Occasional musings, Geistesblitze, photos, drawings etc. by a "resident alien", who has landed on American soil from a far-away planet called "Germany".

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Cognitive Dissonance

I drew the cartoon on the right for a page on Laraine's website, in which she introduces "cognitive dissonance" to readers of her books (as part of a larger effort to "build background knowledge bit-by-bit"). I'm picking up her thread because ever since I learned about this concept from psychology, it has been indispensable in my understanding of how a part of the population functions. All through my life, I have observed with wonderment people who are seemingly able to entertain simultaneously two conflicting opinions about themselves and to do this over extended periods of time. Cognitive dissonance gives a name to this phenomenon, and studies dealing with it investigate the mechanisms people employ to neutralize its effects.

A particular common one is "it's not my fault." This is very popular, for example, with obese people who know they eat too much, but are nevertheless unwilling to change their eating habits. A popular it's-not-my-fault ploy in this case is to blame one's genes—I actually have seen this used explicitly in a food ad! Of course, if genes were to blame for the obesity epidemic hitting the Western countries (the US is not alone in this), we would have to assume that some mega-sized mutations happened over the last two generations—but people looking for an excuse will never question its underlying premises (another common ploy is to dismiss the simple arithmetic underlying the relation between calories burned and units of physical exercise as "useless" or "questionable" math).

More of my musings on this topic (I mean cognitive dissonance, not obese people!) in the comments...

Monday, May 2, 2011

Word of the month: Schluckspecht

SchluckspechtOur Schnapsdrossel (WoM for March) needs a drinking companion, and here he is. A Schluck is a gulp or swig (from schlucken - "to swallow"), and a Specht is a woodpecker. Put the two together and you have another moniker for a boozer or drunk. Again, I do not know how the word originated—perhaps the alliteration of the two components (the S in Specht is pronounced like English "sh") played a role.

Addendum (4/9/2012): According to this theory, the term goes back to certain woodpecker species that hammer holes into tree trunks in order to get to the sap.

Anyway, we have a word that may look daunting to foreigners: 11 consonants and only 2 vowels! Things appear easier when you realize that the "sch", "ck", and "ch" indicate but one phoneme each, which reduces the number of effective consonants in the word to 7. Still, for speakers of languages that avoid consonant clusters (like Japanese) the word is a challenge.

[Source: Wild Things in the German Language: Kindle version | iBook version]