TANSTAAFL stands for “There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch”. This sound-bite, popularized by Heinlein in “The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress”, has some serious problems.
For one thing, almost half of it is filler. “Such Thing As A”: those four words, out of nine, add nothing. They aren’t needed, even for grammar. Without them it reads “There Ain’t No Free Lunch”, which says the same in 5/9ths of the words.
From the personal log of the leader of an Expedition into the Heinlein Desert:
Word 1, “Such”. We have entered the Heinlein Desert. The landscape is bleak and supplies are low.
Word 2, “Thing”. We are out of food and low on water.
Word 3, “As”. Water gone. Morale low. Conditions desperate.
Word 4, “A”. Most of us dead. A curse on the Heinlein Desert.
And even if we bypass the Heinlein Desert, “there ain’t no free lunch” has a double negative in it. Now, I ain’t against “ain’t”: it’s a wonderfully warm word, which deserves greater use; but alas, it is a class signifier. It is used naively by poor country folk, and ironically by urbanites such as Heinlein and myself. The double negative has the same dual role; it’s a class signifier unconsciously signalling uncool outsiderhood, or archly signalling hip insiderhood. From the mouth of a hedge-fund manager, “ain’t no” is grammatical blackface.
TANSTAAFL tries to seem backwoods and folksy when in fact it is urban and corporate. An authentic version of TANSTAAFL would be TINFL: “There Is No Free Lunch”. Grammatical, sincere, and economical.
So why TANSTAAFL? From a hedge-fund manager? With an expense account? That last detail is not an incidental hypocrisy; it is the key hypocrisy. When the hedge-fund manager eats an expense-account lunch, then for him “there ain’t no” translates to “there is some”; for in his native tongue, double negatives cancel.
“There Is Some Such Thing As A Free Lunch”: TISSTAAFL! That is the plaintext decoding of TANSTAAFL, as spoken by its 1%er fans. Now even the Heinlein Desert makes sense; for its pointless blather is another class signifier, denoting effete elitism.
TANSTAAFL is grammatical blackface, and it blathers; TINFL is an authentic and concise alternative to it; and it decodes to TISSTAAFL.