Monday, August 16, 2010

On the bagel lady

Briefly, I think the Starbucks bagel lady's argument is probably semantically sound, but not pragmatically. Thus, she was not engaging in good social behavior.

She ordered a whole wheat bagel, and refused to specify that she didn't want anything on it. Then, she got belligerent and was escorted out by the cops. Her argument is that
When you go to Burger King, you don't have to list the six things you don't want.
So, that actually makes good sense to me. The list of things that she doesn't want is potentially infinite, so if I had to design an efficient computational system for taking orders, it would return only exactly what was requested.

However, let's get realistic / pragmatic. Who ever wants just a bagel? I'm actually someone who frequently orders everything bagels as-is, and even if I say "I'll have an everything bagel as-is," the baristas will usually clarify "So, no cream cheese or anything? Not even sliced?" Having bagels with nothing on them is unusual, and I accept that. There is a certain convention that an order for a bagel is an order for a bagel plus some spread. That's just a fact of our social world.

This lady was upset that she was asked to specify "with nothing," but I bet she'd also be pissed if she asked someone if they knew what time it was and they replied, "Yes."


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  2. I'm sort of prone to just say that this woman is an asshole and leave it at that. Or we can maybe say that she violates the Maxim of Home Training.

    Also, can we really trust any New Yorker who buys her bagel in a Starbucks?


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