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The Whippet #55: goblin energy

McKinley Valentine — 9 min read

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Good morning! Let's talk about goblin energy.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a mermaid or a dryad or a fairy – the usual sorts of things. Some adults who love the water still secretly feel mermaidish, which I think is perfectly healthy if you go easy on the custom etsy decor. Take what magic you can get, I reckon.

But we are not here to talk about beautiful svelte wispy mythical creatures now. We are here to talk about feral scrappy weirdos, who are not so much unpretty as apretty. They do not operate with regard to prettiness. They are never bosses themselves, and if they have bosses, they're only mildly less infuriating to their boss than to their enemies. It doesn't have to mean literal (mythical) goblins. Skaven (rat people) have goblin energy. So do literal rats. Arguably the Lost Boys from Hook. Mosca from Fly By Night (read it if you like the Phillip Pullman books), Bart the holistic assassin from the Dirk Gently TV series.

I am seeing a lot of this lately, mostly from women (but that's not at all a prerequisite), who are being more honest about their feral weirdo natures, and instead of aspiring to get it together to become elegant and elven, they are aspiring to be better goblins. Scrappier, weirder, more unpalatable. I think if you grow up wanting to be a manic pixie dream girl, realise how fucked up that is, and start focusing uncompromisingly on your own stuff instead of being a helpmeet to a love interest, maybe you end up a goblin.

I'm super into it and the universe is too. 2018 is the year of goblin energy. I have proof, because we just discovered a new planet in the solar system: it's small, hidden and weird. It has an astonishingly strange orbit and takes 40,000 years to go around the sun. And astronomers have nicknamed it "the Goblin".

(I probably spend too time on skincare and worrying to be a proper goblin, I think, but I can admire it still.)

I found a very silly twitter bot that randomly generates knuckle tatts (basically, combinations of two 4-letter words). Most of them aren't great (it's a bot! it's doing its best!) although I like AWAY BEAR. But it does get you thinking. If I were going to get knuckle tatts they would say:


Tibetans have a gene that lets them live at high altitudes

"If I travelled to the Tibetan plateau, my body would try to cope by making more red blood cells, which transport oxygen around my body. But I’d overcompensate and make too many of these cells. My blood would become thick and viscous, leaving me prone to high blood pressure and stroke. Tibetans don’t have this problem. Their EPAS1 gene stops them from overproducing red blood cells and helps them acclimatise to the altitude without doing themselves harm." [Source]

Fun bonus fact: The Tibetan Mastiff also has the EPAS1 gene, which it got from breeding with the Tibetan wolf.

That high-altitude gene comes from a new(ish)ly discovered species of human

The Tibetans' EPAS1 gene comes from a group of extinct humans called Denisovans, who we only discovered in 2010. We have their genetic sequence but know almost nothing else about them: all we have of them is a finger bone, a toe bone, and two teeth.

An addition bone sliver was found this year by using a new technique that analyses the structure of the collagen. It's much faster than DNA analysis but only narrows the ID down to "great ape". So Masters student Samantha Brown grabbed huge bags of bone fragments from Siberia and started looking at the collagen. The 1,227th bone came from a great ape. Since no other great apes ever lived in Siberia, it had to be a human (or a yeti) (and so worth doing a full DNA analysis on). It turned out to be a teenage girl, born to a Neanderthal mother and a Denisovan father. [Source].

John Hawks, paleoanthropologist: "What we understand about human origins has radically changed in the last ten years. Genetics now tells us that today's people have inputs from ancient humans who were really different from each other and us. Neanderthal genes are one exciting example. Today, they are affecting our immune systems, metabolism, and other biological functions that were totally invisible from fossil evidence.

Genetics also revealed totally unexpected ancient populations. The Denisova genome was the first of these. But we now suspect there were many others, which we call "ghost populations". Some of those "ghost populations" existed in Africa. They were as different from each other as today's humans are from Neanderthals.

The origin of today's populations was complex, and the center of that complexity was Africa. How ancient humans coexisted, and interacted, are the central problems we face." [via twitter]

The best person currently talking intelligently about contemporary/internet linguistics is Gretchen McCulloch (Twitter | Linguistics podcast)

Do boring speakers really talk for longer?

or does it just feel like it?

According to this highly unscientific study, they really do go for longer.

"I investigated this idea at a meeting where speakers were given 12-minute slots. I sat in on 50 talks for which I recorded the start and end time. I decided whether the talk was boring after 4 minutes, long before it became apparent whether the speaker would run overtime. The 34 interesting talks lasted, on average, a punctual 11 minutes and 42 seconds." [Source]

This makes sense to me, because being (unintentionally) boring is caused by an empathy gap, and so is running overtime. If you're not able to pick out from your material which parts will be relevant and interesting to your audience, then you probably also aren't aware that they don't want to hear about it for an extra several minutes. (Maybe you're thinking: "but public speaking is a skill! Just because they're not skilled at it doesn't mean they lack empathy!" To which I say: empathy is a skill you have to actively practise, not a spontaneous emotional state. You're not a bad person if you haven't learned the specific perspective of what it's like to be a conference audience.)

