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Shibboleths that get you past the initial script stage (twitter.com/patio11)
340 points by signor_bosco on Dec 1, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 235 comments

I've found that pretending to know someone's profession, or one related to it, is generally a very bad approach. It's easily seen through, at which point you're worse off than before. Instead, what I do with members of other professions is try to impress on them that I do not know their business but respect its complexity and our roles within the scenario. Whether it's a doctor or a plumber or even a computer technician (a field which I probably do know better than they do), I explicitly steer away from diagnoses even when I have a pretty clear idea what the problem is. Instead I describe as clearly as possible symptoms, timing/frequency, possibly related changes, things I've tried and results I've gotten, etc. This has generally worked much better for me than deceptive or manipulative hacks. Often I get thanks or compliments for having made their job easier, which makes me happy. YMMV

About 30 years ago I was being asked by some guy I barely knew to do something over the weekend. I didn't know how to tell him that I would rather just be at home with my family. Eventually and without thinking it through, I just said "It's my weekend with the kids." He instantly became apologetic and said he understood completely. And I instantly felt like a heel for pretending to be someone I'm not. I had accidentally identified with a group that suffers in a way I did not. It worked, but the experience has stuck with me. I don't like myself when I'm too afraid to be truthful and while I don't think I hurt the other guy, it was a close call. One that I try to avoid.


It’s not your fault that the listener assumed you were divorced; you implied it (accidentally) but did not state it. You were not untruthful-what you said was literally and exactly correct.

The assumptions made by a listener as a result of intentionally limited data are not your responsibility in any way, indeed even if you were able to predict them with any reasonable level of accuracy, which you are not.

I have an essay pending on this exact topic.

You may feel this way, but the society you live in does not.


I find it unlikely that you really abide by this stated disregard of implicit assumptions - it would make communication impossible. The amount of information required to convey even basic facts is encyclopedic if you and your conversational partner don’t make use of assumptions about what the other already knows.

And indeed, reasonable people can disagree on the extent of what is safe to assume and what is not, and can discuss the nature of their belief in the reasonability of those various levels of assumption.

It turns out that if you abide by those linked rules, casual friendly discussions (things that are nonessential, for the most part) are pretty much ruled out. I find myself more often communicating with people who I have no explicit business or goal with, in social settings, and abiding by rules for cooperation on a team/task would make me a very boring person to speak to, indeed.

Thinking about fault and responsibility is maybe misleading? If I'm trying to communicate a thing to another person and I fail, I've failed. Totally failed. Whether that bothers me or not depends on the context, sometimes it does. And it seems like at those points just saying "Well I made noises, it's the others persons fault they couldn't understand me, nothing to do with me" is an attitude that isn't going to get me far in life. Basically, if you want to achieve your task of "communicate a thing" you HAVE to think about the listener.

You also have to ignore the listener that don't listen or that don't understand, despite others did or have never put themselves in the condition of needing an explanation.

Basically communication is bidirectional, if the listener don't understand anything, it's probably their fault too.

Understanding is not a right or a gift, it's a process.

You can't force people to understand and no matter how you think about the listener, the listener have to do their part: listen.

> Basically communication is bidirectional, if the listener don't understand anything, it's probably their fault too.

I wouldn't say "probably". It might be. It might be the fault of the speaker. Or maybe both. Basically, my point was that it's not ONLY the listener's fault.

I would say that responsibility for success in communication depends mainly on intentional aspects of the communication and may fall on either speaker or listener (or both).

I.e., both sides have some level of expected interest/gain in successful communication and that makes each of them implicitly responsible (at least to themselves) for their part of gain from communication.

> may fall on either speaker or listener (or both).

I fully agree. :-) My point was it does not fall only on the listener.

> I have an essay pending on this exact topic.

We all look forward to reaching a conclusion you didn't intend us to due to our assumptions.

I already made the conclusion!

Being deceptive might not mean being "untruthful" as you put it, but it's still deception.

This is called a lie by omission.


Lie by omission is more problematic concept than explicit lie. IMHO one has almost always moral duty to not explicitly lie, but just rarely duty to not 'lie' by omission, depends mainly on whether the person has duty to communicate that information or whether one actively tries to deceive.

> Lying by omission includes the failure to correct pre-existing misconceptions.

By this logic, one can lie by remaining entirely silent. I don't buy it.

> One can lie by remaining entirely silent.

Yup. An example would be listening to someone reach the wrong conclusion, and by staying silent and not correcting them, implying that they were correct.

Do you also find trolley problem non-lever-pullers to be murderers?

I'm no longer sure this is a good-faith discussion we're having.

No. "It's my weekend with my kids" is well understood to mean divorce. It was clearly a lie. Good on OP to recognize it.

No, it can imply divorce, but it does not specify; it is ambiguous. You are assigning explicit communication where there is none, objectively.

The listener's assumptions (or lack thereof), which happen after the speaker speaks, cannot retroactively cause the statement to be or not be a lie.

Please provide an example that is not divorce where this phrase applies.

Someone can have kids without marrying the mother? There are also other edge cases, such as adoption, surrogacy, etc.

Good point about not having married the mother. I guess I should have said "custody or visitation rights issues".

However, the original point still applies. He does not suffer from these issues, and directly communicated that he did. That is a lie.

> He does not suffer from these issues, and directly communicated that he did

At no point did he directly communicate anything about custody in his statement.

You are confusing implication with direct statements.

The one in question in this thread is a good example. He spent his weekend with his kids.

Not at all. "It's my weekend with my kids" clearly conveys that he does not get to spend other weekends with his kids.

Objectively, it does not: it implies that, but does not denote it. You are reading your own implicit assumptions about the statement as fact. He simply never said that.

The impetus is not on the listener to "read through" the deception, the impetus is on the speaker to not purposefully deceive.

Whether you deceive by purposefully implying a falsehood or by purposefully denoting a falsehood it is still a lie.

Seriously, how far are you willing to go in your attempts to justify lying? You are basically saying "If I define my lie this way, it isn't a lie"

It's far easier and better for all involved if you simply tell the truth.

At no point in the events described did he do anything other than “simply tell the truth”. The words he quoted himself as saying were factually accurate.

You are basically using lawyer-speak. You can be legally right, while still being morally wrong.

I am speaking in terms of objective truth, which is independent of any nation’s laws or legal system, or subjective morals.

Whatever helps you sleep at night.

This method works wonders for corporate tech support. They're pretty used to the "my monitor won't turn on (it's not plugged in)" type users so when you try to tell them you know what's wrong, they assume you're there former type and you have no idea what you're talking about. Instead I very clearly tell them the specific symptoms and relevant information that they would look up anyway.

Recently I had a corporate installed process maxing out my CPU so I went to the help desk to see the techs (the triager at the front desk thought it might be a fan issue and that I didn't know what was wrong). Since I was able to tell them the exact process and other details, they immediately recognized it as a specific issue they had seen before and we skipped the whole diagnosis back and forth. If I had gone in there and said, "the fan is running really high" I'd probably still be there.

I do support along with my usual dev work and interface with users daily. I can't count the amount of times I've heard "I'm pretty sure it's because of..." followed by something completely unrelated, along with a stubborn resolve to not try the professional's recommended solution

That's exactly what I try to avoid. I try to focus on the facts as they present themselves. Computer is hot, fan is running full speed, process X is hogging 90% of CPU resources, and to not offer what I think the problem is (because I might be wrong or there's some nuance I'm not aware of). I assume the people who manage our tech know its idiosyncracies, but at the same time I don't want them thinking it's because I keep every browser tab I've ever opened running at the same time.

Well, that goes both ways. My wife is a social media editor and former web editor, so she is not a technician but she knows browsers more than her average colleague. Whenever some internal application has issues, she has to go through the same 10 minutes of explanations that it must be Firefox's fault, every time she calls tech support, after which they agree that it is usually what she suspected the issue to be; or if she had no clue and all she could tell them is "I have tried both Firefox and Chrome" guess what, it's not Firefox vs. Chrome.

I think I’m about 50/50 on thinking their solution is absolute bull and being right, and having made a retarded mistake and their solution solving everything.

This seems like a very scalable sane default presumption, in any case.

Do you find that developers, system administrators and other IT professionals (the typical HN crowd) are just as guilty of this?

Or they give you a log snippet and fail to say _what_ log it came from. Context, people!

A screenshot of part of a log snippet. Followed by "can I phone you?"

