Abraham Lincoln

Episode 135: So Bad the Quakers Riot

April 10th, 2015 | Robin

When the Gaming Hut asks you to mind your tone, we’re talking about ways to instil it during roleplaying sessions.

In Ask Ken and Robin, Roger Bell West draws us into the Eliptony Hut with by requesting the lowdown on Fomenko’s New Chronology.

We ban phrases from our lexicon in an ever so impactful edition of the Word Hut.

Then the Consulting Occultist builds electric Jesus in its barn as we look at the career of John Murray Spear.

Attention, class! Anchor sponsor Atlas Games wants to enroll you in Mad Scientist University, the card game of evil genius, insane assignments, and unstable elements. Act now, Ken and Robin listeners, and they’ll throw in the Spring Break expansion set for free. Shipping within the US is also free.

26 Responses to “Episode 135: So Bad the Quakers Riot”

  1. Cambias says:

    Another bit of vile biz-speak: “Touch Base” meaning to call or speak with. It’s not a bad little metaphor but it’s horribly overused.

    As to Rev. Spear: another useful Call of Cthulhu use for his Electrical Messiah could be as a vessel for visiting members of the Great Race of Yith.

    I’m also surprised that nobody has drawn some connection between Spear and the other electrical patron saint of weirdness, Nikola Tesla (or even Tesla’s ghost-phoning rival Edison).

    You also missed a wonderful superteam idea: Ghost Franklin et al fighting evil in 19th-century America. Could fit that into GURPS Voodoo or Cabal, or use them as four-color comic heroes.

    • Michael Daumen says:

      I’ve even seen “touch base” morph into “touch bases.” Was it influenced by baseball at one point?

      • Cambias says:

        I think it must have originated in baseball, but now that you bring it up, the meaning is actually far from clear. In baseball you touch base on your way to the next one, or to establish that you’re safe and can’t be tagged by the opposing team. How that creates an analogy with a phone call is mysterious.

  2. John Ickes says:

    Two points for the Word Hut. First the phrase “Reach out” come from a series of 1970’s Bell Telephone ads, it was “Reach out and touch someone.” I remember it from around 1975 or so.

    Second is concerning “… In the woodpile” I have heard the phrase “Black widows (or spiders) in the outhouse.”

    • Isaac Priestley says:

      It’s become ubiquitous in business contexts. I had never associated ‘reach out’ with cop shows or TV writing–I can’t recall specifically hearing it on TV. But I hear it ALL THE TIME at the office. It’s just become a bit of mindless business jargon that’s like white noise.

    • John Ickes says:

      Found a reference that it was coined in 1979 (Later then I remembered).

  3. Isaac Priestley says:

    Regarding “drinking the Kool Aid”:

    I don’t disagree with Robin’s instinct to quit using this cliche, however I’ve always interpreted it to mean that someone who “drank the Kool Aid” has been tricked into believing something detrimental to them.

    Someone who evangelizes Apple products might be said to be “drinking Steve Jobs’ Kool Aid”, which to me implies that there are other, better products they could be using and they’re hurting themselves by belonging to the Apple cult.

    (just an example, not a particular belief of mine 🙂 )

    • John Ickes says:

      I have said it “Willing Drank the Kool-Aid” and if they are a true fanatic “Went back for a second glass.”

      • Mike G says:

        I heard the phrase originally referred to Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters. See The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe.

  4. darren t. says:

    From Dungeon World & other similar RPGs, ‘failing forward’ is popular with me where things progress forward including learning from mistakes.

    For a possible ask K&R, how about tips on taking things from Esoterrorists (beyond the great campaign setup idea of Station Duty) to Trail of Cthulhu or Call of Cthulhu? Putting a more Cthulhu mythos spin on the horror for Esoterrorists (or taking Esoterrorist things to other Gumshoe systems for more horror in the game).

  5. One Thing I Always Say* is that language changes to fill needs. “Beg the question” gained its current sense because English wanted–needed– a simple phrase that means something stronger than “raises a question”. The modern sense is more like “this statement raises an obvious question that demands an answer to complete it”, and I posit that there is no other simple way to say that.

    * tm under license.

    You’ve convinced me that using “impact” in its loose modern sense is lazy, though, so score one for you guys.

    • Phil Masters says:

      I have, if anything, taken to avoiding using the phrase “begging the question” at all, when I remember. On the one hand, I know that “raising the question” is just not what it meant, originally, and using it that way is just going to annoy smart people such as Ken. On the other hand, we have the eternal problem that the meanings of language do shift, and eventually precision and correctness slide over a line into mere pedantry.

      Furthermore, I understand that “begging the question” is actually a mistranslation of “petitio principii”, and being pedantic about a something that was wrong in the first place seems rather sad.

      Now, if I’m going to admit to writing vices – well, I do have to admit to too many one-sentence paragraphs, discursive em-dashes, and passages ending with weak and tentative ellipses…

  6. GB Steve says:

    Our snakes are usually in the grass, which has the benefit of being shorter but you could shake a hornet’s nest if you prefer.

    • Michael Daumen says:

      Does “wolf in the fold” work?

      • Phil Masters says:

        I take “snake in the grass” is implying something insidious and poisonous, and “wolf in the fold” as implicitly brutal and violent. (It’s just a bigger version of a fox in the henhouse, after all.) Both are clearly closely related to … the other thing, but seem a little more sinister and immanently threatening to me somehow.

