we could do better, y'all
August 4, 2010 6:41 AM   Subscribe

When philip-random made this comment: "There's much talk at MetaTALK of all the things that Metafilter does NOT do well, but seldom do we hear of the one thing that MetaFilter routinely tanks at, which is anything to do with WRITING." ... he was damn well spot-on. Anything we might possibly do to remedy this depressing reality?
posted by flapjax at midnite to MetaFilter-Related at 6:41 AM (403 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

Your favorite band/writer/director/artist sucks.
posted by empath at 6:44 AM on August 4, 2010


What does this even mean? Do you want us to start having workshop/interventions for commenters phillip-random judges to be below his standards, or what? It's a goddamn website with links on it, not the Booker shortlist.
posted by nasreddin at 6:46 AM on August 4, 2010 [24 favorites]


That is so very much not the only thing MF routinely tanks at.
posted by not that girl at 6:50 AM on August 4, 2010 [10 favorites]


Do you want us to start having workshop/interventions for commenters phillip-random judges to be below his standards, or what?

Or what.

That is, this thread is for comments on how this might become a better "goddamn website". Goddamn it.

:)
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:52 AM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


What the hell are you even talking about? Could you please write clearly so people have the vaguest clue about the rant you want to make?

If you have a problem with something, just say it.
posted by nomadicink at 6:52 AM on August 4, 2010 [31 favorites]


I guess I could throw in some more prose plumbs.
posted by mmmbacon at 6:53 AM on August 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


I believe he's saying that mefites are qualified to criticize writing.
posted by empath at 6:55 AM on August 4, 2010


argh AREN'T qualified.
posted by empath at 6:55 AM on August 4, 2010 [7 favorites]


Oh, no, not you too, flapjax! Let's not do this again.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 6:58 AM on August 4, 2010


"I think he's saying we're not purple enough," he effused loquaciously. Below his comment, Mister_A knew, another, less salubrious comment lurked in the gloaming, reeking of offal.
posted by Mister_A at 6:58 AM on August 4, 2010 [55 favorites]


Well, the rest of philip-random's comment read: "Too many unpublished, undernourished, understimulated so-called "writers" on this site."

Maybe add GYOFB to the flag options, if that would help you move on from posts you don't like.
posted by headnsouth at 6:59 AM on August 4, 2010


this thread is for comments on how this might become a better "goddamn website". Goddamn it.

We have a whole MetaTalk thread praising you, and this is the thanks we get??
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:00 AM on August 4, 2010


Remember that bit in Fight Club about how pissed off the members were to learn that they will not be, in fact, the movie gods and rock stars they were raised to believe they would be?

Well, we all watched Sesame Street and were told that education was this magic ticket to the future. We loved our little gold stars on our papers and every scrap of praise from our creative writing teacher, who was probably nursing disappointments of her own. Legions of strangers said, "You write so well" or "You are so funny" or "That really moved me" and, for most of us, the mistake was that we took them seriously. All of those commencement speakers, selected from the ranks of the successful, ignored their luck and connections while extolling the virtues of persistence to us as a hundred people who did the exact same thing have nothing to show for it, and were not invited to speak. We had a few poems published and, for every story we got free magazine copies for, there were an order of magnitude more rejection slips. Script doctors give lectures for only a grand a pop and you have this sick feeling that this most definitely won't be your solution, but if you don't do it, you'll end up wondering, throughout the failure you are near-certain is coming, if this is why you missed your shot and if it will haunt you for the rest of your non-career. Now the content market has mutated and everyone wants it all for free, if they even have the attention span to read more than a thousand words in a row. Envy, disappointment, and despair. Through all of this are the Dan Browns and the Stephanie Meyers and we're not sure if we're just somehow worse than they are or if success isn't as highly correlated to craft in writing as we had been told, but either alternative is not attractive.

It's not as we were led to believe, and we're very pissed off about that.
posted by adipocere at 7:01 AM on August 4, 2010 [110 favorites]


I am completely confused.

A writer on a blog made a fairly good point about the lack of attention given to good writing on the web. But since he sadly doesn't appear to be a particularly good writer himself, a Mefi posting about his views inevitably drew criticism of his writing, which is full of pomposity and mixed metaphors. What do you think Metafilter is "tanking" at here?
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 7:04 AM on August 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


The solution, of course
is to pen all our comments
in middling verse.
posted by griphus at 7:05 AM on August 4, 2010 [10 favorites]


We have a whole MetaTalk thread praising you, and this is the thanks we get??

Haha! The two are entirely unrelated, Jalltcoh! I appreciated that thread immensely, as I stated then and there! I love this site, and I just want to see it thrive and be better in all respects. That's all.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:06 AM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


sorry for misspelling your name, Jaltcoh!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:07 AM on August 4, 2010


I believe he's saying that mefites [aren't] qualified to criticize writing.
As a whole, mefites are not really qualified to criticize anything.
posted by atrazine at 7:11 AM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't get this callout. (Is it a callout?) What do you want to happen here in this thread?
posted by iamkimiam at 7:13 AM on August 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


I don't get this callout. (Is it a callout?) What do you want to happen here in this thread?

In other words, should I be heating up a tablespoon or too of oil right now, or what?
posted by nevercalm at 7:16 AM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is just to say
I have eaten the plumbs
That were in your aspiring hermenaut
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 7:18 AM on August 4, 2010 [12 favorites]


I contributed a bit to the noise in that thread and if it was excessive, I apologize. Maybe it was -- I snark too much.

As to the article itself and our varied responses, to me, we were having a conversation as to the merits of the link in our... special way. I don't think anyone would argue his basic tenets. Dery has a very valid point about the devaluation of good writing. People are being thrown out of work in a race to the bottom and it pains me too, but he also had a point about the debasement of editorship that he backed up by writing an article that very badly needed editing. A pretty quick scanning finds several sentences that could be de-convoluted by moving phrases around. There's at least 50 unnecessary commas. His tortured use of "sesquipedalian" smacked of brinksmanship. A good editor would have ripped that whole sentence out. Simple stuff.

He's angry, and has a right to be. Unfortunately, his anger resulted in him writing a piece that was also pretty condescending towards a goodly portion of his peers and his readership. I was reminded of Joe Jackson going on a rant back in the mid-eighties about how amateur musicians who hadn't even bothered to learn proper theory and sight-reading skills at music school were mucking up the business for "real" musicians, such as himself who were being forced to compete with hacks, and robbed of gigs and income. He had a point, but are you really, really going to aim an indiscriminate finger at any self-taught songwriter and scream "YOU" without there being some blowback? I think not. Jackson showed his ass and lost a lot of fans at the time.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:19 AM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


I love this site, and I just want to see it thrive and be better in all respects.

I share this sentiment, but this MeTa thread isn't going to make the site any better.
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:19 AM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


I...

I think I've been insulted. Or called out. Or something.

I'm very confused and I would like a mug of hot chocolate and a hug. Also a funny video possibly involving a cat and a bunny.
posted by Tomorrowful at 7:19 AM on August 4, 2010 [7 favorites]


Most good writers think they are fantastic writers. And writing about writing can be a lot like stripping down to your undies in a room full of sorority girls armed with Sharpies - people will look for any flaw so they can feel superior.

Fake Dery's arrival did that thread no favors.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:21 AM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh hey guys look um I've got an Adulation at 11 and then some Gratuitous Praise at 2 followed by an Argument And Abuse so if we could hurry this long...
posted by The Whelk at 7:22 AM on August 4, 2010 [6 favorites]


I don't get this callout. (Is it a callout?) What do you want to happen here in this thread?

I think flapjax wants Metafilter at large to not be so petty in discussions about writing that happen on the Blue? I could be wrong. As far as I'm concerned, MeFi, and most of the internet that presents any modicum of base-level intelligence, is built of, on, and about writing, so it's perfectly within the expectations and traditions of the site to quibble about such things.

There's some low-level wankery in that thread, but certainly not anything that merits a callout. If people want to crabbily discuss writing style, that seems reasonable to me. Do we all have to hug it out and agree to disagree about what constitutes crappy metaphors?
posted by Mizu at 7:23 AM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


And writing about writing can be a lot like stripping down to your undies in a room full of sorority girls armed with Sharpies - people will look for any flaw so they can feel superior.

You've been going to the wrong sorority houses.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:24 AM on August 4, 2010


Man, you think MetaFilter's bad? Try Everything2.
posted by mkb at 7:28 AM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


I share this sentiment, but this MeTa thread isn't going to make the site any better.

Sigh... I suppose you're right. Although Devils Rancher's thoughtful comment was exactly the kind I was hoping for. But it's not the end of the world. It's just a thread to discuss things, after all.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:28 AM on August 4, 2010


What do you think Metafilter is "tanking" at here?

I think he's saying that he wishes the thread didn't have to get so catty, and that posts about literature could just be enjoyed by those that enjoy it and silently skipped by those that don't. Unfortunately, I just don't think that's a realistic ideal, as I don't see how that behavior can be corrected-by-committee. (But then again, other behaviors have been addressed and corrected, so maybe not.)
posted by Rhomboid at 7:30 AM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Writing about writing is like a fish needs a bicycle. Wait, is that how that goes?
posted by box at 7:31 AM on August 4, 2010



I don't get this callout. (Is it a callout?) What do you want to happen here in this thread?


He wants us to say we're sorry to the nice man who lost his job. And that's a shame.

See, we have no business criticizing writers because we don't write. Just like Roger Ebert can't do film criticism because he doesn't make movies.

Seriously though, the guy writes like a thesaurus threw up. He's trying too hard.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:31 AM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Seldom do we hear of the other thing that MetaFilter routinely tanks at, which is sending me envelopes full of unmarked non-sequential American currency.
posted by Plutor at 7:34 AM on August 4, 2010 [21 favorites]


I just want to see it thrive and be better in all respects.

Like everyone, I too am confused. That said, I think we're a lot of really good writers, on average. I think the things we could do better at are more like empathy, patience, respect and tolerance. I'm sure everyone has their own list of "I wish MeFi were more like this." That's mine.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:34 AM on August 4, 2010 [18 favorites]


Does the first person who guesses what this callout is actually about win a prize? Because I could use a new camera.
posted by Gator at 7:35 AM on August 4, 2010


I think flapjax wants Metafilter at large to not be so petty in discussions about writing that happen on the Blue?

That's not how I interpreted the callout. But if that was the intent, I'm going to have to strongly disagree.

Who are you to say that a discussion of gender-neutral pronouns is less important than a substantive critique of a random web post about writing? I find the former much more interesting than the latter. Next month, few people will remember this FPP or the essay it links to, but we'll all need to deal with how to refer to people in a gender-neutral way. Considering the cultural baggage of gendered language, that's a really important issue.

Who made you, or anyone, the arbiter of what aspects of writing are or aren't important to talk about? (Sentence deliberately ended with a preposition.)
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:35 AM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ok, that came out harsher than I meant it to.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:36 AM on August 4, 2010


That's not the prize, Gator.
posted by iamkimiam at 7:36 AM on August 4, 2010


I write reports. I'm a writer... and I intend to write reports on life in Annexia for the citizens of the U.S.A.

Do you have any proof of what you say?
How do we know you are really a writer?

Well, I have a writing device. *shows pen*

That's not good enough.

Show us.
Write something.
Yes. Write something.

Joan.

What is it, Bill?
Are we there yet?

Almost, Joan.

But I guess it's about time for our William Tell routine.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:36 AM on August 4, 2010 [8 favorites]


Maybe they want us to change the 3rd person singular pronoun paradigm of MetaTalk?

I think I spend too much time with the young folks online, because that sentence feels completely normal to me. Progress!
posted by Mizu at 7:38 AM on August 4, 2010


A MAN A PLAN A PALINDROMIC COMMENT WILL SAVE US.
posted by blue_beetle at 7:38 AM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


I might publish a book in the next decade. It will probably net me around $65k or so.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:40 AM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


we'll all need to deal with how to refer to people in a gender-neutral way.

I did my college thesis on gender-neutral pronouns [and their status in the US around 1990] in case anyone would like to fight about that.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:40 AM on August 4, 2010 [7 favorites]


I think you're swell, flapjax, but I also thought the linked article was pretty crummy, displaying a lot of flair accompanied by a lot of clunkers (Shouldn't "grub-street hacks" be capitalized and unhypenated?). If the author is presenting himself as an advocate for a better kind of writing that isn't hobbled by mercenary motivations I think it's entirely fair for people to point out where his (Or their?) own writing misses the mark. That the author showed up basically to chide and insult people for focusing on the clunkiness rather than his ideas probably didn't help either, and I think sort of indicates where the problems lie. Indeed, MeFites do like their griping and stylistic success can definitely be in the eye of the beholder, but if you feel compelled to make a statement that people need to stop talking about the how of what you said rather than the what of what you said, there is definitely a degree a failure on the author's part, where the prose turns from plumb to leaden.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 7:41 AM on August 4, 2010


*narrows eyes at jessamyn* Pro-skub ... or anti-skub?
posted by adipocere at 7:42 AM on August 4, 2010


game warden to the events rhino: a Mefi posting about his views inevitably drew criticism of his writing, which is full of pomposity and mixed metaphors

Actually, the metaphor got criticized for not being mixed. Which just goes to show... something... I'm not sure what.

The dominant literary culture of our day puts a premium on what is referred to as straight-forward, unadorned prose. Anything that deviates from that is going to annoy some people. And annoyed people are likelier to snark. Those who do like the prose don't comment because they feel that "I like this" isn't much of a comment and it's much harder to articulate why exactly you like something than to criticize. And that's how you get threads about writing which feel like total snarkfests.
posted by Kattullus at 7:45 AM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'll call myself out. I made a bad comment in the Ted Chiang thread. My comment concerned the fact that I think Ted Chiang is a bad writer. But what good did it do for me to say this? Obviously the person who made the FPP and the people commenting on it don't think Ted Chiang is a bad writer. In fact, lots of people in the world think Ted Chiang is a really good writer. I think they're wrong, but so what? Is anybody going to read my comment and say, "Whoa, my favorite writer sucks?" No. They are not.

On the other hand: we complain sometimes that MetaFilter doesn't represent a sufficient range of political viewpoints. So that people rarely have the opportunity to say "Oh, that's what it looks like when somebody who's obviously not an idiot adopts a political stance that seems bizarre to me. What's going on in there?"

I do think we have a pretty wide range of viewpoints about what constitutes good writing. So maybe we can take these threads as an opportunity to interrogate our own standards, and try to understand what it would be like to have different ones.

I seem to have circled around to defending my Ted Chiang comment from my own callout.
posted by escabeche at 7:45 AM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Perhaps having both Flapjax and the original author police the thread by scolding and insulting its participants was not the ideal mechanism for the advancement of a discussion of ideas. Additionally, the author of the original link seems unduly impressed by his style of writing, and holds it forth as an example of what the Web should be, rather than the collection of monosyllabic grunts he seemingly believes it to be. This makes his style -- which, incidentally, is grating -- open to criticism.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:46 AM on August 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


Pro-skub ... or anti-skub?

I'm appalled you even had to ask!
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:46 AM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


[i]I did my college thesis on gender-neutral pronouns [and their status in the US around 1990] in case anyone would like to fight about that.[/i]

Jessamyn, I wrote a term paper about this for a social psychology course, also around 1990! If I remember right, my paper was about why "Ms." had been more successful than attempts at neutral pronouns like "hir" and why the widespread adoption of the singular gender-neutral "they" was inevitable.
posted by escabeche at 7:48 AM on August 4, 2010


Oooh! Preposition Prescriptivism Funtime! (a.k.a. What I'm getting at. (And who knows what for.))

not that girl: "3That is so very much not the only thing MF routinely tanks at."

nomadicink: "What the hell are you even talking about?"

Devils Rancher: "A pretty quick scanning finds several sentences that could be de-convoluted by moving phrases around."

Devils Rancher: "A good editor would have ripped that whole sentence out."

Tomorrowful: "I think I've been insulted. Or called out."

flapjax at midnite: "Although Devils Rancher's thoughtful comment was exactly the kind I was hoping for."

Pogo_Fuzzybutt: "Seriously though, the guy writes like a thesaurus threw up."

Jaltcoh: "Next month, few people will remember this FPP or the essay it links to"

Jaltcoh: "Who made you, or anyone, the arbiter of what aspects of writing are or aren't important to talk about?"

Pogo_Fuzzybutt: "Ok, that came out harsher than I meant it to."
posted by iamkimiam at 7:49 AM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'll call myself out. I made a bad comment in the Ted Chiang thread. My comment concerned the fact that I think Ted Chiang is a bad writer.