Dear users everywhere: the point of the exercise is not to prove there is a problem. I believe you when you say there is a problem. I need enough context to understand what the problem is.

I did similar recently. I emailed the support team with a screenshot of task manager showing what process it was, and I identified (with 30 seconds of googling) what product it was associated with. I like to think that saved everyone an hour of pointless fucking around.

If you're ever in this situation again, taking a performance trace is easy to do and potentially helpful for the triaging team.

wpr -start GeneralProfile

do something, or let process spin

wpr -stop foo.etl

Include foo.etl with your bug report. Be aware that it will include personal information from your machine (machine config, user paths, process names, etc.).

I send a LOT of screen shots these days. Grab (OS X) to the clipboard, paste in text message or email. The screen shot usually has everything I want to point out while leaving out the unnecessary.

As always, there's an XKCD for this: https://xkcd.com/806/

We know. This XKCD is why this Twitter thread exists in the first place.

Speaking as an automotive mechanic and a tradesman, nothing sounds more despicable than this half-ass attempt to "game" human interaction to save a few precious seconds in your day.

You wouldn't do this with a doctor. You wouldn't do it with a police officer. So why do it with me? Or tech people? Are they somehow less impressive? I mean you are seeking their help. Maybe show some respect.

if you're ever at the garage waiting on a repair, just speak English. Yeah I know my questions are going to be a little basic and repetitive sometimes but they're for my understanding. What sounds like a waste of breath for you is actually helping me to formulate a solution and troubleshoot a problem. Work with me, not around me.

>Speaking as an automotive mechanic and a tradesman, nothing sounds more despicable than this half-ass attempt to "game" human interaction to save a few precious seconds in your day.

Doctors enjoy a higher reputation for "honesty and ethical standards" [1] and have the specter of medical malpractice if they yield a misdiagnosis, particularly if it's one that harms the patient. There is no equivalent for mechanics and frankly the public on average trusts mechanics far less than doctors. Auto mechanics got 32% in the high/very high trust category vs 67% for doctors in the latest Gallup poll. [1]

Anecdotally distrust of mechanics is such an issue I distinctly remember my youngest sister getting approached by car dealers from all over the city after she took auto shop in high school. She was told dealership repair shops needed women because some female customers simply didn't trust what they were being told by male repair shop representatives. Despite this apparent need the pay offered wasn't enough to entice her from just working at the O'Reilly Auto Parts down the street.



I do it with the doctor!

We have mandatory visits at work here in Italy and to save time when I go there, instead of following the usual routine, I say immediately: my grandfather suffered from high pressure, my mom has been curing her high pressure her entire life, I also probably have it so if you find high pressure, I know everything about it already. Also my parents worked in healthcare, you can use medical terms, I get those.

I also tells them I suffer from a genetic heart condition, not worrying, but existent.

It's called anamnesi, it's a necessary process to establish the patient's background and saves a lot of time to the both of us.

They don't have to explain to me that I should avoid using salt and all the side effects of a condition I know very well and I don't have to listen to things I already know, since 40 years ago.

Always assume competence is, I think, a good strategy. People are more willing to help if you flatter their ego. And most importantly, sometimes, people really are competent.

I spent three months with my corporate IT on a problem I'd diagnosed in 10 minutes, because in a previous life I was corporate IT and had experience doing exactly what they were doing. After explaining what and why I thought the issue was what I thought it was they told me I couldn't be right and I let them dig at it. After multiple calls to Microsoft, who was equally confused, they finally got to an advanced tech. They called me and told me proudly they'd discovered the issue. It was exactly what I'd said three months earlier. This is not the last time issues like this have come up with my corporate IT. I always assume incomptence unless shown otherwise. I'll be polite but I don't think it's always the right solution.

It doesn't take you anywhere if they always answer "you use Linux? It must be that"

Assume competence if they show competence

If they don't, assume they will be part of the problem, you won't get any help and they will make the situation worse

I agree with this in cases of legitimate, friendly companies that are proud of what they do and want to provide a good service.

This breaks down when dealing with monopolies and companies that are too big to fail. Customer service in their case is always monkeys (from my experience) - they aren’t paid enough to care, they don’t know anything about their company’s product/service (because a skilled person wouldn’t put up with the low pay and working conditions) and have very limited power in actually fixing your problem even when they understand it.

In that case scaring them into escalating the call might be a better strategy than just running around in circles trying to make a monkey understand what you’re after.

To some extent that was what the suggestions were about, though.

Installing an IDE just to have the icon to show for it is a stupid hack that'll stop working once people see through the charade.

OTOH, running the test suite and showing the failing tests or, if they pass, explaining very precisely what misbehavior you're seeing and how you reproduced it, is actually helpful.

Be helpful to the extent of your competence but honest about its limits. Trying to bullshit when you clearly have no clue makes you annoying to work with, but so does being a noob who doesn't even try to understand what's going on and just wants someone else to do all the work.

I agree with your general sentiment but having basic knowledge and knowing some terminology can get you farther.

It's like going to a foreign country and making an effort to speak their language. Even if you're bad at it and end up having a conversation in your native language they'll respect you for the effort.

You wouldn't see a doctor and pretend to also be one but understanding some basic terminology and diagnostic procedure will help.

I kind of take issue with the fact that this works, maybe not in your foreign language example but in general. I shouldn't have to learn the terminology of HVAC services or plumbing services or any service that I have no intention of learning more about to get better service. Every customer regardless of their knowledge of the service they are using should get a competent response without having to learn anything about that profession. That is the whole point of having a professional there working for you afterall.

> Instead I describe as clearly as possible symptoms, timing/frequency, possibly related changes, things I've tried and results I've gotten, etc.

What do you do if after all this, they still keep circling the problem?

"Could it be X? I read in the Y that sometimes this happens with it"

If you want to add authority pick Y = Newspaper. If you think the person will respond better to you placing yourself societally lower, say 'online' and weaken your statement with something like "but who knows how true that is" etc.

The objective is to place the thought in their head but keep them believing they're putting the pieces together. You could even try "It's probably not Z, right? Like in that movie". There doesn't have to be a movie, no one will follow up.

This part is hard because you really need to read their reactions and make sure you come off not as a kook hypochondriac but as a bumbling layman who just happened upon the right thing.

Do it wrong and you'll be patronizing and insta-lose. Do it right and you'll get everything you want.

I employ this + being as non-threatening as possible (cheerful, less smart than, less powerful than) + minor groveling ("would you mind doing this anyway, I know you're probably right but it'll make me feel so much better").

I get pretty quick service everywhere, even where other people complain.

In general, though, this is last resort. Usually the fastest way to get good service is to rapidly and clearly comply with orders. Just like when you're debugging an issue, you've got a standard process, other professionals do too and letting them prune their search tree is important. You know that lingering feeling you have where you're like "maybe the DNS server is flaky, naaah it couldn't be"? That's what they're avoiding and giving that to them means you get bucketed it into "smooth interaction" which is superior to anything else because in the end, nothing works better than someone wanting to help you.

Maybe I'm just internally resistant to appearing weak in interactions. I find that this never works for me. I always come off as patronizing and condescending, even when that is not my intention in any way. For me, at least, just being somewhat minimally competent and trying to self-service, then making that competence known and clear at the first contact seems to have the highest success rate.

I think what method works best really depends on your personality type. I agree that the goal is to ensure that you are making the interaction smooth by get the person you're asking for help what they need. But I also see asking for help as two different modes.

1. I'm asking for help because I am not empowered (access controls, specialty tools) to fix my own issue, but if I had been so empowered I could have resolved it on my own easily.

2. I'm asking for help because I don't know the solution, but I'm competent enough to narrow it to a particular trouble area.

In #2, I acknowledge outright, internally and externally, that because I am asking for help I have reached the limit of my competence. My request is inherently respectful, because I'm acknowledging the superior competence of the person(s) I'm asking for help from, but out of respect for their time I do my best to ask a good question and provide all the necessary details to make helping me a low friction event.

In the case of #1... often it's better to aggressively establish your own competence to get them to just do what you need done. Unfortunately in the world of large organizations and bureaucracy you will deal with a lot of incompetent people who are put in a position of some tiny fraction of power over you. You need to get them to exercise that power to your benefit, but you also need to not alienate them so they withhold it. People with only a small amount of power can be extraordinarily vindictive, so it's best to approach them with a measure of respect, but also clearly establish the boundaries of the interaction so you can proceed as quickly as possible and be on with your life.

