December 3, 2017

I've completed the year without weekend weekends.

Facebook reminds me that I posted this exactly a year ago:
This is my last real weekend — weekend weekend. It's not that I'm not going to work ever again, but I'm never going to have work scheduled on a weekday/weekend schedule once classes end this coming Thursday. That means this is my last chance to feel the feeling that is The Weekend. Not that I'm not working this weekend. I am. But in my own way, on my own schedule.
Having retired from my lawprof job, I experience weekends as the time when the people with structured jobs flow into activities that the nonstructured among us can do all the time. That affects me slightly. My job was already relatively unstructured, except for class times and the occasional meeting, so I was already experiencing the joy of the unstructured life (especially in the summertime). And when you let go of your structured employment, you will employ yourself doing something. In my case, I was and continue to be strongly structured to write this blog every morning, but the nonstructured thing about it is ending the process — breaking the trance. I don't have to break the trance because a structured task is approaching. I love that! I was pretty sure I would love that, and I chose to retire from my lawprof job so I could jump fully into the nonstructured life. Looking back on the year, I'm thoroughly happy about where I have landed.

Before publishing this post, I spent a long time thinking about whether there was enough reason to use the unfamiliar word "nonstructured" rather than "unstructured," which I could see I'd also used. I must have believed there was a distinction between the 2 words, and I even got into a long discussion with Meade about what that distinction might be. His idea about the difference was just about the opposite of mine. Does the prefix "un-" suggest the original state of things or the way they are after a previous condition? I test my theory with the word "undressed." You wouldn't say people who had never worn clothes were "undressed." And, yes, I realize that you also wouldn't say they were "nondressed." Or maybe you would, if it fit your style and it carried a nuance you liked. I can see how "nondressed" might convey humor or contemplative seriousness.

So I searched the internet for "nonstructured," and the first thing I found is that it's a term in computer programming. I've paid almost no attention to computer programming other than that I can see that many readers of this blog are immersed in computer programming, and for you, my use of "nonstructured" might feel like a metaphor, and I'm blind to your associations. My using "nonstructured," then, may be like writing about hot dogs and using the word "wiener" with no awareness of its double meaning as "penis."

The second thing I found is a blog post "Unstructured vs Non-structured: Seeing With the Third Eye," which I assumed would delve into the kind of spiritual/psychological material that feels natural to me:
My wife Kathy is a first grade teacher. Working from my office at home, she often catches up on email about situations at her school. While doing her email recently, she asked me about the difference between “unstructured” and “nonstructured,” which her email text editor had indicated was misspelled....
Ha ha. That's so close to what just happened with me and Meade.
As I explained it to Kathy, the appropriate usage seems to depend on whether structuring ability was available and could be turned off (as in “unstructured FrameMaker”), or whether structure was ever there to begin with....
Oh! He's talking about writing computer programs.
I’ve been in the structured writing world for so long, I can no longer see the world as I did before my original “aha” moment with structured writing. Perhaps it is like the denizens of 2-D Flatland being unable to perceive anything with height in their plano universe. I learned programming using BASIC back when the distinctions were first being made about unstructured (spaghetti) vs structured (procedural) program writing approaches....
I think the computer metaphor undermines the unstructured/nonstructured distinction I had perceived. The computer metaphor seems to support saying that people who have never worn clothes are "undressed." Now, I'm in the (metaphorical) rathole where I have to look up the "un-" and "non-" prefixes in the OED.

"Non-" is "absence or lack of’, often corresponding semantically to ‘not doing, failure to do’ (where a verb is implied by the noun, as in non-accomplishment, lack of accomplishment, failure to accomplish) or to ‘not being, failure to be’ (where an adjective is implied by the noun, as in non-activity, lack of activity, failure to be active)."

"Un-" is "Expressing negation." We're told it's "very extensively employed in English" and "can be used with the greatest freedom in new formations."

So "non-" has some specificity that's lacking in "un-." When "un-" seems insufficiently expressive and you feel drawn to "non-" — which is what just happened to me — it must be that you want to lean into the negation, to emphasize the failure or the absence.

