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On Precision In Language, and getting the results you want

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On Precision In Language, and getting the results you want

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Note: this is all inspired by the Penny Arcade Dickwolves brouhaha, but is broader in application than that.

There are two words that get thrown around a lot in online discussion, when someone says something that's Not Okay, Dude.

The first one is triggered.

Now, this is a useful and valid word, and a strong one, referring to the involuntary, panicky reaction one gets when reminded involuntarily of trauma. (One may be triggered into rage as well as panic, just for the record. Or have rage arise from the panic. Classic fight-or-flight. Carrying on...) I've experienced this feeling myself, sitting in shul for a Friday night service, hearing prayers I hadn't heard since I was twelve, feeling an icy target spot develop between my shoulder blades, just WAITING for the wad of notebook paper or thrown pencil to hit, and unable to convince myself, no matter how many times I looked behind me, that one of Those Boys wasn't sitting in the back row, just waiting for the moment to attack. It was... pretty bad.

However, there are a couple of problems with this word. One is that people throw it around a lot, tending to dilute its impact. The other is that some people (usually assholes, but anyway) will take it as a sign of weakness, and mock people who admit to it, and generally discount the opinions and contributions of anybody who refers to it. Which, while it's clearly an asshole move, tends to make discussions go all pear-shaped, which is not useful.

The other one is offensive.

This is also a valid word. It's akin to "in poor taste," but stronger.

The trouble with this word is that many people associate the idea of a person who's "offended" as someone who's a prude, or a killjoy. Then they sprain their shoulders patting themselves on the back for being "edgy" and "shocking" and start accusing the offended person of being in favor of "censorship." It rarely crosses their mind that, you know, maybe they're just being jerks, without managing to say anything important or original thereby.

The phrase I favor is personally upsetting.

Most people, I like to think, were raised with a modicum of good manners and human decency. If you characterize something triggering and offensive as "personally upsetting," because of something that happened to you or a dear friend, you can often get a thoughtless or just-trying-to-be-shocking person to consider their words concretely, in terms of real things that happen to real people, instead of in the abstract. And "personally upsetting" doesn't have the flavor of jargon that "triggering" does. You don't have to be psychologically damaged (as the jerks would see it) to be upset. Anyone can be upset!

And then, when you've shamed the jerk into an apology for upsetting you, you can hit 'em with the statistics about how MANY people have been in circumstances like yours or your friend's, and why maybe their joke isn't such a great idea after all, if it depends on making light of so MANY people's experiences.

And, of course, if they don't respond to "personally upsetting" with an apology, you KNOW you're dealing with someone who has no manners or human decency, and you can safely conclude that further debate with them is about as useful as trying to teach a pig to sing.

For the record on the dickwolves thing: I think the original joke made something of a valid point, but the way in which they did it was in very poor taste, which is (as I understand it, I don't follow the comic) their usual style. I think the way they reacted to the criticism they received over it was deeply lacking in clue, and that the continuing mess has involved quite a few porcine squeals.

And I would like to see more people use language in a way that gets them results.
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