Friday, April 18, 2014

Rage by any other name

As I write these words I am seated near a window that looks out over a canal, and two gondoliers, who nearly collided a minute ago, are screaming murderous threats at each other. This sort of thing happens all the time here. The Venetians have even given it a name: "Canal Rage."
Neal Stephenson, Quicksilver

Neal Stephenson's novel is set mostly in late 17th century, but he slips modernisms like the above into it from time to time. Some might think of these as historical inconsistencies, but to be they are just part of the fun of reading the story. I thought of this passage about canal rage the other day while reading Jeremy Butterfield's book Damp Squid: The English Language Laid Bare. It contains a "glossary of rage," which includes, of course, road rage and, among others, air rage (experienced sometimes during air travel), golf rage (when golfers miss a shot and toss their clubs into the nearest water trap), subway rage, spam rage, parking rage and phone rage.

I came close to experiencing the latter this week during a two-hour phone conversation to settle on a new health insurance plan. Perhaps this might also be termed Obamacare rage. Among the lowlights was a long, fast recitation of two disclaimers, essentially fine print read over the phone, which we had to affirm we had heard, understood and agreed with. Then, near the end of the conversation, conducted entirely in English, we were asked whether English was our preferred language.

Anger, of course, is just anger, no matter what we call it. The above terms, and many others like them, are just names for the same thing under different circumstances.

Also this week I read in Susan Cain's Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking about something psychologists call "reward sensitivity." Although introverts are generally more sensitive about most things, extroverts tend to be more reward-sensitive. That is, they are more likely to seek immediate rewards for their actions. Thus they are more likely to take chances, whether in the stock market or in personal relationships. Then Cain goes on to say that "deal fever" and "the winner's curse" are other names given to this kind of behavior in the business world. No doubt gamblers, athletes and mountain climbers have their own terms for those willing to take big risks in the hope of big payoffs.

Just as with pop, soda and soft drink, we have lots of different words for the same things. It just depends on who we are and where we are.

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