Don't feel bad! Thanks to MeFi I picked up Stories of Your Life and Others by Chiang and have been enjoying it, so it all evens out!

Unfortunately, I picked it up for, like, 75 cents at the library's Here Are Books No One Ever Borrows, Please Take Them Sale, which may not speak well for Mr. Chiang after all.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 7:50 AM on August 4, 2010


why the widespread adoption of the singular gender-neutral "they" was inevitable.

That was my conclusion too. My all-mustachioed advisor team quibbled with it.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:51 AM on August 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


The "out" in "called out" is not a preposition.
posted by escabeche at 7:51 AM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Recipe for mixed metaphors:

Take 1 hill of beans
Add your two pence worth
Stir the pot
Roast gently over hot coals
Pour some more oil on
Allow to simmer in its own juice
Serve cold, like revenge.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:51 AM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


It is absolutely acceptable to end a sentence with a preposition.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:52 AM on August 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


It's like the old proverb says: Phe who knows not and knows not xe knows not: en is a fool - shun xem. Thon who knows not and knows ot knows not: co is simple - teach mer. Hy who knows and knows not hu knows: ey is asleep - wake eir. Ne who knows and knows ve knows: thon is wise - follow hum.
posted by Rhomboid at 7:52 AM on August 4, 2010 [8 favorites]


Oh god I'm writing a character that doesn't have a defined sex (it's fluid) so the pronoun use in the outline is killing me. Very awkward to have to use the direct personal pronoun or a nickname every single time.
posted by The Whelk at 7:52 AM on August 4, 2010


Mizu: Maybe they want us to change the 3rd person singular pronoun paradigm of MetaTalk?

All that really needs to change is for people to stop having conniption fits whenever someone uses "she" or "they" when some would prefer "he" or "he or she." Same goes for non-standard gender-neutral pronouns (ze, hir, thon, yo, etc.). They're just words, for crying out loud, there's no need to get annoyed.
posted by Kattullus at 7:52 AM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


My all-mustachioed advisor team quibbled with it.

Did their mustaches ....quiver?
posted by The Whelk at 7:53 AM on August 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


Yeah, technically, neither is 'up' in 'threw up'.

Also, I think one of those 'about's might be an adverb. I suck at syntax.
posted by iamkimiam at 7:54 AM on August 4, 2010


Metroid Baby : And writing about writing can be a lot like stripping down to your undies in a room full of sorority girls armed with Sharpies

Dear Penthouse, I never thought that writing about writing would lead to such an interesting circumstance, but...
posted by quin at 7:56 AM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


There's at least 50 unnecessary commas. His tortured use of "sesquipedalian" smacked of brinksmanship. A good editor would have ripped that whole sentence out. Simple stuff.

True, but it read more like a blog post to me than the type of feature piece that's going to get this kind of editorial attention. And that can be a good thing, just not in this particular piece because dude kind of went buckwild with the overwrought prose like a little kid with no parental supervision. The fact that he came to Mefi to follow up with a post written in the same lame style makes me think maybe he's just a douchebag who actually talks like that all the time and makes everyone with the misfortune of having to interact with him want to stab themselves in the dick. Who knows.

But in response to the points about editing and the quality of web writing, the problem with writing for bigger web magazine type jawns is that there is actually an excrutiating amount of editorial tape to cut through before a piece runs, not too little. I think the editors actually over compensate a bit because they're trying to put a product together that competes with the big serious print publications, and a lot of the editors at web magazines came from those publications so they're trying to prove that their website isn't just some blog but competes with their old employer.

When I write something for the Daily Beast it goes from my editor (who's really fucking good; most of their editors are) up the chain through to the top features editor dude who like used to run the Wall Street Journal and shit and my editor has to hard advocate with him to run the piece if he's not seeing why they should run it. This can take weeks, and each morning there's a discussion between editors about what to run that day and each day my editor has to again push to get my piece on the site. Sometimes you hit the magic formula where your piece connects with both the immediate, momentary relevance of the newscycle and also is something the editors feel the site should have represented on it (in my case, shit about drugs and crime) and it sidesteps this editorial gauntlet and goes straight to the front page but that's not what usually happens. But, believe me, even then there are all kinds of editorial hands on a piece before it runs online.
posted by The Straightener at 7:56 AM on August 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


escabeche: why the widespread adoption of the singular gender-neutral "they" was inevitable.

Seems that way to me. People use it all the time without anyone protesting. I've only ever witnessed people get annoyed by it online.

Though I will say I do find the Baltimorean "yo" to be a fairly elegant solution. I'd be happy with that one.
posted by Kattullus at 7:58 AM on August 4, 2010


I did my college thesis on gender-neutral pronouns [and their status in the US around 1990] in case anyone would like to fight about that.

My position is that "he" and "she" are about equally bad.* "They" is fine is speech, but as much as I'd love to believe the comment in the thread saying it'll be accepted in formal writing in 10 years, I don't see that happening. Some people vacillate between "he" and "she" within the same piece of writing; this is at least closer to equality, but you're constantly at risk of stereotyping (or self-consciously going against stereotypes). The best option is to choose phrasings that avoid referring to gender. There are many effective ways to do this (notwithstanding Strunk & White's gripe about changing singulars to plurals). As a last resort, the ungainly "he or she" or "s/he" could be used.

* If I had to say, I'd say "she" is slightly worse. Both of them are sexist and wrong. But "she" is so willfully sexist and wrong. With "he," there is at least the excuse that it's inconspicuous and traditional and understood to be gender-neutral. "She" is inevitably read as a political statement. I think people who want to make political statements in writing should go ahead and make them explicitly, not sneak them in through their choice of pronouns.
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:58 AM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Life is too damn short to fret because someone has written incorrectly upon the Internet.
posted by catlet at 8:02 AM on August 4, 2010


They're just words, for crying out loud, there's no need to get annoyed.

Hahaha, if I didn't know better, I would think you were new to the internet, Kattullus.

I have been operating under the assumption that this shared space we inhabit is made of words, so getting het up about them is pretty much required, at least some of the time. While I agree with your viewpoint about people needing to chill about non-standard and casual pronoun choices, I think it's also really important that we allow commenters to ask about and discuss those choices. We all need to have a basis from which to understand one another.

I mean, seriously, didn't you see that episode of Star Trek with the guy who speaks entirely in metaphors so they can't translate it? Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra! It was a cautionary tale about florid prose getting out of hand.
posted by Mizu at 8:03 AM on August 4, 2010


Did you hear about the Polish army buying 5000 septic tanks?

As soon as they learn to drive them, they're going to invade Russia.
posted by Meatbomb at 8:03 AM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Though I will say I do find the Baltimorean "yo" to be a fairly elegant solution.

The disadvantage of that is that we would all have to learn the Baltimorean "o" sound, which is a bit like a regular o that has been forced to eat Quaaludes for a week.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:05 AM on August 4, 2010


Trust Meatbomb to inject (with a turkey baster?) a good Polish joke at just the right moment!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:06 AM on August 4, 2010


I'm very confused and I would like a mug of hot chocolate and a hug. Also a funny video possibly involving a cat and a bunny.

Apologies for the delay.
posted by Think_Long at 8:06 AM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm confused as to what this thread is actually about. Based on the original comment I thought it was a concern that the overall quality of the writing here isn't up to scratch. Which if that's the case, I disagree. I don't think the comments in a non-professional setting during a fluid discussion should be held up to the same standards of professional writing that goes through a rewrite and editing process. Most of what happens here is timely and written on the fly. I expect the actual FPP's to be thought-out and well written, but in the comments I have a completely different standard. I'm actually pretty damn impressed at much of the writing here. Thought provoking and articulate points come pretty fast and furious here on a regular basis, which always amazes me.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 8:06 AM on August 4, 2010 [6 favorites]


I didn't get it and I don't get it. Writing as a craft with various bendable rules once you know the basics, I get. Different taste, I get. Dumbing down for mass audiences I get though I don't agree with all the time. Wonderful authors have always been undervalued according to their fans (and often according to themselves, unfortunately) and Twilight was a big hit.

That example wasn't really an example of good writing as the author sees it, it was supposed proof that nobody can understand words of more than one syllable any more and whine whine horrible misuse of the English language. I'm not anti-intellectual, I'm anti-pompous and overly florid twats hoisting themselves by their own overwrought petards.

OTOH I'm sorry if people thought that was supposed to be a moment of internet solidarity and I helped to pee in their thesaurus. Word nerds are fun people when they understand they're word nerds and not the last best hope for humanity.

And now I have to go away and look up a) petards and b) if twat is a banned word.
posted by shinybaum at 8:07 AM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


I did my college thesis on gender-neutral pronouns [and their status in the US around 1990] in case anyone would like to fight about that.

That's what they said!
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:08 AM on August 4, 2010 [17 favorites]


It is indeed sad that too many MeFites think of writing as a tool for communication and not primarily as an artform that can and should be obfuscated mercilessly to draw attention to the writer rather than the thought being proposed (if any).
posted by DU at 8:08 AM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


eveythgins about the way I typew is tototlay clear.
posted by The Whelk at 8:10 AM on August 4, 2010


I'm sure everyone has their own list of "I wish MeFi were more like this."

and black people wish MeFi were more like THIS
posted by DU at 8:11 AM on August 4, 2010


Yo.
posted by GodricVT at 8:11 AM on August 4, 2010


with up so floating many bells down
posted by shakespeherian at 8:13 AM on August 4, 2010


Mizu: Hahaha, if I didn't know better, I would think you were new to the internet, Kattullus.

I have been operating under the assumption that this shared space we inhabit is made of words, so getting het up about them is pretty much required, at least some of the time. While I agree with your viewpoint about people needing to chill about non-standard and casual pronoun choices, I think it's also really important that we allow commenters to ask about and discuss those choices. We all need to have a basis from which to understand one another.


Discussing words is great. And there's nothing wrong, per se, about getting het up about words, but after a gazillion comments which all boil down to "I don't use words this way and therefore it is a stupid way to use words" it starts to grate.

I mean, seriously, didn't you see that episode of Star Trek with the guy who speaks entirely in metaphors so they can't translate it? Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra! It was a cautionary tale about florid prose getting out of hand.

I really don't think that's what the episode was about at all. It seems to me that it was more about the difficulty of communicating with other beings even when you understand all the words. The sentences used by the aliens were perfectly comprehensible to them.
posted by Kattullus at 8:13 AM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


>Yo stole my thunder!
posted by GodricVT at 8:14 AM on August 4, 2010


Whatchootalkin''bout, Flapjax? We write good here.
Like this right here.
posted by SLC Mom at 8:17 AM on August 4, 2010


I don't think the comments in a non-professional setting during a fluid discussion should be held up to the same standards of professional writing that goes through a rewrite and editing process.

I totally agree.

It's a website, not the New Yorker.
posted by morganannie at 8:17 AM on August 4, 2010


Ironic that hardly anyone seems to know what the heck flapjax at midnite is trying to say here.
posted by amro at 8:18 AM on August 4, 2010


Ur comentz r confusin
posted by nomadicink at 8:18 AM on August 4, 2010


Shaka, when the walls fell.
posted by Gator at 8:19 AM on August 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


I think people who want to make political statements in writing should go ahead and make them explicitly, not sneak them in through their choice of pronouns.

In my opinion, saying "Well that's the way everyone does it, so I'm just going to do what everyone does" is a political statement as well. It's a more understandable one, but it's still saying "I side with the status quo" whether it's doing so intentionally or unintentionally. Between facebook's usage of singular they for people who don't report a gender, and style guides switching to be at least neutral on the subject of singular they if not supportive [mostly nothing that some people mind it, not that it's incorrect] it's a more elegant solution than making up a word that people don't understand, or having people get grumpy because you're trying to be egalitarian in your pronoun usage. There is no reason to not try to balance your pronoun usage in some way if you're conscious of the fact that most style guides now say that generic he is considered sexist. Pronoun usage in a lot of ways is only the tip of the iceberg as far as gender equality in language and writing goes.

From a paper in Review of General Psychology (Vol 10 #4, 2006)
Androcentric thinking assumes maleness to be normative and attributes gender differ- ences to females. A content analysis of articles reporting gender differences published between 1965 and 2004 in four American Psychological Association journals examined androcentric pronouns, explanations, and tables and graphs. Few articles used generic masculine pronouns to refer to both women and men. However, explanations of gender differences within articles that mentioned such differences in their abstracts and titles referenced attributes of women significantly more often than attributes of men. Most tables and graphs depicting gender differences positioned males’ data before females’ data, except when gender differences among parents were concerned. Psychologists have ceased to use male-centered pronouns, but female and male psychologists con- tinue to report, explain, and depict gender differences in androcentric ways.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:20 AM on August 4, 2010 [11 favorites]


Speaking of pronouns, I would like to plug thee/tha/ta. Much unused on the American internet. Also your'n.
posted by shinybaum at 8:20 AM on August 4, 2010


Between facebook's usage of singular they for people who don't report a gender...

For weeks I had a pop-up message on FB repeatedly asking me for my gender. I responded to it countless times, but my responses were in vain: it never registered. So, I am still a "they". Which means, of course, that I'm in with the young folk, who understand such things.

And that's gratifying for a fifty-something.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:24 AM on August 4, 2010


Oh, Kattullus, I really need to learn to keep my sarcastic commentary completely separate from my serious commentary. I know that episode of TNG wasn't actually about florid prose getting out of hand, I was just making a kind of jokey point using a nerdy reference. I spend too much time on the Green, you see.
posted by Mizu at 8:25 AM on August 4, 2010


> That was my conclusion too. My all-mustachioed advisor team quibbled with it.

I have a mustachio, and I fully support your position.

> "They" is fine is speech, but as much as I'd love to believe the comment in the thread saying it'll be accepted in formal writing in 10 years, I don't see that happening.

I do. I quite literally see it, because I am a copyeditor (working mostly for a highly respected academic press) and I see singular they on a fairly regular basis. I do my part to hasten the arrival of the shining future by not editing it out.
posted by languagehat at 8:32 AM on August 4, 2010 [7 favorites]


Oh hey Mizu... reading it again the jokiness leaps out at me, but it read earnest at the time. Damn alphabet with its compression of speech into a limited character set. But, well, that's why God invented emoticons. In my defense, people have been talking very seriously about Darmok for years.
posted by Kattullus at 8:32 AM on August 4, 2010


It is absolutely acceptable to end a sentence with a preposition.

Said a young future-MeFite: "What did you bring that book I didn't want to be read to out of up for?"
posted by FishBike at 8:33 AM on August 4, 2010 [11 favorites]


I agree that it's tiresome how hasty MeFites are to dismiss something because of "bad writing." Especially when it's usually just (godforbid) average. Hooray for high standards and all, but you kind of have to learn to appreciate and accept things on their own standards too, unless you want the conversation to bog down immediately.

I have not read the post in question.
posted by hermitosis at 8:33 AM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


A writer on a blog made a fairly good point about the lack of attention given to good writing on the web. But since he sadly doesn't appear to be a particularly good writer himself, a Mefi posting about his views inevitably drew criticism of his writing, which is full of pomposity and mixed metaphors. What do you think Metafilter is "tanking" at here?

Well, if it were only flapjax's post that this had happened to, I would agree. However, this is a sequence that has played out in a lot of other threads—including many posts that aren't even about writing in the first place. How many times have we seen it happen? Someone posts an article they think is interesting, presumably anticipating that the smart, literate people of Metafilter will have some fascinating responses to the author's argument or ideas. Instead, the thread quickly devolves into a scathing critique of the author's writing, featuring a million comments along the lines of "Well, I sort of agree with what the author says, but holy shit she needs to learn to use a comma." It's not the snark that's the problem, exactly, but the refusal to listen to what somebody else (in this case, Mr. Dery) is trying to say.

I'm sort of amazed that more people don't think this is a problem here, because I see it happening all the time. This community has seen a lot of potentially interesting discussions torpedoed by cranky wordsmiths who are more interested in critiquing a writer's stylistic choices than in engaging her ideas. I love a crisp, light, unencumbered sentence as much as the next person, but there are other styles of writing out there, and I think it's worth tuning out one's inner William Strunk now and again if it will lead to a more thoughtful conversation with others.

Of course, Metafilter will have the kind of discussion it wants to have, and it's no use getting all schoolmarmish about it. Still, I'm glad flapjax made this post, because maybe if more people are aware that this happens a lot, they'll be inclined to take a less kneejerk approach to similar discussions in the future. I would cite The Straightener's comment in that thread as a great example; he obviously doesn't care for Dery's prose, but that didn't stop him from posting a terrific, illuminating response to the article.

