Hokum’s Razor: (n.)

All things being equal: the most simplistic explanation is the one most likely to be believed.


Okay. This is gonna be nuts.

I am going to prove the principle of Hokum’s Razor to you. And weirdly enough, there’s no better example of it than the word itself.

Stick with me, k?

Hokum’s Razor is a verbal riff on two things:

First – the word “hokum” which is a fun way of saying “nonsense.”

And Second – Occam’s Razor – the 14th century philosophical precept which most of us think means something like this:

“All things being equal, the simplest explanation tends to be the right one.”

Here’s the thing: That’s not what Occam’s Razor says.

It’s actually a line from the movie “Contact,” and is a slightly fancified way of putting this generally held scientific principle:

“When there are two competing explanations for an event, the simpler one is more likely.” 

Unfortunately, this principle also is not Occam’s Razor. It’s actually another simplification of an entirely different statement:

“We are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances.”

This… also… is not Occam’s Razor. William of Ockham didn’t write that statement. Isaac Newton did. In his own reinterpretation of Occam’s Razor. Even friggin Newton wanted a chance at rewriting the goddamn thing.

So… what the hell is Occam’s Razor? Naturally, there are several different statements that scholars say are William of Ockham’s words. And, surprise surprise… they’re all in Latin.

I’m gonna give you my favorite one. Not that I read Latin. I don’t. It’s just the most impressive-sounding one. It it is:

“Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem”

Translated into English, this means – and I’m not kidding:

Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily.

Like, really. That’s what it means in English. Don’t complicate shit… As if he knew people were going to spend centuries quoting and misquoting him.

Please join me as I soak in this perfect, bonkers irony.


As I was saying…

Do you see how I inadvertently proved my own point? I didn’t do this on purpose – I realized it after the fact.

I could have based the definition to Hokum’s Razor on that statement… on Occam’s actual Razor… but I didn’t. Because that statement (despite its precise language) is actually far more complicated a thought than Contact’s definition – “All things being equal, the simplest explanation tends to be the right one.”

Occam’s Razor is too tough an idea. Too unforgiving. It’s a precept often used by physicists to strip away faff, metaphysical irrelevancies – as strict and as serious as a carpenter’s rasp.

It’s too complicated.

I’m not smart enough to really understand it.

So I chose the simpler one.

And this… I think… is why we’re fucked.

We’re fucked because I’m dumb. And because I’m right.

When faced with a complex set of circumstances… most people will choose to believe whatever’s easiest to understand. Because the vast majority of us just don’t have the time for nuance. True complexity makes us itch. Even the moderately educated, and reasonably intelligent among us (hello!) don’t want to dedicate ourselves to the mastery of a concept.

We’re happy just to fudge it.

And that, I’m sorry to say, is why Donald Trump is probably going to be our next president.

Because on the one hand we have Hillary Clinton who (despite it all) is a sober-minded, dedicated policy machine. She’s a seasoned states-person, and a strict rationalist who understands and thrives on the complexities of the issues facing this country and the world at large.

And then there’s Donald Trump. He’s gonna, “Make America Great Again.”

Just as Bush distorted, packaged, and sold the War on Terror… because, “They hate us for our freedom.”

Just as religions elide their inconsistencies… because, “God works in mysterious ways.”

Just as the NRA will continue to obstruct gun restrictions… because, “the only thing to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

Because the world is way too much to think about… and questions keep us up at night.

Because ignorance truly is bliss.


Horrorism: (n.)

1. Resolute political inaction in response to violence, death, and destruction.

2. A culture growing accustomed to Terrorism.


Five days ago, a man walked into a gay bar in Orlando and murdered 49 people with a legally-purchased assault rifle. We have a name for this.

We call it, “terrorism.”

In the days that followed, we’ve all responded in our own particular portrayals of grief – each role sickeningly familiar:

Most of us post messages of sorrow and outrage to social media. Many of those messages lead to arguments that lead nowhere. Our leaders confess their heartache and frustration, while pundits and essayists ferret out what’s to blame. One by one, our late-night funnymen (and woman!) add their newest statements of sorrowbewilderment, outrage, and solidarity.

The NRA, sniffing blood in the air, responds with their standard position of moral cowardice and reptilian self-interest.