I've worked roles in which I was in both situations on the other side of the table, but I had enough self-awareness to realize when I was the monkey in #1 and I did my best to be as efficient as possible and let people get on with it. In situation #2, I understand very deeply the frustration of having someone essentially toss something over the wall and in so doing show their disrespect for your competence and the value of your time. As always, you want to go through life without making other people feel badly, but taking a submissive pathway will not always work for you, especially if that is not in your nature.

Perhaps it does depend on how well you can express a particular way. Probably best to handle it the way that works for oneself.

In the last fifteen years or so of adulthood, I've met few roadblocks. Perhaps I would take a different approach if that's what I saw.

Even if you actually know the profession, their reaction is not good. Your approach seems more practical.

Many of these are equivalent to demanding to speak to the manager in order to get what you want. That can backfire quickly if you’re not careful.

> Present as if you are collecting a paper trail. Prominent indicia of this include notebooks, organized files, and repeatedly asking for specific names, dates, and citations for authority “for my notes.”

I worked at a smaller company where any semi-threatening support requests were escalated up the chain to me. The “I’m taking notes to use against you” trick was a sure-fire way to get your ticket escalated, but it had the reverse effect of what customers expected. Our front-line support was empowered to diagnose customer problems, issue refunds, replace product, and even give customers free upgrades as a token of apology.

However, once the customer threatened us with the note-taking act, we had to be extremely careful about anything that would admit fault, lest they try to use it against us later. Or worse, try to take our statements out of context and tweet them to the world. Once the customer escalated the request, they got slower responses (support wasn’t my primary job), more limited options (minimize potential admissions of fault), and narrowly constrained communications (assume every response will be retweeted out of context to make us look bad).

Before you try these “Dangerous Professional” tricks, please just try to be a decent human with the front-line support staff. They deal with difficult customers all day, and the last thing they want to do is encourage another person to play the difficult customer role to get what they want. The opening example (Xcode visible in dock creating mutual understanding) is very different than sending your demands directly to the company’s general counsel or threatening to take notes for future retaliation. Please don’t use that as option 1 in your communication toolbox.

> However, once the customer threatened us with the note-taking act, we had to be extremely careful about anything that would admit fault, lest they try to use it against us later.

That is hardly fair as the whole "this conversation may be recorded for training purposes" puts the caller on edge right from the start. Are they allowed to record the call too? Is that legal?

Obviously, the caller should just record the call and tell the other side they are doing that. I guess most people don't know how to record calls.

Maybe not in larger organizations, but in smaller ones those recordings really do get used for training purposes. And to verify claims about what agents say. I don't think the intent is to intimidate callers, but to let them know that something an agent says to them can be verified. I know it saved me before when someone claimed I was threatening them and using inappropriate language.

>Is that legal?

For the most part yes.

>Obviously, the caller should just record the call and tell the other side they are doing that. I guess most people don't know how to record calls.

Yes they should. It's even better to take notes on things you miss by listening to the recording.

From experience, though, the people acting like "Dangerous Professionals" are just dangerous to my psychological well-being because it's almost impossible to distinguish them from any run-of-the-mill ass hole.

As a customer I would have zero expectation that the company would use one of their recordings to verify something in my favor.

I once told Sprint customer support I had recorded a call after they had promised me something and not followed through. They apparently put a note on my account because every time I called customer support in the future they informed me that I was not allowed to record the call and made me verbally confirm I was not recording the call or they would hang up. But of course they were recording all the calls. It was ridiculous.

I'm pretty sure that's not actually legal. It might even constitute breach of contract, depending on what your contract for services states with them. I am not a lawyer, but given your track record and this behavior, I'd highly advise you to stop being a Sprint customer. This behavior, if not illegal, is at least highly unethical.

Right. And what really backfires is threatening to sue.

In a company large enough to have a legal department, they'll hand you over to it, and basically nothing will get fixed. They'll record your complaints, dates, and times, and stop interacting with you.

This hasn't been my experience. I can recall one time where, after spending hours on the phone getting nowhere, I mentioned getting a lawyer involved. The company forwarded me to someone with a title like "solutions architect" who quickly solved the problem I was having. The other people I spoke with wouldn't even answer basic questions.

It probably helped that the company is in a highly regulated industry.

I used to work in IT support. Maybe 3/4 times a year, we would get an irate customer who would drop mention of a lawyer, usually they were awkward and unhelpful in the first place. Our MO was to escalate to our legal team (who worked one day a week with us), run everything through them, and make no attempts to go above and beyond to remedy the issue. Every time, without fail, it would have been easier for everyone involved if you'd just treated me like a human being the first time around rather than barking at me and threatening to sue.

As I recall, I politely spoke with multiple support agents for over an hour, carefully explaining my problem, before I tried to wrap up by saying that I was going to talk with a lawyer because this isn't going anywhere and I have legal rights in this situation. I don't recall threatening to sue them [0], just saying that I was going to talk to a lawyer. That's when the conversation changed. The person they transferred me to was very helpful. The problem was resolved within minutes of being transferred.

I was completely serious about talking to a lawyer about this by the way. And they understood what my problem was. I'd guess that the support agents I spoke with were not authorized to do what I asked. They never told me that, though, they just refused to help. If I had to guess I'd say that they weren't authorized to transfer me to the right person unless I said certain keywords, "lawyer" being one of them.

[0] Maybe I did, as I was really frustrated after over an hour on the phone. But I only intended to talk to a lawyer.

Exactly. I am amazed by how many people think that is the right thing to do. In most cases that will immediately get you 'turfed' (old 'House of God' expression I think) to the legal department. The people who you are dealing with then no longer have to deal with you. That is better for them, not worse. Very general pattern but what I have found to be true. It's a common newbie misconception. Think about it for a second. Why would some lower level person care that you are going to sue their company? For that matter any small business owner knows that is BS as well (where there is no legal department). Reason is they know the cost of getting legal help and the process and that it's not trivial and not going to be done it's just an empty threat by a person who is typically clueless.

There is another case also. The one of 'my (insert relative) is a lawyer'. In that case it's also an empty threat. Nobody is doing free legal work for family at least not more than a letter. Their time is what they bill for. The idea that they are going to take on major work with no outcome and not getting paid makes no sense. Are their contingency arrangements? Sure but most likely not for what someone is threatening legal action for.

That's just shitty customer service. Your front line guys are too incompetent to solve the problem and too stupid to offer one of the remedies you described so the customer escalates the problem, probably after multiple tries, and now gets even worse customer service. Yeah that company should be afraid of people collecting data and I hope the people that collect it do use it in a legal case or post it on the internet as that is exactly what a shitty company like that deserves. How can you ask people not to escalate when your customer service is such shit?

> Before you try these “Dangerous Professional” tricks, please just try to be a decent human with the front-line support staff.

- they aren’t tricks.

- making documentation and taking notes is something decent humans do.

- only less-than-decent people are threatened by documentation.

As someone who has worked in support and customer-facing roles for a very long time, I am not threatened by documentation. I am threatened by out-of-context quotes, twisting of what I said or wrote, and what someone who is "just taking notes" is implying by that statement.

In my experience, people who play this card have an almost-certain probability of using things like strategic ellipses or partial quotes against me later. Ever been in enterprise support and been hauled into a deposition where you got asked if a partial quote of yours was actually what you said when it technically was but not in that context? It's not fun.

When people pull that stunt on me, I absolutely turn into the most straight-laced automaton you've ever met. You will receive nothing more than the shortest sentences I can construct in the flattest monotone I can muster and I will do nothing more than the barest minimum required because I am not sticking my neck out for your shitty problem if you are angling for a way to throw me under the bus.

Should customers also behave this way when the vendor's IVR system notifies them in the first few seconds of the call that the exact content of the call is going to be recorded by the vendor (presumably for all time)?

It cuts both ways.

EDIT: Just noticed the call recording angle is already discussed up-thread a bit; apologies for the dupe.

> only less-than-decent people are threatened by documentation

This is a rephrase of "only guilty people need to worry about privacy." But:

1. Are you sure you act perfectly above-board at ALL times? You don't occasionally say something that could be misconstrued, lose your temper, etc.?

2. Are you aware of all contractual clauses and laws you may be violating at any given time? Are you able to think about them, in real time, and always act perfectly?

> This is a rephrase of "only guilty people need to worry about privacy."