Jessamyn's point that we all have little ways we'd like to see the site improve is well taken, and I know most people don't see this as a major issue. But I'm grateful all the same to flapjax, philip-random, and others here for speaking up about it, because I think we can do better.
posted by cirripede at 8:36 AM on August 4, 2010 [15 favorites]


Shaka, when the walls fell.

Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra?
posted by Think_Long at 8:36 AM on August 4, 2010


Also, I agree with this:

I'm sort of amazed that more people don't think this is a problem here, because I see it happening all the time. This community has seen a lot of potentially interesting discussions torpedoed by cranky wordsmiths who are more interested in critiquing a writer's stylistic choices than in engaging her ideas.
posted by Think_Long at 8:38 AM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well! Who's for cake?
posted by everichon at 8:40 AM on August 4, 2010


Still, I'm glad flapjax made this post, because maybe if more people are aware that this happens a lot, they'll be inclined to take a less kneejerk approach to similar discussions in the future.

If a post links to crappy writing, don't be surprised when people say it stinks.
posted by nomadicink at 8:41 AM on August 4, 2010


I'll call myself out. I made a bad comment in the Ted Chiang thread. My comment concerned the fact that I think Ted Chiang is a bad writer. But what good did it do for me to say this? Obviously the person who made the FPP and the people commenting on it don't think Ted Chiang is a bad writer. In fact, lots of people in the world think Ted Chiang is a really good writer. I think they're wrong, but so what? Is anybody going to read my comment and say, "Whoa, my favorite writer sucks?" No. They are not.

No no no. You did exactly right. Because there are lots of writers (and other content) linked on Mefi to which we are unfamiliar, and perusing the comments is a good way to get a feel for whether it would be a waste of your time to check out. Not Ted Chiang. He's awesome. But other stuff.

Never be afraid to pipe up with an "I didn't think this was awesome". Because it's confusing and unhelpful to check out linked content, find it wholly underwhelming, and have no point of reference in a thread that is all praise simply because no one wants to say a bad word. You're not stepping on toes. You are rendering a service. Thank you.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:43 AM on August 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


> How many times have we seen it happen? Someone posts an article they think is interesting, presumably anticipating that the smart, literate people of Metafilter will have some fascinating responses to the author's argument or ideas. Instead, the thread quickly devolves into a scathing critique of the author's writing, featuring a million comments along the lines of "Well, I sort of agree with what the author says, but holy shit she needs to learn to use a comma." It's not the snark that's the problem, exactly, but the refusal to listen to what somebody else (in this case, Mr. Dery) is trying to say.

I'm sort of amazed that more people don't think this is a problem here, because I see it happening all the time.


I agree with you; I guess I just don't think it's likely to change. If this thread helps make people think twice, then it's a good thing.
posted by languagehat at 8:46 AM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


If a post links to crappy writing, don't be surprised when people say it stinks.

Of course. I get that a lot of people think Dery's writing sucks. We're not asking the moderators to remove comments that criticize somebody's writing or anything. I'd just like it if we could nudge Metafilter discussions away from the "nasty undergraduate writing workshop" model and toward "awesome discussions where it's OK to dislike someone's writing but, having said that, let's respect and discuss the merits of their ideas."
posted by cirripede at 8:46 AM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm sorry, everyone, but this thread is really unclear. Let's just label it the vomit draft and start over from scratch.
posted by Bookhouse at 8:48 AM on August 4, 2010


It's not the snark that's the problem, exactly, but the refusal to listen to what somebody else (in this case, Mr. Dery) is trying to say.

Not to get all "blame the victim" here, but if he was writing to convey an idea, then burying it underneath all that crap maybe wasn't such a good idea.

I like florid prose as much as the next guy - it's not like I read Shakespeare for insight on how to interact with my jewish neighbor. But if I have to really work to understand what is going on behind all worddentistry and sentencecarpentry then there should be something at the end worth the reward.

In the end, as you pointed out, the straightener made the same point in 1/4 of the space without all the textplumbing.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:50 AM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding.
posted by Gator at 8:51 AM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


In my opinion, saying "Well that's the way everyone does it, so I'm just going to do what everyone does" is a political statement as well.

I agree, which is why I said I don't like "he" either. The only time I can remember using it is when I'm quoting someone, and I still feel the need to say, "Sorry for the sexist language -- this was written a long time ago."

It's a more understandable one, but it's still saying "I side with the status quo" whether it's doing so intentionally or unintentionally.

Yes, agreed -- but it's worth noting that language is inherently tied to tradition and the status quo. That's simply how language works: a word has a certain meaning because people have imbued it with that meaning over and over. That's why if I had to choose between "he" or "she," I'd very reluctantly choose "he" for the sake of traditionalism. (I would just think of it like gendered nouns in French/Italian/Spanish: you use them because that's the rule, not to make any kind of meaningful gendered statement.) But fortunately, we don't need to use either of those.

For anyone who would prefer "she" to be used as a gender-neutral pronoun, I wonder if they'd have any hesitation to use it in reference to, say, a firefighter or a soldier. I'm sure some people would say: no, that's especially good, because it'll open people's minds about the fact that women can have traditionally male jobs. Well, how about using "she" to refer generically to a murderer? How about a rapist?
posted by Jaltcoh at 8:54 AM on August 4, 2010


Too many unpublished, undernourished, understimulated so-called "writers" on this site.

Christ, what an asshole.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:56 AM on August 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


Mefi needs more nudity. Attractive nudity.

And cookies. Tasty cookies.

Also booze.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 8:57 AM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'd just like it if we could nudge Metafilter discussions away from the "nasty undergraduate writing workshop" model and toward "awesome discussions where it's OK to dislike someone's writing but, having said that, let's respect and discuss the merits of their ideas."

Hey, if it's really crappy writing, as the link in original post, don't be surprised if people loudly complain. How about asking people not to link to such dreadful writing?
posted by nomadicink at 8:58 AM on August 4, 2010


Durn Bronzefist: You are rendering a service. Thank you

I completely agree. Though I sometimes think there is too much snark and dismissing of things, I realize I only ever have that complaint when it is something I like, which means I'm, at best, a hypocrite.

I don't have time to comment every time somebody post something they think is awesome that I'm "meh" about or think is quite bad. I've also found that I'm not very good at controlling the way I put negative energy into the world and end up getting pulled into my own nastiness whirilpool when it should have been a minor ripple anyway. Those of you who can do this well please continue. I really appreciate it.

(I'm not being sarcastic.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 8:58 AM on August 4, 2010


I'm fine with people poking fun at a guy who decries bad writing by deploying really terrible writing, but in the end that post devolved into a bunch of gotchas by self-appointed grammar cops who may not quite understand that "good" (textbook/Catholic school) grammar and good writing are not the same thing.
posted by Mister_A at 9:01 AM on August 4, 2010


On the subject of gender-neutral pronouns: If the Queen can refer to herself as We, I get to refer to you as they. It's the Royal they! Take it as a compliment.

Suck it, Republicans!
posted by Sys Rq at 9:02 AM on August 4, 2010


Sometimes Metafilter is a royal they in the ass.

what?
posted by The Whelk at 9:03 AM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


In regards to gender neutral pronouns, I just wanted to point out Douglas Hofstadter's classic A Person Paper on Purity in Language.
posted by kmz at 9:04 AM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


I figured there was another call out coming soon. Like celebrity deaths these things come in threes! I didn't expect it to be on everyone!
posted by cjorgensen at 9:05 AM on August 4, 2010


mustachioed

I once in elementary school used the word "mustachioed" to describe a man with a mustache in a piece of creative writing. I got the paper back with that red-penned as simply wrong and "mustached" provided as a correction. That may be the first time it ever occurred to me that people could be simultaneously older and wronger than me, at least in a language context, but I wasn't really enough of a scrapper at that point to do anything but let the change stand and go on with my day. I probably went out and played some wall ball at recess after that.

They is coming. It is here. There are few things I'm as inclined to be activist about in language arguments. It's the pragmatic solution to the issue in English usage, and if the crushing juggernaut of that inevitability upsets a few pedants along the way all the better.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:19 AM on August 4, 2010 [12 favorites]


Anything we might possibly do to remedy this depressing reality?

See a therapist that can deal with big groups?
posted by anniecat at 9:24 AM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


I wonder if they'd have any hesitation to use it in reference to, say, a firefighter or a soldier.

The whole reason we say firefighter instead of fireman is because people decided to make an effort.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:24 AM on August 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


"I figured there was another call out coming soon. [...] I didn't expect it to be on everyone!"

MeFi's special snowflake of the year is: YOU.
posted by iamkimiam at 9:27 AM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


I figured there was another call out coming soon. ... I didn't expect it to be on everyone!

It's not on everyone. "Everyone" didn't participate in the thread in question, nor in similar devolving-into-predictably-petty-grammar-cop-snarkiness threads. But they happen, and that's what I reckoned we could talk about here. Before turning in for the night, let me just say that I appreciate many of the thoughtful comments that have been made thus far, and that I am by no means calling out "everyone".
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:27 AM on August 4, 2010


iamkimiam jinx!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:28 AM on August 4, 2010


Oh, timing, how I love thee. Just want to say to flapjax, I tease you because I love you.
posted by iamkimiam at 9:28 AM on August 4, 2010


COKES FOR EVERYONE!
posted by iamkimiam at 9:29 AM on August 4, 2010


*blushes*
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:29 AM on August 4, 2010


Blushes for the love, not the COKES...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:30 AM on August 4, 2010


Awww, and we both elided the middle sentence. It's like we edit from the same style sheetbrain!
posted by iamkimiam at 9:32 AM on August 4, 2010


mustachioed bemustached
posted by Mister_A at 9:36 AM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think the inspiration for many people's snark in the thread is because there's actually a lot of good writing in the world and on the web specifically, and to have someone dismiss that triggers a defensive mechanism that can get ugly. I wish people would learn to respond to that impulse with a more measured response that could also include mocking the purple prose rather than just mocking but leaving the deeper reason for the mocking out. But like it or not, that's not everybody's way of communicating.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:42 AM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


liphair-compliant
posted by Meatbomb at 9:43 AM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


mustashy
posted by Trochanter at 9:45 AM on August 4, 2010


mustashesque
posted by The Whelk at 9:45 AM on August 4, 2010


I thought the purpose of MetaTalk was to talk about when stuff went wrong.
posted by biochemist at 9:48 AM on August 4, 2010


Dear AskMe, I'm writing a hygiene manual for the armed forces, which is correct:

Every soldier will only wash their own genitals, or

Every soldier will only wash his or her own dick
posted by yhbc at 9:49 AM on August 4, 2010 [6 favorites]


Too many unpublished, undernourished, understimulated so-called "writers" on this site.

Christ, what an asshole.


Yeah, I guess. It was late. I'd had a few drinks. I decided to peruse a little MetaFilter before slumbering and came across a thread that was going all sideways for all the reasons already mentioned here (but best encapsulated by cirrepede above). Normally, I wouldn't have commented at all but there was flapjax, one of my fave mefites, clearly frustrated, trying to salvage things ... and I suddenly felt his frustration, so I threw some words down and went to bed.

As for my "Christ, what an asshole" worthy line, I guess I regret it now. It should've read:

Too many unDERpublished, undernourished, understimulated so-called "writers" on this site.

This way, it would have included me in its perhaps sloppy inclusiveness. Because I'm sure if you look back on my MeFi contributions, you'll find a fair supply of bitchy, catty, sloppy comments on the nature, the process, the craft, the art of so-called "writing". Do I apologize then for making the comment that inspired a Meta on the topic of MetaFilter's inability to have a grown up, respectful discussion on the nature, the process, the craft, the art of so-called "writing"?

Hell no. Not until everybody reads what cirrepede said ... and also follows her link to what The Straightener said (or more to the point, HOW he said it). Because damn, it would be nice if all we so-called "writers" here could be a little nicer, a little more charitable to our fellows. That doesn't mean we need to let them get away with sloppy sins against their craft; just maybe be a little less harsh, vindictive, provocative when we point them out. Or at least be conscious that when we do choose such methods we are risking derailment of what could be a genuinely cool thread of discussion.
posted by philip-random at 9:50 AM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Just be glad that Dery doesn't insist on a lower case name because that would have been the perfect MeFi shitstorm.
posted by Rhomboid at 9:53 AM on August 4, 2010


This callout baffles me. Of all the websites where I read the comments, MeFi without a doubt has the best writers. Everywhere else, comments have this total "I just tossed this off between moments" feel. Here, I feel like people actually make an effort to phrase their thoughts in a sensible and readable fashion. In other words, people care.

Don't get me wrong, I'm sure there are sites where people are better writers -- like sites that are dedicated to ... writing? But for a general-purpose site, I think the MeFi sites fairly well rock the house.

I know that I've become a better writer since I started commenting here.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:00 AM on August 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


Do I apologize then for making the comment that inspired a Meta on the topic of MetaFilter's inability to have a grown up, respectful discussion on the nature, the process, the craft, the art of so-called "writing"?

Oh please, your framing of the issue as you heroically starting a (insert positive qualities) discussion is exactly the sanctimonious drivel the world could use less of.

Framing matters. Throwing done one off drunken comment and then going to bed is hardly the sort of framing that helps a productive and interesting discussion be born and grow. Actually asking question about how people write is a better way to accomplish your goal.
posted by nomadicink at 10:01 AM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Shaka, when the walls fell.

Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra?


His arms wide.





(For hugs.)
posted by functionequalsform at 10:01 AM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


The mods clearly need to implement an admissions essay-based test for MeFi membership.

What is this about?
posted by Salvor Hardin at 10:02 AM on August 4, 2010


his callout baffles me. Of all the websites where I read the comments, MeFi without a doubt has the best writers.

The mods clearly need to implement an admissions essay-based test for MeFi membership.

Guys, this isn't about the perceived quality of MeFi commenting. The complaint is about how threads have a tendency to attack the writing of a link rather than focusing on the idea. IT happens all the time, so people are hoping to put a little corrective energy into the mix.
posted by Think_Long at 10:04 AM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Given the thread in question, it's interesting that I subconsciously chose to use a gendered noun in that previous comment. hmmmmmm
posted by Think_Long at 10:05 AM on August 4, 2010


I agree with morganannie, this isn't the New Yörker.
posted by mullacc at 10:08 AM on August 4, 2010


I sound my Baltimorean "yo" over the roofs of the world.
posted by lore at 10:08 AM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Given the thread in question, it's interesting that I subconsciously chose to use a gendered noun in that previous comment.

I'm finding that the word "guys" is becoming less of a gendered noun all the time, in terms of actual usage, if not dictionary definition.
posted by FishBike at 10:10 AM on August 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


I agree with morganannie, this isn't the New Yörker.

For one thing its more interesting and no one is trying to make you feel bad about not having 50k to blow on a watch that suits your unique lifestyle, the choice of professions, when you demand the best, and deserve it.
posted by The Whelk at 10:13 AM on August 4, 2010


On the other hand, there aren't as many ads for summer camps in the Catskills.
posted by box at 10:14 AM on August 4, 2010


Doesn't your child deserve the very beast and broadest enrichment environment available? One suited to your own needs and values? Don't you owe it your children to help shape the values and ideals they'll bring with them as they go out into the world?
posted by The Whelk at 10:19 AM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I agree that sometimes it can be tiresome for people to go all crazy critiquing the writing of a particular link rather than the ideas therein, but I don't think this particular post is the best example; he's a professional writer, writing about his profession. If his prose is bad enough to make people think, "He makes a living doing this?!" that's not the same as piling on someone's amateur blog about '80s cartoons or Japanese landscapes or weird insects of the American Southwest or whatever the hell. If you're passing yourself off as a "professional," and especially if you're also making it a point to slag on "dilettantes" like me who write for niche publications as a hobby, you get held to a higher standard. I don't see anything wrong with that.
posted by infinitywaltz at 10:23 AM on August 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


For all intensive purposes, I've been foisted by my own retards too many times to take the bate on this one.
posted by slogger at 10:26 AM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


MetaFilter has done a lot for my writing. It's taught me how to take a complicated mixture of feelings and ideas about a subject and weave them into a few concise sentences. And since I'm usually doing it during coffee breaks, it's also taught me how to do it quickly.
posted by roll truck roll at 10:28 AM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Complaining about your lot as a middling writer is pretty darned common. It's so common that how artfully you complain about it becomes pretty much the only reason anyone would care to pay attention to your complaint.

Sometimes, when a fella reads an article, her strongest response is, "Fuck, that was hard to read!"
posted by Trochanter at 10:28 AM on August 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


and toward "awesome discussions where it's OK to dislike someone's writing but, having said that, let's respect and discuss the merits of their ideas."

