Wednesday, October 30, 2013

You're a giraffe

So, that giraffe thing on Facebook. Have you done it? It's cute, right? And your profile picture is likely now a giraffe. So why would I bother to write about it? Well, because the whole thing has been bothering me. And not just because my answer was incorrect. (For those of you who do not want to read about the potential answers, click away now. I intend to mention all answers. You have been warned.) I am bothered by it because I was told I was over reacting to the whole thing after I said that after re-examining the riddle, both answers people argue for were incorrect. In actual fact, there is no correct answer to the thing the way it is written. (More on this later.) But far more than the supposed answer to the riddle itself was the suggestion that I was being ridiculous for caring about the way it was written. And that bothers me more than a little. Because that suggests that because this is being done in fun, we shouldn't care about precise language. And yes, an assumption like that is going to make me more than a little defensive. I happen to think that precise language is always important.

I think what grates for me about this acceptance of sloppiness is that so many of the same people who shrug it off and think (or even come out and say) I'm over reacting would get their knickers completely and totally in a knot if I used something sloppy from their field of expertise. If I posted a set of statistics which came from a badly designed study, I'd hear about it. If I quoted an article with sloppy science behind it, I'd hear about it. But because this is merely words, I shouldn't get so worked up about it. And really, Kristen, this is just for fun so let it go. Well, remember that photoshopped picture from Back to the Future with Oct. 21, 2013 displayed in the DeLorean? I posted that without checking it and immediately got a raft of comments that it was photoshopped. Even after I looked it up and posted a comment that I'd looked it up and yes, people saying it wasn't real were correct, I continued to get comments telling me that it wasn't real. I ended up deleting it. That picture was just in fun and yet quite a few people felt compelled to make sure that I knew it was altered. Heaven forbid you muck with a much beloved image from pop culture. But go ahead and tell me that I'm overreacting when I say that a riddle is poorly written.  Because good writing is not something we value enough to defend.  Not like a photoshopped movie still.

In the stream of Facebook comments that spawned this post, this was the statement that really set me off: "Writing an op ed to explain why the riddle is "wrong" seems rather over-defensive." Well, I am willing to admit I am pedantic so I'll say that I had actually commented that the riddle was poorly written and that my choice of those words was for a reason. But regardless, following this statement with a smiley face doesn't make it less of a smug tweak. I was answering someone else's direct question about whether I thought that my answer was correct and that the answer that the guy who thought this whole thing up wants was incorrect and why. In the spirit of not ruining the "fun" for others, I said that my answer was incorrect as well and offered to send my reasoning about both being incorrect in a private message. Since that person didn't take me up on the offer and then that subsequent comment has set me off, you all get to hear it instead.

First, the exact text of the riddle to which I responded, copied and pasted from the page:

I have had to change my profile to a giraffe. I tried to answer a riddle and got it wrong . Try the great giraffe challenge!The deal is I give you a riddle. You get it right you get to keep your profile pic. You get it wrong and you change your profile pic to a Giraffe for the next 3 days. MESSAGE ME ONLY SO YOU DONT GIVE OUT THE ANSWER.Here is the riddle: 3:00 am, the doorbell rings and you wake up. Unexpected visitors, It's your parents and they are there for breakfast. You have strawberry jam, honey, wine, bread and cheese. What is the first thing you open?Remember... message me only. If you get it right I'll post your name here. If you get it wrong change your profile picture to a giraffe for 3 days.

Let's take a look at this.  As written, you've awakened to an unexpected doorbell to find that your parents are here and want breakfast. Now there's a list of things you have in the house to eat or drink. Then comes the question. "What is the first thing you open?" Keep in mind that "is" in the question because it's very important, even more important to correctly answering the riddle than the definition of it was to former President Clinton. The guy who created the riddle wants the answer of "your eyes" but since he's already got you awake, that can't be it. I answered "the door" as did many others. But again, as you see the unexpected visitors are your parents and you know they want breakfast, that implies the door has already been opened unless you're crazy and peek out the window and conduct a conversation with them through a closed door.  Since most of us are not completely ludicrous, that is unlikely.  And so you are left with the list of consumables, none of which makes more sense than any other. But the present tense question (there's that "is") comes after your eyes and the door have already been opened and so the answer must, by logic, be in that list. And we all know it's not. I give you a very poorly written riddle. And as someone who cares about precise language and decent writing, I pointed it out. But I'm over-defensive and must be informed of such. (For what it's worth, over-defensive is the wrong accusation anyway as I admitted I said you open the door first and then backed down from that answer to say it was incorrect as well so I'm clearly not defending my initial answer.) Apparently, I am the party guest who came in and pushed over the cake because remember this is just for fun and 99% of us don't care about the writing as discovered in the 2013 study written by I. Couldntcareless examining people's high tolerance for accepting incorrect information.

You really want to know what I open first when the doorbell rings unexpectedly at 3am? My mouth. I roll over, eyes definitely still shut, and elbow my husband and tell him to check it out because I do not answer a ringing doorbell at 3am although it's most likely I'm already awake for reasons I won't go into (I still don't answer the door though). In any case, this whole thing doesn't make anyone a giraffe. Not the way it's written (not that any of us should care about that). You know what it does make us all, though? Sheep. And advertising and marketing departments in every industries are rejoicing in this renewed proof that they can twist a few words and we'll never notice or care. Kudos to the Giraffe Riddle guy for making it so visible. Yay! Now let's all change our profile pictures to sheep!


I have had to disable the anonymous comment option to cut down on the spam and I apologize to those of you for whom this makes commenting a chore. I hope you'll still opt to leave me your thoughts. I love to hear what you think, especially so I know I'm not just whistling into the wind here at my computer.

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