Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Top four misunderstood expressions

There's a great column in UXmatters on the Freemium Model. What I liked most was that the author resurrected B.F. Skinner and reinforcement ratios. I was talking with my wife this weekend about what I consider to be the three most misunderstood expressions, and this column reminded me that B.F. Skinner is a source of a common misunderstanding--so my list has grown to the following four most misunderstood expressions:
  1. "God rest ye merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay." It means, "Hey guys, I hope God keeps you happy, and don't let anything scare you." Putting the direct object "you" in front of the verb "dismay" throws folks--that and the fact they don't hone in on the first comma before "gentlemen."
  2. "Wherefore art thou Romeo?" Means "Why did you (hunky guy I really like) have to turn out to be Romeo--my enemy?" Wherefore means "why" and note the lack of comma before Romeo.
  3. "Suffer the little children." Means "Put up with the kids."
  4. And last, my buddy, B.F. Most people interpret negative reinforcement to mean what B.F. Skinner calls "punishment," i.e., the doing of something unpleasant to make someone stop doing something (like the electrical shocks Bill Murray administers in the lab in Ghost Busters). Actually, negative reinforcement is the removal of something unpleasant to encourage someone to keep doing something. If a teacher cancels weekend homework because a class has had perfect attendance, that is negative reinforcement. The key is the word "reinforcement."

3 comments:

Ted Kuster said...

Growing up a preacher's kid, I'll argue, makes me an authority on suffering children. So: in later translations that verb is given as "let" or "allow," but never "tolerate." As distinct from what happens to people who try to use this installer I'm trying to document. In that case it really does mean both "suffer" and "endure."

Michael Hughes said...

Suffer the user...cool

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