Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Wed Dec 29 20:37:10 UTC 2010

Since the war on earmarks started in Congress, a few items have popped
up suggesting that there is some jargon that Congress-critters use that
we, mortals, rarely hear.
> /Lettermarking/, which takes place outside the Congressional
> appropriations process, is one of the many ways that legislators who
> support a ban on earmarks try to direct money back home.
> In /phonemarking/, a lawmaker calls an agency to request financing for
> a project. More indirectly, members of Congress make use of what are
> known as /soft earmarks/, which involve making suggestions about where
> money should be directed, instead of explicitly instructing agencies
> to finance a project.

Soft earmarks are an old hat, but the other two are new to me. But this
is also a meaning of "soft" that appears to be pervasive--soft
benchmarking, soft money (donations), etc. Note that OED has "soft
money" (research money through outside grants) but in a different sense
than current political usage (specifically, money that is donated to
support a candidate or a party or a cause but is not regulated as a
direct donation, something that arrives through alternate channels).
There is also "soft-sell", which is actually close to the meaning
("orig. U.S. advertising or salesmanship that is subtly persuasive
rather than aggressive"). But the meaning should fall somewhere under
"soft adj. 28.", but it fits none of the four categories listed there.

I also don't like the OED definition for "soft science" and "soft facts"
(28.a.), although this might be a personal preference. IMO, "soft/hard
facts" dichotomy is not based on mathematization, but on either sourcing
or on verification. This also goes to the journalistic distinction
between hard and soft sources (based on anonymity and willingness to go
on-record). For sciences, the distinction "[not] amenable to precise
mathematical treatment or to experimental verification or refutation" is
somewhat obsolete--the distinction has become somewhat traditional,
often irrespectively of the mathematics or experimentation involved,
essentially along the lines of natural vs. social sciences. Basically,
what falls under the natural sciences are "hard", and social sciences
are "soft", and everyone else--those who are on the cusp--has to
scramble to qualify for "hard" science recognition. No amount of
mathematization of its theories and predictions will make economics a
"hard" science, although, within the field, economists may well
distinguish between "hard models" and "soft models".


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