You're absolutely right. I should have explicitly clarified the implied scope (which seemed obvious to me from the thread): in customer service events between a contractually-bound client and vendor.

Find the accounting department at work and make as many friends as possible.

These people see the "numbers" (and that is the heart of any business). They can get your checks expedited (reimbursement or for vendors). They can tell you when a lay off is coming, or when the company blew out the numbers. Most of them keep booze at their desks. All of this will come at the price of coffee and doughnuts/pastries/baglels at the end of the fiscal year, or during an audit.

Or when they close out the quarter. Don't skimp!

I made a friend in the accounts department when we had to reconcile our credit cards. He was manually copying and pasting stuff into excel for reports for his boss.

Needless to say I whipped up some easy to use scripts that did the job for him. It changed my relationship with that department.

You become visible and friendly. You're not just someone making work for them.

I’ve given thought in the past to some sort of ‘support reputation system’. After calling tech support, they’d rate your manner and how capable you seemed, and this would feed through into your future calls (e.g. calling an ISP with a genuine + very technical question might mean you go straight to the highest tier of tech support next time you call).

It would save time for tech support workers too; no need to vet very tech capable callers for things like ‘have you tried turning it off and on again’. So theoretically, the call wait time might even reduce for callers with simple/obvious questions.

There are probably some details to iron out and problems to solve, but the basic idea seems pretty feasible to me.

Over the years, the people who were technically capable were the ones who made the most unnecessary work for me. I trained myself to ignore everything they tried to do to solve the problem. If I have a technical problem, my colleagues should do the same with my input.

I had issues before were I was 100% convinced to know the issue and gave the supporter a really hard time walking me through the script. Wasn't as pretentious of an asshole anymore after the "this won't work, it has nothing to do with my issue" actually worked.

Nowadays I'm always trying to walk through the steps posted in the self help manuals before I actually call. If you tell them that you already did everything in this manual, they also move on quickly after a couple of questions to double check.


Most of the support cases I get (meaning they've escalated through 2 to 3 layers of support engineering) are XY Problems (1). The customers are smart, and typically their issue is knowing too much about one aspect of the thing they're trying to solve. They used the sickle to cut their wheat, so yup, they're going to use the sickle to dry it, bale it, and tow it to market.

Ignoring everything they're doing, and even their initial question, typically leads to better outcomes. (Except in the cases where it turns out they really do have to be doing it in this backwards manner).

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/XY_problem

This already happens. I would be shocked if any mature support branch for a large project __didn't__ have their CRM littered with notes about various companies and specific persons within a given company, even with Consumer Tech Support lines.

Typically, skipping specific steps in common troubleshooting is not done unless the person provides some verification on a new case/call to validate that this step was indeed done, simply because even professionals make mistakes, but specific environmental factors, the person'(s) relative technical knowledge, their behavior in the past with support, common pain points in their environment, and other such things are all recorded pretty heavily.

Usually though this only means that you'll skip Tier 0/1 Support though for most companies. Usually there's always a small reserve of "big guns" that are reserved only for the cases that really need them.

Keep in mind though that this is mostly for companies that specifically look to work with Technology Professionals; when you're talking about generic Consumer Support, such a system is feasible but often non-sensical from any business perspective for the Companies when we're discussing Consumer Support. Comcast's monopoly is only one reason why they were able to weather "worst support ever" for so many years; the simple fact is that they got pretty good at handling vocal customers, or at least adding a public face that made most consumers not care. At best, with such supports, you'll just get X replaced regardless of what X is, and any issue that isn't solved by that tends to be over the head of most people's interests, so any outrage from highly technical persons mostly just gets ignored.

I know what you want, and you can get this with Tech Companies. But if you want fast and good support from Consumer Tech (ISPs, home tech, etc), you have two routes: play the game and just move through the motions ASAP, or post on Twitter and hope that you garner enough attention to escalate your case. Both are a waste of time and energy, IMO, and I know which one would take less of my time personally.

Pretty sure there someone suing in Britain years ago after getting to see comments about him support agents had left on a company forum. They weren't nice comments. I thought it was Demon internet but I can't find it.

Now I'm remembering accidentally seeing my customer record in a mobile phone shop. I was a "Silver customer". At that point I had been with them for 10 years or something. Silver? What does it take to get Gold??!

Basically, I'm saying if you do this not everyone will be happy.

Once upon a time when we'd ring up support for Sun, SGI, etc., they did know that, for instance, they could just send a new part to swap ourselves when we said it was broken. (That was after GEC, at least, no longer actually had an office on site.)

In the old days, yes we had service contracts for the machines, but it was essentially a joke. That was a way of getting parts after the expert hackers from the AI lab fixed the problem. Because if you let the field-service person fix it it would take them days, and you didn't want to do that, you wanted it to work. So, the people who knew how to do those things would just go and fix it quickly, and since they were ten times as competent as any field service person, they could do a much better job. And then they would have the ruined boards, they would just leave them there and tell the field service person “take these back and bring us some new ones”.

— Richard Stallman, 30 October 1986


Great idea, but realistically someone will figure out how to use it for ad-tracking.

> Any bureaucracy: Present as if you are collecting a paper trail. Prominent indicia of this include notebooks, organized files, and repeatedly asking for specific names, dates, and citations for authority “for my notes.”

This is my wife. A survivor of over three decades in the corporate world.

Edit: I wasn't clear that I respect her hugely for this.

Another article from the same author on how to be a Dangerous Professional: https://www.kalzumeus.com/2017/09/09/identity-theft-credit-r...

(HN discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15206926)

> “But I’m not a shareholder!” A surprising amount of Americans are shareholders in large financial institutions. Do you have an IRA? Does it invest in e.g. mutual funds? If you own a mutual fund or index fund, you are highly likely to beneficially own fractional shares of US financial institutions. Someone who owns 0.01 shares is a shareholder; welcome to the magic of capitalism.

I like this guy. He has great insight, this is very well put :D

Ha. My dad has an account at cooperative bank (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volksbanken_und_Raiffeisenbank...) and every time he has business at the bank, he says: "You know, I am a co-owner of this bank". Usually the personnel is confused by this.

They probably hear that dozens of times a day.

If they did, wouldn't they not be confused by it?

Being polite to a customer.

>I like this guy. He has great insight

I'm sure customer service people and healthcare professionals love people coming on premises and throwing their weight around with exaggerations and half-truths.

The people I know would put you on the bottom of the list.

You're lacking context. It says that when you don't know where to send correspondence at big banks you could try and address investor relations because they are usually bored and will gladly forward your complaint to the right department. This is where the investor part comes in. And only there. Other suggestions are that you could address the legal department because they are diligent by law. Or the CEO, because if it gets handed down from their office it will have more weight.

Note that the cases talked about involve legal deadlines so knowingly delaying to handle them is not a good option.

>Note that the cases talked about involve legal deadlines so knowingly delaying to handle them is not a good option.

Are we reading the same thread? The cases talked about are mundane customer service interactions.

My significant other works in consumer facing healthcare. Every day customers come in proclaiming they "know the owner" or "are a lawyer" or "will take their business elsewhere", expecting to be prioritized. This isn't some clever life-hack; the people who do it are, in my opinion, jerks.

I'm talking about the article linked in the comment upthread which is about identity theft. Where in that article or the thread was it suggested to refer to yourself as a shareholder to customer service? It's only ever mentioned as a reason to contact investor relations.

The author specifically recommends against grandstanding exactly because it signals "not a professional". So I really don't get your complaint.

His whole point is to bypass the “customer service people”.


It's a warning sign to be ultra-defensive and strictly adhere to protocol (and document every action taken). In any normal situation, there is room for adjustment, but not if you're interacting with someone who seems to have a superiority complex (doesn't mean they actually do, but it seems that way). No one is going to scare me into doing it wrong so I can get reprimanded for it later.

It seems wrong though - I am not an American, but if you e.g. own shares in an ETF (or mutual fund), you just own shares in the ETF while they own the shares in the underlying assets.

I am not even sure if there's a legal definition of shareholder, but assuming that there is, I suspect this doesn't cut it and you are simply a stakeholder instead. Feel free to link to relevant materials, if that's not the case.

By that logic, nobody is a shareholder at all, thanks to the magic of Cede and Co. [1] The only real owners are the holders of the physical stock certificates - and almost nobody does this in real life for numerous reasons.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cede_and_Company

Legally, people make distinctions between different kinds of ownership. So you can be the "beneficial owner" without being the "registed owner".

