Sunday, April 13, 2014
  How abstract is zero?

I've noticed that older radio and TV shows were carefully grammar-checked for a few select schoolmarm fetishes, but not all. Specifically, the pre-1960 network censors were fussy about lie-lay and have and none is.

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Lie-lay is the simplest fetish. No real speaker of English ever says "Let's lie down for a while" or "I lay there without sleeping." Lay has adopted both transitive and intransitive meanings, which is thoroughly normal and unambiguous. Lie is confusing in two directions: its present form is the same word as 'tell a falsehood', and its past form is the same word as lay. By the normal logic of language it deserved to disappear, and it did.

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The have fetish results from a truly ignorant misunderstanding of grammar. Have is two separate words. It can be a transitive verb meaning 'possess', or it can be a verb-tense morpheme. No real speaker of English confuses these two words, but the censors do confuse them. The radio-TV censors wrote bizarre dialog like "Have you a match? Sorry, I haven't a match." In these sentences, have is an ordinary free-standing verb, so it should properly team up with do like any other transitive verb. "Do you have a match? Sorry, I don't have a match." The schoolmarms and their censorious followers confusedly believe that have is some kind of chimera, simultaneously a free-standing verb and a morpheme.

Old Miss Marley showed the construction of this confusion. She was quick to pounce on a student who said "I don't have a pencil." She would respond: "No, that is incorrect. Would you say 'I don't have gone to the store'? Of course you wouldn't. So you can't say 'I don't have a pencil.' You must say 'I haven't a pencil.' You must speak ekritly."

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The none is vs none are question is more difficult. As mentioned yesterday, number words began as specific groups of specific things. Three-Rocks and Three-Wolves are entirely different pieces of the world, so they received different words. Generalizing to Three-Objects happened much later, and never happened at all for some isolated cultures.

At that early level of abstraction, how do you think about No-Rocks or No-Wolves? Both are purely imaginary. You can't see No-Rocks. You know what Rocks and Wolves are, perhaps you remember them being somewhere else, perhaps you remember them being here before, but you don't see them here and now.

None comes in at this point. "None of the wolves are here" doesn't really refer to Zero-Wolves. In detail it means "I know what Wolves are, and I know that Wolves are elsewhere, but they're not here at the moment." "None of the water is here" doesn't really refer to Zero-Water. In detail it means "I know what Water is, and I know that Water is around somewhere, but it's not here at the moment."

Normal speakers of English use none as a macro for sentences like those, and normal speakers of English know exactly when to say none are versus none is.

The schoolmarms insist on none is because _____ ....... Well, I can't even fill in the blank. I have no idea what strange confusion leads them to this fetish.

Perhaps they are imagining a free-standing contextless none, but this is impossible. None always refers to a specific noun that exists elsewhere. You know what this noun is, and you know whether it's singular or plural. For countable nouns, none are. For substances like water or data, none is.

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Thus it's easy to see why Zero as a cardinal came later than the other cardinals, came first to the Hindoos who are innately strong in math, and came only as an import to most other cultures. Even after you've generalized from Three-Rocks to Three-Objects, how do you generalize to Zero-Objects? Try it: "I know what Objects are, and I know that Objects are around somewhere, but they're not here at the moment." Really? No Objects? No Things? When has that ever happened?

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Irrelevant sidenote: It's sort of interesting that Hindoos are comfortable with a belief system in which Matter is an illusion. The concept of No-Objects seems to be generally easier for them. Chicken and egg?

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Polistra was named after the original townsite of Manhattan (the one in Kansas). When I was growing up in Manhattan, I spent a lot of time exploring by foot, bike, and car. I discovered the ruins of an old mill along Wildcat Creek, and decided (inaccurately) that it was the remains of the original site of Polistra. Accurate or not, I've always liked the name, with its echoes of Poland (an under-appreciated friend of freedom) and stars. ==== The title icon is explained here. ==== Switchover: This 2007 entry marks a sharp change in worldview from neocon to pure populist. ===== The long illustrated story of Polistra's Dream is a time-travel fable, attempting to answer the dangerous revision of New Deal history propagated by Amity Shlaes. The Dream has 8 episodes, linked in a chain from the first. This entry explains the Shlaes connection.

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