Gilbert & Sullivan and false certainty

I got in a little debate at lunch yesterday about the origins of Gilbert & Sullivan's "Model of a Modern Major General."  I was willing to bet Bill Boettcher $100 that it was from HMS Pinafore, which I recall my dad dragging me to a bunch of times, whereas Bill was quite convinced it was from Pirates of Penzance (which to his discredit, he did not think was G&S).  Fortunately, Bill backed down from the bet in the face of my certainty.  Here's a clip of it from the Pirates of Penzance (notice Kevin Kline)

I was especially abashed as just yesterday I had been having a conversation with David about how I never insist on something unless I am truly certain (after assuring my whole family that surely the bike race coming through Geneva, Switzerland during our 1990 visit could not be the Tour de France, as we were in Switzerland– little did I know then it regularly ventures outside of France).  So, the amateur cognitive scientist in me was really curious as to how I could have been so wrong.  Anyway, I realized that the G&S song I know so well from HMS Pinafore is "He is an Englishman," but since I think "Modern Major General" has more cultural penetration, when I thought "famous G&S song I know really well," that's what stuck in my brain despite my being 100% wrong that it was from Penzance.  Anyway, I will now redouble my efforts to not speak with certainty unless I truly am certain.  We'll have to see how that works.


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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