The merits of one's ideas are mostly inseparable from the words used to express those ideas. You might have conceived of the most groundbreaking, insightful, and brilliant idea which has ever crossed the mind of man but if you are unable to communicate that idea it has no merit.

Sloppy writing reveals sloppy thinking. And, yes, I do understand the irony there given that I make a lot of typos. So I will try to do better.

This whole callout is unnecessary. If you link to poor writing the writing will be called poor. So don't link to poor writing.

There's much talk at MetaTALK of all the things that Metafilter does NOT do well

There is virtually nothing which Metafilter does not do well. This claim is usually code for "my view is obviously, unquestionably, and inarguably the correct one and if anyone disagrees with me passionately it means Metafilter does not do my pet topic well."

The closest Metafilter comes to a topic which it does not do well is I/P (and, no, that doesn't mean Intellectual Property) but that's only because the topic starts flamewars everywhere. So graded on a curve we do it about as well as anybody.
posted by Justinian at 10:29 AM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Said a young future-MeFite: "What did you bring that book I didn't want to be read to out of up for?"

Yeah, FishBike, kid's had enough Gertrude Stein already, don't you think?
posted by jamjam at 10:33 AM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Justinian: "The merits of one's ideas are mostly inseparable from the words used to express those ideas. You might have conceived of the most groundbreaking, insightful, and brilliant idea which has ever crossed the mind of man but if you are unable to communicate that idea it has no merit."

And it seems that in the US at least, a lot of schools seem to have forgotten that. When a college student can't write a paper about what he's studying, I'm at least partially convinced that he doesn't actually know anything.
posted by roll truck roll at 10:40 AM on August 4, 2010


I leave thoughtful, subtle, and clever comments all the time, but alas, the Favorite well usually goes dry. My purple prose is under-appreciated here, I think.
posted by elder18 at 10:51 AM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Nothin' but the beast for me and mine, The Whelk.

I kid because I love.
posted by Mister_A at 10:52 AM on August 4, 2010


Can we return back to the continuation of mustachiocination now?
posted by Mister_A at 10:53 AM on August 4, 2010


roll truck roll: That's one more reason I think the death of handwriting would be a terrible mistake. Composing a story, essay, or paper on a computer is a very different beast than writing it longhand with pen and paper. And I don't simply mean the mechanics of typing vs writing. The ease of editing, the ability to cut and paste, to rearrange whole paragraphs, or to invisibly fix earlier mistakes makes the whole enterprise less rigorous.

If you can't write sitting at a desk with nothing but pen and paper, you can't write.

But I digress.
posted by Justinian at 10:54 AM on August 4, 2010


If anything, I am overpublished.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:57 AM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


mustachiocination

Which is ratiocination with bonus whisker-twirling.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:00 AM on August 4, 2010


Of course people should try to write well, Justinian, but this discussion has so much less to do with any writer's inability to communicate than with our habit of finding lazy excuses to dismiss people we take a dislike to or ideas we don't want to entertain. Let's not kid ourselves. Virtually everything posted to Metafilter is perfectly comprehensible to anyone who speaks English. Pretending otherwise, as so many make a habit of doing, is simply shutting the conversation down, not to mention cheating the community out of a lot of potentially-interesting, on-topic discussions. It's nothing but noise.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 11:03 AM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


I am so getting a brightly-coloured t-shirt in the happiest goddamned font I can find with IT'S A DOGGIE-DOG WORLD! on it.

I mean, who doesn't love doggie-dogs?
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:07 AM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you can't write sitting at a desk with nothing but pen and paper, you can't write.

Fuck pen and paper. It's wax tablet or nothing.
posted by philip-random at 11:08 AM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you can't write sitting at a desk with nothing but pen and paper, you can't write.

I can type much faster than I can write longhand. Because of this, the rhythms of my prose come out all screwy if I'm using pen and paper.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:17 AM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Fuck pen and paper. It's wax tablet or nothing.

*looks at chisel and slab*

Pfft. Kids today, with their new technologies. I'll stick with tradition, thankyouverymuch.
posted by quin at 11:19 AM on August 4, 2010 [4 favorites]



Fuck pen and paper. It's wax tablet or nothing.

*looks at chisel and slab*


*Puts down khipu knots*

I'm sorry, were you saying something?
posted by Think_Long at 11:25 AM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Pretending otherwise, as so many make a habit of doing, is simply shutting the conversation down, not to mention cheating the community out of a lot of potentially-interesting, on-topic discussions.

Things are supposed to be posted because they might spark an interesting discussion despite being of mediocre quality; they're supposed to be posted because they are of high quality. Sparking interesting discussion is a happy side effect.
posted by Justinian at 11:25 AM on August 4, 2010


Papyrus, Motherfucker: DO YOU WEAVE IT?!
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:25 AM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


What of alternating between "he" and "she"? Is that cool too?
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 11:28 AM on August 4, 2010


Flapjax,

Dude, I agree with you. My mefi writing needs a LOT of improvement...but making a metapost criticizing everyone's writing isn't going to work. Actually...criticizing your own writing doesn't work either.

Yeah dude...everyone here is like that drunk person @2am at the only restaurant open who talks and talks about how they are just so talented...but because of reasons beyond their control, they are not successful.

There's no use dissenting. People here believe their diatribes are worthy of smithsonian status.
posted by hal_c_on at 11:39 AM on August 4, 2010


Two review-writers on Amazon have claimed my latest book is "full" of punctuation and grammatical errors. A PhD-haver in English + some other cross-checks appear to disagree on this point thus far during the re-review (with the exception of the British spelling of 'realize' having slipped through twice in an interview with a UK native...I'll own up to that, but it's not as if that s/z divide is absolutely uncrossable for the average US reader). Most of the 'questionable' stuff was compound adverb related...and a lot of that was just plain stylistic and not a hard error.

Those two review-writers have never, methinks, published anything in their life.

Language is fluid. Language is meant to be USED. Saying there are "too many unpublished, undernourished, understimulated so-called "writers" on this site." is just insulting and weird, and smacks of a superiority complex to me. It's so much easier to criticize than it is to create. I think MeFi has hosted some really amazing and interesting conversations about writing and publishing over the past year and a half or so...
posted by bitter-girl.com at 11:49 AM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Sing in me, O Metafilter, and through me weave the thread
of that poster skilled in all ways of conversing,
the lurker, harried for years on end,
after he self-linked in the stronghold
on the proud height of Meta.
posted by The Whelk at 11:55 AM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


As a side note, based on what we can see on the back end Mr. Dery appears to indeed be Mr. Dery. Someone would have had to go to silly lengths for it to be otherwise in this case.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:58 AM on August 4, 2010


Flapjax... making a metapost criticizing everyone's writing isn't going to work

As the man himself and others have pointed out, that is not what he is saying here, he is saying that the default position many Mefites have of discussing the sizzle rather than the steak is unproductive. Generally, it's a totally valid point, even though I think sizzle criticism is entirely appropriate in this case.

The rest of your comment seems pretty off-topic axe-grindy.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 12:03 PM on August 4, 2010


> Guys, this isn't about the perceived quality of MeFi commenting. The complaint is about how threads have a tendency to attack the writing of a link rather than focusing on the idea.

It's not just the writing, that's a symptom of a larger problem. Check out this thread: LSK posts an interesting list of "songs you didn't know were covers," and not a single person seems to want to do anything but snark about how they knew them already, or young people today, or who cares anyway... It's like actually finding something interesting in a link and discussing it is for losers, the cool thing to do is to shit on it. This attitude is making me less interested in spending time on MetaFilter, frankly (well, combined with the over-the-top hostility that's driving good posters away).

Note: Everyone needs a hug, and posts do not exist simply for you to show you cool and superior you are.
posted by languagehat at 12:08 PM on August 4, 2010 [11 favorites]


It's August and we're all bitter we don't have a summer cabin to retire too.
posted by The Whelk at 12:13 PM on August 4, 2010


It's like actually finding something interesting in a link and discussing it is for losers, the cool thing to do is to shit on it.

Once again I agree with you in general, though that post was a single link to a rambly TV Tropes page, which I thought was pretty meh myself (not enough to crap in the thread about it, though). If it was on Wikipedia it probably would have been better-sourced and better-written in general, but then it would've been a single link to Wikipedia, which would also have been seen as meh.

Sometimes the subject matter of what's in the link just isn't good enough to overcome crappy presentation, sadly.
posted by Gator at 12:20 PM on August 4, 2010


It's like actually finding something interesting in a link and discussing it is for losers, the cool thing to do is to shit on it. This attitude is making me less interested in spending time on MetaFilter, frankly (well, combined with the over-the-top hostility that's driving good posters away).

A lot of us would do well to take a long hard look at this, yes.

As a side note, based on what we can see on the back end Mr. Dery appears to indeed be Mr. Dery.

Oh dear.
posted by Devils Rancher at 12:21 PM on August 4, 2010


I think MeFi has hosted some really amazing and interesting conversations about writing and publishing over the past year and a half or so...

I agree. But in this particular case, Flapjax's post, we collectively blew it. As Alvy just put it, we chose the sizzle over the steak. No problem if that's the intention (ie: it's considered more important to police sloppy writing than to work through the crunky style and find the golden content), but if we're not being conscious with our snark, just reflexively dumping on something because it somehow contravenes something or other learned in English 9 (or Creative Writing 301), then that's sad, and we all lose.
posted by philip-random at 12:23 PM on August 4, 2010


Think_Long: "The complaint is about how threads have a tendency to attack the writing of a link rather than focusing on the idea."

Well, the cited thread was the wrong hill to die on then. Of all threads where MeFi dumps upon bad writing, this one is easily the most relevant. Here, we have a essay on the virtue of prose online, and how writers care about words, meaning, and metaphor.

The author attempts to demonstrate this argument through prose, as if to say, "Look, this craft and style, online will kill it!" Well, that's a gambit strategy, and it failed. People indeed took a look, and gave it the burial it deserved. Or eulogy, if you're the kind of person who cares about words, meaning, and metaphor.
posted by pwnguin at 12:25 PM on August 4, 2010


not a single person seems to want to do anything but snark about how they knew them already, or young people today, or who cares anyway

That's not even close to an honest description of that thread. We have reactions of surprise, of doubt, corrections, observations, and new facts.

But apparently the last acceptable snark isn't inthread, it's about participation in the thread.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:28 PM on August 4, 2010


As a side note, based on what we can see on the back end Mr. Dery appears to indeed be Mr. Dery. Someone would have had to go to silly lengths for it to be otherwise in this case.
posted by cortex


Those who question the identity of Mr. Dery err?
posted by jamjam at 12:32 PM on August 4, 2010 [8 favorites]


As a side note, based on what we can see on the back end Mr. Dery appears to indeed be Mr. Dery. Someone would have had to go to silly lengths for it to be otherwise in this case.

Oh jeez. TMI.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:33 PM on August 4, 2010


If you can't write sitting at a desk with nothing but pen and paper, you can't write.

My friend with cerebral palsy who has published two books and is working on a third would like to talk with you outside.
posted by not that girl at 12:33 PM on August 4, 2010 [8 favorites]


Mr. Bumbury?
posted by The Whelk at 12:38 PM on August 4, 2010


In closing,

1. When the topic of a thread is criticizing the quality of writing, it's ridiculous to complain when people spend the thread criticizing the quality of writing.
2. However, we should all be nicer.
3. This applies equally to M. Dery whose contribution to the thread is the sneeriest thing in it.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 12:42 PM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Note: Everyone needs a hug, and posts do not exist simply for you to show you cool and superior you are.

Get off my Xbox controller grandpa!
posted by nomadicink at 12:52 PM on August 4, 2010



And then there's this thread, whose dung heap has brought up a bumper crop of toadstools: aspiring hermenauts whose hamfisted attempts at deconstructing my prose style founder on a weirdly Asperger's-y tone-deafness to metaphor; hilariously punctilious grammar geeks; and the usual compliment of snark monkeys, George Costanza-like Masters of Their Own Domain, wannabe writers who after Long Years of Bitter Struggle have attained the dizzy heights of the MeFi comment thread, and trolls who missed the offramp for 4Chan.
...
As a side note, based on what we can see on the back end Mr. Dery appears to indeed be Mr. Dery. Someone would have had to go to silly lengths for it to be otherwise in this case.

Oh dear.

(though I do like "hermenaut")
posted by juv3nal at 12:57 PM on August 4, 2010


M. Dery: One of Us.
posted by Mister_A at 1:00 PM on August 4, 2010


(though I do like "hermenaut")

It's been a thing for a while now.

posted by RogerB at 1:07 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I'm with languagehat on this. In many ways being a member of Metafilter is like having a friend I really like and want to introduce to my friends, except he has this one habit of making fun of someone's name as soon as he meets them, and I don't want to be in the position of explaining to everyone "Yeah, I know he made a toilet joke when he found out your name is John, but once you get past that he's really great."
posted by lore at 1:14 PM on August 4, 2010 [18 favorites]


My friend with cerebral palsy who has published two books and is working on a third would like to talk with you outside.

It was in the nature of a metaphor.
posted by Justinian at 1:18 PM on August 4, 2010


Keep your metaphors plumb or your meaning will fall down.
posted by Babblesort at 1:29 PM on August 4, 2010


What the hell does "tanks at" mean?!??

I can't tell whether the comment is praising or condemning MetaFilter because the writer slipped in an incomprehensible piece of slang that makes the comment essentially meaningless.

This is extremely ironic, whichever way you look at it.

For now, I'm imagining guys hanging out in the hood, or perhaps in between shots in a hiphop video clip destined for MTV, saying to each other "Yo, man, you da bomb! You da tank!"
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:31 PM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Hey guiz!

I'm up here w/ that Dery dude!

Y'all look like ants!

And the air! It's so CLEAR!
posted by BitterOldPunk at 1:36 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


What the hell does "tanks at" mean?!??

Roughly, "fails miserably at."
posted by infinitywaltz at 1:36 PM on August 4, 2010


Justinian: The merits of one's ideas are mostly inseparable from the words used to express those ideas. You might have conceived of the most groundbreaking, insightful, and brilliant idea which has ever crossed the mind of man but if you are unable to communicate that idea it has no merit.

The first of these two sentences is nonsense, the second has no bearing on your argument. Let me first tackle the latter. If someone has an idea that they're unable to communicate then as far as the rest of the world is concerned that idea might as well never have been thought of. That's obvious and irrefutable and has absolutely nothing to do with whether "the merits of one's ideas are mostly inseparable from the words used to express those ideas." Now, I understand you to mean that good, clear style is of supreme importance, and that content is inseparable from style. While in many respects I agree with you wholeheartedly (e.g. in fiction and poetry) when it comes to the conveyance of ideas your position doesn't hold water. First of all, style is subject to vagaries of fashion. What we consider good style is radically different from what people thought good style was a century ago. Changes may happen slowly, but not slowly enough for us to notice, one example being the gradual acceptance of "they" as a gender-neutral pronoun. Second of all, plenty of great ideas are communicated in prose that is hard to read, Kant and Derrida are but two of a legion of great thinkers whose writing can be a struggle to get through (though, in both cases, the struggle is very much worth it). Sometimes what we today consider to be clear, straightforward and good style hides as much as it illuminates. Knotty problems sometimes require knotty writing. It's not the easiest idea to get one's mind across, but sometimes clarity and transparency obfuscate.

Sloppy writing reveals sloppy thinking.

That doesn't follow at all. Plenty of clear thinkers are poor writers, which can be the result of learning disabilities, insufficient access to education, or having other interests in life besides the mastery of writing. Plenty of great writers are sloppy thinkers to the point of idiocy (e.g. Hamsun, Céline, Maugham). One doesn't follow from the other at all.

There is virtually nothing which Metafilter does not do well. This claim is usually code for "my view is obviously, unquestionably, and inarguably the correct one and if anyone disagrees with me passionately it means Metafilter does not do my pet topic well."

There are plenty of things that MetaFilter has problems discussing, some not surprising (Israel and Palestine, as you mentioned) and some surprising (Paul McCartney, vegetarianism). MetaFilter isn't a perfect internet-society, acknowledging our faults and working to correct them is one of our great strengths, however (e.g. sexism). This MetaTalk post is one example of that.
posted by Kattullus at 1:38 PM on August 4, 2010 [6 favorites]


> I agree with you in general, though that post was a single link to a rambly TV Tropes page, which I thought was pretty meh myself (not enough to crap in the thread about it, though).