  7. Phil Masters says:

    The Electric Jesus is certainly a wonderful image with which I was not familiar, and the tie-up with Sir Richard Burton makes me sure that there’s a 19th century superhero team story in there. Burton being a natural 1990s Iron Age killer antihero, to play off Electric Jesus’s goofy 1960s Silver Age Metal Men charm, of course.

  8. Phil Masters says:

    (Oh dear. “Of course” is another of my possibly-regrettable writing tics. Along with beginning things with “Oh dear.”, and sentences without verbs.)

  9. Phil Masters says:

    And while I’m here – I kept hearing “Fomenko” as “Flamenco”, which implied something much less heavy-handed and more charmingly Latin than the actual subject-matter of that section.

  10. RogerBW says:

    I had hoped Fomenko might hold some slight interest – it’s the idea of blending time periods together as the cycles merge that I find particularly fun.

    A fox in the henhouse is not just something where it shouldn’t be, but mindless slaughter: the fox has no reason to stop killing (its evolutionary history says that most of the hens will escape), but the hens are unable to get away, so the fox ends up killing much more than it has any use for.

    One of my maggots is the Curate’s Egg. It seems to me obvious from the original cartoon that the point of the thing is that bad parts render the whole thing bad, but the junior man doesn’t want to admit it; but it gets used more often these days to mean simply “there are good and bad parts to this”.

  11. Matthew S. says:

    During your discussion of “snake” in the woodpile, I assumed that this was merely a regional variant of ‘snake in the grass,’ but looking online it seems the meaning is somewhat different. I’m trying to figure out exactly how it would be used. Is it similar to a Trojan horse, something that is deliberately concealed by the presenter?

    I was raised in what I guess was a singularly sheltered part of the country, where Brazil nuts were only Brazil nuts, “Ten Little Indians” was only one kind of racist, and the lovely yellow daisy with the dark center was only a black-eyed Susan, so I was entirely unfamiliar with this phrase or any other variants of it.

  12. Benj says:

    I tend to say “leaves the question”, on the basis that, once all these previous points are sorted, one still has this big question remaining.

  13. LJS says:

    Have you encountered Hitchings, The Secret Life of Words: Howe English became English?

  14. Chad says:

    Could we put “the exception that proves the rule” on the chopping block? It promotes bad thinking, sloppy rhetoric, and it’s a misquote of Cicero.

    Its use seems to have increased sometime in the 90s, according to my flawed memory but supported by a Google Ngrams search of the phrase. I think it’s a collision of Cicero’s use and the old schoolmarm saying “every rule has its exception,” which is really just a way of not explaining inconsistencies in English spelling or grammar.

    The existence of an exception does not prove that the rule is true. In fact, it only takes one exception to prove that a rule is not universally true. Details should be verified, but as I remember it Cicero was defending a soldier in court when he asked a witness “is there a curfew for soldiers.” The soldier answered (something like) “there is not a curfew on the weekends.” Cicero responded “the exception proves the rule in cases not excepted.” He meant that the way one states an exception can sometimes reveal that there is an underlying rule. There is a curfew (rule) but not on weekends (exception).

    Actually, when translated from Latin to other languages, words closer to “confirm” are used instead of “prove,” which could help to make the phrase less confusing.

    So why pick this phrase to be pedantic about? Because using it makes us dumber. It gives us a way to dismiss contravening evidence and make it seem as though a counterpoint merely supports our own case. About as rigorous as the “I’m rubber and you’re glue” defense. The problem is that if we say it enough, and I’d say we’ve more than passed the threshold, people will begin to believe it’s true.

    Suggested replacements: Gadzooks! Your example is extreme! That example is an exception! A rare case! An exception to the rule! Still rhetorically manipulative, but at least not stupid.

  15. Scott Zaboem says:

    This episode was a good choice as a sample to send out in promoting candidacy for an Ennie award.

    I experienced a small nerdgasm, I confess, when I realized that the guys were discussing the Association of Electricizers. About a year and a half ago, my gaming friends were discussing this very same topic here:;f=5;t=374

    Regarding impacts, I apologize for my offense against the English language. In the future, I will try to impact the language less with my impactfulness like an imp pacting a full nest.

    Regarding a roleplaying game with time travelers in a Femenko timeline, isn’t there a problem? The concept seems cool, but it’s too limiting. With all of history compacted into a much shorter period of time, there would fewer places (times) for the travelers to go. It might get dull very quickly.

  16. I sympathize with your goal on “Beg the question”. After all, I wrote Logical Fallacy Bingo cards years ago. That said, the hill is lost and there’s no longer much point in dying on it.

    For “welch on a bet”, I’d use “reneg”, but then I’m a pinochle player.

    As to “impact” as a verb, complaining about it makes even less sense than complaining about Warren Harding’s use of “normalcy”. “Impact” as a verb is older in English than “impact” as a noun, with attestations from as early as 1601; it’s not until the mid-1960s that it really starts to gather the ire of Mrs. Grundy. I commend to your attention the comprehensive two-page article in Merriam Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage (MWDEU). Note that I’m only commenting on its correctness, not its overuse, which is entirely circumstantial and varies from day to day, document to document, and writer to writer.

    I will further recommend MWDEU as a first source for most usage issues in Standard American English. It gives full discussion of many (most?) such arguments, allowing the careful writer to make informed decisions when the authorities (as they will) disagree.

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