In fact every public US stock is owned first by Cede and Company. Any public stock you own is a contract with them (via intermediaries). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cede_and_Company

As far as I understand, Cede's contractual rights make it so you are pretty close to 'owning' the stock compared to ETF/Mutual Fund.

>So you can be the "beneficial owner" without being the "registed owner".

Are you the 'beneficial owner' of an ETF's invested assets or just of the ETF instead?

You are the registered owner of the ETF, but the beneficial owner of the underlying shares.

Not correct. If you own an ETF you do not have voting rights of the underlying stocks. So you are not a beneficial owner of the underlying.

You also do not have "direct" access to the dividends. The fund manager will pool the dividends and pay them out on a regular schedule, after taking their cut of fees.

The IRS defines "beneficial owner" as "the person who is required under U.S. tax principles to include the payment in gross income on a tax return"[1]. Using that definition, you certainly would be a beneficial owner regardless of whether you can directly exercise voting rights or directly receive dividends. The indirectness is the whole point of the distinction between beneficial and registered owners.

[1] https://www.irs.gov/instructions/iw8ben#idm140376280574400

But you don't need to write every stock the Mutual Fund invested in - just the Mutual Fund itself, so this makes it even clearer.

A pretty good criterion would be, I presume, whether you vote your shares for the election of the board of directors. If you vote, you're definitely a shareholder.

It's actually about half and half. About 45% of Americans don't own any stock whatsoever, either directly or indirectly through IRAs, mutual funds, ETFs, etc. [1]

1: https://news.gallup.com/poll/266807/percentage-americans-own...

I think a surprising amount of Americans are invested in the stock market. But that does not make them shareholders in us companies. Most of this exposure is through "40 act" funds like mutual funds and ETFs where investors in these funds do not have the underlying vote of the stocks the fund is invested in.

Interesting USG shibboleths are using the correct acronyms, especially for insider stuff (TDY, "allowances", "authorities", and referring to NSA as NSA and not "the NSA", CIA as CIA and not "the CIA", State for "the State Department", etc.)

Is that good grammar? If you expand out the acronym you get "I work at National Security Administration," and if you remove the adjectives you get "I work at administration." Administration isn't a proper noun so that's why you would want to use "the."

In electrical engineering you are supposed to say "DIP" which stands for dual inline package, but laymen tend to say "DIP Package" which expands out to "Dual inline package package." In that case, having the wrong words adjacent to the acronym means you don't know what it stands for. That's in contrast to "the NSA" vs. "NSA," where the public (might?) have it right.

The more common ones I hear are "PCB board" and "MCU microcontroller". "CAD design" used to bother me too, but I think it's become its own legitimate term for the sub-genre of CAD, since we're used to also using Solidworks for stress analysis or simulations.

Expanding the abbreviations like that and using them to decide grammar is pretty close to something like the etymological fallacy.

The point is those acronyms are now used as names in their own right.

>Is that good grammar?

No, but Americans seem to do it anyway.

You would definitely work at "the BBC" here.

But you would say “work at Google,” not “work at the Google.” Now abstract that to “work at <place>” and then replace <place> with “NSA.”

A friend at NSA deliberately uses “the NSA” when speaking about the agency online because of course they do.

Yes, exactly. I’m sure there are PowerPoint decks specifically around how to pass as a non-IC person...

This is (hopefully not) obnoxiously off-topic...

As a Hebrew speaker, I wish the "shibboleth" idiom (which is a good one) was translated, rather than transliterated. laoned idioms are inherently exotic, and this one is worth demystifying

It means any choice of word (or pronunciation, in the literal example) that clearly identifies the speaker's group affiliations.

A good modern example is "LondonDerry/Derry. This'd be my my choice for an English translation of shibboleth.

These tweets are about hacking shibboleths, which is advanced mode. Basic mode would be just noticing shibboleths, and also why and how they so clearly identify speakers.

Shiboleths can have serious weight, can be used to disarm/arm. They're probably interesting to text analysis as a classifier. You can use them to reliably imply things about you, like patio does

One hack among many possibles. I'm looking forward to Mackenzie's modern Machiavelli YouTube series using Derries.

> I wish the "shibboleth" idiom (which is a good one) was translated, rather than transliterated. [...] A good modern example is "LondonDerry/Derry. This'd be my choice for an English translation of shibboleth.

Well, the thing is, I'm not an Englishman so have no idea what's the deal with ‘Derry’ is, but I know what a shibboleth is. It has become an English term—and btw not an idiom in English since it has no other meaning in that language.

> I'm not an Englishman so have no idea what's the deal with ‘Derry’ is

I had to look it up too: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Derry/Londonderry_name_dispute

Actually, being English might not help.

I agree. Terms become terms and we can't change it.

I just meant that idioms tend to be richer when the source is material.

Point taken on finding an example that everyone understands.

Any political context creates shibboleths by the dozen. The UK is good for making ones that stick around. "Nationist" and "National" political movements, for example, are apposite (and opposing).

Yeah no, don't do that. After reading about the Derry thing, I realized I better forget all about it and never mention it in the presence of an Irishman, a Northern-Irishman or anyone else from GB, and especially not botch my reference to any one side. ‘Shibboleth’ has the nice quality that no Ephraimites recently had, or are likely to soon have, misfortunes because of the phenomenon, and the whole affair was three thousand years ago.

Where I'm from, some people, having nothing better to do, occasionally raise noise saying that ‘to each his own’ is offensive because it happened to be written by Nazis on a concentration camp. I don't think I need any more unnecessarily politically aroused stubborn people around than there already are.

> never mention it in the presence of an Irishman, a Northern-Irishman or anyone else from GB, and especially not botch my reference to any one side

It's really only an issue in written form.

In spoken form, the London part is silent so they're both just pronounced Derry..


An Irish person.

Well, that is sort of the point of a shibboleth: those who say it wrong get killed.

>As a Hebrew speaker, I wish the "shibboleth" idiom (which is a good one) was translated, rather than transliterated. laoned idioms are inherently exotic, and this one is worth demystifying

Well, it was neither translated, nor transliterated. It was adopted as an english word, with its own dictionary definition and everything.

The definition happens to coincide with the Hebrew, but it could just as well not (there are loaners that have changed definition).

As far as an English speaking person hears the term, whether they know the meaning or not, it's just any other English word -- they can ask people for its meaning, look it up in the dictionary, etc.

The Hebrew origins don't come into play at all, except when one specifically looks for the history/etymology of the term. But it can totally be used as a black box word too.

That's (for better or worse) an almost defining characteristic of the English language. We take words from other languages and adopt them as English words. It doesn't matter if the word in English means the same thing as the original word, it doesn't matter what language it came from, it doesn't matter if we're combining two words from different languages to make a new word (television is the Greek word 'tele' combined with the Latin word 'visio').

English is an incredibly dynamic language with very loose rules. If a loanword sounds exotic, well that's half the fun.

Well, that's not a defining characteristic of English but of most (all?) living, dynamic languages. I have seen it with the languages I speak or have tried to learn (Spanish, German, Portuguese, Chinese...).

Most of those languages though change the original words to suit the language (e.g. with gendered nouns, certain suffixes, changing the spelling, etc).

English tends to just copy, at least from other latin-script languages...

Many languages adopt words, but English does so to an unusual degree. As a consequence, it is the language that has most words today, by far.

Is there a citation for that?

No, because it's not scientific. There's no agreed upon definition of what counts as a unique word. Do you count every inflected form, like "dog" and "dogs"? Derivations from other words? Homonyms? Compound words? How do you deal with archaic or obsolete words? And so on...

Yes, it is not trivial to define what a word is (I am well aware of that), but the fact that it is difficult does not make it impossible to make quantitative comparative statements about the number of words a language has. It is also difficult to exactly define and measure GDP, yet nobody raises that facile methodological objection when we say that Singapore has a higher GDP per capita than Swaziland.

Now, one can basically create an infinite number of words in some languages with compound words (eg German) and agglutination (eg Turkic or Uralic languages); it makes sense to exclude those (to avoid counting infinities).

Here's a source (from a collaboration between Dictionary.com and Oxford University Press) that basically concurs that English is the language with most words (excluding the results of agglutination):


EDIT to add language (family) examples and this:

Here is The Economist with the cop-out answer that it's difficult to count:


The "definition" of the word doesn't coincide with the Hebrew meaning at all. In Hebrew the word refers to grain (and in modern Hebrew Oat grain.)