By the way, that blogger husband also explained to Kathy that you're supposed to put a hyphen in "non-structured," and I observe that adding a hyphen will get the spell-checker off your back, but I don't think the hyphen is needed. I could lengthen this post — perhaps beyond your tolerance — with a discussion of the way hyphenated words tend to close up over time, but for now, I'll just say goodbye.

68 comments:

tcrosse said...

Is one uninterested or non-interested ? Asking for a friend.

james james said...

The only structure we all possess is the individual structure of our limitations.

Everything else is rearranging the Titanic's deck chairs on the beach.

Oh yeah: and death. You would think that the knowledge that we will die provides us structure, but we pretty much ignore it. Whether we ignore it in an unstructured manner or a non-structured manner, well: that won't matter when we are rearranging the Titanic's deck chairs in the abyss.

- james james

Ann Althouse said...

"Is one uninterested or non-interested?"

I don't know but you're certainly "disinterested," so that's not worth saying.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

The non-structure versus un-structured seems to me to be a matter of choice. With the nonstructured life being a choice that you can make to not have a structure (or strict schedule) whereas unstructured is just the state of being without structure through no choice or decision.

tcrosse said...

Touché.

MikeR said...

tl;nr
or is it
tl;ur?

james james said...

I noticed that in my comment I mention Titanic and The Abyss, two titles of James Cameron movies.

I am reminded of death when I vow that I never never ever ever will see 'Avatar' in my lifetime.

Because life is too short. Unstructured or non-structured.

- james james

Ann Althouse said...

"Oh yeah: and death. You would think that the knowledge that we will die provides us structure, but we pretty much ignore it. Whether we ignore it in an unstructured manner or a non-structured manner, well: that won't matter when we are rearranging the Titanic's deck chairs in the abyss..."

Actually the death analogy fits my daily experience blogging now that I'm retired. I'm structured to get it going every day, and I know it's going to end, but I don't know how and when. The lack of specific knowledge about the ending, along with awareness that there will surely be an end, affects how the blogging feels.

The daily blogging is an analogy for an entire life, and the ending of a morning session of blogging corresponds to death.

I can and often do get back to blogging on the same day. That suggests an afterlife.

mockturtle said...

I'm afraid I am blind to your associations, Ann, but I truly appreciate your blog.

Ann Althouse said...

"The non-structure versus un-structured seems to me to be a matter of choice. With the nonstructured life being a choice that you can make to not have a structure (or strict schedule) whereas unstructured is just the state of being without structure through no choice or decision."

Yes. In the words of Pee-Wee Herman, "I meant to do that."

BarrySanders20 said...

Goodbye: nonhello or unhello? Has to be unhello.

james james said...

Did Loverboy sing "Everybody's Working For The Weekend" because the weekend is unstructured, or because it is non-structured?

Mike Reno was enigmatic that way.

- james james

MikeR said...

Since we are discussing negatives, I thought this was fun. (Warning - Jewish! I'm not sure all the cases are understandable to un-MOTs.)
https://drive.google.com/open?id=1Xg0tXkszRzjkkx-uu9E7cHfKpAvnwDNN2B7tngWkr_0
My kids liked this game, YMMV.

ndspinelli said...

This habit of yours, the tedious dissection of words, is classic ivory tower. When I read these posts[well, skim them], I see why you didn't make it as an attorney and became a teacher.

Danno said...

Congratulations on your first anniversary of retiring. Every day is Saturday and that's great.

mockturtle said...

My sister and her husband of 42 years celebrate their unniversary every year. This represents the day they met. They also have an anniversary but no non-niversary. Lewis Carroll's characters celebrated 'un-birthdays' but non-birthdays went unnoticed.

Danno said...

Blogger ndspinelli said...This habit of yours, the tedious dissection of words, is classic ivory tower. When I read these posts[well, skim them], I see why you didn't make it as an attorney and became a teacher.

I've known plenty of attorneys with her knowledge of English and gift of wordsmithing. Most were in the private sector. They just have to know perfect is the enemy of good.

james james said...

"The daily blogging is an analogy for an entire life, and the ending of a morning session of blogging corresponds to death."

