Boiling a frog past the tipping point

[This has almost no linguistic content. It’s about my personal life. If this is the sort of thing that annoys you in what is otherwise a linguablog, please skip over it.]

It starts with an anecdote that’s been around for some time. In the Wikipedia retelling:

The premise is that if a frog is placed in boiling water, it will jump out, but if it is placed in cold water that is slowly heated, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. The story is often used as a metaphor for the inability of people to react to significant changes that occur gradually.

A depiction of a frog in trouble:

There seems to be no biological basis for the story, but it’s been widely used as a cautionary tale. People do indeed often fail to notice gradual changes, even when they’re trending in a bad direction.

So it was with me. For a very long time, I’d gradually been losing energy, gradually getting more and more tired, gradually becoming less and less balanced and more and more unsteady on my feet, and more. You see where this is going.

So much for the frog-boiling part of the story.

If we’re looking at some gradual change, there are several possibilities: things can just continue to drift down, but they can also tip into a very different, perhaps disastrous, state (hat tip to Malcolm Gladwell, though the idea of critical states is scarcely new with him).

The current hypothesis about what happened to me is that I reached a tipping point — a long period of minor intestinal bleeding, with worsening anemia, and then a dramatic crash. You don’t want to hear the details. But after most of the week in Stanford Hospital, I’m back at home, recuperating and trying to catch up on a huge backlog.

25 Responses to “Boiling a frog past the tipping point”

  1. Jens Fiederer Says:

    Good to hear you are recuperating.

    Seems you didn’t boil after all, which is just as well – frog legs are more likely to find use than yours in the cooked state.

  2. levimontgomery Says:

    I hope you leaped clear in time, and will be around to tell us about boiling frogs for a long time to come!

    Get well.

  3. Grant Barrett Says:

    Glad to hear of the resolution at the same time we hear of the problem! Take it easy.

  4. kamper Says:

    Hope your recovery is speedy and complete!

  5. Elizabeth Traugott Says:

    Take care. We’ll have to try leap-frog next time I see you!

  6. Barbara Partee Says:

    Take good care of yourself! Indeed, it’s hard to know when to go to the doctor when symptoms are vague; who wants to be a hypochondriac? I’m just glad your crash was recoverable from! Best wishes for getting well and staying out of that pot!

    [(amz) Very sweet notes from many people (here and in e-mail), this one distinguished by the wonderful prepositional passive be recoverable from.]

  7. lynneguist Says:

    Wait a minute, I’ve lived that story! Glad to hear that the hospital stay helped and I hope your recuperation continues smoothly. Ignore the backlog! You lost a week, so why not lose the week’s inbox? 🙂

  8. Karen Says:

    I come here, and to Language Log, because I like the way you tell stories. The technical information is probably available elsewhere. Your warm voice, the sense of humor, the things you find interesting and worth sharing create the sense that you are familiar, someone I care about. Please do keep telling us about your life, your granddaughter, things you find amusing, and things you are still working out. These are as important as the highly polished articles that you sometimes indicate are the ‘real’ content. The rest isn’t filler, it’s human, it’s conversation, it’s good. And it’s even better that you are recovering and relieved. Best wishes, from a satisfied reader.

  9. Mike Sheehan Says:

    I hope that your recovery is complete and swift.

  10. John Lawler Says:

    Get even better, please, Arnold. We can’t afford to lose you.

  11. The Ridger Says:

    Add me to the list of those hoping your recovery is swift and uncomplicated.

  12. Fritinancy Says:

    Glad to hear you’re on the mend. Take it easy with that backlog: no heavy lifting!

  13. Randy Alexander Says:

    I spent the last couple days wondering what had actually happened to you, having seen your ADS-L post; it’s the Chinese New Year, and I’ve been with in-laws and away from my VPN-equipped home computer (WordPress sites are blocked here in China). I had assumed, in my ever-optimistic way, that since you posted there, you were OK now. And now I’m glad to see that that’s so.

    Forget about frogs…

    Today starts the Year of the Tiger!

    Here’s wishing you tigerous health in the upcoming year and beyond! May you approach the future with tigrine boldness, the fire of the mind burning bright as ever!

  14. arnoldzwicky Says:

    To Randy Alexander: I’m a Tiger in one sense: an alumnus of Princeton (“Hear the Tiger roar”). But zodiacally I’m a Dragon, in fact a metal dragon. Very powerful.

    We were discussing such things at lunch yesterday. (Over four days I’ve been working myself back to Real Food; yesterday’s lunch was, for me, tofu in brown sauce with (medium-cooked) carrots and bamboo shoots and, yum, black mushrooms, with brown rice.) My grand-daughter Opal coveted Tigerishness, and roared to show her ferocity. She’s into fierce animals, and also covets my Dragon status. Yes, she knew that I’m a Dragon, and that her mother is a Snake, which is pretty cool too. But she’s a Monkey and doesn’t think much of that; so talk about the cleverness of monkeys doesn’t impress her.

  15. Ian Preston Says:

    Sorry to read that news. Take care and recuperate well.

  16. arnoldzwicky Says:

    Correction to my reply to Barbara Partee: be recoverable from is not a passive, but the “-able Formation” construction is related to canonical passives; it’s one of a collection of constructions I’ve called “passivoid”, because they have as subject an expression that serves as direct object in the default assignment of expressions to arguments. So: “X can recover Y” alongside “Y is recoverable”, and “X can recover Y from Z” alongside “Y is recoverable from Z”, and “X can recover from Z” alongside “Z is recoverable from” (the -able counterpart to prepositional passives).

  17. kathryn Says:

    is that frog wearing spats? is that a big-bank frog?

  18. Greg Morrow Says:

    Best wishes for your swift and comprehensive recovery. We are the better for your insights and stories.

  19. Erin Says:

    I am glad to hear you’re on the mend, and I hope your recovery is steady and uneventful.

  20. Sili Says:

    Be careful. Don’t let the backlog stress you out. Sometimes it’s best just to declare email/blog bankruptcy and start afresh.

  21. mollymooly Says:

    I missed this post earlier; belated best wishes, or best belated wishes, whichever is better.

  22. Cornelia Says:

    Arnold, words often fail to say exactly what I mean. If I was a poet I would be able to make it short and sweet. Nevertheless I wish you better health so that you will be able to invigorate your writing. Selfish of me but there it is.


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