The definition comes from a story in the Tanach where the word is used. I believe Christians have appropriated this book of the Tanach, too. And this appropriation is what's reflected in English


Yes. I am a native German speaker, and apart from grammar (people usually have a bit of trouble with cases, articles and particles) there are a few nice words to trip people up:

- Streichholzschächtelchen (match box – diminutive): https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:De-Streichholzsch%C3...

- Austrians use a lot of different words, my favorite being Jänner and not Januar for the month January

- Swiss German: Chuchichäschtli (small kitchen cup board) which is hard to pronounce, apparently Arab, Dutch and Hebrew speakers are at an advantage here.: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chuchichaeschtli.ogg

- Another fun thing, different words for bread rolls depending where you are from: http://www.atlas-alltagssprache.de/wp-content/uploads/2012/1...

Funny on the the swiss example. I was just thinking: that's not hard to say!

Hebrew is well adapted to dealing with words made mostly made from subtle variations of s, sh & t sounds... Which brings us full circle to shibboleth/שיבולת

It's שבלת when referring to the biblical use. You got the modern spelling of the word for "oatmeal" from google translate.

See https://www.sefaria.org/Judges.12.6?lang=bi for the source.

Both spellings are correct ( שיבולת and שבלת ).

Netcan is using the standardized Rules for Spelling without vowel pointers (Niqqud) enacted by the Academy of the Hebrew Language, which is rejected by some Hebrew language purists.

The rules: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ktiv_hasar_niqqud

> different words for bread rolls depending where you are from

This is also a British thing: https://yougov.co.uk/topics/food/articles-reports/2018/07/19...

Allegedly, during the invasion of the Netherlands by Nazi forces commencing on May 10th, 1940, the Dutch used "Scheveningen" or "beschuit" as a shibboleth to distinguish German speakers from Dutch. I don't quite understand that, as most Germans don't speak Dutch, full stop, and it would be trivial to distinguish them thereby, while presumably if you have gone to the trouble of learning Dutch, you'd know how to pronounce "Scheveningen".

At any rate, that story is often cited, eg in this insightful article that has many more examples:

Mcnamara, T. "21st Century Shibboleth: Language Tests, Identity and Intergroup Conflict " Lang Policy (2005) 4: 351. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10993-005-2886-0

> while presumably if you have gone to the trouble of learning Dutch, you'd know how to pronounce "Scheveningen".

It’s actually hard to do. This is a good choice of shibboleth.

I’d propose “squirrel” as an english word to find german speakers.

Famously, pacific theater allied forces occasionally used “lollapalooza” as a shibboleth, also for fairly obvious reasons.

Ha. That is nice, because Eichhörnchen (squirrel) is also a hard one in German.

The same issue exists in French, as well! "Écureuil" (squirrel) is somewhat difficult for English speakers to pronounce, and "squirrel" (écureuil) is somewhat difficult for French speakers to pronounce.

Scheveningen is one of the districts of The Hague. It's also a variation of the Sicilian chess opening (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6) which is how I learned that story.

Anyways, someone who is Dutch (I'm not) would know how to pronounce it. Someone purporting to be Dutch highly likely would botch it miserably.

A modern example of this sort of shibboleth is:


I think it’s because in German, sch is one consonant (like sh in English), while in Dutch, sch is a consonant cluster of s-ch, ch as in Loch Ness.

Also, in many dialects of Dutch, including the standard, the long e in the first syllable of Scheveningen is pronounced closer to the English long a than the German long e, and the final -n is silent. So a typical Dutch pronunciation would be (something like) [sxeɪ̯vənɪŋə], vs. German [ʃe̝ːvənɪŋən].

Yes, but presumably you’d learn that when you learn Dutch. I maintain that it is easier for a German speaker to learn the pronunciation of “Scheveningen” than to learn the entire Dutch language, and that L1 German speakers that learned Dutch as a foreign language will pronounce “Scheveningen” correctly, or, at any rate, not make the trivial mistake of analysing “sch” as the trigraph "sch," pronounced [ʃ], rather than as the letter "s" and the digraph "ch", producing the consonant cluster [sx].

>Yes, but presumably you’d learn that when you learn Dutch.

Learning it theoretically (and adapting to it somewhat) and being able to fluidly pronounce it as a native are two different things...

>and that L1 German speakers that learned Dutch as a foreign language will pronounce “Scheveningen” correctly

Technically correctly. Not natively correctly. There would still be differences...

>while presumably if you have gone to the trouble of learning Dutch, you'd know how to pronounce "Scheveningen"

The idea behind that scheme was not about people "knowing" how to pronounce or not.

The idea was that native speakers would pronounce it differently than people who merely learned the language as foreigners -- which could then be identified even if it was subtle.

I'm not Irish, so Derry is just as exotic as shibboleth.

English is made of Greek and Latin and German and more; it's weird to say that one of those languages is exotic, but weirder still to level that complaint against the oldest known word whose meaning hinges on it being intentionally exotic.

Finally, Londonderry/Derry is a disagreement, not a shibboleth. Shibboleth is about having the ability to pass as a native, not the preference to do so. In modern IT terms, It's something you are, not something you know.

It's also a disagreement.

In practice and common language though, the choice of words gives you information about the speaker.

But it can be faked, in a way that a Shibboleth can’t

> As a Hebrew speaker, I wish the "shibboleth" idiom (which is a good one) was translated, rather than transliterated. laoned idioms are inherently exotic, and this one is worth demystifying

Until a few decades ago, it was assumed in educated Protestant society that everyone was familiar with the Bible. So a lot of biblical idioms are still present.


I now just realized that the biblical translators must have chosen to transliterate the word, not translate it.

It's probably because in context its about how the word is pronounced, not meaning. In any case, I guess the idiom would have never taken off with the word "corn."

You can compare the different translations, even through the centuries, here:

Vulgate, cc 4th century CE:


Luther, 1545:


King James Bible (1611):


Septuagint (the Greek translation, older than all above, around 3rd century BCE) didn't keep that word as is:


"the LXX scholars had difficulties translating the Hebrew word שבלת Shibboleth into Greek, for the simple reason, Greek lacks the phoneme [ʃ]"

A good one in the Southern U.S. is the pronunciation of the word "Appalachian". I'm from NC and whenever I hear someone say "Appa-lay-shin" I immediately know they aren't local and I start acting a little different accordingly. Not in a mean way, but I know I can't open up completely to those people because from experience I know they might judge me according to stereotypes about that region.

How would you pronounce it? Appa-lah-chi-an?

I'm originally from NC but the piedmont region (Charlotte), not the mountains, and would say "Appa-LA-chin". ("La" rhymes with the "a" in "matt") Making the long-a sound ("la"->"lay"), or both long-a and "ch"->"sh", is common from northerners who have (or still are) moving to the city from elsewhere.

Yep, and that's the same pronunciation used in Western NC too (ie, how locals say "Appalachian State" in Boone).


And for those wondering where it comes from (us Hebrew speakers know, unless we don't pay attention during Haftorah...) here's in the Tanach where the word שבלת is used:


In Modern Hebrew the term with the modern spelling "שיבולת שועל" is used to mean "Oatmeal"

> These tweets are about hacking shibboleths, which is advanced mode. Basic mode would be just noticing shibboleths, and also why and how they so clearly identify speakers.

Yeah. Also using the word "shibboleth" for "advance mode" make some sense, but seems like an uncommon usage. To me, has strong connotations of the "basic mode," i.e. a word use that indirectly gives away someones identity.

> Shiboleths can have serious weight

Yeah "shibboleth" carries a really serious (life/death) connotation for me as well. Was confused to see it here like this.

I think Inglorious Basterds captures this quite well, in the underground bar scene where the use of three fingers to gesture ‘three’, as opposed to a thumb and two fingers. That blew the Brits’ cover and resulted in their deaths.

I don't understand what you're saying about Derry. It's an example of a shibboleth, but it wouldn't be a translation of the word. It's also pretty obscure for most people outside of Ireland.

Some good ones for US/UK: fanny, fag or if you are polite: pants

Is using the word shibboleth a shibboleth? I never really understood it until now and have never and probably wouldn't use it.

The word itself was the original shibboleth; used to identify fleeing Ephraimites. It did not go well for those Ephraimites thus identifed.

