A Christmas Wish: Correct Use of Terminology

Being the Myers-Briggs J that I am, the improper or ignorant use of terminology drives me up a wall. We’ve evolved complex language skills that have the side-effect use of communicating concepts between people, and we insist on muddying it up by intentionally overloading* phrases with new and confusing re-definitions.

One example of this I’m running into is the 80-20 Rule. I heard a piece of public speaking advice that went “use one posture 80% of the time and another, edgier posture 20% of the time,” packaged as “use the 80-20 rule.” I’ve also seen wardrobe advice to wear conservative dress 80% of the time and wacky stuff on 20% occasion, also cited as the 80-20 rule.

The 80-20 Rule is not a restatement of the equation “80% + 20% = 100%.” The Pareto Principle (from which we get “the 80-20 Rule” as an aphoritic restatement) is the rule of thumb that in many systems, 80% of the effects will come from 20% of the causes. The 80 and the 20 are two different metrics, apples and oranges. Old Messr Pareto himself allegedly observed that 80% of Italian land was owned by 20% of Italians. My pal Susan Walsh used it as a basis to examine college sex distributions and evaluate a well-worn pop-culture hypothesis that 80% of the girls are screwing 20% of the guys (a theory partially supported by STD studies among other things). I probably get 80% of the joy in my life from 20% of the people I know. The list of examples goes on. It’s an incredibly powerful way to understand the world, and to organize your own strategy, so long as fools don’t insist on stealthily re-defining it.

I’m also seeing a lot of references to “game theory” around the manosphere, used to refer to the principles of interpersonal psychology pioneered by pickup artists (PUAs) and disseminated into wider culture by a network of intrepid bloggers like Athol Kay, Roissy and yours truly.

There are two problems with this blurring of language.

The first is that the term “game theory” is already defined – game theory is a branch of mathematics concerned with analyzing the interests, actions and rewards of competing agents. The prisoner’s dilemma is a classic example of game theory. (For those who saw “A Beautiful Mind,” the vignette of which woman to hit on to maximize group benefit is another example of game theory.)

The second problem is that game is not really theory at all – in fact, it may be the most empirical proposition of modern times. Game as we know it was developed and honed through thousands upon thousands of hours of experimentation and observation by scores of men. Sure, there is evolutionary psychology involved to shore up the explanation of the behaviors being observed, but practically speaking evo-psych really functions more like folk etymology than an actual scientific basis to the results of the experiments – if you will, a sort of rationalization hamster to soften the shock-blow of learning how people really function underneath all of that rational mythmaking.

I feel like I see the phrase “game theory” from critics far more than from its actual practitioners, so I think calling it a “theory” is supposed to subtly discredit it – a la those who would tell you that “evolution is just a theory.”

I’m not even going to get into the subject of people who don’t know what “the immaculate conception” actually refers to.

*”Overloading” is indeed a technical term for a case where words, symbols or functions have different meanings and effects depending on the situation.



Filed under off the donkey rails, science+technology

28 responses to “A Christmas Wish: Correct Use of Terminology

  1. HO-HO-HO Cher. see what i did there?

  2. jack

    While we are at it, your is the first correct use of the word “hone” I have seen in a while.

    I usually see it like this:

    “We have honed in on the correct solution”.

    And they’re lies the problem – too many people don’t know there way around the language, but their never going to learn, I suppose.

  3. Acksiom

    Especially when the word in your example is supposed to be “homed”.

  4. nice essay, badger.

    but aren’t there examples where a word or phrase starts out meaning one thing, but then evolves to mean something else — something that ends up having more significance to a culture?

    this is not the best example, but a cock used to mean a rooster, and now it means a dick. and, a dick used to mean a detective, and now it means a penis.

    language is always evolving. it sucks if more high minded phrases get dumbed down to represent simpler concepts — but hey, maybe that just means that our culture is becoming dumber.

    every culture gets the language it deserves.

  5. gay used to mean happy.

