Making bad analogies is like comparing apples with pears (literally)

While a Sun employee, I found The Linux Foundation’s disingenuous pot-shots at Sun and the OpenSolaris project quite tedious.  Of course I would.  I am no longer a Sun employee, but I still find this level of fudding within the open source community to be inappropriate.

From first-hand experience, there is a healthy respect for Linux within Sun, and a desire to make OpenSolaris a distinctive open source operating system that does things Linux cannot do, just as Linux distros do things that OpenSolaris cannot do.  I would have thought that this is a good thing.  But not according to the Executive Director of the Linux Foundation, Jim Zemlin, who castigates anyone with the intellectual curiosity to learn about ZFS or DTrace:

That’s literally like noticing the view from a third-story building as it burns to the ground.

Both DTrace (winner, Wall Street Journal Innovation Award 2006) and ZFS (winner, InfoWorld Storage Technology of the Year 2008) are, or will shortly be, available in a multitude of operating systems.   And so people can make up their own minds if such an unkind analogy is reasonable without even entering Mr Zemlin’s burning building.  But there is one thing we can all agree on: Mr Zemlin does not know the meaning of the word “literally”.

4 thoughts on “Making bad analogies is like comparing apples with pears (literally)

  1. Great post Patrick. I too was very disappointed with Jim’s rant, I expect type of scaremongering from some others but not from him. I have a feeling his masters are putting pressure on him strike out.

    You have also hit on one of my pet peeves, people who use “literally” figuratively. 🙂

  2. Patrick, good to see you are still active in your Language Police capacity (literally and figuratively). Though I have to remark you’re perhaps being a bit of a purist here. The word “literally” is fairly widely accepted (including in many dictionaries) as being used as an intensive before a figurative expression.

    Based on conversations we have had in the past I think you might enjoy the very amusing video where comedian Ed Byrne takes on Alanis Morissette’s Ironic to show why it really isn’t that ironic after all, and how it could be. It’s on YouTube. Well worth watching if you haven’t seen it before.

    cheers, E.

  3. Eric,

    Thank you for the comments. I do notice that Webster’s dictionary of bastardised English at least has the good grace to point out that the usage you refer to is the precise opposite of what the word actually (originally) means.

    Now, I am familiar with the argument that common usage constitutes meaning (hence tomatoes are vegetables), but i do not like the idea that repetitive and ignorant malapropism can instantiate the exact (I was about to say literal) opposite of a word’s meaning as its new definition.

    Even if we go along with that proposition, I do not see how it applies in this case. The word’s emphatic connotations only come across within a metaphor (“literally set the world on fire” etc.), rather than as an introduction to a simile (“literally like…”). No?


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