Monday, December 17, 2012

"Random" Thoughts

I hear the word "random" used all the time, and so often incorrectly. It seems like it is some of my high school students favorite words, and expressions. I bet I hear at least once a day, "That's so random!!"
 Here's a few thoughts on the word, and some alternatives that perhaps you ought to consider instead.

Random: If something happens randomly, it means that one option out of many different equally possible options occurred. This was not something someone chose. This event could have occurred a different way if things had happened just a little differently. Imagine a dice rolling and coming up a four. It could just as easily come up a 5. This is what random means. Side note: Random things will sometimes repeat. A dice will sometimes come up with the same side showing twice in a row. In fact we can predict how often that will occur (about 17%).  Your iPod does not play songs randomly -- because if it did you would complain that it wasn't "random enough".  If it really did pick a song at random, you would hear repeats occasionally, and the first music players actually did this. Your iPod probably is using a shuffled play list - which did use random choice to create the list by choosing one of the songs to play first, one of the remaining songs to go second, one of the remaining songs to go next and so on. 

Haphazard:  Lack of a plan, order or direction. A person who doesn't know where they are going is not driving "randomly". They are not flipping a coin to decide when to turn left or right.

Arbitrary: Determined by chance, whim, or impulse, and not by necessity, reason, or principle. An arbitrary decision is one that could have been lots of things, and the decider just picked one of them because a decision had to be made. Perhaps they could have made the decision randomly, by drawing draws or rolling a dice, but instead just made up their mind.

Spur-of-the-moment: occurring or done without advance preparation or deliberation; extemporaneous; unplanned. I pick a lot of numbers on the spur of the moment over the course of a day, as I make up quick examples for class. I don't pick them randomly, and I know that I favor certain numbers like 2's and 3's. There is usually little meaning behind the choice of numbers, but they were not chosen randomly.

Spontaneous: resulting from internal or natural processes, with no apparent external influence. I often hear of people described as random -- especially those that are really funny and come up with the weirdest things "from out of nowhere". These people aren't dice-rollers. They don't have thousands of thoughts rolling around in their head waiting to fall out their mouths like some sort of lottery. They are spontaneous, and the world is a better, funnier place because of them. Learn the word. Use it.

Assorted: Literally (and don't get me started about "literally" misusages) "not"-sorted. This rant was purposefully misnamed Random thoughts, thought a more appropriate word to use is assorted. I suppose I could have put these words into a shuffling algorithm and randomized them -- or sorted them alphabetically, but I just put them down as they came to me.

Unexpected: If you didn't expect something was going to happen, then describe that outcome as unexpected, not random. The fact that we had a fire alarm during third hour was not random -- in fact, it was probably planned. You just didn't expect it. Surprise! 

Aimless: Sometimes people do things that are pointless, and serve no purpose. Putting a picture of a cute penguin on a blog post about randomness might not serve any purpose, but that doesn't make it random.  

1 comment:

  1. I know I'm one of those people guilty of saying "that's so random..." Thanks for clarifying! I'll try to use one of the other words next time. :) P.S. Great movie clip. P.P.S. Cute penguin.


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