  6. Ribbon Butterflies

    Sir Badger,

    Do you read the Pareto Principle to apply to the sexual marketplace the way that Susan appears to in her post (80% of the sex is being had by 20% of the people), or do you read it the way Roissy seems to (80% of the women are having sex with 20% of the men)? I think the two statements imply very different things.

    Interested in statistics,

  7. Anonymous

    Fun post! I think the thing with professional jargon, e.g. the 80/20 rule and Game Theory, is that it serves a very useful purpose of being efficient shorthand for discussing stuff. But if it’s accidentally repurposed by outsiders to mean other things, it’s no longer shorthand for anything specific, and goes from useful to pointless

  8. Cool picture btw. He does indeed look pissed.

  9. Mark Slater

    Badger said: “One example of this I’m running into is the 80-20 Rule.”

    Very good. I’ve also found General Patton’s 10-80-10 rule quite accurate:

    “Among leaders of whatever rank there are three types: 10% genius, 80% average, and 10% fools. The average group is the critical element in battle.” –George S. Patton

    This rule can be applied to many questions, it seems. In life:
    10% of life triumph and advancement, 80% mere routine, and 10% heartbreak and loss.

    In politics: 10% of statesmen patriots, 80% typical party ideologues, and 10% subversive traitors.

    Can it be applied to Game?
    10% of men super studs, 80% average Joe Beta, 10% lonely jerk-offs.
    10% of women pure in heart and body, 80% typical female, 10% sluts.

    As Badger said, the list of examples goes on.

  10. “Fun post!”

    You know it. Science is sexy.

  11. Riv,

    “but aren’t there examples where a word or phrase starts out meaning one thing, but then evolves to mean something else — something that ends up having more significance to a culture?”

    Those cases usually involve a secondary definition that only obliquely relates to the first (following your example: one can be “gay” in the sexual sense without it having any bearing at all on one’s happiness or lack thereof).

    They don’t usually directly redefine what has a clear definition within a given field of study, as is the case in both my examples.

  12. RB,

    My particular view of the sexual marketplace is neither of the ones you mention. I am of the opinion that 80% of women are giving disproportionate attention to 20% of men. That doesn’t exactly equate to anybody having sex necessarily, just that a small number of men are the “dreamboats” for a large cohort of women, and that the remaining men are a distant second place in terms of the women’s sexual and social interest in them.

    This idea went viral on Dalrock’s Kate Bolick thread here:


    I think attention and interest, rather than sex itself, is the critical factor in the SMP because sex and relationships all follow from that kernel, from a woman’s interest in a man.

    Guys are pretty good about spreading our attention around as a form of risk management and taking up with who bites – we’re programmed for pack teamwork, and while every organism wants the highest possible quality of mate, assortive mating comes naturally to us as a byproduct of the spoils of inter-male competition. It’s female hypergamy that produces the imbalance, the widespread striving for a starkly limited supply.

    We’ve torn apart the mechanisms that used to contain and channel hypergamy to constructive ends in society. In its worst cases, it results in open harems where women are (outwardly) glad to share that one high-status male even when the opportunity for commitment from a lesser male is available.

    As for guys, being in that 20% is a power like no other. All of us dudes have had dry spells. We get by. But it’s something special to have that feeling that women want you, not just one special one-itis case but women in general or at least a few women; that you could call up a female acquaintance and have a pretty good shot at moving her into the girlfriend zone or at least into your bed for the evening. Most men will never have that feeling, many others will have it only for a sliver of their lives (senior year of high school, frat years in college, the semester you were a TA for a female-heavy course like psychology, the weekend you won the state football championship, you get the idea).

  13. Mark Slater,

    I’ve been meaning to post on my own 20-60-20 rule which is Patton’s rule with wider margins. I have indeed found that those distributions tend to hold – small groups of outliers and a big chunk of unremarkable folks in the middle. I myself have a compulsion for excellence: I’ve made it a life mission to stay in that right tail as much as I can ;)

    IMHO one of the most fundamental of these distributions is 20% of people are actively good, moral agents, 20% are pathological swindlers, and the other 60% are amoral and just respond to the incentives put in front of them.

