Mike Wood is a scientist who studies salmon. He has a little remote-control submarine for observing salmon underwater, a self-propelled fish cam about the size of a slightly flattened washing machine. It was poking around the sea floor west of Vancouver Island in 2005 when it was suddenly attacked by a giant octopus.
In the video from the fish cam as it scans for salmon, the view swings slowly, swings past a Pacific giant octopus, and then swings quickly back to look at the octopus. Yikes! The octopus makes for the little sub at high speed, and reaches out to grab it by an antenna.
Wood says he was panicked by the idea of losing the uninsured little sub. What if the octopus bit it? Desperately, he throws the engine into reverse, kicking up a ferocious cloud of sea-floor debris. The screen fills with billowing clouds and flailing tentacles. Octopus and sub struggle until the octopus goes off, presumably wiping sand out of his face and planning to try again after taking a muscle-building course.
My favorite thing about this was a vocabulary sighting in a CBC News story. Jim Cosgrove, of the Royal British Columbia Museum, was asked what on earth the octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini) thought it was doing. Was it angry, curious, hungry, looking for love in one of the wrong places? “It’s certainly a mature male from what I can see in the video,” Cosgrove said. “Old octopuses become what we call senescent, or senile, reaching the end of their life.
"And sometimes their actions are very inappropriate.”
Inappropriate. Never mind the image of octopus as senile old man cruising the ocean looking for targets to whack with his cane or ram with his wheelchair. He acted inappropriately. That is serious condemnation.
“Inappropriate” is one of those weak words which people use to camouflage their ferocity. They're used by those who have power but don’t want to seem powerful, like bureaucrats; and by those who have savagery, but don't want to seem savage, like parents.
Once upon a time “inappropriate behavior” was going out without gloves. Now it is often a psychiatric symptom. Children are expelled for inappropriate behavior. Restraining orders are granted against people who display inappropriate behavior. People are locked up and fed industrial-strength medication for inappropriate behavior. (If you think this is exaggeration, you’ve never found yourself being observed by medical personnel who don’t understand your nervous jokes and write “laughs inappropriately” on their assessment form, followed by the dread “inappropriate affect.” Me neither.)
Another camouflaged attack word is “uncomfortable.”
When a bureaucrat says he’s uncomfortable with your idea, he doesn’t mean that he is restless, twitchy, unable to keep from shifting from buttock to insincere buttock in his chair, he means that he will oppose it tooth and nail. If necessary he will have government attorneys seize your car, condemn your house, and arrest your brother on outstanding traffic warrants. (Or he may have you beaten, stabbed, and cast on the garbage heap to be eaten by jackals. Depending on the jurisdiction.) Unless you stop making him uncomfortable.
When a parent says she’s not comfortable with your lesson plan, she does not mean that she is unfamiliar with the ideas you present, doesn’t know how to fit them into her vision of a seventh-grade curriculum, and can’t stop fiddling with her hair. She means that like a tiger defending cubs, she will see you dead before you implement your plan, if she has to pour the lighter fluid on you herself.
If you do not seem to grasp what these people are saying, they may escalate. Keying your coordinates into their shoulder-mounted rocket launcher, they declare, “I’m afraid that’s simply unacceptable.”
They have issues with that. They have some concerns. They are troubled by your remarks. They never say they’ve already made up their minds. They do not say that they equate compromise with ignominious death. They never actually say no.
(I shouldn't complain about these euphemisms. That's so negative. A more positive approach would be to get new ones. Long latinate words seem to be the popular choice for disguising rage, so we’ll need a bunch of those. Inadmissible. Disproportionate. Inapplicable. Exiguous. Rudimentary.
When they give you the death stare and say your views are unacceptable, stare back. Say, “Your response is disproportionate. I think you’re inapplicable. I'm sorry for you, exiguous fool.”)
So that giant octopus was lucky that he only got a face full of seafloor sludge for acting inappropriately. Had there been any way of apprehending him he would have been taken into custody, assessed, and sent to rehab. After all, is it acceptable to have a giant octopus freely seizing research equipment? Are you comfortable with that? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate if he were, say... deep-fried?