Category Archives: language

questions on the loo, issue #5: “People who know what they want.”

You see that remark everywhere.  Anywhere from job listings to online personals, people are always seeking those who know what they want.  I never quite understood what this might mean.  How could anyone not know what they want?  I know what i want, and those around me know what they want (assuming they are being honest with me).  You might not know how to get what you want, but how could you not know what you want?  It baffles me, really, and the next time i see that phrase, i am going to email whoever wrote it and ask what they mean by it.  

This is something that has been bugging for quite some time now, but i was prompted to write a post about it because this exact issue came up in my Ethics lecture the other day.  My Ethics professor, my wonderfully brilliant Ethics professor, of all people, used that seemingly meaningless phrase, “some people don’t know what they want.”  In Book I Chapter VII of Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle discusses the search for a self-sufficient good, a final end, the one thing we aim at.  His assumption is that you could be aiming at something, but not be sure what you’re aiming at.  My question is, if you don’t even see the target, how could you be aiming at it?  That would be like someone handing me a bow and arrow and telling me to shoot at the red circle when there isn’t one.  In any case, the question that naturally follows from Aristotle’s proposition that some people don’t know what they’re after is, how do you tell what you’re really after?  One way is to get it first and then figure out if that’s what you’d been wanting, he says.  The only way to know what you’re after is to blindly go after something, get it, and then see if you’re satisfied with it.  If you are, that’s what you had been wanting.  But if humanity really did function in this primitive trial and error method, we wouldn’t get so far now, would we?  

Continue reading


Filed under culture, language, philosophy, questions on the loo

The Conversational Salutation Syndrome

Hi Gerald,

is not correct.  

Hi, Gerald.


Then why is it that almost everyone begins his or her e-mails with the former, incorrect salutation?  I’m guessing the traditional “Dear Gerald,” morphed into the more conversational and informal “Hi Gerald,” but it bothers me so much that i’m forced to use it when i know it’s incorrect.  I’ve seen two people opt for the “Hi, Gerald,” format, which i think is better but wrong nonetheless.  I’ve also seen two people opt for “Hi, Gerald.” which makes me really happy to see.  Ironically enough, one of those two people is my father, who, as a first-generation immigrant, speaks fairly good but limited English.  He can only understand simply constructed sentences, but his punctuation is better than the average American’s.  The English he learned in high school and college in South Korea was the proper English, with the proper punctuation and grammar.  A native English-speaker’s English is shaped by contemporary cultural and social influences, not the least of which is the Internet.  I’m sure the Conversational Salutation Syndrome, or so i like to call this little problem of ours, also has to do with how the Internet has changed our use of language.  

As for me, i resort to using the incorrectly punctuated conversational salutation because it almost seems silly to write “Dear Gerald,” which, in today’s world, sounds stuffy and too formal, like the kind of greeting you’d see on a credit card bill.  I have considered using the period to end the greeting, but then would i continue writing in the same paragraph or in a new one?  Both would look a bit odd:

Continue reading


Filed under communication, language

questions on the loo, issue #1: Epistemology, anthropocentrism, conscience, and life

This will be a regular feature of questions that pop up in my head.  They will most likely be philosophical in nature.  They’re more for me to keep track of, but discussion is always, under whatever circumstances, welcome and desperately wanted!  


How do we know what we know?  That’s a loaded question, but one that’s simple in concept.  How do we even know that we know?  

How do we know we’re “human beings”?  What if there are beings out there with more knowledge than us?  Beings that we have no knowledge of?  What is the definition of a “human being”?  The “greatest” creature?  The only species that has a conscience?  Are we really the only creatures with a conscience?  How would we even know that if we cannot think the way a different creature thinks?  Maybe our concept of conscience…doesn’t even matter.  Maybe what we think or what we think we think does not matter.  

What exactly is “life”?  Is it simply existence?  Is it existence with a timeline?  Existence with a beginning and an end?  Existence with a mortality?  Do immortal beings (whether they exist or not is not important here) even live?


p.s. i find it very difficult to get philosophical in words, because language is already an ideology–a convention, a system, a code.  words in a language are completely arbitrary, yet at the same time, so…biased. each word has so much baggage.


Filed under language, philosophy, questions on the loo

List all the things that “trees in the window” could mean. NOW.

I usually hear weird things being spoken over the PA at Nordstrom.  Random phrases that i cannot make out but know for sure are weird.  Most recently, the all-too-familiar female voice came on and said, “Trees in the window.”  Just like that.  Out of nowhere.  Not just a matter-of-fact “trees-in-the-window, please move them because they are blocking my view and if they are blocking my view i really wouldn’t have anything to do in this tiny office cos i wouldn’t be able to stare out the window,” but an annoyingly sing-song “TREES in the WINdow.”

Three minutes later, she did it again.  No one around me reacted.  I shook my mom and demanded why that lady kept saying that, but she just laughed it off and forgot about it, while it consumed me, eating away at my brain.  I even looked around, looking for a window that’s got trees in front of it but didn’t see any.  I don’t think any of the shoppers even realized what the mystery lady said.

This occurred on Monday afternoon, but it is still bothering me, so i have just emailed Nordstrom customer service about it.  Hopefully i will get a reply, and if i do, i will update this post.


This is the reply i got from the store manager:

Continue reading


Filed under language, perception