Paul Bowles:

“Because we don't know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, an afternoon that is so deeply a part of your being that you can't even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four, five times more, perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps 20. And yet it all seems limitless.”

I think that quote is from Paul's blog.

- james james

Tommy Duncan said...

"I learned programming using BASIC back when the distinctions were first being made about unstructured (spaghetti) vs structured (procedural) program writing approaches...."

There is probably a lesson in the distinction between "spaghetti code" and "structured code". Most institutions aspire to having their programmers write structured code. Painting with a broad brush: The reality is that the structured code is often simply well organized groupings of spaghetti code. (The longer a program exists, the more likely it is to contain code no one understands.) For many of us, our existence is dedicated to bringing order to chaos. The Althouse posts often attempt to do just that.

Michael K said...

Maybe because I was always working in a profession that ignored weekends and involved a call schedule for holidays, I did not go through this phenomenon when I retired. Once I got over the surgery that prompted my retirement, I move back to New Hampshire for a year to go back to school and then went on working.

I am still working although part tome and not on weekends any more.

I remember friends talking about how the transition from college to work was a shock as semesters no longer defined the passage of time. I wonder if you noticed that ?

mockturtle said...

Mike R: A balding woman becomes dis-tressed.

james james said...

"I can and often do get back to blogging on the same day. That suggests an afterlife."

And you have been doing this every day since January 14, 2004.

Which suggests reincarnation.

One day the blog may return in the form of a squirrel.

- james james

Crimso said...

The bane of students learning about enzymes is the distinction between competitive inhibitors, uncompetitive inhibitors, and noncompetitive inhibitors. Obviously, the latter two are the real issue.

Then there's the issue of enzyme names. You might be able to figure out from its name what glycogen synthase does, but good luck with old yellow enzyme.

tim in vermont said...

For a while, object-oriented code had supplanted structured code, really then along came javascript, and all bets are off again.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

Non-structured has the artificial structure of the hypen, nonstructured does not, so it is the better choice.

Meade said...

tcrosse said...
Touché.

... without one bit of chalance.

Ann Althouse said...

Unchalance.

Narayanan Subramanian said...

How much better off would the country be if the Supreme Court and the Congress could concern themselves with structure and clarify

Narayanan Subramanian said...

Is Hillary un or non ?

Meade said...

This whole topic has me nonplussed. Or minussed.

Otto said...

@ndspimelli - harsh but you are correct. In my day being a teacher or professor was reserved for those on the lower rung of smart people.The old saying was " if you cannot do, teach".
These people don't create, build, design or fix anything. Those like Ann are professorial kvetchers or philosophical skeptics.
But to Ann's credit she's blogging everyday and that takes some skill and energy. Plus she had to watch Wisconsin lose yesterday, so we should give her a break. Ann, your team plays Bear Bryant football, 3 yards and a cloud of dust. Never have i seen a present day powerhouse college football team bereft of skill position players . Your quarterback is a joke (yoke). But your tight end does have great hands albeit he is slow.
Play golf.

rwnutjob said...

My retired college roommate says the only way he knows it's Sunday is the paper is fat.

BarrySanders20 said...

Non-chalence. Unchalance. Chalanceless.
Non-plussed. Unplussed. Plussless.

Ryan said...

How about "never-structured" in honor of Tobias Funke.

Big Mike said...

Back in the dawn of structured programming one of the important technical publications -- I'm going to say IEEE Computer but it might have been an ACM publication -- had a special issue on structured programming. In his preface the special issue's editor complained that he received a lot of submissions of the form "here is the original program and now here is the same program but written using structured programming." His problem was that both versions of the program stank, in his opinion.

Big Mike said...

You may be delighted now, Althouse, but 2 1/2 years after I retired I've found that retirement has eroded my skills in getting things done. I used to have to plan my days and budget my time to get through the week accomplishing all I needed to get done at work plus all I needed to get done around the house. Now if I don't get something done today, there's always tomorrow, and now 17 months have elapsed since wife and I downsized but the basement is still full of unopened boxes.

PJ said...

"to Ann's credit she's blogging everyday and that takes some skill and energy."