Well, that's kind of my point. I'm not saying it was a great post, I'm saying it was a post that linked to a page with some interesting stuff on it. If someone doesn't find it sufficiently interesting, that's fine. But they can then do two things: move on and find something they like better, or shit in the thread. Too many people are choosing the latter. Me, if I see a linked page that's poorly written or has some chaff but also makes an interesting point or presents a fact I didn't know, I'm likely to comment on the latter, perhaps adding "too bad it's not better written" if the writing makes me particularly grumpy. But I don't see the point of leaving a comment just to say how meh you found it.
posted by languagehat at 1:44 PM on August 4, 2010


There is virtually nothing which Metafilter does not do well. This claim is usually code for "my view is obviously, unquestionably, and inarguably the correct one and if anyone disagrees with me passionately it means Metafilter does not do my pet topic well."

Firstly, this is ridiculous.

Secondly, the amount of snark on MeFi, if not increasing, has certainly reached a point where it has become nearly intolerable (see the FiveBooks comments from yesterday). I got sick of it before and just stuck to AskMe and reading the posts through RSS, recently was tempted to start reading comments again, and am beginning to think this was a terrible idea.
posted by proj at 1:45 PM on August 4, 2010


see the FiveBooks comments from yesterday

That's maybe a better example, but even there: 33 comments; 86 favourites. Maybe the people who got something out of that thread were busy reading? I know I was.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 1:47 PM on August 4, 2010


Too many people are choosing the latter.

Jesus. Well at least we're done with "not a single person". But how many is "too many"?

I look at that thread and I see people having fun. But maybe I need a lawn to want to kick kids off of. The Mrs. is still on me about renting.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 1:52 PM on August 4, 2010


Me, if I see a linked page that's poorly written or has some chaff but also makes an interesting point or presents a fact I didn't know, I'm likely to comment on the latter, perhaps adding "too bad it's not better written"

I think that's a good point and a healthy approach to such threads. Thinking out loud a little here, but I kind of suspect that some of the stuff we think of as threadcrapping is sometimes meant in that same kind of spirit -- if they really had no interest in the subject at all, they'd move on without comment, but upon clicking the link and hoping for something good and finding something subpar, they feel okay about posting their disappointment. "This would be good if it wasn't on TV Tropes" or some such.

Like the OhLife post, in which I said, basically, that I didn't see the point of it. Hopefully the OP doesn't think I was just crapping in the thread with what I said, but I clicked that link expecting to see something nifty and was left puzzled and underwhelmed, and said so (politely) because I thought maybe some discussion could come out of it.

Eh, I dunno. I wish the bar was higher for FPPs, but I also wish there was a little more restraint in the comments. Sad truth is, I've never told any of my friends about this place either.
posted by Gator at 1:59 PM on August 4, 2010


Roughly, "fails miserably at."

Damn. I guess I spent too much of my childhood reading about the Eastern Front, especially the battle of Kursk, because to me a tank is a symbol of awesome power.

Almost 3,000 Nazi tanks against over 5,000 Russian ones; it doesn't ever get much better than that. When the Soviets sent in their divisions of T-34s, you could probably feel the ground tremble in London.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:05 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Almost 3,000 Nazi tanks against over 5,000 Russian ones; it doesn't ever get much better than that.

Unless you were one of the dead, wounded, and maimed. They probably thought it could get better.
posted by Justinian at 2:07 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


tank:"to lose or fail," 1976, originally in tennis jargon, but said there to be from boxing, from tank (n.) in some sense. Tanked "drunk" is from 1893.

So perhaps it started in tennis? But my understanding comes from phrases like "tanked in the box offices, failing to cover even production costs."
posted by pwnguin at 2:15 PM on August 4, 2010


tank: "to keep those fucking mobs of the DPS and healers, seriously, how many times do we have to run this raid", 2005, Jenkins L. et al.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:19 PM on August 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


katullus: "when it comes to the conveyance of ideas your position doesn't hold water."

Right: but "writing" and "conveyance of ideas" aren't the same thing. When people write things down, whether on the internet or between pages, conveying an idea is only one of the things they're trying to do. We don't typically rate writing by the density or quality of ideas or facts it contains; if we did, the "best of the Web" would consist of massive stats dumps.

Sometimes -- maybe even most of the time -- the "idea" is the sizzle and the words on the page are the steak.

Or they're both sizzle. Or both steak. Or both sizzly pieces of steak.

Have I made myself clear?
posted by escabeche at 2:24 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


As a side note, based on what we can see on the back end Mr. Dery appears to indeed be Mr. Dery.

Somebody send him to that "I Write Like" page.
posted by Trochanter at 2:31 PM on August 4, 2010


He got "HP Lovecraft" for his MeFi comment (minus the quoted part and the PayPal part).
posted by Mister_A at 2:35 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wonder if he, too, hates the Portuguese?
posted by Mister_A at 2:35 PM on August 4, 2010


Unless you were one of the dead, wounded, and maimed. They probably thought it could get better.

Sure, but only for the 36 hours or so before the rats finished gnawing out their internal organs.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:35 PM on August 4, 2010


see also: tank and spank.
posted by Justinian at 2:42 PM on August 4, 2010


GUYS WE'RE DOING THE SHALLOW THING WE'RE NOT S'POSED TO DO THAT TEACHER SAID.
posted by fleacircus at 3:02 PM on August 4, 2010


Dear MeFi Termite Mind:

To put to rest any conspiracy theories about whether I'm The Real Mark Dery, note the e-mail address at markderydotcom. Mail me, if you have any doubts, at that address---markdery at verizon dot net---and I'll welcome you into my gently smiling jaws.

Second, flattered as I am that MeFi's Best and Brightest have showered my modest little effort with love, I have neither the time, the carpal tunnels, nor, to be honest, a sufficiently bony browridge to engage in what feels like the "burly brawl" from THE MATRIX RELOADED, as re-enacted by members of the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Any writer who attempts to respond to one thread this long, with this much piling on, let alone two such threads, is either a masochist or badly in need of a life or both. It's the comment-thread version of the torture known as the Death by a Thousand Cuts or, in this case, Death by a Thousand Pricks. Composing a concise yet thorough point-by-point response to this and the previous thread's farrago of grammatical nitpicks (most of them demonstrably wrong, hilariously, and the remainder a matter of personal taste), cavils about my alleged disrespect for my readers, and grand mal seizures about my style would take hours yet, I suspect, sway none of my most vociferous critics.

That said, I do feel moved to address the Big Ideas few here chose to grapple with.

They relate, in one way or another, to the Politics of Style. Devil's Rancher writes:

"...but he also had a point about the debasement of editorship that he backed up by writing an article that very badly needed editing. A pretty quick scanning finds several sentences that could be de-convoluted by moving phrases around. There's at least 50 unnecessary commas. His tortured use of 'sesquipedalian' smacked of brinksmanship. A good editor would have ripped that whole sentence out. Simple stuff.

He's angry, and has a right to be. Unfortunately, his anger resulted in him writing a piece that was also pretty condescending towards a goodly portion of his peers and his readership."

Irony of ironies, Rancher, like most of the self-appointed guardians of Strunkian clarity and concision in this thread, cries out for the slashing red pencil himself. Why the gerund "scanning"? And why the qualifier "pretty"? Strunk takes a dim view of qualifiers, which he argues have an enervating effect on writing. Wouldn't "a quick scan" have been more concise, and no less clear? E.B. White says in his intro to THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE that Strunk rejoiced in every word saved. There; we've saved two. "De-convoluted" is awkward, and has a semi-literate ring to it. Was no better, more euphonious word at hand? It gets worse: In what way was my use of sesquipedalian "tortured"? It fits the thought perfectly, and its meaning, even for the reader unfamiliar with it, can be inferred from its context. Incidentally, I used the word ironically, playing on its status as a big word that has become symbolic, like antidisestablishmentarianism before it, of big words. Then, too, nearly every Buckley obit managed to work the word into its headline, no matter how, er, tortured the results. Onward: How in the name of Cthulhu is my usage, tortured or not, an example of "brinkmanship," which in my dictionary is defined as "the technique or practice of maneuvering a dangerous situation to the limits of tolerance or safety in order to secure the greatest advantage, esp. by creating diplomatic crises." The usage is perverse, to say the least, verging on solecistic.

As for comma use, that's what makes style. Hemingway eschewed them, as a rule; Proust and Joyce sprinkled them liberally on every page. Arguing passionately, on aesthetic grounds, against what you perceive as my overuse of commas is entirely reasonable; pretending that comma use is an exact science whose laws are universally agreed upon bespeaks a provincial unfamiliarity with the historical sweep of literary styles or an unwitting techie prejudice in favor of writing that resembles the comfortingly familiar style of the technical manual: spare and schematic.

Obviously, I'm making a point, here, about pissing wars between Alpha geeks; about the perils of confusing grammatical anality with Deep Thought. As I said in my comment in the other thread, there's an Asperger's-y punctiliousness to many of these comments, a hacker-ish presumption that the best prose approaches the concision and clarity of code itself. I don't know if that unspoken assumption prevails, on MeFi, because the site still shares some sort of Slashdot-y cultural DNA with hacker/geek culture---Bruce Sterling, I suspect, is a household deity in these parts---or if the commenters who embody this mindset are outliers.

In any event, the tendency here, as in mainstream media, to police the boundaries of style is fascinating and instructive. It's a pity flapjack's link to my essay couldn't have been the catalytic spark for a searching discussion about the politics of style. I have no quarrel with the calls for clarity and concision and grammatical literacy that are a staple of every style guide from Strunk to Orwell's "Why I Write" to that Elmore Leonard screed floating around the Web.

But it is a commonplace of cultural analysis to note that the cultural air we breathe is thick with ideology. Barthes reminds us that ideology transforms the man-made into the god-given. "Clarity" and "concision" aren't value-neutral, ahistorical terms; they're profoundly political notions---"political" in the sense of cultural politics---and therefore merit far closer examination than they've been given here.

The Tyranny of Normalcy is tedious, and makes for a moribund literary ecosystem. You want the limpid, in-flight magazine prose of Malcolm Gladwell, every idea helpfully illustrated with a colorful, counterintuitive anecdote? More power to you. You've got plenty of friends. But why must every writer who refuses to worship at the altar of minimalism be pilloried? Alexander Theroux has written a manifesto on literary maximalism and Paul West has written in defense of purple prose. I don't believe my prose is purple---your mileage may vary---but I do believe Strunk & White and Hemingway, perhaps the two wellsprings of literary style that have done more to influence American writing than any other, are products of a specific historical moment, a specific cultural consciousness. That moment is the Machine Age, whose cultural logic was exemplified by the streamlined aesthetic of Raymond Loewy and Walter Dorwin Teague. Strunk's little monograph on style bears the legible impress of that age, a sensibility whose earliest stirrings can be seen in Adolf Loos's seminal essay, "Ornament and Crime," in which he reviles heavily ornamented styles such as art nouveau as aesthetic depravity, evidence of creeping culture rot.

I believe this dichotomy is alive and well today, abundantly evidenced in these two MeFi threads. Let me be clear about clarity: I'm an unabashed fan of Orwell and his brainchild Christopher Hitchens (as a stylist, if not a political polemicist), Joseph Mitchell, and countless other examplars of "prose like a windowpane" (Orwell). But I delight, equally, in those whose prose comes on like a hit of windowpane, from Tom Wolfe to Richard Rodriguez to Hunter Thompson to Lester Bangs to Greil Marcus to Walter Benjamin to, god help me, continental philosophers like Deleuze and Guattari and Zizek. The level of stylistic conservatism in evidence in these threads is simply staggering. If you think my stuff is baroque topiary, put aside your World of Warcraft cheat sheet and read Milles Plateaux by Deleuze or The Tears of Eros by Bataille, for fuck's sake. Your mind will melt on contact with this stuff. And you'll be the better for it.

Pardon my rant. But I cordially loathe the reactionary politics of style---the anti-intellectual philistinism and Babbitry hiding behind a lot of the calls, here and elsewhere, for clarity and concision. There's a streak of pugnacious populism running through this mindset familiar from Hofstadter's Anti-Intellectualism in America. At times, it even gives vent to a latent homophobia, linking an allusive, polysyllabic style to velvet-breeches pretentiousness, which is code for an un-Hemingwayesque unmanliness. Furiousthought nailed this point in the other thread, writing, "[Dery's writing] wears its literary style on its sleeve and a lot of internet people have a taste for keep-it-simple-stupid boilerplate and are keen to beat up art fags."

The Tyranny of Normalcy demands that all writers aspire to a Gladwellian blandness. It's killing cultural criticism or public intellectualism or whatever term isn't too art-faggy for the MeFi mind. Certainly, these two threads, which could have engaged seriously with ideas but opted, instead, for grammatical colonoscopy, are casualties of a killing insistence on the stylistic status quo and the repressive normalcy it embodies.





posted by M. Dery at 3:10 PM on August 4, 2010 [33 favorites]


Welcome to Metafilter, Mark!
posted by cortex (staff) at 3:13 PM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Now go fuck yourself.
posted by fleacircus at 3:25 PM on August 4, 2010 [13 favorites]


Come here, you big lug
posted by Trochanter at 3:27 PM on August 4, 2010


Fedora!
posted by box at 3:27 PM on August 4, 2010


He's got a point.
posted by languagehat at 3:46 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


As I said in my comment in the other thread, there's an Asperger's-y punctiliousness to many of these comments.

Stay classy, Doctor.
posted by infinitywaltz at 3:50 PM on August 4, 2010


Excellent rant!
posted by Wolof at 3:54 PM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Welcome to Metafilter, Mark!
posted by cortex 38 minutes ago [+]

Now go fuck yourself.
posted by fleacircus 25 minutes ago [+]


This thread just peaked. It should be closed right now.
posted by philip-random at 3:54 PM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


My soul is racked in harsh repose
Midnight descends in raven colored clothes
But soft, behold! A sunlight beam
Cutting a swath of glimmering gleam
My heart expands, 'tis grown a bulge in't,
Inspired by your beauty effulgent.

And my next one is.. The Wanton Folly Of Me Mum!
posted by shinybaum at 3:56 PM on August 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


It's a pity flapjack's link to my essay couldn't have been the catalytic spark for a searching discussion about the politics of style.

Alas! For want of a catalytic spark, the searching discussion about the politics of style was lost. Rue the motherfucking day.
posted by kosem at 3:58 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I liked your site. One small suggestion: you ought to have some embedded video. I would especially like to see a clip of you releasing a copy of the Yellow Pages and letting gravity take hold; in a display of your dedication to efficiency as part of your charity work for our malnourished reading lists and impoverished attention spans, you could drop yet more names in a shorter span of time.

Technology! Progress! Philanthropy!
posted by adipocere at 3:58 PM on August 4, 2010 [14 favorites]


1500 words to make ominous allisions to Richard Hofstadter and to imply that calls for clarity and concision are homophobic. It's enough to make an avowed homosexual like me burn all of my Oscar Wilde and run weeping to Hemingway's grave in Idaho to prostate myself before the altar of brute heterosexual brusqueness. For fuck's sake.
posted by blucevalo at 4:01 PM on August 4, 2010 [7 favorites]


Nastiness aside, and on the real: I do genuinely enjoy your semicolon-riddled sentences.
posted by kosem at 4:01 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Asperger's-y

When I saw this adjective in the thread on the blue, I gritted my teeth, rolled my eyes, and let it go. Since it now appears to be a regular part of your lexicon I'll say this:

If you want to call people punctilious, or hacker-ish, or unappreciative of your metaphors, you can just say it without using the name of a disability as a slur.

(See also: OCD as synonym for "uptight"; ADD as synonym for "easily distracted".)
posted by Daily Alice at 4:03 PM on August 4, 2010 [11 favorites]


Look, do you want an escape from bland normalcy or plumb-bob straight, craftsmanlike, well-joined prose? Seems to me you want both, and that's difficult. And it's even more difficult when you draw people's attention to your own style but then demand engagement with "ideas" somehow disengaged from that style.

Identifying mefi as a haven of stylistic conservatism is all very well—and you're correct—but what I and others were pointing out in the original thread was that the more basic blocks of language were askew in your piece. Calls for craft sit oddly alongside mixed metaphors.

If pugnacious populism is wrong, by the way, I don't want to be right, and I know mefi doesn't.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 4:09 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Aside from the Asperger's comment which is in very poor taste that was a lovely bit of ass-kicking. Nice.
posted by Space Coyote at 4:18 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think we've just had a finger shook at us.
posted by deborah at 4:21 PM on August 4, 2010


That's because we're naughty intellectuals.
posted by infinitywaltz at 4:23 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sorry, naughty anti-intellectuals.
posted by infinitywaltz at 4:24 PM on August 4, 2010


If I were inventing Chris Hitchens, instead of a drunk, I'd've made him a stoner.
posted by box at 4:26 PM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


So "you're a homophobe" is the new "you're too dumb to get how brilliant I am?" To quote a great Antipodean plumb-prosed word-joinerer:

"How bizarre, how bizarre."
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:29 PM on August 4, 2010


Second, flattered as I am that MeFi's Best and Brightest have showered my modest little effort with love, I have neither the time, the carpal tunnels, nor, to be honest, a sufficiently bony browridge to engage in what feels like the "burly brawl" from THE MATRIX RELOADED, as re-enacted by members of the Iowa Writers' Workshop.