That we’ve become so accustomed to this – the slaughter of our neighbors – and that our systems of government have been either unable or unwilling to muster any substantive action against it… that, I propose, requires its own term.

I call it “horrorism.”

I’ll explain…

Back in college, I had this really great Gothic Lit professor. He was born for the role. As if by mandate of the Greek muse of Irony: he was hollow-cheeked and gaunt, a morbid yet ultimately benevolent weirdo who looked entirely too much like Edgar Allan Poe. He lectured in a dreamy, faraway croak. His office was a book-strewn crypt in the basement of my campus’ oldest and most begargoyled building.

Oh, and his surname was the Italian word for dark.

All of this is true.

I was probably 19 when I took his class. Which, I’m sorry to say, was a while ago. And while most of his lectures have faded over time… one lesson sticks with me: the difference between Terror and Horror.

Now to you or me, terror and horror are pretty interchangeable. Were there some distinction to be drawn, it’d surely be a tedious and pedantic one. We can swap those terms in conversation without any major derailment of understanding. For example: as a borderline arachnophobe, it doesn’t really matter what I call the feeling I have about, say, a spider crawling up my leg – the outcome remains the same: I will rip off my clothes and set the couch on fire.

But there is a distinction to be drawn, though. And while it is predominantly a somewhat fusty, academic distinction… it’s still an important one.

Here’s the difference:

Terror comes first.

Terror is dread. It’s what we feel in anticipation of something horrible. In slasher movies, Terror is the coed reaching for the blood-smeared doorknob.

Horror is what she sees once she opens the door. It’s terror, realized. It’s what we’re left to live with once our fears have come to pass.

To paraphrase my Gothic Lit professor: Terror is the smell of a corpse in a dark room. Horror is what you see when you finally turn on the lights.

According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been 23,965 “incidents” (by which they refer to shootings) this year.

141 of those incidents were classified as Mass Shootings.

6,149 people have been killed.

260 were children.

That gun violence of this magnitude can inflict itself on so many people without warning or reason – that it could happen to any one of us at any moment: that’s terror.

That even in the face of such unimaginable violence and sorrow – that this terror has become normalized by the feckless self-interest of our leaders, that we would rather fight about this online than see it changed in the world, that  billion dollar industries in this country thrive on the harm we cause one another, that millions of Americans would hold their desire to own a machine gun above another person’s right to not be murdered by one, that we could witness the murder of children and somehow be unmoved: that’s horror.

If we’re going to have to live with this as our new reality – I think it’s only fitting that we give it a name.

The fear of violence inflicted on us is terrorism.

But our inaction is a violence we inflict upon ourselves.

It’s time we call it what it is.


Purge Watch: (v.)

To plow through the remaining episodes of a show you don’t like, just to get it over with.


I’m lookin’ at you, Daredevil.


NB: I posted this word earlier today… but my suspicions were that I wasn’t the only person to come up with this phrase. I was correct. It turns out that Adam Sternbergh (good writer) over at Vulture wrote a piece last year about this very thing – he even sourced this exact term on Twitter to describe it.

I did not see that post… nor did I see the tweet from the woman who was the first to use the phrase “purge watch.”

I came up with this word on my own, but I can’t really claim to own it. In all fairness: they beat me to it.

But I’m going to post this entry anyway.

Firstly, because I genuinely like the word, and am proud of having thought of it (second).

And secondly, because I just can’t get over the fact that at least three other human beings, completely remote from one another, never having met, and certainly never to meet, all came to the exact same conclusion about the exact same show… and used the exact same term to describe it.

Isn’t that delightful?

So I’m posting this word to celebrate this near-magical concatenation of events, brought together by a love of language, and a shared appreciation for just how mind-numbingly laborious we find Daredevil to be.

Except for Jon Bernthal. He’s really wonderful this season.

Nice job, Jon.


Community Word, Verb

Community Word: Podcrastinate: (v.)

1. To put off what clearly needs doing in increments of 15-30 minute podcasts.

2. To continually postpone listening to a podcast, regardless of your interest in the subject.


A few months ago, I had the stupendously good fortune to be interviewed by Ryan Starr on his HiRes podcast. We met at my office and talked for well over an hour about writing, advertising, the creative industry… and most excitingly: words.