I agree with the sentiment, but the locution suggests yet another discussion about the way unhyphenated/nonhyphenated phrases tend to close up over time. That one in particular drives me crazy (and me a practicing attorney!).

campy said...

Is Hillary un or non ?

I'd go with mal.

Lloyd W. Robertson said...

Basically agreeing with Dust Bunny Queen: people who work full-time need to distinguish structured time from unstructured. Once you retire, assuming no need to earn money, all your time is potentially non-structured--it is not simply unstructured, the "other," restricted breaks from what is structured. Even if you do the same things you formerly did in your unstructured time--then you were probably struggling to fit in the "other" activities, now they are your own activities in non-structured time.

DavidD said...

Plenty of people write nonstructured code but I only know one person who preferred unstructured code....

kentuckyliz said...

Non-white. Remember when that used to be a thing?

rhhardin said...

Strongly typed computer languages are for weak minds.

Long live (void*).

bagoh20 said...

I just think the English language in this instance is ilstructured.

Maybe unscheduled would work better since we are really talking more about time being scheduled rather than life being structured It still has structure, but the schedule is free.

MikeR said...

@MockTurtle "dis-tressed". That counts!

EDH said...

The "un-" prefix would seem to be in defiance of convention and routine, whereas "non-" is the prevailing status quo.

7-Up was the "un-cola," for instance.

So I would say Althouse transitioned to an unstructured existence.

William said...

I just wrote a long post on how it's difficult to lead a nonstructured or unstructured life without succumbing to collapse. That's what happens in the absence of structure--collapse......Then, it got swallowed up in a conflicting edit. It's a losing fight to try to inflict structure on the world. The real fight is between chaos and entropy.

Narayanan Subramanian said...

Campy - Mal as inherent passive or self-induced active?

Dust Bunny Queen said...

LLoyd said: Basically agreeing with Dust Bunny Queen: people who work full-time need to distinguish structured time from unstructured. Once you retire, assuming no need to earn money, all your time is potentially non-structured--it is not simply unstructured,

Thank you. My time is not unstructured. Every day is a different structure/schedule though, based on several factors. The structure can, and will, change at a moment's notice too.

A) Have I decided to bake a pie today? When to do that? Yard work, maybe? Is this the week that I am volunteering at the Library? (structured) And so on.

B) The days structure/schedule depends also on what my husband has on his schedule for work/jobs that day. Each day is a different day for him as well. Is he pulling a pump from a 300 ft well? 6 hours. Do I need to follow him in the service truck and bring supplies? Drive to the warehouse for a special order pump or tank? (4 hours)

Maybe today is a 'free' day with no schedule (yay!), other than those things we feel like doing..... a nonstructured day.... Until someone calls and a job appears.

Yancey Ward said...

I knew I was truly into the unstructured, retired life the first time as an adult when I couldn't remember what day of the week it was- this happened about a year after I quit working.

Krumhorn said...

This habit of yours, the tedious dissection of words, is classic ivory tower. When I read these posts[well, skim them], I see why you didn't make it as an attorney and became a teacher.

Apart from the nonchivalrous nature of this comment, it is also just wrong. I often wish in our practice that there was someone around here whose brain worked with speed and clarity as Ann’s. She sees things I would never otherwise see and she cuts through to the core of an issue with nonerring precision. The tools of any attorney are limited to a small kit: knowledge, bloodless reasoning (perhaps related to cruel neutrality, but not the same), and words. Our hostess has all three in spades. People skills helps. I can’t assess that, but it’s nonnecessary in some cases.

In the right setting and subject matter, her legal services would be worth a very significant hourly rate. It may be nonhinged to reality to suggest that it would well exceed $1000/hr., but I think that there are clients that would pay it in the right circumstances.

- Krumhorn

mockturtle said...

Shakespeare was great because of his play with words.

Ann Althouse said...

I was thinking about "the un-cola" too.

Also, remember the "unperson"?