Specifically, Judges 12:4-6:

4 Jephthah then called together the men of Gilead and fought against Ephraim. The Gileadites struck them down because the Ephraimites had said, “You Gileadites are renegades from Ephraim and Manasseh.” 5 The Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan leading to Ephraim, and whenever a survivor of Ephraim said, “Let me cross over,” the men of Gilead asked him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” If he replied, “No,” 6 they said, “All right, say ‘Shibboleth.’” If he said, “Sibboleth,” because he could not pronounce the word correctly, they seized him and killed him at the fords of the Jordan. Forty-two thousand Ephraimites were killed at that time.

The word "lollapalooza" was used similarly in night-fighting against the Japanese in WWII.

My father was a veteran of WWII, in the Finnish army fighting the Soviets.

In (I think) 1972, I was a 6-year-old kid, and we went to the town 60 km away (we did not go there very often).

Suddenly, my father exclaimed "Hei yks!" (Finnish for "hello one!") to a man on the street. Then they greeted and spoke quietly for quite a while. I didn't understand it at all.

Only much later I realized that the other man was a brother-in-arms of my father, and "Hei yks!" was the shibboleth of their unit; it had been devised for a night-time attack in very extreme conditions in February 1942, and the men in the brigade then used it throughout the war to identify each other whenever there was no mission-specific one defined. Russians cannot very well pronounce the y in "yks" the way Finns do. (This was of course no strong guarantee because the Soviet army had some native Finnish-speakers, but most were not.)

Using the word makes you sound like a smartass. As if other people don't know what a shibboleth is. Everyone knows it without needing a word for it.


Is it? I don't think anyone but the city council and BBC use the hyphen.

Or the civil service. I'm sure there's plenty of dickheads would still want derry put first even when using both, though

Maybe you can partly blame xkcd for the transliteration. https://xkcd.com/806/

"patio"? I assumed you meant Patois, but I'm not sure now.

patio as in @patio11, as in the author of that thread.

yup, thanks.

This is not always fair but saying “500mg of acetaminophen” is more likely to get you labeled a kook or someone with illness anxiety disorder, at best someone trying too hard, rather than a pro. Doctors in the US say Tylenol.. like most brand names it’s easier to say than the generic.

Exactly this. It's mostly just the ivory-tower kind of docs that say "acetaminophen" over "Tylenol." If you use the generic of something like Zosyn "Pipercillin/Tazobactam" you'll firmly go in the weird category. Same with most (but not all) antibiotics. The normal parlance changes from generic to trade with each drug and even region of the country.

The actual medical shibboleth is knowing your dose and dosing interval, total doses over time period X, dose adjustments, that gives doctors the information they need about your drug. Basically just know your history down cold. You'll be forgiven for mispronouncing med names, using the trade or generic name when the other one is more common, etc. Nobody cares. All (yes, all) doctors have a specific framework when it comes to history taking, and it's easy to get. And it's easy to tell when people don't get it. It goes something like, "I (or pt Y) have med problem x, y, z. Recently, I noticed u happening. I tried a, and then b but neither worked." Boom. You're now miles ahead of everyone else seeking care, you're not wasting time while the doc tries to organize and digest everything you're saying, it's that simple.

For health insurance claims in the US, apparently you want to say "I want to file a grievance", at least in Massachusetts (magically fixed $5000 bill where health insurance company was obviously lying). I'm told "I want to talk to the ombudsman" also works.

Doing this for regulated utility companies (e.g. electric, natural gas, etc.) generally also works.

NYC's electric utility, Con Ed, was giving me a massive run around [0] until I filed a complaint with the New York State utility regulator. After that, Con Ed fixed my problem within a week.

[0]: Long story short, Con Ed installed new electric meters that were supposed to automatically send readings to themselves but they never "provisioned" it (to this day, I don't know what "provisioning" means). But since they had installed those new meters, they stopped sending out meter readers to my apartment building despite the building manager repeatedly making appointments that the meter readers never showed up to. Consequently, my apartment building of ~400 units got estimated bills for three consecutive months.

>it isn’t a state secret that “500mg of acetaminophen” and “a Tylenol” are the same thing

I always make a habit of specifying the chemical name anyway since certain drugs have different names in different regions. For example, if you were to order Benadryl in the USA, you'd get diphenhydramine, but in the UK, you'd get cetirizine. Also sometimes if you specify the brand name, they'll give you the brand, rather than the generic.

Another pharmacy one is just saying "brand" vs. "generic", generally.

Had something similar at the Apple Store as well the other day. I had the wifi turned off on my laptop while waiting, and when the genius came over and turned it on, it wouldn't connect. After about a minute we came to the fact that I used (google|cloudfare)'s DNS (apparently Apple's wifi doesn't like that), which was enough of a signal that we likewise skipped a few steps.

The misuse of slang is probably the most common indicator that a person is not really a member of the group. Or not even slang, but just using the wrong word. For example of both, I know a businessman who retired recently and decided in retirement to present himself as a laid back ex-hippie (I live in Santa Cruz - a good choice of persona for this area) He grew his hair long and started wearing tie-die. Except, he referred to himself as a "hipster" back in the 60's who did a lot of "psychotropics" instead of psychedelics. It was obvious to me at least that he was never a hippie in the 60's and this was borne out later

Note that the word "hippie" actually comes from an older usage of the word "hipster" (https://www.etymonline.com/word/hippie#etymonline_v_12029).

Right, but hipster usually meant cool cat beatniks, not flower child hippies

>A bank: a) Do it only on paper. b) Address to any of Office of the President, Chief Compliance Pfficer, General Counsel, or Investor Relations.

My dad speaks English as a second language and asks my family to proofread things. I have no idea where he got this from, but there was a period of time when he'd write letters addressed to the President of JP Morgan, or, The Comptroller of Maryland, etc. At first we all thought he was just being kooky, but lo and behold these letters were effective for all sorts of issues.

This is my dad too. I thought he was nuts, but it was very effective.

Looking at your name I am going to assume that like me you are from the former USSR.

The explanation my dad said is the following: a lifetime of dealing with soviet bureaucracy informed him that orders always flow down, and each worker tries to prevent complaints from flowing up. Therefore, to get a problem resolved, your request has to come from up high in the bureaucratic hierarchy.

The easiest way to do it? Write to the very top and hope they forward it down with a note saying “fix it”. Then it will get fixed.

Soviet Life Lessons needs to be its own site or at least video series. I'm being serious as someone who lately has been reading up on the Soviet and realizing that its people developed amazing survival skills to deal with the trauma of daily life.

This isn't quite what you're describing, but https://www.youtube.com/channel/UClXTAMdHwvWdmFyOlQmEtpQ

Yep, a child of the late USSR here, but my parents lived through its peak. Your dad's explanation makes a lot of sense.

Somewhat related, but when working with new clients for freelance work, I usually ask them if they can write complex Excel functions, make their own website with HTML and if they know any programming languages. After that, I adjust my level of jargon and what analogies I use to explain stuff to match what they know.

Technical support would go more smoothly if they asked about the submitter's technical level.

Dreamhost's support form used to have a field on how technical are you. The options went something like "I know nothing" to ""not being funny, but I probably know than you".

I wonder why they dob't do this - it would be a win-win for every ne. I've done this for years, describe in the initial ticket your environment, and say that you're reinstalled several times. Stuck for weeks with Microsoft and Adobe on the part where they just keep parroting the script and asking to reinstall no matter how many times you say you're done it. It's infuriating!

I imagine a lot of people would oversell their capabilities. And to be fair, as annoying as it is to run through a script of basic things, sometimes it will work, even for experts.

Relatedly, when on an automated phone line “press 1 for accounts” etc I just mash the keypad and/or make random noise down the phone until it sends me through. Otherwise try staying quiet after being presented with options.

I have found when speaking to police officers, that they find it soothing if I spell names in the phonetic alphabet (alpha, bravo, charlie) and describe people and events in a structured way, as if I am intending to assist their note taking. (a Caucasian female, approximately five' nine, professional appearance, mid forties, dyed red hair cut shoulder length, in a grey coat driving a silver mercedes convertible ALPHA WHISKY NOVEMBER SEVEN SEVEN NINE')

The one example with regards to doctors has worked for me in the past. I am sure the doctor didn't get the impression that I was a doctor also (I'm not), but when in my initial meeting with a new doctor the fact that I knew the non-brand names of OTC medications and mentioned only asking for antibiotics after having a fever that wouldn't break for more than 48 hours she basically said "oh you know what you're talking about, if you ever need antibiotics just call me and I will call in a prescription for you." I'm not a medical professional, I'm just technical and value precision and knowledge, and doctors seem to appreciate that. It helps if they can relax and not worry about overwhelming the patient by suddenly dropping chemical names or the real names for disorders, diseases, etc. If you show that you're actually interested in that stuff and not an 'alternative medicine' type that they have to pick and choose their words with like tip-toeing through a minefield, they can relax and do their job.

