Technology, grammar, and more technology.

Taking (Some More) Things Literally

At the beginning of January, I wrote a post about taking things literally for fun. Since I speak so much English (or as Dre would say, "some drop science, while I'm droppin' English"), I thought I'd do it again. It's hard not to see the absurdity in expressions like these:

1. Troubleshooting

Right now this is used to mean "someone who fixes technological problems," or some variation of that. Basically, troubleshooting is problem solving, especially when it comes to technology.

According to Merriam-Webster's free online dictionary, the word comes from troubleshooter, and its first known use was in 1918.

Wait, what?

The computer was definitely not around when this expression was first used. And a war had just ended (or was about to), so there was violence in the air. Is it possible a troubleshooter was someone who actually shot trouble? Were old-timey vigilantes the precursor to modern-day IT guys?

"Hey Tom, could you come over and troubleshoot my computer?"

"Sure thing, just let me load my Colt."

I guess the word has lost its original intent. But don't tell me there haven't been times where you wanted to shoot your computer. There are times I would honestly rather have a smoking pile of rubble than be forced to wait for Windows. I just want to log in, goddammit, I didn't ask you to load a PDF of War and Peace.

I wonder if computers feel fear? Would Windows speed up if I was packing?

2. "Naked as the day you were born."

This one is a little easier to understand. Nobody comes out of the womb fully clothed; I'll admit that part is correct. But the inexact time frame leaves it up to some interpretation.

For example, let's assume you're talking about the entire day. If you are, there's a good chance "naked as the day you were born" could just mean "wrapped up in a little pink or blue blanket, depending on your sex." Or even "in very small, adorable pajamas that your aunt bought six months ago for the baby shower and has been dying to see on the real thing since she saw them at Baby Gap last year."

We could also be talking straight out of the womb. That's an uncomfortable image. When babies are pre...dried? Pre...cleaned? There are a number of unpleasant-looking liquids all over them. A baby straight out of the womb is not a good comparison for adult nudity.

Given my options, I'd like to assume "naked as the day you were born" really means "wrapped up in adorable baby clothing" and not "weirdly curled up and covered in bodily fluids."

Actually, I may just stop using this expression altogether.

3. Shitting bricks/shit a brick

This one brings up all kinds of assumptions.

Was someone once so upset they actually excreted a brick? Like an honest-to-God, use-mortar-with-this-to-build-a-house brick? Because if that's it, I'm deeply sorry you had to experience that, whoever you are. On the bright side, there's a promising career in masonry for you provided you're sufficiently agitated.

That sounds kind of unlikely. Perhaps it was a person who used their excrement as building blocks?

No, that doesn't work either. We only say this when we're angry—if we assume the building block theory, you'd be "shitting a brick" every time you went number 2.

Does anger lead to constipation? Could that be it?

I shouldn't have to consult a physician to understand why an idiom makes sense. Scrapping this one.


"Of" after a contraction

Taking Things Literally