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Jul 3, 2019
This week’s theme
Whose what?

This week’s words
cat's pajamas
Zeno's paradox
Godwin's law
child's play
Plato's cave

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with Anu Garg

Godwin’s law

(GOD-winz law)

noun: The idea that as a debate progresses, it becomes inevitable that someone would compare another to Hitler or the Nazis.

Coined by Mike Godwin (b. 1956). Earliest documented use: 1991.

Lawyers don’t make laws, but a lawyer once did make a “law”. Back when people lived in caves, they used something called the Usenet to engage in discussions with people around the world. These discussions involved passionate arguments and debates on humanity’s deep yearnings and moral dilemmas. Is it pronounced gif or jif? Is Mac better or PC? Does it take one space or two after a period? The Who vs. Led Zeppelin. vi vs. emacs?

A lawyer named Mike Godwin coined an adage that stated: “As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.” Since then Godwin’s law has served as a useful reminder that whenever a comparison to Hitler or Nazis is made, the discussion is over and the one making such a comparison loses.

There is, however, an exception. When actual Nazis (or as our president calls them, “very fine people”) are involved in a discussion, invoking Godwin’s law doesn’t mean anything. Godwin himself has stated that many times.

“In 2017, neo-Nazis claimed to be offended by the video game Wolfenstein 2, since it had the hero shooting Nazis. If you self-identify as a neo-Nazi, you can’t claim Godwin’s Law when people lump you in with Hitler and the Nazis.”
Eamonn Brosnan; Taking Offence for All the Wrong Reasons; Winnipeg Free Press (Canada); Mar 21, 2019.

Now I can look at you in peace; I don't eat you any more. -Franz Kafka, novelist (3 Jul 1883-1924) [while admiring fish in an aquarium]

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