Welcome to MeFi the internet, Mark. Flattery will get you everywhere.
posted by zarq at 4:34 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


1. When the topic of a thread is criticizing the quality of writing, it's ridiculous to complain when people spend the thread criticizing the quality of writing.
2. However, we should all be nicer.


Agreed.

Therefore, Mr. Dery, and Mr. Flapjax, I'm sorry if I hurt your feelings with my comment about "one too many creative writing classes". As someone whose always been too chicken to make an FPP on here, I especially apologize to Mr. Flapjax, as I imagine it must really suck to post something only to have most people tell you how lame it is.

What I should have said is: This is a very interesting subject for me being a fledgling freelance writer myself (which is why I clicked on the post in the first place) but, as many people before me have pointed out, the way the article is written makes it hard to even want to skim through, much less read with the kind of attention that would allow me to properly discuss its actual content. Mr. Dery has a very impressive vocabulary and affinity for metaphor but he might want to think about whether his verbal acrobatics might be getting in the way of his finding an audience (or editors willing to publish his writing) on the Internet which, as a medium, is not as well-suited to his preferred "style" of writing as, say, a literary magazine that will be read primarily by other people who "care about words" as much as he does. As it stands, it's kind of difficult to take seriously what he has to say about the state of writing on the web, as he apparently holds what he considers good writing to a rather peculiar standard.
posted by Jess the Mess at 4:44 PM on August 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


Dear Mark Dery,

I have a 24-inch monitor and I still had to hit Page Down to read your whole rant. Verily, your penis is a thing of might and majesty.
posted by Gator at 4:47 PM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Today, I was having lunch at Wendy's and as I sat there munching my Baconator, I noticed a tableful of guys across the aisle from me. They were wearing hat's that from a distance seemed to bear the logo of the US Army but when you looked close, they said "God's Army." They also had a (store-printed, from the looks of it) banner emblazoned with the 10 Commandments, but they spelled 'adultery' wrong. They left out the 'e,' so it said that "Thou shalt not commit adultry," which I'm fairly sure only happens in country songs, leaving a loophole for adultery with an 'e,' just for the literalist philanderers among us.

Later on, when I was walking home toward the subway, I saw them preaching in Union Square, but I had my earbuds in, so I could'nt tell you what they were saying or how they were doing.
posted by jonmc at 4:55 PM on August 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


I enjoy colorful writing that doesn't get too much in the way of the message at hand and M.Dery's writing mostly but not completely succeeded at that. In fact, the two most cited examples of "you're doing it wrong" in the MeFi thread (the joinery/plumb and Buckley/sesquipedalain passages) both elicited smiles from me upon my first reading. In my few forays into freelance writing for paid/edited markets, I usually find my often very intentional tendency to write, not run-on, but saunter-on, lengthy sentences containing multiple commas, semi-colons, em-dashes and/or parentheses in various combinations to be rent asunder into more bite-sized pieces, but when one of them survives completely or mostly unscathed, I consider it a personal victory. So, when I have something more than a one-liner of Twitter length to contribute here at the Filter, I enjoy playing with the process of outputting words! (This, I suspect, is one of the major reasons that I have more esteem for languagehat than he has for me)

Anyway, I enjoyed M.Dery's sharp critique in the MeFi thread and his longer rant here, both measurably more than his True/Slant semi-essay (I thought that site was shut down last week, are they still allowing goodbye posts, and if so, multiple goodbyes that could extend over the next several months, hint hint?) which did nearly lose me at a couple points.

But it is well worth repeating his final sentence from his original post (especially for those of you cretinscritics who didn't make it to the end but merely tl;dr-ed it):
"Just when we need it most, the act of thinking aloud in public will fall victim to cost-benefit analyses, condemned for the sublime uselessness that makes it so useful."

And, now that I mentioned it, of all the MetaFilter InJoke Acronyms that distill everything into one-size-fits-all mock brevity, from IANAL to DTMFA, "tl;dr" is the worst. However, I continue to reserve the right to use and abuse FTFY whenever I wish to rephrase someone else's statement in a way that maliciously creates an exposed "hidden meaning", because so many overly-cliche'd turns of phrase sincerely deserve such abuse.

Also, I haven't given up on popularizing the acronym UGOTO for "Uncanny Grasp Of The Obvious", the Howard Cosell-coined verbal equivalent of a eye-rolling.

Anyway, welcome to MetaFilter, M.Dery, give 'em hell and always wear your thickest skin.
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:56 PM on August 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


80% of entertainment is flattering the vanities of the reader. The literary-fiction flourishy style that M. Dery uses flatters people who think of themselves as transcendent appreciators of the arts & such, which is an older pretension. The keep-it-simple-stupid, blunt sentences that most people around here use & favor flatters people who think of themselves as sharp, practical characters with bullshit detectors on at all times. It's still a pretension, of course. There is your politics of style.
posted by furiousthought at 4:58 PM on August 4, 2010 [6 favorites]


Quick, let's gratuitously quote Pierre Bourdieu: "The struggles for the monopoly of the definition of the legitimate mode of cultural production contribute to continually reproduce the belief in the game, the interest for the the game and the stakes, the illusio, of which they are also the products." (my translation)
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 5:00 PM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


well non-sequitured, jonmc, but I always suspect that "God's Army" types who spell it "adultry" really intend it to mean "Thou shalt not commit adulthood" in recognition of the infantilizing tendency of fundamentalist religion.
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:02 PM on August 4, 2010


Maximalism can be done well; David Foster Wallace's work is a great example. Dery is no David Foster Wallace. I am reminded of this person.
posted by everichon at 5:03 PM on August 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


"Just when we need it most, the act of thinking aloud in public will fall victim to cost-benefit analyses, condemned for the sublime uselessness that makes it so useful."

There were at least two good MetaFilter: taglines in that excerpt alone.

I'd be here all day if I chose to concentrate on the longer rant, above.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:05 PM on August 4, 2010


M. Dery: [...]

The meta-ness of these discussions — writing about writing about writing — has reached such a pitch now that I can't be certain that M. Dery's hilarious posting above is intended to be hilarious. I'm going to assume it is, in which case, I say well done.

To address the serious point that is hiding deep within your thickets of words: yes, of course the Tyranny of Normalcy is an issue. Of course there is something reactionary and deeply limiting in the implication that inflight magazine prose represents the only acceptable standard worth aspiring to. However, you appear to have no grasp that, as with so many things in life, It's A Continuum, not a binary choice. I think your (worthwhile) critique would have been better made from a point two or three notches along from Malcolm Gladwell, rather than at the extreme opposite end of the spectrum, where it can only just be made out amid your linguistic flourishes.

Also, yes, when it comes to the politics of style, there is nothing particularly unreactionary about the kind of writing that opposes itself to Gladwell-American-business-speak by adopting the self-consciously elaborate, season-ticket-holder-at-the-local-studio-theater-speak.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 5:09 PM on August 4, 2010


My Warcraft cheat sheet is holding my place in my copy of Candide!
posted by Wuggie Norple at 5:16 PM on August 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


Too many unpublished, undernourished, understimulated so-called "writers" on this site.

Speak for yourself; I've published a book and more than a dozen scholarly articles, and editing other people's writing is a huge part of my job in life. I am also well (too well) nourished, and if I'm understimulated, you coulda fooled me. I think I'm hardly unique on MeFi. There are plenty of writers in this community who do more than blog from the proverbial basement.

I consider writing to be a major reason to love MeFI, both the chance to do it creatively and to read others who write well. Lots of MeFites are superlative writers, and I guarantee you the qualify of writing on MeFi far exceeds anything you can find among the so-called competition. It's one of the things we "do" best. And we discuss writing here a lot, and generally in interesting and articulate ways.

I don't get the callout, with all due respect to the beloved Flapjax. You post a writer talking critically about other people's writing and there's bound to be snark. Writing is so personal to people, just like music. I didn't think the thread went so badly (and apologize if my participation in a derail about pronominal gender was a problem).
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:17 PM on August 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


The keep-it-simple-stupid, blunt sentences that most people around here use & favor flatters people who think of themselves as sharp, practical characters with bullshit detectors on at all times.

Or most people around here are just generally superior.
posted by philip-random at 5:22 PM on August 4, 2010


Well, let's see if your comment gets any favorites, then!
posted by furiousthought at 5:25 PM on August 4, 2010


Favorites are the last refuge of scoundrels.

(Samuel Johnson)
posted by philip-random at 5:29 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Cabal. Plot. Farmville. Flag. Snowflake. Flapjax. At Midnight. Same as in town. With Taters affixed also. tl;dr. Yikes on bikes. Tanks.
posted by effluvia at 5:33 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: As re-enacted by members of the Iowa Writers' Workshop.


Mr. Dery you're never going to get any work done ever agaon
posted by The Whelk at 5:34 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


and I guarantee you the qualify of writing on MeFi far exceeds anything you can find among the so-called competition

Ouch; that must hurt.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:36 PM on August 4, 2010


No, it's sort of pretty much true. We use kind of a lot of qualifiers here, sometimes.
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:39 PM on August 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


WE'RE NUMBER ONE! WE'RE NUMBER ONE! WE'RE THE TALLEST HILL IN KANSAS! RAH RAH SIM BOOM BAH!
posted by The Whelk at 5:40 PM on August 4, 2010


The moral here is that if people are trashing your work on the internet, barging in to defend it against all aggressors will just make you look like an insecure asshole.
posted by Pyry at 5:44 PM on August 4, 2010


(regardless of the actual merits of said work)
posted by Pyry at 5:45 PM on August 4, 2010


We use kind of a lot of qualifiers here

Working on it. One does like to, in a word, as it were, how shall I put it, not to derail the thread or anything.
posted by Trochanter at 5:49 PM on August 4, 2010


We use kind of a lot of qualifiers here, sometimes.

One might even suggest that we tend towards being, in general, somewhat overqualified.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:53 PM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


one could might if it is possible perhaps maybe when it pleases them almost kind of modify a quailifer if it would please them do so at that time.
posted by The Whelk at 6:01 PM on August 4, 2010


Has anyone really been far even as decided to use even go want to do look more like?
posted by Trochanter at 6:04 PM on August 4, 2010


Hi, guys! I'm up here, hoisted by my own petard! Zenith looks pretty spiffy from up here, though. I can see where the pavement ends out beyond Floral Heights, and Mr. Dery, I'd like to talk to you about the growth of real estate out beyond your Grantsville warehouse.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:10 PM on August 4, 2010


Hoist, you unempathetic WoW-churning velvetphobic Strunkite excuse for a computer programmer. The past participle is hoist.
posted by cortex (staff) at 6:30 PM on August 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


We be hoistin' here.
posted by oneswellfoop at 6:39 PM on August 4, 2010


And have you noticed the similarity between the words "pedant" and "petard"? Coincidence? I THINK... well, maybe.
posted by oneswellfoop at 6:40 PM on August 4, 2010


What if you just ...love petards?
posted by The Whelk at 6:40 PM on August 4, 2010


Oh, and Mr. Dery, if you're still reading this far down, I'll add a couple of things. First, I feel somewhat dubiously honored to be singled out for specific refutation -- I'll stick that feather in this fedora right here. Dense as I am, I remain unclear as to whether your admonitions to Strunk were meant in irony, or earnestness. I gather from your remarks though that you're not actually interested in an earnest exchange. This supposition is derived from the the fact that you opened with a series of blanket insults that I can assume were directed at least to some extent to me, personally. Perhaps in some circles, one first metes out florid insults, then engages in a forthright exchange of views. As a working stiff who ekes out sustenance with his hands, I don't have the occasion to travel in such rarefied cohort, nor would I have the stomach.

Morover, I can see that in the black arts of verbose rejoindery, I am quite clearly out of my league, and surrender the field sir.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:40 PM on August 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


iPhone spell check fails again.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:41 PM on August 4, 2010


The past participle is hoist.

Dang. I was going to look it up, but I had to report for my grammatical colonoscopy.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:45 PM on August 4, 2010


I'm just going to add "-y" to more of my words and hope I sound professional. Grammatically-y correct.

Also, "Modest Little Effort" is the name of my new band.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 6:46 PM on August 4, 2010


The past participle is hoist

They see me rollin' they hoistin'
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 6:47 PM on August 4, 2010


What, you guys---and why do I think 90% of you are guys, despite the local convention of cowering behind pseuds, which I've always considered a leading indicator of gutlessness---are suddenly swinging the vorpal sword of political correctness when it comes to my flip, snark-monkey use of the term "Aspberger's-y"? That's another bizarre aspect of online headbutting that favors the mob, and not the lynchee: you act like a hive mind, but don't speak with one voice. Case in point: A few of you are crying foul about my use of the abovementioned term. But then there's this:

"Welcome to Metafilter, Mark!
posted by cortex at 3:13 PM on August 4 [+] [!]

Now go fuck yourself.
posted by fleacircus at 3:25 PM on August 4 [3 favorites +] [!] "

To which I'll simply say: Pleased to meet you, Cortex. And your anal-expulsive friend, who's a credit to his race: Trollus Americanus Vulgaris, the lesser-brained species of the genus Wetbrained Mullethead.
posted by M. Dery at 6:52 PM on August 4, 2010


I'm a right well-fed writer lad, I am. A bit too well, if you ask me. And, for what it's worth, I did like the carpentry metaphor from Mr. Dery. But, my dear Mr. Dery, remember that this is MetaFilter - we've panned Hemingway, David F. Wallace, Pynchon, Ayn Rand (Hah! That one is just for nutjob SEO purposes), Cormac McCarthy, you name it. The dragon porn lady, for instance. Anyway, just because some folks don't like something on MetaFilter doesn't mean no one likes it. Why, this very thread was composed by one of your defenders! So people DO like you, Mr. Dery. I think you're a hoot. I think I may even enjoy your writing in small doses. You remind me a little of Ignatius J. Reilly, with your snorting, scornful, incredulous misanthropy. I think these things are features of Mark Dery, not bugs! I LIKE YOU!
posted by Mister_A at 6:53 PM on August 4, 2010


At which point, I'm out of time and patience. Let me know when the hive mind undergoes surgery for its anencephaly.
posted by M. Dery at 6:55 PM on August 4, 2010


Don't be like that.
posted by Mister_A at 6:57 PM on August 4, 2010


When a true genius appears in the world you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:01 PM on August 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


As a bit of a pedant regarding mixed or inappropriate metaphors, I feel obliged to point out that surgery for anencephaly does not, in fact, install a new brain.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:03 PM on August 4, 2010


Let me just tell you all, this is, believe it or not, not the first time that a long-winded, awkward, and inappropriate confession of affection has led to the object of that affection quickly putting some distance between me and them.
posted by Mister_A at 7:06 PM on August 4, 2010 [9 favorites]


Perhaps you should just anonymously buy them a banjo instead.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:11 PM on August 4, 2010


Well, I would, but they won't tell me where to mail* it at.



*By which I mean, sneak over there late at night, palms besweated, and accidentally spaz out and throw it through the window, then quickly scuttle away. Then walk by in the morning, hands in pockets, whistling, pretending to be looking for an open house.
posted by Mister_A at 7:14 PM on August 4, 2010


Babbitry

The latter-day Babbit (that's Nat)
had tied a symbolical knot:
the standstill and solstice
of ferris-wheel motions
to Wordsworth's most intimate What.

We shiver in August indoors.
We adulterate child with prose
in doses so measured
we freebase the seconds
from centuries stirred into loss.
posted by kid ichorous at 7:20 PM on August 4, 2010


Now we're debating anencephalic surgery? You guys are the limit case in scanning, tunneling anality. Seriously, figurative speech dies screaming here. Work with me, Ubu: I. Was. Speaking. Figuratively. I was imagining a hypothetical operation that would restore the missing brain. (Cue d'oh!)

