Dude That’s Rude

Dude That's RudeI’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.

5 thoughts on “Dude That’s Rude

  1. I thought you were perfectly polite to the poster in question!

    Thing is, talk radio, TV "hosts" like O’Reilly and now the Internet have skewed our sense of what’s rude. Words that would not be acceptable among live people become so on such forums, and vice versa. I use profanity a lot, and occasionally it slips out when I’m talking with people offended by profanity. They generally don’t mind, as they know I don’t mean anything harmful by it; to me, it’s what Spock in ST4 called "a colorful metaphor."

    In terms of real Internet etiquette, we’re in the stage people must have been in the myth of the Tower of Babel about five days after nobody could understand anyone else. There are some halfhearted attempts at creating new social rules (like Don’t Feed The Trolls) but many people don’t know of them or adhere to them.

    Here’s an amusing sports piece on the subject of rudeness in Internet flame wars:


  2. Someone e-mailed recently accusing me of engaging in "shock value" because I use swear words (including "fuck") in my blog, and in the post about my cat, I said that if God existed, he’d be an asshole. It was a very patronizing e-mail, proclaiming that I was "above" such things and should be more erudite in my writing. Personally, I don’t this person, who happened to be male, would have said the same thing to another male writer, although I’m not sure. There was just something about it that oozed sexism.

    I use swear words a lot, because I never had any ability to understand how a word could be "bad." A word is just a word. For me, it’s a matter of using the *right* word, and sometimes "fuck" is the right word. Not always, but sometimes. I don’t understand unfairly and arbitrarily categorizing a whole set of words as "profanity". Why is "damnit" profane and "goshdarnit" isn’t? Who makes these decisions? Why are we so scared of certain words?

    For example, I’m not someone who goes around using the word "cunt" very often, not because it’s profane, but because it happens to be a great word that should be wielded sparingly and only in specific circumstances. I don’t see it as a "bad" word, just as the appropriate word in some cases.

    It frustrates me that society is so collectively hung up on this idea of "bad words".

    And I agree, Frank–it is a bit rude for someone to come to your blog and decide to tell they don’t like the way you express yourself. It’s one thing to express disagreement, quite another to have someone tell you that you need to write in a way that they find more palatable.

  3. I’m actually quite mixed on the question. I think this post was perhaps a bit defensive. On the one hand, I don’t want to be exclusive. On the other hand, I want to be authentic. Part of the problem here is that this blog is not as specific as it ought to be. I make clear choices about my words depending upon who I am writing them for. (I always think, "Who might link to this?") Just the same, I have the demographics of this site, and my readers are (surprisingly) mostly 20-40.

    This article wasn’t so much about that particular comment, but just in general. But the main thing for me is that I don’t like the idea of people thinking they have the moral high ground. A surprisingly large number of people read this blog. It clearly works for them and so I can’t reasonably follow every suggestion I get.

    Also, it is true there is no difference between between "God Damnit" and "Gosh Darnit." Recently the SF Chronicle online quoted a piece of mine and replaced "fuck" with "f***." I understand. It’s a reputable newspaper. But it is still silly as hell.

    For anyone hiring out there: I can do any style you want!

  4. The great Pauline Kael wrote a piece responding to listeners who’d sent her letters when she was doing radio film reviews for KPFA, back in the early 60’s. One "polite" correspondent (male), who offered suggestions as to Ms. Kael’s writing style, was "enough to make me howl with despair, this concern for my potential — as if I were a cow giving thin milk."

    I wonder how many different social experiences people who lament you two bloggers’ use of profanity have experienced. I mean, I interact often with children, adults, uptight senior citizens, very dirty senior citizens, believers, atheists, straight people, gay people, native-born Americans, immigrants, etc, etc. (Not that I’m some sort of gregarious social badass, I just interact with a lot of different people because of my job.)

    I have to use different ways of speaking for each. This is pretty much second nature to me at this point. I think it’s second nature to anyone who doesn’t live in a bubble. I suspect the commenters who criticize y’alls use of profanity are trying to expand their bubble a little bit by reading your sites, but don’t want the bubble to burst.

    And what a small bubble it must be! I remember a Thanksgiving dinner with my first-ever sorta-near-girlfriend, whose parents were RICHRICHRICH. As in, multiple Rolls-Royces. The family patriarch was there, an aged Kentucky Colonel type. I’d always had to rein in my propensity for colorful cussing around the parents, but I didn’t have to around the patriarch. He swore like a sailor. (I liked him a lot!)

    If you don’t like profanity, that’s your business. I don’t like cutesy youth-culture texting terms. But if you’ve never been exposed to people who use profanity often, and often in a non-hurtful way (if I say my fucking knee feels like fucking fuck, I’m lamenting my knee pain in a vivid way, not insulting anyone), you must live in a very small bubble, indeed. Or Utah.

  5. About that….. I followed the link to the video about Duck Dynasty being fake. I dunno.
    The video wasn’t all that fucking long, but the fucking host happened to have this fucking Goddam problem with saying fuck every sentence. I wanted to play the fucking video for my fucking wife and kids, but I don’t think they could get its thrust through all the fucking language.

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