every time.

    • I think my wife gave up on home decorating shows for a while because of Debbie Travis’s use of that word; she used it with technical correctness, but in situations where there really weren’t any figurative possibilities to exclude. “You literally put the paint on the wall, literally brush it on, and it is literally a new colour!”

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