Clichés About Dogs That Have a Strong Basis in Reality


While I generally (although not dogmatically) think you should avoid using clichés, some of them are accurate. Since we got a puppy, I can confirm the utility and accuracy of the following phrases:

  • Nipping at your heels
  • Let sleeping dogs lie
  • Follow you around like a puppy
  • Don’t bite the hand that feeds you

Moving the Goalposts


Sometimes thought of as the opposite of a Texas Sharpshooter, “moving the goalposts” is a way of changing the criteria for proving the validity of an argument, often after they have already been met. As Rationalwiki points out that certain movements seem prone to doing it more than others, but I’ve seen this fallacy used by a lot of people. Listserve debates are a common place for this as a rhetorical tactic, although listserve debates are generally a great source of examples of every form of logical fallacy.

Vague & Ambiguous


Vague and ambiguous are buddies. They are often used together, and people use them interchangeably. But while something can be both vague and ambiguous, the two are not synonyms:

  • Vague means unclear, or imprecise.
  • Ambiguous means capable of having at least 2 meanings.

Examples later.

Apologies for Length


Often misattributed to Mark Twain, on the theory that everything witty can be plausibly attributed to him, this is a good thought to keep in mind: “I’m sorry about the length of this letter; I didn’t have time to write you a shorter one.” There are lots of variants, but a good summary of the phrase in English, attributing it as a translation from Pascal, is here.

Date Formats


After stumbling over putting “2015” on the first dated item I wrote this year, a couple things occurred to me. First, while I usually have unnecessarily fervent views on stylistic choices, I don’t have a strong preference for the American or British convention for dates (month/day/year as opposed to day/month/year). The British way seems more logical (smallest to biggest) while the American way mimics the way most people say dates aloud. Second, I’ve never read a good explanation as to why the different conventions came about. If I were guessing wildly, a path-dependent story related to military convention in one of the world wars would be where I’d start, I think.

For date formats in prose, I think my preferred format for is “5 January 2015,” but I’m not sure I have a good, non-aesthetic reason for it.  It sounds overly robotic and bureaucratic if read aloud, but looks nicer on the page and separates numerals, which limits the danger of transposition in typing.