LINGUIST List 2.457

Tue 03 Sep 1991

Disc: Flaming and Colorless Green Ideas

Editor for this issue: <>


  • Ellen Prince, fyi: flaming revisited
  • , colorless green ideas

    Message 1: fyi: flaming revisited

    Date: Sun, 01 Sep 91 02:30:28 -0400
    From: Ellen Prince <ellen%central.cis.upenn.eduRICEVM1.RICE.EDU>
    Subject: fyi: flaming revisited
    Date: Tue, 27 Aug 91 21:11:00 -0600 From: (Charles Forsythe) Subject: Flaming makes the mainstream media (again, I guess) FLAME THROWERS: Why the heated bursts on your computer network? by Doug Stewart (copied without permission from Omni magazine Sept 1991 issue) "You are a thin-skinned reactionary jerk," begins the computer message sent from one highly educated professional to another. "I will tell you this, buster, If you were close enough and you called me that, you'd be picking up your teeth in a heartbeat." There follows an obscene three-word suggestion in screaming capital letters. The writer of the above message, sent over the Byte Information Exchange, was apparently enraged after a sarcasm he'd sent earlier was misinterpreted as racist. In the argot of computers, his response was a "flame" -- a rabid, abusive, or otherwise overexuberant outburst sent via computer. In networking's early days, its advocates promised a wonderful world of pure mind-to-mind, speed-of-light, electronic conversation. What networks today often find instead are brusque putdowns, off-color puns and screenfuls of anonymous gripes. The computer seems to be acting as a collective Rorshach test. In the privacy of their cubicles, office workers are firing off spontaneous salvos of overheated prose. Sara Keisler, a social psychologist at Carnagie Mellon University and Lee Sproull, a Boston University sociologist, have observed that networking can make otherwise reasonable people act brash. In studies originally designed to judge the efficiency of computerized decision-making, they gave small groups of students a deadline to solve a problem. Groups either talked together in a room or communicated via isolated computer terminals. The face-to-face groups reported no undue friction. The computerized sessions frequently broke down into bickering and name-calling. In one case, invective escalated into physical threats. "We had to stop the experiment and escort the students out of the building separately," Keisler recalls. Kiesler and Sproul documented a tendency toward flaming on corporate electronic-mail systems as well. At one large company, employees cited an average of 33 flames a month over the email system; comparable outbursts in face-to-face meetings occurred about four times a month. Keisler and Sproull attribute the phenomenon largely to the absence of cues normally guiding a conversation -- a listeners's nod or raised eyebrows. "With a computer," Keisler says,"there's nothing to remind you there are real humans on the other end of the wire." Messages become overemphatic -- all caps to signify a shout; "(smile)" or ":-)", a sideways happy-face, to mean "I'm kidding." Anonymity makes flaming worse, she says, by creating the equivalent of "a tribe of masked and robed individuals." In real life, what we say is tempered by when and where we say it. A remark where lights are low and colleagues tipsy might not be phrased the same under flourescent lights on Monday morning. But computerized messages may be read days later by hundreds or thousands of readers. Flaming's ornery side is only half the picture, says Sproull, who co-authored _Connections: New Ways of Working in the Networked Organization_ with Keisler. "People on networks feel freer to express more enthusiam and positive excitement as well as socially undesirable behavior," she says. Sproull finds it ironic that computers are viewed as symbols of cool, impersonal efficiency. "What is fascinating is the extent to which they elicit deeply emotional behaviors. We're not talking about zeroes and ones. People reveal their innermost souls or type obscenities about the the boss." What, she asks, could be more human? ------- End of Forwarded Message

    Message 2: colorless green ideas

    Date: Tue, 27 Aug 91 03:42 EST
    From: <KROVETZ%cs.umass.EDURICEVM1.RICE.EDU>
    Subject: colorless green ideas
    Bert Peeters asked about translations of Chomsky's famous sentence "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously". While I don't have any translations, I do have the results of a competition held several years ago at Stanford: Date: Wed 30 Oct 85 23:02:50-PST From: Paul Roberts <ROBERTSSU-SUSHI.ARPA> Subject: Colourless Green Ideas [Excerpted from the Stanford bboard by LawsSRI-AI.] For the Literary competition set on Christmas Eve you were asked to compose not more than 100 words of prose, or 14 lines of verse, in which a sentence described as grammatically acceptable but without meaning did, in the event, become meaningful. The sentence, devised by Noam Chomsky, was: colourless green ideas sleep furiously. [...] Competitors rose to this challenge good-humouredly and in force.... It can only be the thought of verdure to come, which prompts us in the autumn to buy these dormant white lumps of vegetable matter covered by a brown papery skin, and lovingly to plant them and care for them. It is a marvel to me that under this cover they are labouring unseen at such a rate within to give us the sudden awesome beauty of spring flowering bulbs. While winter reigns the earth reposes but these colourless green ideas sleep furiously. C. M. Street Behold the pent-up power of the winter tree; Leafless it stands, in lifeless slumber. Yet its very resting is revival and renewal: Inside the dark gnarled world of trunk and roots, Cradled in the chemistry of cell and sap, Colourless green ideas sleep furiously In deep and dedicated doormancy, Concentrating, conserving, constructing: Knowing, by some ancient quantum law Of chlorophyll and sun That come the sudden surge of spring, Dreams become reality, and ideas action. Bryan O. Wright Let us think on them, the Twelve Makers Of myths, trailblazing quakers Scourging earthshakers Colourless green ideas sleep furiously Before their chrysalides open curiously Anarchy burgeons spuriously Order raises new seedlings in the world By word and gun upheld The scarlet banner is unfurled The New Country appears Man loosens his fears The New Dawn nears Recollect our first fathers The good society in momentum gathers. ("recently discovered sonnet by Alexander Blok") translated by Edward Black [...] (and the winner:) (got 50 lbs.) Thus Adam's Eden-plot in far-off time: Colour-rampant fowers, trees a myriad green; Helped by God-bless'd wind and temp'rate clime. The path to primate knowledge unforseen, He sleeps in peace at eve with Eve. One apple later, he looks curiously At the gardens of dichromates, in whom colourless green ideas sleep furiously then rage for birth each morning, until doom Brings rainbows they at last perceive. D. A. H. Byatt