To the extent that the attention economy is a major cash cow, Quora is making a mint off of me. (See the English notes below for an explanation of the various and sundry linguistic oddities in that sentence.) I have trained myself to spend very little time on social media, and now that my native land no longer has a president who does not seem to be clear on the facts that Australia is our friend but Russia isn’t, and has complete and sole control over the world’s largest supply of nuclear weapons, I typically don’t check the newspapers more than twice a day. Quora, though–it can suck me down rabbit holes for hours. It lets people pose questions. Anyone. On anything. Anything. And anyone who feels like answering, can.
A common saying in English: there’s no such thing as a stupid question. When do people say it? When other people start questions with something like “this is a stupid question, but…” …followed by a question. There’s certainly some truth to that. In fact, asking “stupid” questions was the only way that I survived graduate school. Graduate students tend to be terrified to ask any question that they fear might reveal that they don’t know everything. But, since I am covered with tattoos (not unusual for young folks these days, but very unusual for people of my advanced age), I go through life on the assumption that everybody assumes I’m stupid anyway, so why not ask questions? As one of my professors said to me in a very short note that accompanied my A- grade in Syntax 102, which was much higher than I actually deserved: You asked the questions that other people were afraid to ask.
So, yeah: you, Dear Reader, are smart, and if you have a question, other people around you do, too. They won’t think that you’re stupid if you ask it–they might very well thank you for asking it.
So, yeah: the “no such thing as a stupid question” claim is not totally without merit. Absolutes are not often correct, and “no such thing” is most definitely an absolute. My personal candidate for questions that truly are stupid would be questions that assume something that is completely wrong, without any apparent awareness of the assumption. Case in point: this question that I ran across on Quora today…
In fact, the Paris metro does not always stink. But, more pertinently: people are not allowed to pee on the Paris metro. Responses to this kind of stupid question should begin by countering the false assumption, as does this one:
…and with that rant off my chest, it’s time to step outside with a cup of coffee to enjoy a fine American tobacco product and watch the lizards frolic, ’cause Louisiana. But, first: English notes!
To the extent that the attention economy is a major cash cow, Quora is making a mint off of me.
cash cow: something that produces a lot of income very reliably.
to make a mint: to make a lot of money. A mint is a place where money is (physically) produced. Where bills are printed, where coins are struck. (Now there’s an obscure lexical item for ya!) The expression has some weird behaviors related to the verb to make, but before we get to them, let’s see its basic use:
- Hey now, that film was game-changing. Do you realise how many genuinely terrible found footage films we would probably have been denied if Blair Witch hadn’t come out of nowhere and made a mint? Source: this tweet
- My sister, a former rare book dealer, made a MINT selling new retirees bulk stock to open the used bookstore of their dreams in Vermont. They’d last 6-18 months… Source: this tweet
- when this dude retires, he’s gonna make a mint doing sports talk in pittsburgh. i don’t mean that as a compliment. Source: this tweet.
In the last two examples, we see that you can specify what was done to make the money: selling new retirees bulk stock to open the used bookstore of their dreams in Vermont, doing sports talk in Pittsburgh.
There is another way to specify what caused that money to be made. In this case, you will use something that is a noun (or close to one), introduced by off of, or just off:
- My paternal grandfather made a lot of money off of attractive young women. (True–family scandal.)
- I made no money at all off of the sale of my first house. (Sadly, also true.)
- You can’t make money off dreams. (Not true.)
So, now we go back to the first sentence of this blog post: To the extent that the attention economy is a major cash cow, Quora is making a mint off of me. Clear now?
The notions of cash cows and of making money off of things reminds me of this vignette from Jacque Prévert’s epic poem Encore une fois sur le fleuve and its “gros vieux monsieur qui a fait une misérable fortune dans les beurres et dans les œufs”:
Et la Seine continue son chemin
et passe sous le pont Saint-Michel
d’où l’on peut voir de loin
l’archange et le démon et le bassin
avec qui passent devant eux
une vieille faiseuse d’anges un boy-scout malheureux
et un triste et gros vieux monsieur qui a fait une misérable fortune dans les beurres et dans les œufs
Et celui-là s’avance d’un pas lent vers la Seine en regardant les tours de Notre-Dame
ni l’église ni le fleuve ne l’intéressent mais seulement la vieille boîte d’un bouquiniste
Et il s’arrête figé et fasciné devant l’image d’une petite fille couverte de papier glacé
Elle est en tablier noir et son tablier est relevé une religieuse aux yeux cernés la fouette
Et la cornette de la sœur est aussi blanche que les dessous de la fillette
Mais comme le bouquiniste regarde le vieux monsieur congestionné celui-ci gêné détourne les yeux et laissant là le pauvre livre obscène
jette un coup d’oeil innocent détaché
vers l’autre rive de la Seine