I'm very skeptical that any doctors think you are a doctor because you know Acetaminophen and Tylenol are the same thing (the example from the tweets) in general.

I know doctors and they are typically very used to people 'knowing' random bits from their googling before they came in, and would rarely act like the patient has an actionable expertise even if they do.

In this example I suspect the doctor would've ended up giving you the option to just call in for antibiotics at some point, regardless of your knowledge of the names of OTC medications.

> I'm very skeptical that any doctors think you are a doctor because you know Acetaminophen and Tylenol are the same thing (the example from the tweets) in general.

That's what I thought too, but at the same time I don't doubt the rest of what otakucode described. Being well prepared and honestly interested gets you often a long way. More importantly the expert (the doctor in this case) does - in my experience - almost never care if you are a real doctor, your wife is a doctor, you abandoned med school, etc. All they care is that there is an individual that seems to speak their language and that they can at least try to skip the translation layer and explain the problem in their own language - which I think is relief to them.

Being well prepared and honestly interested instead of trying to leave the impression to be the expert is the key here I think. With that being said I wouldn't advise stressing not being an expert in the field either. This only puts up a barrier and puts the real expert under pressure to switch on the translation layer again.

A common hack in customer service is to make the customer feel like they're getting special treatment, are more knowledgeable than most other customers, and so on :)

> (This is partly about demeanor, above all not looking confused about the process, and partly judicious use of shibboleths. I’m occasionally surprised how few are required; it isn’t a state secret that “500mg of acetaminophen” and “a Tylenol” are the same thing.)

I can't think of a single situation in which it's a good idea to make it appear as if your medical knowledge is greater than it is. When the conversation shifts to whether your child is allergic to diphenhydramine, you'll wish you had taken a different approach.

Try honesty and interrogative-led questions instead.

It would be remarkable if one could be allergic to a general antihistamine such as diphenhydramine. If anything I would suspect an allergy to an adjunct or inactive component.

I had never seen the word "shibboleth" before reading the article about "The Real Class War" this week, and now I'm seeing it in the title of a submission days later.

It's not spiking in google trends[1], but I wonder if the usage of this word spiking in this community? Or did this twitter user read that article? Or is it just coincidence?

[1] https://trends.google.com/trends/explore?date=today%201-m&q=...

How about 'lollapalooza' this word was similarly used to distinguish friend and foe

Likewise for Scheveningen (Dutch/German)

There is an even nicer word for dutch/german. slechtstschrijvende/schlechtstschreibende. Yes, 9 consonants in a row and you have to pronounce all of them like you are a beatboxer.

Yet I'm downvoted as usual the whole point of these shibboleths is that they're hard to pronounce but the LondonDerry/Derry example set forth is not hard to pronounce but based on cultural context anyone can call San Francisco "Frisco"

Of course if you take this to it’s logical conclusion you end up with Masonic handshakes...

Today, Jews who attend synagogue know the bible, because it's read, chapter by chapter, out loud, every Shabbat, Monday, and Thursday, and continuously studied in yearly and multi-year cycles. Yesterday, Jews everywhere heard the story of Esau and Jacob, read in Hebrew.

I don't think any Christian denomination does this, so unless you attend a specfic religious school you'll never learn the Christian bible (which includes parts appropriated from the Jews)

You started a religious flamewar in this thread and then perpetuated it. That's the last thing we want here and we ban accounts that do it. I'm glad that you've mostly stopped doing the bannable things that we've asked you not to do over the years—but this one is still a problem. Can you please keep it off HN?

May I add that I say this with deep respect for Judaism.


We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21675729 and marked it off-topic.

Sorry, but this is a completely inaccurate generalization of both Jews and Christians, both of which are incredibly diverse populations with practices that vary incredibly widely by denomination, country/region and social group.

Bible study groups are a common Christian thing in many, many churches, for one. Also, it's fairly loaded to suggest that Christians "appropriated" the Old Testament. Perhaps you could choose less divisive language.

It is in poor taste to refer to the Hebrew Bible as the "old Testament."

It’s common usage within the Christian community to refer to it as such. Christianity’s roots are in Judaism - and that fact doesn’t constitute poor taste. So neither does using the Christian term for the Tanakh within a Christian context.

Now, knowingly calling it that to a Jew might possibly be interpreted as a form of disrespect, but in my experience most Jews don’t mind at all. It’s a shared scripture, so there’s common ground there regardless of the terms we use.

Saying that the bible of a certain religion is obsolete and has been superseded (which is what "old" means in this sense) can't be interpreted kindly to say the least. You have every right to feel that it is obsolete, of course, but you should at least realize that this is not going to be considered well by the people whose holy books you appropriated, modified, and replaced.

> which is what "old" means in this sense

You’re very mistaken. “Old” in the term “Old Testament” does not mean obsolete and superceded, at least not in the way you mean. To think so would be considered heresy from most mainstream Christian schools of thought.

“Old” and “new” are, with regard to the sections of the Christian bible, temporal designations delineating the law and the prophets that were written before Messiah and the writings that came afterward. But all of it is considered to be the holy word of God.

As any Jew knows, the coming of Messiah heralds major changes in religious life and practice. As Moshe said, “you shall listen to him”. If some believe that has happened, that’s no slight on the former scriptures. In fact, if such a Messiah were to declare them no longer the word of God, any Jew would know and be right to say that such a person is a false messiah.

So there are aspects of the Tanakh that the coming of Messiah causes to be obsolete — like certain temple practices, or the first covenant at Sinai. Jeremiah 31 speaks of a “new covenant” God will make with the house of Israel and Judah. That doesn’t mean the first covenant is no longer God’s word.

It’s like when David gave directions for the construction of the temple and Solomon built it, that didn’t mean Moshe’s directions regarding the tabernacle were no longer God’s holy word — even though there never again was a tabernacle.

> whose holy books you appropriated, modified, and replaced

I don't know what you're referring to - these claims have no basis in reality.

> appropriated

Christianity did not appropriate the Tanakh. The first Christians were actually Jews (and converts to Judaism), and no gentiles even joined them until about 2 years after Christianity began to spread outward from Jerusalem. The most prominent leaders and evangelists in the early church continued to be Jews for many years after Jesus (who was himself a Jew) -- all 12 of the primary apostles, Paul the apostle, James the leader of the church in Jerusalem (who was actually a half-brother of Jesus), etc. All of these Jewish Christian leaders (including Jesus himself) recognized the Tanakh as scripture, so any subsequent gentile converts were assenting to that designation, not appropriating it for themselves. So in terms of descent, Christianity and modern Judaism have a common ancestor, the pre-Talmud Judaism of first-century Israel. You could just as well say that modern Judaism appropriated the Tanakh--and that statement would be just as absurd.

> modified

Christianity has not modified the Tanakh. Our modern translations use the Masoretic Text as their primary source, with insights from the Septuagint, various targums, the dead sea scrolls, and other early sources -- all of which came from pre-Christian Judaism. The MT itself is attested by hundreds of early copies, so our textual criticism allows for very high accuracy, especially when helped by ancient witnesses like the dead sea scrolls. There is absolutely no basis to your claim.

> replaced

Christianity has not replaced the Tanakh. See my other reply to your comment. It is and always will be God's holy word, to all eternity.

So when this guy is dealing with a doctor. He pretends to be a doctor himself? I assume the doctor would notice the guy is acting like a weird asshole for some reason but not mention it.

I guess the tweeter thinks hes being cool and 'hacking' his interactions with people, but I reckon he's just acting like a weird asshole and people are having to deal with it.

This is just quite funny imo.

Completely agree. The guy should look at his own profession first and realise how easily he could spot people who learnt a few phrases or facts then look again at himself.

Yes, exactly.

Well, I think there is a difference between acting like a doctor and just showing that you did a bit of background research yourself.

IME doctors hate it when patients act like their medical knowledge is on par with theirs because 99% of the time it isn't.

Can confirm. It's going to be a generalization, but doctors have a sense of authority (in some countries more than others) and hate to be challenged by just anyone.

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