Dirning: Everybody’s doing it

June 21, 2013 in Provocative, Rants by

Allow me to unveil a new word for you, I’m pretty sure you’re going to enjoy it.

Two years ago, I was attempting to manage a fairly dodgy bar in London. There worked a lovely gal who I’ll call Krysta. She wasn’t dumb, she was

actually quite intelligent, she was just ditzy. She’d do ditzy things like leave bottles of alcohol on top of the bar (within reach of the decidedly dodgy patrons); or when the bar was besieged on all sides by a horde of thirsty punters, she’d go sweep the floor.

Among Krysta’s delightfully hilarious traits was that she was totally incapable of multitasking. The moment she started talking, or even listening to someone, she’d stop moving. She would stand there, statuesque, yammering away, with a shot of vodka half-poured into a shot glass; while the other bartenders jostled impatiently behind her. She needed some feedback about it, and it was my job to give it. As she approached the till, I told her “Krysta, when you talk, you tend to totally stop working. You need to work while you talk”

She looked at me and said “Yeah, I know! I sometimes just stop to work when I am talking”, while hovering motionless over the open cash drawer.

“I know you do. That’s why I said it. You’re still doing it.”

“Oh, I am, aren’t I!” she exclaimed. But she still wasn’t moving. She just kept talking “I feel like when I talk I don’t do anything at all”

That, my friends, is dirning, though back then I didn’t have the term for it. For the last two years, I’ve been looking for it. I’ve asked people on twitter and had debates on facebook, and tried to search google, but without a word, it’s bloody hard to describe “Doing the thing while doing the thing”. I was toying with words like ‘meta example’ and ugliness like that.

I first remember noticing the phenomenon when a man approached me on a street in India. He said “Hello sir, what country?”, to which I replied:

“Australia”, and he said:

“Oh, all Australians are racist!”

That’s a dirn.

‘Dirn’ stands for ‘Doing it right now’. It’s pronounced ‘dern’ to rhyme with turn and fern. It’s the phenomenon of doing a thing while doing that thing; like complaining about your weight between mouthfuls of lard, or talking about how you shouldn’t talk so negatively about yourself. When someone says “I’m not arguing!”, they’re dirning. When someone interrupts you to say “Please don’t interrupt me”, they’re dirning. Do a twitter search for ‘spelling’ and you’ll almost immediately find a bunch of dirnish spelling mistakes. Not too long ago I was subjected to a torrent of twitter abuse from a feminist who challenged my right to offer an opinion on gender equality because I was “a privileged white male”. Dirn.

Have you ever been in a live music event, theatre or cinema when people start ‘Shh’-ing people and they start ‘Shh’-ing the ‘Shh’-ers, so that all the noise you can hear is ‘Shh’-ing? That’s a group dirn.

What’s that? You want to have a go at it? Sure. Try this: There is a phenomenon called ‘illusory superiority‘ which is a cognitive bias that all of us suffer from. It causes us to see ourselves as of above average in terms of intelligence, perceptiveness, attractiveness and most other abilities. We suffer from it because seeing yourself as intelligent or whatever is a pleasing thought. You’ll remember times you were perceptive, challenges you faced, tests you aced, and compliments that people paid you much more easily than you’ll remember your faults. When you do, you’ll excuse them as ‘oh I was having a bad day’ or ‘I didn’t know X at the time’, remembering them as mistakes rather than examples of your own stupidity (this is called the confirmation bias, something I’m sure you’ve heard of before). We will see others make genuine mistakes and think “What an idiot”, so when we wonder whether where we fit compared to the average, we’re pretty sure we’re above it, despite the statistical impossibility of that being so (at least for all of us). Thanks to this phenomenon, and the resilience of our own self delusion, everyone reading this is thinking “Wow, other people really are deluded.” you probably even thought of a few examples of people in your life who exhibit the behaviour, “But not me. I really am above average. I am special/funny/perceptive/intelligent”. You’re dirning.

The glory is that learning about that illusory superiority actually makes you dirn harder. Rather than using the knowledge of it to temper our confidence, it’ll bolster it: “I know about it now, so I don’t suffer from it”. You’re still dirning (it’s okay, so am I).

Being an enthusiastic atheist, I follow a lot of religious debates, which is fun, because they’re full of dirners. The religious folk say “You’re so arrogant, you think you know everything. We’re much more humble than you”, which is a dirn. The rabid atheists like Dawkins will riposte with comments like “You’re deluded. You believe because it makes you feel good. We follow the scientific method. We adjust our methods and beliefs based upon evidence and reason”, which might not seem like a dirn, but check this: The hypothesis is that people believe because it makes them feel good. To test that, one would probably want to address the emotional aspect of belief – to offer a sense of community, of purpose, of belonging. They’d certainly want to experiment and employ some tested persuasion techniques. Shouting ‘You’re deluded’ at them will not make them change their belief. They are boasting about how rational they are and how they love the scientific technique, but they’re not using it. Dirn.

So I had to let them know. I went  on the Richard Dawkins Facebook page and said to his followers “People of faith believe their faith makes them good, and you taunting them only strengthens that belief because they see you as cold and calculating and rude. If you were nice and welcoming, you’d be more effective. Testing things and trying new things is the heart of the scientific method, and you don’t even follow it. You’re a bunch of idiots.” because I figured: One good dirn deserves another.

[Note: there is a word that exists which is quite similar to dirn, which is 'apophasis' to which I'm thankful to a friend for pointing out to me. I don't use it because it's ugly, I didn't make it up, and it's ever so slightly different. Actually I'm not thankful, screw you Stewie Wallace. 'Apophasis' means 'to say without saying' and covers dirnish things but also the habit of describing something by describing what it is not. So this word is better. And funnier. Thanks to El for causing me to shout 'YOU'RE DOING IT RIGHT NOW' at her to see the word (I had been going totally shitters trying to find or invent this word for over two years); and thanks to Brandon for his dirn joke. #dirn]