Sunday, February 6, 2011

Conjunction Junction

So the other night while I was recovering from class, I wound up on YouTube watching the "Conjunction Junction" video, from the Schoolhouse Rock series that was broadcast after Saturday-morning shows on ABC all through the 1970's and 1980's. I was kind of surprised by how irritated it made me in one small detail.

I've grown accustomed to teaching the standard logical operators in all of my classes -- whether they be fundamentals of math, introduction to computers, statistics and probability, etc. So when the song starts and says, "I got three favorite cars/ That get most of my job done", well, of course I expected to see "And/ Or/ Not" -- but then what actually appears (as you can see in the top picture) is "And/ But/ Or". So, I was surprised at how jarred I was by that.

As the song explains each connecting word, it first says, "And: That's an additive, like 'this and that'". Okay, makes sense. Then the next bit is: "But: That's sort of the opposite, 'Not this but that'". (See picture below.)

Wait a minute, that's not right! The truth is, the word "But" has the exact same logical meaning as "And" (both clauses are true); all it does is put an interpretive spin on the latter clause, as if to say "this second part may be somewhat surprising to you". And in fact, in order to make the argument that "that's sort of the opposite", they had to go and use the missing logical operator than actually does make things "opposite", namely "Not".

So stick that in your smokestack, Schoolhouse Rock! (But -- I still have the danged thing stuck in my head...)
Watch video here. Or: Read lyrics here.

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