"In the George Orwell book Nineteen Eighty-Four, an Unperson is someone who has been vaporized. Vaporization is when a person is secretly murdered and erased from society, the present, the universe, and existence. Such a person would be taken out of books, photographs, and articles so that no trace of them is found in the present anywhere – no record of them would be found. This was so that a person who defied the Party would be gone from all citizens' memories, even friends and family. There is no Newspeak word for what happened to unpeople, therefore it is thoughtcrime to say an unperson's name or think of unpeople. This is similar to the Stalinist Soviet Party erasing people from photographs after death; this is an example of "real" unpeople. The Stalin-era Soviet Union also provided real-world examples of unpersons in its treatment of Leon Trotsky and other members of the Communist Party who became politically inconvenient. In his 1960 magazine article "Pravda means 'Truth'", reprinted in Expanded Universe, Robert A. Heinlein argued that John Paul Jones and a mysterious May 15, 1960 cosmonaut had also received this treatment."

Ann Althouse said...

I think Orwell used "un-" for the flatness of it.

Also "ungood" replaced "bad," making it hard to be critical of anything.

Ann Althouse said...

NYT articles from 1965 speak of Khrushchev having become an "unperson."

tcrosse said...

... without one bit of chalance.

I was de-chalanced at an early age.

traditionalguy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Howard said...

For a brief period in High School, it became a meme (before they called memes memes) to an 'nt to word like "Kathy is good looking'nt" or "Bob is smart'nt" or "that joke was funny'nt"

Lydia said...

First thought re "year without weekend weekends" was Maggie Smith's dowager countess's priceless "What is a weekend?" on Downton Abbey.

mockturtle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Etienne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jimbino said...

"Hyphenated" is non-hyphenated while "non-hyphenated" is hyphenated.

Man in PA said...

Drove cross-country (and back) not too long ago with absolutely no schedule. It was great. Could spend as much (or as little) time as I wanted in every town. Was never behind schedule because I had no schedule! Loved every minute of it. The United States has so much to offer and to see. Hope to do it again soon.

m stone said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mockturtle said...

Drove cross-country (and back) not too long ago with absolutely no schedule. It was great. Could spend as much (or as little) time as I wanted in every town. Was never behind schedule because I had no schedule! Loved every minute of it. The United States has so much to offer and to see. Hope to do it again soon.

I did this for almost three years and still do it half the year. In my RV. My favorite lifestyle but my elderly dog doesn't like it any more.

Rigelsen said...

"Those who can't do, teach."

Spoken like someone who either had never had a good teacher or was not aware enough (nonaware or unaware?) to notice. Teaching is a special skill all in itself, and it can be easy noticeable especially in its absense (non-presence).

You will find masters of the art who can't teach, and coaches/teachers who can train masters but can't get there themselves. And yet, there are masters of an art who still can't practice because of non-skill related factors. There's a lot of uninteresting drudgery in law for example, that can be hard to get over if you don't have wherewithal or don't care for the compensation structure.

"Those who can't do mediocrely, teach mediocrely."

That's likely more true. Still, most practictioners, and most teachers, are mediocre. Not you, though. You're special.

Ann has another special gift as a teacher that most teachers lack. I'm pretty confident in saying that most teachers these days, along with most practitioners don't value critical thinking and can't practice it, whether in law or in the wider world. That Ann does and can teach it, well, that's something special in itself.

Rigelsen said...

When I still wrote code, one of my specialties were to bring structure and predicability to million-line "unstructured" spaghetti monsters. There are techniques to tame such monstrosities and avoid them in the first place, like unit testing and continuous refactoring. However, without good leaders and coaches, mediocrity will win out and you find people making spaghetti monsters out of their unit tests or building spaghetti class structures, etc. This is also another way you learn that the so-called best and the brightest are sometimes neither.

Eugene Dillenburg said...

My take -- based, admittedly, on little more than gut instinct -- is that while both prefixes denote absence, "un-" connotes that the absence is brief, unexpected and/or sudden, whereas "non-" connotes an absence that is intentional and meant to last for some period of time, perhaps indefinitely. An unlocked door is a door which has a functioning lock, and perhaps usually is locked, but which did not have the lock engaged at the moment in question. On the other hand, a non-locking door (which I grant is a non-standard phrase) would be a door that has no locking mechanism in the first place.

swierczekml said...

I am nondead, but I am not undead.