Ryan had a word of his own, actually – and it’s a doozy. So here it is, in all of it’s lexicographical splendor.

Check out my interview on HiRes here.

Follow Ryan and HiRes on Twitter @HiResPod, and online at his website.


Hothstage: (n.)

One held captive for a time by an insurmountable amount of snow.



I’m a sucker for a snow day.

I love everything about it – the peacefulness of it, the white noise that fills the house as snow tings against the windows, the slow, patient obliteration of every discernable shape outside. Getting snowed in is an event, a little bit of home theater complete with set dressing and props: the blanket cocoons and muppet movies on repeat, the stovetop cauldrons of chicken soup and half-finished board games. There’s something illicit about snow days; they feel like you’re getting away with something… or from something – the humdrum responsibilities that come with being a living, functioning human being.

Big storms throw everything into chaos. They shut down cities and ground airlines. They force the purveyors of public transportation to cancel their routes. They stuff grocery stores to bursting with the harried and the panicked… thousands upon thousands of gortex-clad people in a desperate scramble for perishable necessities – bread and eggs and milk. Big storms upend routine. Force you to stay in place. They make you sit. Hunker down. Talk. Go slow. Snow storms make you make the most of them.

And in this way, they are very much like the opening of The Empire Strikes Back.

How’s that for a transition?

I can hear you duh’ing me, Internet. Snow. Hoth. Snow on Hoth. Duh. I get it. But it’s more than that.

The first third of ESB is a great piece of storytelling. It opens on the second chapter of a massive saga by slowing things waaaay waaaay down. It takes its time to set the stage, reintroduce its characters and remind us of what they’re up against. It’s in those slow opening moments that we start to see real characters develop. We see them deepen their friendships and start falling in love, we see a hero take the next essential steps in his journey, and we get a crystal clear metaphor of just how plucky and hardscrabble the good guys really are: fresh from their big victory at the end of the previous film and with the bad guys hot on their trail, the Alliance takes a deep breath, bundles up, and carves a tiny bit of solace out of a miserable, frozen wasteworld. Good metaphor.

All of this comes about because the story, essentially, takes a snow day. It stops. It wraps itself up. It snuggles up to the people who matter most, and lets the snow fall outside. ESB is my favorite (my only favorite) Star Wars movie… due in large part to that very thing.

It takes its time.

I love taking my time. It’s my favorite way of getting where I’m going.

So, me? I’m excited about Jonas. I can see him scudding closer and closer, and I don’t mind a bit. I’m locked and loaded; got my kitchen fully stocked, two dozy cats, a girlfriend, some books, a video game, and some movies. Empire Strikes Back, naturally.

I’m staying put this weekend. And I can’t wait to see where that takes me.




Swallop: (n.)

The feeling of being clobbered in the chest by a hasty gulp from a carbonated drink.


One day a few years ago, I’d taken my car in to the garage to have some expensive part re-expensived. After a mere five minutes I’d managed to annoy the mechanic, so when he offered to get me a ride back to my apartment (as it would take the day to re-expensive my car), I panicked and insisted that I could walk.

This was in August. In New Jersey. And the heat and humidity had already reached critical, mouth-like levels. This was also during the long chapter of my life when I refused to wear shorts (an almost Calvinist period of affected self-denial, courtesy of my 20s). So, leaving him my contact information, I trudged out the door and waded my way through a hundreds-degree swamp of blinding sunlight, and choking humidity.

In jeans.

For about four or five miles.

By the time I made it home, I was quite near death. I shambled into my apartment groaning like a madman. I unbuckled my jeans which, being completely soaked-through with sweat, dropped to the floor and pooled around my feet. I needed hydration desperately, so I flung open my refrigerator and grabbed a frigid bottle of seltzer water, which I downed in one sloppy, guzzling swig.

All was slaked and satisfied. All was crisp and cool. And in an instant… regret pierced relief like a knife in the heart.

The carbonation, all jazzed up by its whitewater splashing down my gullet, went full supernova in my esophagus. It felt like I’d swallowed a hot rock, or a fistfull of bees. My eyes watered, my ears rang. I listed about the kitchen like a drunkard, too dazed to be still, too beset to adequately flail. I pounded my hand on the countertop once, twice, the pressure building and building in my chest… as if at any moment a fount of seltzer would burst, Xenomorphically, through my ribcage and redecorate my kitchen in Panebianco Red.

