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Jun 3, 2010
This week's theme
Words not named after the person they should be

This week's words
McKenzie
orrery
philippic
Buridan's ass
guillotine

Buridan's ass
A cartoon on the debate in the US Congress over whether to build a canal through Panama or Nicaragua
Cartoonist: William Allen Rogers (1854-1931)

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A.Word.A.Day
with Anu Garg

Buridan's ass

PRONUNCIATION:
(byoo-RUHD-uhnz ass)

MEANING:
noun: A situation demonstrating the impracticality of decision-making using pure reason, especially a situation involving two equal choices.

ETYMOLOGY:
Named after French philosopher Jean Buridan (1300-1358).

NOTES:
Imagine a hungry donkey standing equidistant from two identical piles of hay. The donkey tries to decide which pile he should eat first and finding no reason to choose one over another, starves to death. This paradox didn't originate with Buridan -- it's been found back in Aristotle's time. A hungry and thirsty man cannot decide whether to slake his thirst first or his hunger, and dies. Buridan, in his commentaries on Aristotle, chose a dog, but his critics, in their parody of Buridan, turned it into an ass. So Buridan's ass was named after a person who neither proposed the paradox nor picked that animal to discuss it.
Buridan studied under William of Ockham (of Ockham's razor fame).

USAGE:
"Unless we felt strongly enough to exert ourselves in one direction rather than another, we would do nothing, but would suffer the fate of Buridan's ass."
A.C. Grayling; Though Euphoria Will Fade, Hope Springs Eternal; The Canberra Times (Australia); Nov 12, 2008.

A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:
I am I plus my surroundings and if I do not preserve the latter, I do not preserve myself. -Jose Ortega Y Gasset, philosopher and essayist (1883-1955)

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