I’ve been thinking about profanity all day. It all stems from a single comment on my article, Fourth Time: Reality TV Is Not Real. The commenter wrote, “Both your column and that guy’s video make some good points; unfortunately they are obscured by expletive-heavy language that draws attention (mine, at least) away from the message.” I addressed his specific concerns in the comments and you can read them there. I want to discuss something more general.
Such comments are always written as an appeal to civility, but they are by their very nature rude. They say, “I don’t like the way you write; let me tell you how I think you should write.” Imagine such behavior at a dinner party and ask yourself, “What would Miss Manners say about that?”
Don’t get me wrong: I don’t mind. I love comments regardless of whether someone disagrees with me or not. I’m just saying that such people do not have the moral high ground that they think they do. They come to my blog, welcome, but uninvited. Then, rather than engage with my ideas, they complain that I don’t write in a style that they prefer. This is the very definition of a rude guest.
The irony, of course, is that such people (and the recent commenter was hardly the first) think it is the other way around. They have come to my site, welcome, but uninvited. They have paid absolutely nothing for their visit. And this horrible host had the temerity to use words they didn’t like. But instead of just passing it off as yet another example of the moral decay of our society, they decide the polite thing to do is to lecture the host.
The reason for this irony is that people who try to hold on to “the old ways” usually think it is given that they hold the moral high ground. This is why grammar pedants are so annoying. But whether it is what words one may use or which infinitives one may split, these are simply matters of opinion with the consensus always changing. So such people are on very thin ice with their pronouncements, regardless.
But imagine a different situation: one where an absolute truth is known. Take, for example, astrology. Because I used to teach introductory astronomy, I made it a point to learn astrology really well, because students were always asking me about it. Enormous amounts of research have been done on every conceivable aspect of astrology and there is absolutely nothing to it. Sometimes I’m at a dinner party and someone is chattering on about how they are “totally like that” because they are a Libra or whatever. But I don’t lecture them about the fact that astrology is bunk. And do you know why?
Because I’m not an asshole.