    To legislate effectively, you need to address the incentives of that 60% and make it more expedient for them to do the right thing that to do the wrong thing. It’s hard to legislate against the 20% – the best you can do is find them and punish them, they are inelastic to deterrence measures. And of course these laws can’t inconvenience the good people, or you run the risk of them quitting the game and going into the 60%. Everybody has their limits.

    TLDR: “Locks keep honest people honest.”

  14. But Badger, the battle to define language is the purpose of the Manosphere!

    People used to tell me off for my use of the words Alpha and Beta all the time, I just ignored them and two years later almost no one does it anymore. I just plowed my set until people start recognizing my frame as correct.

    Which is a great game principle lol.

  15. Athol-
    “I just plowed my set until people start recognizing my frame as correct.”
    yup. most people are sheep and just don’t want to see that red-pill is right. fox news commented on how commercials show men in a bad light. OH GOODY. but then they asked the men if they were offended, and the only person to say they were derogatory towards men…..

    a silver haired woman. yeah. all the guys said they didn’t see anything negative in the ads. *facepalm* baaaaaah.

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  17. jack


    Yes, that is why I referred to Badger’s correct usage.
    Pay attention, please.

  18. Living across cultures we find a lot of misuse of language – gets very cute at times! Spell checkers have a lot to answer for!

    …and….so love the angry badger – I just had to google more angry badger photos! :-)

  19. “But Badger, the battle to define language is the purpose of the Manosphere!”


    But true.

  20. That 3:11 comment is gold, Badger. It’s a difficult thing to explain to women, as the common responses seem to be “you just want to get laid!” (well, duh, YEAH, eventually, but saying so is about as useful as “you just want all money!”) or “you have all the power since you can withhold a relationship!” (true, but conveniently forgetting that attraction is a prerequisite to a relationship — a man without the former is in no position to control the latter).

    I’ve narrowed in on the phrase “sexual attention” as of late.

    That 20% is my attempt to explain how few guys have as much sexual power as a typical women does. Now, again, here is where plenty of women go all moral, or say it’s a “useless superpower”, but the reality here is that some women gladly exercise whenever they want, but most will exercise it very selectively here and there — whether conscious or not. Having the power and openly using it are very different things.

    If i had 10 millions dollars in the bank account, yet never spend it, that is a form of power that greatly affects how I live my life. It would influence countless, if not all, decisions I make on a daily basis.

  21. OTC,

    I’ve explained the SMP auction thusly:

    First, the top men take their pick of women.

    Then, the remaining women choose from the remaining men.

    So this is where we get the typical lament that “men have all the power in dating.”

    I’ve noted at HUS how weird it is that young women have unparalleled sexual power, yet paint themselves as the biggest victims. Then I realized it’s the apex fallacy at work, women treating most men as invisible and so framing the entire setup as a fight for the top men, where of course the top men have all the power because they have more buyers than they do product to sell.

    This is the consequence of hypergamy run amok – when ordinary women demand extraordinary men, there’s an arbitrage opportunity for men with value to buy in bulk. Game has piggybacked on this opportunity, releasing a more or less substitutional product into the market.

  22. Yes, I think I’ve posted something like this before. I see a stratification of sexual power:

    Level A: apex men
    Level B: most women
    Level C: most men & unattractive women
    Level D: unattractive (omega) men

  23. Phrases gain popularity in part to how they roll off the tongue. “Game Empiricism” just is *not* going to sell to the masses like “Game Theory” will.

    Being a physicist and mathematician, I get a perverse chuckle going every time I see “game theory” in a Manosphere post. The chuckle being at the expense of the writer of the phrase.

    Badger, thanks for being a defender of this flavor of “‘A’ is ‘A'”.

  24. Joey Giraud

    Another retro-lingualist here. Just used the word “queer” to describe a strange light bulb, it was the perfect word. Too bad you can’t use it without deflecting giggles.

    Our language is getting smeared like paint on a palette, and anyone who appreciates concise description must despair as powerful words are deprecated to pedestrian purposes.

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