This, by the by, is precisely why I reached for the Asperger's metaphor. (And it was a metaphor; no defamation of people with that malady intended.) Because there's a poetry-crushing literalism in this little corner of the Web that, for whatever odd, reason, I associate with the hacker-ish mind.
Unweaving the rainbow is thirsty work, guys; at my advanced age, I'm all worn out.
I'm off, to "run weeping to Hemingway's grave in Idaho to prostate (!) myself before the altar of brute heterosexual brusqueness."
For fuck's sake.©
posted by M. Dery at 7:35 PM on August 4, 2010


What, you guys---and why do I think 90% of you are guys, despite the local convention of cowering behind pseuds, which I've always considered a leading indicator of gutlessness---are suddenly swinging the vorpal sword of political correctness when it comes to my flip, snark-monkey use of the term "Aspberger's-y"?

I'm starting to suspect that you're not actually nice.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:36 PM on August 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


(Cue d'oh!)

Kudos! (I got nothin'.)
posted by Sys Rq at 7:47 PM on August 4, 2010


Now we're debating anencephalic surgery? You guys are the limit case in scanning, tunneling anality. Seriously, figurative speech dies screaming here. Work with me, Ubu: I. Was. Speaking. Figuratively. I was imagining a hypothetical operation that would restore the missing brain. (Cue d'oh!)

Dude, literal interpretation of figurative speech is one of our most common comic conventions around here. Lighten up.

Also, "tunneling anality" is my new band name, anyone care to join?
posted by Think_Long at 7:48 PM on August 4, 2010


Not tonight honey, I've got a Gladwellian blandness.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:51 PM on August 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


You guys need an opening act? I've got a new synth-drone project--I call it 'Unweaving the Rainbow.'
posted by box at 7:52 PM on August 4, 2010


I'm starting to suspect that you're not actually nice.

Does it matter? He's interesting.
posted by kid ichorous at 7:53 PM on August 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


This whole thread is giving me douche-chills.
posted by empath at 8:00 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Work with me, Ubu: I. Was. Speaking. Figuratively.

Oh, sorry about that. My brain surgery cured the convulsions, but replaced them with something figuratively akin to Aspergers.*

*Which is perfectly fine & acceptable; I use the term only in a descriptive, non-derogatory sense
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:03 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


To put it in a less hostile tone, M.Dery, one of MetaFilter's most off-putting pseudo-comic practices is the use of sarcastic literalism. Sarcasm in general has been a long debated issue here, leading to the way-too-inside-joke use of HAMBURGER to refer to sarcastically intended statements (having to do with a suggested "sarcasm mark" that was identified as resembling a hamburger sandwich). This is the kind of deeply entrenched obscur-ology that makes it more difficult for newcomers, especially those drawn here by our response to one's own web content. Our internal Wiki is your friend, especially in reducing the likelihood of your saying something that appears much less intelligent within the MetaFilter environment than in the world (or even the Web) at large.
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:04 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm starting to suspect that you're not actually nice.

So I suspect he'll fit in quite well here.
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:06 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


How is this guy not getting for all his superior learning and literary ninja skills that it's not his writing that is bothering anyone now that he's posting here but this absurd, overwrought artifice he's substituting for personality which is really fucking lame and grating. Dude. STOP. Holy shit that is fucking aggravating. (wuv, the guy on Metafilter who writes for the Daily Beast)
posted by The Straightener at 8:08 PM on August 4, 2010 [10 favorites]


For fuck's sake.©

from the page footer: All posts are © their original authors.

So using the © is not only painfully obviously irrelevant, but also the strongest indicator of a "more literate than thou" attitude you've shown yet. (also, what The Straightener said, wuv, a guy on MetaFilter who occasionally writes for msnbc.com)

As for our "cowering behind pseuds", it's a longstanding tradition here that started with the early members who were among the earliest bloggers using their site titles as their IDs on the "Community Blog" and just got out of hand, as everything on the Web eventually does. Still, we do have some of the most entertaining nicks anywhere ("stavrosthewonderchicken", "It's Raining Florence Henderson", "Fiasco da Gama", etc.) and if you click on any of them, you'll be led to a user's page that in very many cases easily reveals the poster's true identity.

Now take a deep breath and don't let the trolls get you down. Because once they have you down, our site's trolls are very skillful at a full dismembering, that, like the best hog butchers, use "everything but the squeal".
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:23 PM on August 4, 2010


Thinking out loud ...
How do you do that? No, really. Either you're thinking or you're talking. Thinking is an internal process, talking (or typing, in our cases) is an external process.

Given that most people give no thought whatsoever into what they say (case in point: me), to say that someone is 'thinking out loud' makes my head hurt.
posted by dg at 8:31 PM on August 4, 2010


Because there's a poetry-crushing literalism in this little corner of the Web...

People around here love poetry! We just don't like to use poetry when discussing poetry. It's a survival tactic, because if we did, it would all just devolve into an unending rap battle. God knows we don't want that.
posted by Mizu at 8:31 PM on August 4, 2010



So I suspect he'll fit in quite well here.


Maybe. But I doubt he'll stay. He's here to have a little flamewar and show off his flair for big words and offensive imagery wrapped around small ideas and petty insults.* Not to mention the latent sexism. It's junior high dickwaving, creative writing DFA style.

But then again, he has posted since he said he wasn't going to anymore. And I guess he's unemployed. He might stick around, I guess.



* (and we'll keep responding because this is metatalk and the Hive Mind does so love a good flameout and this guy's supersillyousness** is the gift that keeps on giving.)

** yeah, I did that on porpoise.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:40 PM on August 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


You guys are the limit case in scanning, tunneling anality.

Actually, we had a budget surplus a few years ago and were able to upgrade to snark force microscopy.
posted by Rhomboid at 8:41 PM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


He's here to have a little flamewar and show off his flair for big words and offensive imagery wrapped around small ideas and petty insults.

That was supposed to be a secret.
posted by philip-random at 8:51 PM on August 4, 2010


This Dery guy really isn't the kind of writer that we need to progress as a culture.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:54 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


it would all just devolve into an unending rap battle. God knows we don't want that.

Wait, we don't? Why not?
posted by infinitywaltz at 8:54 PM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


yeah, I did that on porpoise.

Just to Flipper the bird.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:58 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't what's going on here (has Ethereal Bligh rejoined us? Aces!), but: I'll write any a youse bastards into the dirt.

With one lobe tied behind my back.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:00 PM on August 4, 2010


* cowers *
posted by everichon at 9:02 PM on August 4, 2010

And it was a metaphor; no defamation of people with that malady intended
What about the art fags? Won't somebody think of the art fags?
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 9:02 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's a shame the cabal has driven Mr. Dery beyond the pale, but his debating skills seem really limited. I think he would be cut to ribbons around here pretty quickly. I'm having a laugh imagining him guest moderating even for one day. Heh.
posted by effluvia at 9:13 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


stavrosthewonderchicken: I'll write any a youse bastards into the dirt.

Motherfucker is it on? Cuz if it's on it's on.
posted by Kattullus at 9:13 PM on August 4, 2010


Nah. I'm a lover, not a writer.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:15 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


The problem is that meta is no place to discuss Mr. Dery's writing, in either a positive or negative way. The place for discussing his column is the original thread. MetaTalk is the rougher, snarkier forum where community standards are debated and battles fought. If he'd opened with this post on the blue instead of the insults, then his experience here would have probably gone a lot more smoothly.
posted by Kevin Street at 9:22 PM on August 4, 2010


Is he gone? It was kind of funny when he threw down the copyright seal right after cribbing from Keats, but I thought he was doing very well up till then. And I learned the words Babbitry (sadly not Natalie) and Unhemmingwayesque, which rhymes with Tarrasque.
posted by kid ichorous at 9:23 PM on August 4, 2010


stavrosthewonderchicken: Nah. I'm a lover, not a writer.

But will you write for what you love?
posted by Kattullus at 9:24 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


swinging the vorpal sword of political correctness

A sure sign of an asshole: using "political correctness" as an insult.

(And it was a metaphor; no defamation of people with that malady intended.)

I'm sure people who use terms like "gay", "gyp", and "Jew" as pejoratives think they're not assholes too.
posted by kmz at 9:30 PM on August 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


How many times with the "Aspberger's-y" and "malady" and whatnot?

You seem overconcerned dude, I think you should look into it.
posted by mlis at 9:37 PM on August 4, 2010


And it was a metaphor; no defamation of people with that malady intended

Metaphors are the last refuge of scoundrels.

(Samuel Johnson)
posted by philip-random at 9:49 PM on August 4, 2010


why do I think 90% of you are guys

There are a lot of females on many other parts of the site, but for MetaTalk [the nerd thunderdome, if you will] it seems to be mostly dudes. cortex and I (a real female) work here, feel free to send questions or comments our way. Welcome to the club.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:49 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


But will you write for what you love?

I think he was implying that he would root us into the dirt.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:51 PM on August 4, 2010


I feel as though a very angry puddle has just splashed itself at me.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:53 PM on August 4, 2010 [6 favorites]


UbuRoivas: I think he was implying that he would root us into the dirt.

Where else would we beautiful flowers grow but the dirt?
posted by Kattullus at 9:54 PM on August 4, 2010


I'm off, to "run weeping to Hemingway's grave in Idaho to prostate (!) myself before the altar of brute heterosexual brusqueness."
For fuck's sake.©
posted by M. Dery


Better not.

Hemingway never enjoyed being a Bottom.

Any more than you have, apparently.
posted by jamjam at 9:56 PM on August 4, 2010


It's not exactly ironic that a self-proclaimed (and academically ordained) expert on new media is having a classic cringeworthy flameout -- complete with personal insults and petulant curtain calls -- on MeFi, but it is... something. Sad? Hilarious? I'll settle on depressing, especially if you're currently in graduate school in the humanities, and with loans to pay. The academy is full of big babies who can't handle the rough and tumble of the real world. Sorry about that, kids.

(And M. Dery, if you do come back: Welcome! I read your opening salvo above twice, and genuinely enjoyed it. You'll find that MeFi is a place where embarrassing tantrums are quickly forgiven, especially when followed with grace and insight, much like the real world. Or at least Canada.)

Oh, and anyone who gets into a pissing match about writing isn't a real writer. Carry on.
posted by turducken at 10:08 PM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


...despite the local convention of cowering behind pseuds...

HEY, NOT ALL OF US ARE COWARDS! YOU TAKE THAT BACK!

Also, I think this place finally got too weird for me.
posted by cjorgensen at 10:09 PM on August 4, 2010


Wait, we don't? Why not?

Because the rap battle is getting better and better, everybody is into it and there's this excitement in the room that's just infectious, the mic moving from hand to hand as improbable rhymes are volleyed back and forth, the whole room suffused with a sense of immanence as if this is the moment that all your lives have been building toward, and then somehow out of nowhere your dad gets up on stage and everybody's like OH SHIT DUDE IN THE DOCKERS IS GONNA FLOW and they're laughing and waiting for the moment to explode, but then he's all "my name is Warren / and I'm here to say" and everybody gets a sinking feeling and you just want to stop it before it gets any worse but you're in dream molasses and the words keep dripping out, each syllable a gunshot in the now-too-quiet room, the old man's knees starting to Charleston along to the beat that is only, can now only be, in his head:

"i like to rap / in a major way"
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:21 PM on August 4, 2010 [15 favorites]


Wow, an Asperger's quip, sneering accusations of political correctness, AND an inaccurate use of "troll"? That's like the trifecta of crap MeTa commenting, delightfully-baroque-but-still-sort-of-clunky stylings notwithstanding.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:26 PM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oooh, it's been ages since I read a comment and had to turn around, wave my arms in the air and say OH NO HE DIN'T. So delightful, I got to do that again. Well. I am an admirer, myself, of commas and semicolons and purplish prose of all varieties and, you know, there isn't really a war that I have noticed between them and clarity. Of course, I seize every copywriting gig that comes my way with joy and the breathless anticipation that comes from being able to actually buy groceries but hey, your mileage, honey, may vary and I took from the original article that as a writer, I should not be doing so. Or, if I was doing so, I should maybe bring on the sackcloth, the ashes and the abashment. Alas. One can only abase oneself so much and still leave time to write like a technical manual, or perhaps that is reserved for those who are male, as I am not, and a programmer, as I am also not.

Meanwhile, as I'm thinking about writing for a living and writing articles on the internet yet still being horribly bothered by what other people think, which I believe must be a painful thing and perhaps one that in a country with decent health care could be looked at, I've been reading these threads and thinking about Metafilter and writing and whether it can be said that we do this badly. I don't think we do. I think we do it well and looking back on the seven odd years - very odd years, yeah, try the veal - that I've been reading mefi on writing I think the thoughtfulness outweighs the snark.

I think, too, that the snark is golden and beautiful and has its place in puncturing, perhaps, some balloons that need the occasional bringing down to earth. When the snark begins to grow out of hand, there are threads like this one asking to rein it in and then there are earnest people who say, hey, I have noticed that I myself have snarked too much and I will slow it down. This is all, really, that you can ask from a website. There is thought here and sometimes brilliance and yes, often completely hilarious grammar pedantry that we actually can walk away from thinking, hmmm, I have never thought about that before and wow, pronouns, hmm. This is a good thing. There are not a lot of sites on the internet that ask you to consider pronouns and then, in the next comment or two over, look with interest at the ideas you were trying, you with your crazy pronouns and all, to express. Here, we do that and for the most part, I think, we do it kindly or if not kindly, exactly, then at least with thought.
posted by mygothlaundry at 10:36 PM on August 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


puncturing, perhaps, some balloons that need the occasional bringing down to earth

OOOH! OOOOH!! Speaking of which...
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:00 PM on August 4, 2010


why do I think 90% of you are guys?

Because it saves you from having to come up with a real argument?

Why is it that I think prolixity too often seems a cover for lack of originality?

I know not.
posted by tallus at 1:28 AM on August 5, 2010


Oh wait, I've checked out his website and I think I finally figured out who he really is.

Gilderoy Lockhart.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 4:20 AM on August 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh, and hey, Mark, I'd be jazzed if you'd float through here once in a while and fling a bit of pixie stardust around. I read a couple of your books back in the day and dug them a lot.

Trick around here is to ignore as much of the dyspepsia as you can. A lot of this shit became really personal, though, so I completely understand your reaction.
posted by Wolof at 5:22 AM on August 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I noticed, with curiosity, late yesterday that Mark Dery has edited an apparently well-received compilation on the subject of internet discourse called Flame Wars. It kind of piqued my interest again after thinking it over, since he professes to an understanding of online conversations and the pratfalls of text-based communication; how disembodied words are taken out of context, and the tendency of people to feel more free to hurl insults from behind the anonymity of the keyboard. My first thought was that from this base of understanding, it made his initial tirade in the original thread even more obtuse, since his blanket insults were by far the most vitriolic up to that point.

Does he come into this full of suppositions, thinking we're all thick-skinned and there's only one way to talk to this group of plebes that they'll understand? Or are we being put on here, perhaps, for the sake of proving a point? Again, when you take away the first paragraph of invective from his initial post here in this thread, he proceeds from there to make an interesting argument, but I find that I had shut down before reading that due to the nature of the initial heaping of ignominy in that missive. Intent? Curmudgeon indeed? I might like to read that book.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:35 AM on August 5, 2010


What, you guys---and why do I think 90% of you are guys, despite the local convention of cowering behind pseuds, which I've always considered a leading indicator of gutlessness---are suddenly swinging the vorpal sword of political correctness when it comes to my flip, snark-monkey use of the term "Aspberger's-y"?

I don't know if anybody's still reading down here, but I feel I have to say it one more time. When snark-monkeys like you call other folks on the internet "Aspergers" as though it were a synonym for "asshole" or "socially inept" or "geeky", you are trivializing a condition that is a real thing that causes real people real suffering. No matter how many disclaimers or "only kiddin's" you add on to it, you are doing harm. You obviously have plenty of words at your disposal. You appear to be concerned about using them properly. Why not let this usage go and find some words that accurately describe the behavior you're talking about, rather than perpetuate a hurtful stereotype?

Not a guy here, just a mom to an awesome kid who happens to have Asperger's syndrome.
posted by Daily Alice at 6:37 AM on August 5, 2010 [23 favorites]


Is this a new record for shortest time to flame out?
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 7:07 AM on August 5, 2010


Wait so what I read as good-natured gamesmanship w/r/t effusive prose & witticisms was, in fact, a giant babby throwing a tantrum? Where I read bemused chiding, I should rather have seen seething condescension?

And he thinks this makes him look good?
posted by shakespeherian at 7:34 AM on August 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Dude's 51 years old and still playing Ultimate Flame Warrior online, tracking down and warring with anyone who doesn't like his writing. It definitely does not make him look good.
posted by The Straightener at 7:39 AM on August 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


... what feels like the "burly brawl" from THE MATRIX RELOADED, as re-enacted by members the inmates of the asylum of Charenton as directed by members of the Iowa Writers' Workshop ...
posted by octobersurprise at 7:43 AM on August 5, 2010


Tried again to read the article. Failed again.