Ready to pop, I reeled back, opened my mouth wide, groaned the guttural groan of the over-seltzered… and I burped. Burped a burp that was more than a burp – it was a kind of birth. A tearing, keening, muscle-knotting display of physiological theater. A kind of meat opera.

I coughed. I drooled. I dabbed tears from my eyes. And finally I laughed – alone, in my underwear, standing in my kitchen beside an open refrigerator, my pants piled about my ankles, an upended bottle of seltzer glugging its remaining contents onto the floor. And, as ever, my brainless cat standing sentinel, gawping at me in abject befuddlement.

In another few seconds, that moment would be gone. I would wipe my face and pull my pants up… pat my cat on his furry head, and move on with my day. I’d cancel my car-contingent plans. I’d clean my cat’s litter box. I’d make a sandwich, and watch an episode of Frasier (no doubt). I’d return to the ordinary stuff of days that right now I couldn’t possibly recall with any accuracy.

But that episode with the seltzer bottle – that I can’t possibly forget. Moreover, it acts in my memory like a lens – bringing into sharp focus the moments that proceeded and followed it. Amid all the things I’ve forgotten – important and inconsequential alike – this day I remember in vivid detail. Had it not been for that idiot spasm of seltzer-fueled grotesquerie, followed by the absurdity of me in my undies, drooling like a doofus and wiping my face on my forearm… I wouldn’t remember that day at all.

That’s what a moment of foolishness does – it sticks in your memory like a pushpin in a photograph. It holds fast that which time and nature seem dead-set to take away. And the only cost is a little bit of pride, and the reminder that your body is way more gross than you’d like to admit.

How lucky is that?

Community Word, n

Popepourri: (n.) – Community Word Extravaganza!!!

A pleasant pastiche of Pope-themed phrases.


Well… the Pontiff doth impend.

Most Philadelphians have fled out of town, or are hiding indoors… and the streets are bustling with packs of chirpy out-of-towners, sporting brightly colored lanyards and adorable backpacks (courtesy of the Knights of Columbus – AKA: The Secret Society of Italian Grandpas). For the last few days, laborers have been hauling heavy guardrails around town in preparation for this weekend. It’s nice to see people start to fill the spaces they’ve provided. All in all everyone seems rather cheerful and happy to be here, aside from the occasional puffy, neckless cop.

Never a smile from these guys. Ever.

A few weeks ago, I invited some fans of Words That Aren’t to submit their own Pope-related terminology. The result was a lexicographical delight.

So now… on the eve (day) of the Apopecalypse… here is that list of invented words apropope (!!!) of el Papa’s arrival.

NB: I choose to use the term Apopecalypse instead of Popepocalypse because it is CLEARLY A BETTER INVENTED TERM… one which makes appropriate use of the letters at hand, and therefore producing a more natural and pleasing portmanteau.

NBB: I would like to make one thing abundantly clear – I am very excited about the Pope’s visit. The words below are cranky and funny and withering and wry… and that’s a good thing. But please let it be known that at least this Philadelphian is honored to share his home with people from all over the world. At least for the weekend. I am not a Catholic – far from it; I’m an atheist – nor am I particularly fond of the Church’s attitude toward women’s rights, contraception, and the dignity and equality of LGBT folks. But I’m able to compartmentalize those frustrations and remain a gracious and happy host to so many people for whom this weekend is a sincere opportunity (popertunity?) to share in something meaningful and beautiful for them.

That said… here is a list of words you should consider saying instead of Popepocalypse (which sucks).

Words courtesy of me:





Words courtesy of Rachael Silverstein: 


Diocease and desist


Words courtesy of Sean Carney: 


Words courtesy of Steve Clark:

Pope Francesspool


… of Vikram Paralkar: 


… of Laura Gallagher: 


… of Haley Zork McGlaughlin:

Cerebral Papalsy

… of Emma Hitchcock:


… of Kim Matthews:


… of Katherine Fritz:


… of Susan Horner:


Pope and circumstance

… and of those who (for whatever reason, chose to remain anonymous – hello there NSA):






I welcome people’s input and feedback. Have a word? Add it to the list.

Welcome to Philadelphia, Pope Francis.

I think you would really like my cat.