The writers (read: Mike B.) of Broken Spines seek to de-stigmatize failure.  For, it is only through failure that we truly learn.  We’re also big fans of sharing that learning like the folks at  For example, the fact that this Shanghai apartment building tipped over, points out the need for a foundation, something we should all remember.  But, perhaps more importantly, we learn that with sturdy construction, even if the building tips over, it will remain in tact.




2 Responses to “Fail!”

  1. 1 Matt H. July 6, 2009 at 8:57 am

    Ooops… do you think the architect and builder kept their jobs? And a nice subtle hint at the lack of participation from the other Fight Club members… al’z I say’n is can’t a guy take a sabbatical without all the grief? BTW, love to see you “celebrating failure.”

  2. 2 bobbyjones August 11, 2009 at 1:09 pm

    Ben Zimmer, filling in while William Safire is on vacation, published a nice piece in NYT Magazine:

    Museum Studio

    Published: August 7, 2009
    Spend some time on the Internet, and you’ll start to see a peculiar usage of the word fail popping up everywhere. A conservative blog posts an image of a United States-Russian diplomatic agreement with the president’s name spelled “Barak Obama” and calls it “White House Spellcheck FAIL.” Atlanta Braves fans take out their ire on outfielder Jeff Francoeur (since traded to the New York Mets) by changing his name to “Failcoeur.” On Twitter, disgruntled CNN-watchers complain about the network’s coverage of protests in Iran under the banner “CNNfail.”

    Time was, fail was simply a verb that denoted being unsuccessful or falling short of expectations. It made occasional forays into nounhood, in fixed expressions like without fail and no-fail. That all started to change in certain online subcultures about six years ago. In July 2003, a contributor to noted that fail could be used as an interjection “when one disapproves of something,” giving the example: “You actually bought that? FAIL.” This punchy stand-alone fail most likely originated as a shortened form of “You fail” or, more fully, “You fail it,” the taunting “game over” message in the late-’90s Japanese video game Blazing Star, notorious for its fractured English.

    In a few years’ time, the use of fail as an interjection caught on to such an extent that particularly egregious objects of ridicule required an even stronger barb: major fail, überfail, massive fail or, most popular of all, epic fail. The intensifying adjectives hinted that fail was becoming a new kind of noun: not simply a synonym for failure but, rather, a derisive label to slap on a miscue that is eminently mockable in its stupidity or wrongheadedness. Online cynics deploy fail as a countable noun (“That’s such a fail!”) and also as a mass noun that treats failure as an abstract quality: the offending party is often said to be full of fail or made of fail.

    A major vehicle for the success of fail has been FAIL Blog, a Web site set up in January 2008 and acquired a few months later by Pet Holdings, a blog conglomerate that has had great success with I Can Has Cheezburger? — the foremost purveyor of “lolcats,” a popular genre of humorous cat photos in which superimposed captions sport playfully poor grammar and spelling.

    FAIL Blog applied the “lolcats” model to photos capturing unfortunate missteps by man and beast. Examples include a cow with its head stuck in a child’s toy car (labeled “Cow Curiosity Fail”) and a possibly Photoshopped image of Bill Clinton looking glumly on, head in hand, while his wife, Hillary, speaks (“Enthusiasm Fail”). Though FAIL Blog wasn’t the first of its kind (The Daily Fail, The Fail Salon and Shipment of Fail all cropped up in late 2007), it soon became a runaway hit.

    I asked the C.E.O. of Pet Holdings, Ben Huh, when he knew that fail had broken through as a “meme,” to use the fashionable term for a cultural symbol or idea transmitted virally.

    “It really started to take off when the financial industry decided to — ahem — fail,” Huh said. “Talk about the perfect storm.” The fail meme met the financial crisis head on at a Senate hearing in September, when a demonstrator held up a sign reading “FAIL” behind Henry Paulson Jr., the former Treasury secretary, and Ben S. Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve. Online snark had graduated to political protest, though as a rallying slogan, the vagueness of fail leaves much to be desired.

    Since then, more pointed protests have taken place on Twitter, the new nerve center for fail. Twitter first felt the heat of fail from its own users in the spring of last year, when service outages on the site began to be accompanied by a cartoon image of a whale. Inevitably, Twitterers anointed it the “Fail Whale.” This year, fail on Twitter has been more outwardly directed — as in the case of “AmazonFail,” Twitter shorthand for a mini-scandal that erupted in April when accidentally removed gay and lesbian books from its sales rankings. “AmazonFail” re-emerged last month, when the company removed purchased copies of George Orwell books from its e-book reader, the Kindle. Such fail compounds typically appear on Twitter as “hashtags,” identifiers that allow easy searching of similarly themed messages. After the spread of the #CNNfail hashtag during Iran’s postelectoral strife, would-be media critics vented their wrath at other news outlets, generating such hashtags as #MSNBCfail, #FoxNewsfail and #NYTimesfail.

    The fail phenomenon has its naysayers, most prominently Anil Dash, an influential tech-culture blogger, who wrote a strongly worded post titled “The End of Fail.” For Dash, politicized fail has not moved far from its snarky roots. “ ‘FAIL’ isn’t advocacy; it’s the tool of those who don’t know how to be advocates, who don’t know how to persuade,” Dash argues. “It puts the ego of the complainers ahead of the cause they’re trying to advocate.”

    Popular usage will, of course, be the ultimate arbiter of the durability of fail. One sign of fail’s staying power is that it has already made the move from noun to adjective in some circles. Karl Hagen, who teaches test-preparation classes for Elite Educational Institute in Los Angeles, recently overheard a student who had done poorly on a quiz say to his friends, “I’m so fail.” As an interjection, noun or adjective, fail is proving to be an epic unfail.

    Ben Zimmer is executive producer of, an online destination for word lovers. He has worked as editor for American dictionaries at Oxford University Press and as a consultant to the Oxford English Dictionary. William Safire is on vacation.

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