"There is nothing protective about pessimism"

"There is nothing protective about pessimism. I was convinced for a long time that if you expect a poor outcome, it hurts less. It's actually easier to cope with failure if you spend most of your time celebrating and expecting the positive, building up your reserves of happiness and strength, instead of creating huge unceasing loads of psychic stress based on assuming things will go wrong."

from the MetaFilter thread “What have you been wrong about, realized it, and it changed your life?”

Infuriatingly, I came across this quote about a week after writing last issue’s Unsolicited Advice on getting your hopes up, but it's too on point not to share.

Best part of the Wikipedia page on truffles

Link for completeness, but honestly it's just info on truffles. (PS truffle hogs have goblin energy; truffle dogs do not.)


Thinking of these is incredibly addictive. SOUR MOON. GOSH HECK. Here's a lil website that will display whatever you want on a set of cartoon knuckles.

Golden Plover chicks look like moss

Camouflaged to fit in with the Arctic tundra. More photos by Stuart Rae here.

Unsolicited Advice: When people don't mean what they say

This is a totally baffling thing to deal with if you have a fairly literal/logical communication style, so I hope this helps. I don't mean people who are lying to you, I mean people who say "We should grab coffee!" or "Let me know if I can help out" and then don't follow through.

If you've ever struggled with the fact that people say "how are you?" but don't actually want an answer, you'll know what I mean (although you've probably figured out a way to manage "how are you" by now, however weird and rude it feels to bypass such a direct question).

What is going on here is a thing called a phatic expression. It's speech that has a social action but the words themselves don't have meaning. "How are you?" just means "Hi". "We should grab coffee!" for some people, means "it's nice to see you!" It's a verbal Like button. They're not lying, and you shouldn't feel insecure - they are quite sincerely saying "it's nice to see you", they're just using... totally different words to say it. Look it's still baffling, I can navigate it now, but I wish they would just use the words that actually mean the message they want to communicate.

Where this gets brutal (and I'm going beyond the linguistic meaning of phatic expressions and into my own theories), is that people express present-tense emotions using future-planning language. So some people say "Let me know if there's anything I can do to help?" and what they mean is "the thing you just told me is really sad, and I am feeling, in the present tense, a strong emotion of caring about you. I have given 0 thought to whether I will have the time or energy available to help in the coming weeks". (For the record, this hasn't happened to me much because I tend to have overly literal friends, but I've seen it happen to others and it is WAY worse for them than if no one had offered help at all). And again, they're not lying, they're sincerely expressing the emotion they feel and there is no intent to deceive you. But obviously this is a huge problem for the person who needs help, especially if the person is depressed, and it took a lot of guts for them to actually reach out and ask for help, and you flaked, after having offered.

So I would ask people to please, when you're feeling a strong emotion and desire to help, to think about whether you are actually able and willing to follow through. Even though maybe that feels less genuine because you're stifling your first kind impulse.

SO much of baffling human interaction makes sense when you view it as a snapshot of the person's current emotional state rather than a plan for future action. It's about the equivalent of someone saying "I'd love to see the Alhambra". You wouldn't see them a week later and be like, "have you booked your flight to Spain yet??" You'd know they were just expressing a feeling.

(But also: if someone has shown you that their words do mean future plans not just current emotions, then trust them - it's just some people who communicate this way.)

Lastly and most brutally: I am pretty certain that a decent proportion of the people who say "Will you marry me?" are saying "I am feeling an unbelievably intense swelling of love and emotion for you" and not "I have thought seriously about what I want my life to look like over the next few decades, and how yours might mesh with mine, and I think we should build a life together". So that obviously... causes problems. Problems that can be sorted out easily by saying "what does marriage mean to you, in practical terms?" but gosh, that is a question you should ask each other if you don't already know.

- This last point, lest I sound too preachy: I asked someone to marry me when I was 19. (Or maybe I just said "we should get married.") He told me he didn't even accept the question, because I clearly hadn't thought it through. He was right. I loved him very intensely and sincerely but I also thought it would be enjoyably transgressive for a leftie-feminist type to get married really young. I say that with full awareness of how obnoxious it is. 19-year-olds are the worst; sorry if you're currently 19. There, I think that's most of my embarrassing secrets confessed, now I can run for Parliament without fear of blackmail.

If you want solicited advice (for example, on running for Parliament or being blackmailed), send questions to or just reply to this email.

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