Incautious profanity

Subject: Incautious profanity
From: geoff-h -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA
Date: Tue, 17 Sep 1996 17:09:33 -0500

Apparently, I've stirred up something of a tempest in a
teapot with my injudicious use of profanity. (I haven't
received the relevent techwr-l digests yet, so I'll have to
wait to see the full thread.) Based on some private
messages and messages copied to me:

First, an apology... the phrase containing the F-word
(IMNSHO) exactly describes the student reaction to the
test. One student was actually considerably more profane.
Nonetheless, I apologize for giving offence when none was
intended. I did briefly ponder using @#$%^& or some such
euphemism, but chose not to. The F-word has been around so
long and is so overused that I'd believed it's lost most of
its sting; I'm somewhat astonished to find anyone who is
bothered by it. Henceforth, I'll adjust my language to fit
my new perception of the sensitivities of my audience.

Second, to anyone who chose not to read the rest of the
message, I'd have to say that it's your loss, not mine. I
post messages in an attempt to help others, and if you're
not interested in that help, it's no skin off my a**. I'd
hope that my regular comments have gained me some
credibility on the list, and if that credibility disappears
through the use of a single word, once in the year or so
I've been on the list, then so be it.

Michael Wing had several specific comments on my message
that bear a rebuttal:

<<His resorting to a "single" vulgarity took more away from
his views than he could put back in.>>

This sounds like a case of choosing to recognize only the
parts of a message that you choose to hear. Technically,
that's called "filtering". Perhaps rereading the message
with a more open mind would make the meaning clearer.

<<...by supporting the use of the vulgarity and chastising
those who speak against it, [the original poster] has
sucked you into the hole also.>>

Although I implicitly supported the use of the vulgarity by
using it, I personally chastised nobody who spoke against
it. Indeed, since I have yet to see the digest that
contains the comments of those who spoke against it, it's
hard to see how I could have. By all means, damn me for
what I did, but not for what you inferred I did.

<<This "man" is an Editor! Why then, did he choose this
word? I am hard pressed to understand why he couldn't have
strongly stated his viewpoints without the word?>>

Quotes around "man"? Yes, I was male the last time I
checked. [Hang in there a minute... yup... still am...
nothing changed. Indeed, I don't feel any more manly for
using the word. Why would I?] So why choose the F-word
word? Because this is an informal forum, and generally
judged by the rules of informal discourse. I'd certainly
never consider using profanity in any technical writing;
but then I'd also have time in which to revise my own
words, time that is lacking when I take a break in my real
work to write to the list.

Implicit in the criticism I received is the assertion that
I was using the word to condemn a fellow list member
(Stephen Victor). The juxtaposition of words certainly
permits that interpretation, particularly given that when I
wrote the message, I _did_ feel that Stephen had reacted in
this vein (albeit not as strongly) to "silly tests". I
specifically apologize to Stephen if he took the message as
a personal attack; at best, it was an unflattering response
to his statements.

<<If Mr. Hart were face-to-face with me, I would insist
that he not use the language in my presence.>>

And if I _were_ face to face with you, I would certainly
try to not use profanity unless I knew it was an accepted
part of your discourse. Is e-mail different from in-person
dialogue? Upon reflection, I'd have to say that it's not.
Perhaps I've grown too comfortable speaking in this
particular forum. A sobering reminder.

<<maybe because I have spoke out against it, you should
have me banned from the list for being a "prude" and
"totally uncool".>>

Quite on the contrary. By objecting to the use, you and
others have provided an object lesson to me (and to anyone
else who was paying attention) that one shouldn't make
assumptions about your audience.

Thanks to those who defended me privately and publicly,
particularly given that I'm guilty as charged. It's a
genuinely warm feeling to be listened to even when I (ahem)
mess up.

--Geoff Hart @8^{)} geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
Disclaimer: Speaking for myself, not FERIC.

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