Hammer Words

He had this look in his eye.
He knew the answer.
He was certain.

He drew up, paused, and slowly readied himself for the assault — chalk in hand, poised to hit the board.

He glared at the audience and said: “Bayes

He had just demolished in his own mind, the enemy.

That hack of a job, not theoretically grounded — that gibberish of ad-hoc computation used by MYCIN and PROSPECTOR. Crazy! Silly! Why did they use such sloppy kludges! He had the better solution. “Bayes” — Bayesian theory could answer it all.

Bayesian this, Bayesian that, he rammed his argument into his audience, flittering for one mathematical equation to another — from one argument to another, with a real vehemence. He prowled back and forth, for the entire talk. Bayes formula. Bayesian. Vanquishing all opponents, real or imagined, once and for all. In the end, the audience was silent, not a single objection or comment.

Those who travel in academic circles, or religious circles, or even political circles know the feeling. The hammer words change for each domain, but the same thing happens. People use their words to vanquish the demons and heathens among them, make sure the faithful know that the speaker is one of them. In fact we all know the feeling — we have done it ourselves, many a time.

Hammer words.


BAYESIAN, JESUS, JUSTICE, and DEMOCRACY. Touchstone words. Magic to those who utter them. Arguments to and fro, winding down many roads — the word keeps coming up..

Argument over argument — each person eventually trots out his own HAMMER words. Those magical words that solve the problem. If only our opponents would get it.

So what are your hammer words? WE ALL HAVE THEM.

Here are just a few that I have encountered: QCD, Kalman filters, unitary, homomorphism, Category theory, peace, fair, greed, evolution, entropy, self-organization, just, wholeness, humanity, natural, global warming, elite, allah akbar.

5 thoughts on “Hammer Words

  1. jason taylor August 25, 2014 / 9:09 am

    I know what you mean. Though I don’t want to mention my hammer words.
    But it doesn’t just apply in debate. Or in quarreling. It is an extension of how different writers and speakers have a fingerprint.Compare for instance, Churchill, Tolkien, Scot, Kipling and other writers whose style is recognizable.


  2. John Roesch September 5, 2014 / 11:25 am

    Hammer words are basically words that have emotional resonance with people based on their personality, identity, ideology, and beliefs.

    An example of this are the words like liberty and equality. Years ago when I was discussing politics with my girlfriend at the time, she like a lot of women responds strongly to the word equality with out much thought. This was a strong part of her beliefs.

    I asked her do you belief in liberty and freedom, she stopped and thought about it, and said yes, depending on what is meant by liberty and freedom. I said very good, there are six defintions of liberty and freedom depending on different ideologies, the same is true of equality, which you should actually think about.

    There is equality under God, equality before God, equaity under the law, equality before the law, equality of opportunity, and equality of condition.

    Under the devine monarchs there was equality under and before God but not under the law, with the Magna Carta came equality under the law but not before the law, after the Glorious Revolution and the supremacy of Paliament and the eventual abolishment of slavery came equality under the law and before the law, with union movements and social justice doctrines came equality of opportunity, with Das Capital and Marxism came equality of condition. Equality of condition is totalitarian in nature and is incapatible with liberty and freedom, even the ill defined equality of opportunity is at odds with liberty and freedom on several occations depending on the ideology employed.

    So I said to her, you better think about what you really believe about equality just as you should think about liberty and freedom and make it clear in your head what you really understand and believe in before being emotionally moved by it!


  3. jason taylor October 6, 2014 / 5:27 pm

    That reminds me of David Hackett Fischer’s book, Liberty and Freedom which explores the roots of the words and the different applications in different subcultures as well as their connection to favorite American icons.


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