Friday, November 05, 2004

First, put all of the orange M&Ms into groups

So far, I’ve used this blog to make fun of other people. But lest I be accused of throwing stones inside my glass house, I want to share a story about me.

There are words that I think I know the meaning of because I have heard and/or read the word many times, but when asked to actually define it, I discover that I have no idea what it means. Then there are words that I think I know the meaning of, and when asked to define it, I go right ahead. Which can cause problems.

It was during a seminar. Some professor or other was droning on about cancer and cells and… I don’t know. I wasn’t really listening. The Doktah was sitting next to me, and about ten minutes into the talk, she leaned over and whispered, “What does ‘attenuate’ mean?” (The Doktah somehow always managed to listen to talks unless they were about bioinformatics. No one can listen to a talk about bioinformatics. Trust me on this.)

I paused for a second or two. “Attenuate, attenuate,” I thought to myself. I knew I had heard the word before many times. A dim light went off in my head somewhere, and I whispered back to The Doktah, “I think it means, ‘to put into groups.’”

As you are no doubt aware, “attenuate” actually means “to lessen or decrease”. But I sounded quite sure of myself, so The Doktah took me at my word and spent the remaining 50 minutes of the talk struggling to understand why the speaker and her lab group were so excited about putting cancer symptoms into groups.

Now, it’s possible that The Doktah may have eventually stopped making fun of me for this error, were it not for what happened later that very same day. I had gone over to The Doktah’s house to have dinner and watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (Aside: The Doktah is an excellent cook who is quite capable of making up new recipes with ingredients on hand. But everyone makes mistakes. The lesson learned that night: Don’t simmer chicken with berries. No one wants purple meat.) After dinner, The Doktah broke out a giant bag of M&Ms for dessert. After a few handfuls, The Doktah said, “Don’t they make orange M&Ms anymore? I haven’t seen any yet.”

“There are no orange M&M’s,” I said, scornfully. “There have never been orange M&Ms. They’re not Skittles!” I laughed at her pitiful grasp of the M&M spectrum and The Doktah hung her head, ashamed and embarrassed.

Needless to say, on her next handful, The Doktah pulled out about 20 orange M&Ms. Because of course there are orange M&Ms. There have always been orange M&Ms. Remember that commercial? If you eat an orange one, you get to third base! (Eat a green one, and you’ll hit the ball downtown.)

I have no idea why I thought they did not exist, but I was so positive. And I have yet to live it down, nor do I deserve to.

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