You know when you fall out of a canoe? And you're in the water in your clothes? And you make your way to shore? And you are wading out of the water and you finally get far enough out that the water's not dragging at your clothes anymore? That's what I feel like when I stop reading this guy.
posted by Trochanter at 9:17 AM on August 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


From the bottom of the Hofstadter satirical essay posted above. One final footnote: My book Gödel, Escher, Bach, whose dialogues were the source of my very first trepidations about my own sexism, is now being translated into various languages, and to my delight, the Tortoise, a green-blooded male if ever there was one in English, is becoming Madame Tortue in French, Signorina Ttirtaruga in Italian, and so on. Full circle ahead!

I remember in a preface to an edition of Godel, Escher, Bach, Hofstadter expresses embarrassment about dismissing, earlier in his career, concerns about sexist language.
posted by Jagz-Mario at 10:34 AM on August 5, 2010


Monsieur Dery wrote a book about online argumentation, yet sees people using pseudonyms (or "handles") as a mark of cowardice? While in some cases I'm sure that's true, it's such a longstanding convention of computer-mediated discussion* that it's hard to believe such a brusque dismissal.
What, you guys---and why do I think 90% of you are guys, despite the local convention of cowering behind pseuds, which I've always considered a leading indicator of gutlessness---are suddenly swinging the vorpal sword of political correctness when it comes to my flip, snark-monkey use of the term "Aspberger's-y"?
It's not sudden. The people here tend to be pretty good about calling out verbal manifestations of prejudice or dismissal, whether they be sexist, racist, or disability-related**. It's kind of nice for those of us who are not part of the "unmarked categories," and also for those of us who are but just aren't feckless assholes.

Your essay had some great points. Your first reply, while clear that you had your back up (evidenced by your opening with spray-fire insults), was also cromulent to the discussion at hand***. Since then you've been exhibiting the same sort of class normally shown on MetaTalk by those called out for conflicts of interest, offensive behavior, and the like. Indeed, I was shocked to learn in a comment late in this thread that you're 51 years old. Your attitudes exhibited here more resemble those of a person a third your age who's feeling backed into a corner by those challenging a dearly held belief and retreating behind a wall of vitriolic pejoratives. Your writing since joining this thread have shown the insensitivity to the community one would expect from a caricatured imperialist, not bothering to try to learn local idiom, believing the worst about people, making sweeping and inaccurate generalizations, and reaching for their guns the moment they feel threatened.

I hope this is just a bad day for you. We all have them. Please comport yourself in a more seemly manner; flies and vinegar and all that.

* there's a pseudonymous tradition that dates back well through the foundations of published writing**** as we know it, and I'm sure even further. To suggest pseudonyms are the refuge of cowards is an insult to Ben Franklin, George Orwell, and James Tiptree.

** except "lame," strangely enough, which I suppose is evidence that it's joined "blind" and "deaf" in the collection of metaphors more descriptive than insulting*****

*** "Sesquipedalian," for example, is the perfect word for describing someone who uses overlong words.

**** and CB radio

***** Full disclosure: I am lame and walk with a cane. Last weekend I DJd at a rock club with a friend of mine who is "legally blind". Finding a third DJ who is deaf is more of a challenge than I can really grasp right now, but if we can find a stammerer with great taste in music and a fab record collection we could advertise as "Lame, Blind, and Halt."
posted by jtron at 11:02 AM on August 5, 2010 [7 favorites]



I should rather have seen seething condescension?

Seething and inaccurate condescension.

It is Mille Plateaux by Deleuze and Guattari not Milles Plateaux by Deleuze.

This might seem to be an example of the minor nit-picking which our mutual friend complains of, but in context it becomes a little telling. If you read them when they are writing separately it is clear that Deleuze can be a surprisingly plain writer. Guattari's solo work, by contrast, marks him out as the source of the tortured wordsmithing and Deleuze seems to have been a restraining influence when they were working together.
posted by tallus at 11:14 AM on August 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Daily Alice, thank you for saying that.

Your boy is a great drummer!
posted by zarq at 11:20 AM on August 5, 2010


*** "Sesquipedalian," for example, is the perfect word for describing someone who uses overlong words.

Though I was tempted to ask him if he scruples to send us to the dictionary for words of more than a foot and a half. Perhaps, on reflection, it is a mere six inches that will save us from grandiloquence.
posted by tallus at 11:37 AM on August 5, 2010


Nerd thunderdome, indeed. While I actually agree with many of his points, I still don't think we've sufficiently ridiculed the guy's use of the word "compliment."
posted by albrecht at 11:46 AM on August 5, 2010


Kattullus, my initial comment in the original thread was not an attack on Dery for using a perfectly servicable and appropriate metaphor. Rather it was an attempt at using dry sarcasm and reductio ad absurdum to demonstrate how flagrantly ignorant I felt drjimmy11's comment had been. I clearly failed: you are not the only one to have taken my comment literally.

I forgot that when you respond to an idiotic comment using sarcasm that dry, you are in danger of being taken literally and appearing to be even more of an idiot yourself. Following an argument based on "anything I don't understand is obviously bad writing", the bar for idiocy has already been set in such a place as to make it easy to confuse sarcasm with genuine ignorance. That was foolish of me - my apologies.

There is something heavily ironic about the direction both threads have taken when placed in the wider context of Dery's actual argument with regard to the problem of quality writing on the internet and exactly how valuable quality writing really is to publishers, readers and writers themselves. Broadly speaking I tend to agree with Dery, but I can see that a business-minded publisher might construct something like a counter-argument by pointing directly to these threads and others, and arguing that for many sites and publications there is little point in paying a premium for quality writing when only a minority of readers are actually capable of understanding it.
posted by motty at 11:49 AM on August 5, 2010


I'm alwrite!
Don't nobody worry bout me!

posted by not_on_display at 11:57 AM on August 5, 2010


I still don't think we've sufficiently ridiculed the guy's use of the word "compliment."

He meant to type "complement"? I believe good sir you have scored an "ice burn" and are awarded ten points.
posted by furiousthought at 12:04 PM on August 5, 2010


COLD BUSTED
posted by shakespeherian at 12:11 PM on August 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


...there is little point in paying a premium for quality writing when only a minority of readers are actually capable of understanding it.

I don't think it's true that publishers don't value "high quality" writing—I think that publishers, especially mass market publishers, have a different metric than you do. One could make a very good argument that People magazine feature high quality writing. There is a real craft to producing prose that sparkles with the latest pop culture touchstones but can still be read and understood by the average 5th grader. Some of the featurettes and things they run can provide an amazing amount of gossipy context through a cunning few well chosen words. There's a real craft to writing stuff like that, just as there is to writing good ad copy.

Alas, for all this, it is still a time of ever-diminishing returns for writers, particularly magazine-length non-fiction writers.
posted by Mister_A at 12:37 PM on August 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think motty's comment right here is a good example of how this MeTa is pretty much bass-ackwards. The embarrassed people are the embarrassing ones, the conversation-quality-decriers are the asshole threadshitters, and the MetaFilter-isn't-good-enough people are the ones actively pumping in the stupid.
posted by fleacircus at 1:03 PM on August 5, 2010


Broadly speaking I tend to agree with Dery, but I can see that a business-minded publisher might construct something like a counter-argument by pointing directly to these threads and others, and arguing that for many sites and publications there is little point in paying a premium for quality writing when only a minority of readers are actually capable of understanding it.

Dude, those publishers don't pay, anyway, don't kid yourself about their needing some high minded justification for it.
posted by The Straightener at 1:09 PM on August 5, 2010


One could make a very good argument that People magazine feature high quality writing. There is a real craft to producing prose that sparkles with the latest pop culture touchstones but can still be read and understood by the average 5th grader.

To give a serious-ish answer to this, the big web players like Huffpo and the DB shoot for a middle ground where there's enough total fluff to bring in sufficient eyeballs to drive ad revenue to help pay their smaller core of more serious writers that do hard feature pieces. You can complain about the fluff shit, but the fact is that their formula is really good at hitting a broad audience. They know that smart, serious women with Ivy quality educations will pick up a copy of OK! to flip through on the treadmill at the gym. That's pretty much their ideal reader, because she's on the site for all the content, from the fluff celebrity stuff to the big Wikileaks story. Then there are the people who just tune in for the fluff and then others who don't read the site regularly because of the fluff but will read a serious piece on the site via direct link if it's blowing up all over the web.

A lot of my stuff is just too serious for their format, I've asked about getting some blog space on there for urban poverty commentary and they weren't feeling that, which I understand. They do love what I do for them, they understand that my pieces are unusual for their overall style and tone and the hard news types there (including Tina, so I'm told) love what I do for them. Every time I have a piece on there it's an event for them, I get lots of excited emails and phone calls from them when something of mine runs. When I go to their office in NYC to visit everyone heaps praise on me which I would be suspicious of if not for the fact that they're all intimately familiar with what I'm doing for them. They read my stuff, and are pretty crazy about it, because I'm considered one of the Serious Business guys on their roster, even if I can only produce a couple pieces a year for them because of my day job.

The strategy of having a huge stable of freelancers to take pitches from is a double edged sword. Nobody at the DB or HuffPo is making huge money freelancing stuff to them, but there are a lot more voices breaking through right now than ever before because the new freedom not having to kill trees brings to the publishing endeavor. Editors can look around and see what's out there, take chances on total unknowns. This was the Daily Beast's stated reason when they contacted me to write for them. They wanted to give me a shot precisely because I'm not a journalist who lives in NYC, I'm bringing a perspective to their site that is very different from the norm. So the fracturing of the media landscape worked out great for me, because honestly, I've pitched shit at the New Yorker, the Times Magazine, all the big name old media places and never received so much as a form letter rejection in response.
posted by The Straightener at 1:36 PM on August 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


Following an argument based on "anything I don't understand is obviously bad writing"

Broadly speaking I tend to agree with Dery, but I can see that a business-minded publisher might construct something like a counter-argument by pointing directly to these threads and others, and arguing that for many sites and publications there is little point in paying a premium for quality writing when only a minority of readers are actually capable of understanding it.

This whole thing kind of reminds of when my friend's horrid ex-boyfriend once attempted to convince me that fricking psy-trance was the evolution of music and only mouth-breathers were still into rock.

My feeling was and is: I guess I'm half-wit then, but I sure am enjoying it.
posted by Jess the Mess at 1:51 PM on August 5, 2010


Monsieur Dery wrote a book about online argumentation

This makes me suspect that there was something slightly Mark Dery Blue about his appearance here, ostentatious verbal gymnastics and all...

$5 for maybe a few new subscribers to his magazine or feuillette, plus a boost in search engine ranking, perhaps? Sounds worth it to me.
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:53 PM on August 5, 2010



The problem Mr. Dery has in his piece is that, as has been amply pointed out, the metaphor isn't working in service of his larger point. It's serving to show off just how clever he thinks he is - a wordplumber carefully forging ideas in the sweaty lumbermill of his sentence-quarry.

And this, ultimately, is the part that rankles. Yes, of course, writing well is a skill and few take the time to get really good at it. There are some who are extraordinary. But he comes across as one of those "good" writers are not at all content to call themselves writers and just let it be at that. They have to constantly compare the work to other trades to assuage their own inferiority complexes and constantly justify their effort and cost. Noone has ever heard of a "Lumberjackdoctor" or a "plumberforger" but "wordsmith" ? Really ? What is wrong with letting your work speak for itself ?

It is this conceit and insecurity that rankles. It's a piercing howl of inadequacy. It doesn't serve the point he was trying it make instead undermining it nearly completely. If your product is any good, it doesn't need the upsell. Indeed, having worked as a carpenter (or is it "carpenterastrophysicist"?), I find the metaphor especially trite. I have rarely rolled my eyes so hard.

And the worst part is that this isn't even an original metaphor or comparison. He would have done better to craft an original argument about the value of good writing. Or, better, have just written well about good writing. One is left to conclude that would have been too much effort, or was otherwise beyond him, and so he went for the low hanging fruit. The whole essay was a swing and a miss as far as that goes.

And - a poorly written, painfully obvious, single link blog post as the best of the web ? Oh, no the failure here was not with the comments.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 2:14 PM on August 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I would like to see M. Dery in a cage match with:
Henry Miller OR
Hunter S. Thompson OR
Norman Mailer

Dunno why I want this; maybe it was the whole insulting the audience thing. Makes me want to inflict punishment.
posted by angrycat at 2:52 PM on August 5, 2010


Or a Deleuze & Guattari tag team!
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:54 PM on August 5, 2010


Metafilter: a wordplumber carefully forging ideas in the sweaty lumbermill of his sentence-quarry.
posted by infinitywaltz at 3:07 PM on August 5, 2010


Welterunderweight Wordsmith Championship Bout!

Mark Dery vs. Susan Sontag for the title of World Overwrought Proseur Champion!

Undercard:

Jonah Goldberg vs. Gary Brecher
Camille Paglia vs. Ta-Nehisi Coates
Phil Collins vs. Kid Rock

Book at Ticketek! Hurry, seats are selling fast

This is a Fiasco da Gama promotion co-licenced by NSW Gaming and Racing and Ministry for the Arts
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 3:35 PM on August 5, 2010


Camille Paglia vs. Ta-Nehisi Coates

omg the blood
posted by The Whelk at 6:41 PM on August 5, 2010


something something Alexander Theroux
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 7:00 PM on August 5, 2010


iamkimiam: Oooh! Preposition Prescriptivism Funtime! (a.k.a. What I'm getting at. (And who knows what for.))

OH SHIT! GRAMMER EMERGENCY! I BETTER GET TO WORK!

not that girl: "3That is so very much not the only thing MF routinely tanks at."

3That is so very much not the only thing at which MF routinely tanks.

nomadicink: "What the hell are you even talking about?"

About what the hell are you even talking?

Devils Rancher: "A pretty quick scanning finds several sentences that could be de-convoluted by moving phrases around."

A pretty quick scanning finds several sentences that could be de-convoluted by moving around phrases.

Devils Rancher: "A good editor would have ripped that whole sentence out."

A good editor would have ripped out that whole sentence.

Tomorrowful: "I think I've been insulted. Or called out."

I think I've been insulted. Or out that I've been called.

flapjax at midnite: "Although Devils Rancher's thoughtful comment was exactly the kind I was hoping for."

Although Devils Rancher's thoughtful comment was exactly the kind for which I was hoping.

Pogo_Fuzzybutt: "Seriously though, the guy writes like a thesaurus threw up."

Seriously though, the guy writes up like a thesaurus threw.

Jaltcoh: "Next month, few people will remember this FPP or the essay it links to"

Next month, few people will remember this FPP or the essay to which it links.

Jaltcoh: "Who made you, or anyone, the arbiter of what aspects of writing are or aren't important to talk about?"

Who made you, or anyone, the arbiter of what aspects of writing are or aren't important ones about which to talk?

Pogo_Fuzzybutt: "Ok, that came out harsher than I meant it to."

Ok, that came out harsher than to which I meant it.
posted by moss at 8:38 PM on August 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


The whole dangling preposition thing is such a tired timewaster. It was auto-extracted from the tightly-clenched asses of grammarians of a bygone age who believed that English would be better and more correcter if it were more like Latin.

It is stupid. DANGLE AWAY, FRIENDS! DANGLE PROUDLY!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:54 PM on August 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


"To seek out new worlds and new civilizations, to go boldly...

Nah, let' see...

"To seek out new worlds and new civilizations, boldly to go ..."

No, that's not working either... too bad I can't split that infinitive. Ah, fuckit. Let someone else write this thing.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:15 PM on August 5, 2010


Devils Rancher: "A pretty quick scanning finds several sentences that could be de-convoluted by moving phrases around."

A pretty quick scanning finds several sentences that could be de-convoluted by moving around phrases.


Crap. I *thought* that was an adverb.

Seriously though, the guy writes up like a thesaurus threw.

That made me laugh out loud. Hard. I just love the agency of the thesaurus. I mean, really, what the hell is it throwing?! Words? Synonyms? And in which direction!?!
posted by iamkimiam at 10:13 PM on August 5, 2010


The thesaurus is not throwing so much as it is bandying, barraging, bombarding, bucking, bunting, butting, canting, casting, catapulting, chucking, dashing, delivering, discharging, dislodging, driving, felling, firing, flicking, flinging, flinging off, flipping, flooring, forcing, heaving, hurling, impelling, lapidating, launching, letting fly, letting go, lifting, lobbing, overturning, overwhelming, pegging, pelleting, pelting, peppering, pitching, precipitating, projecting, pushing, putting, scattering, sending, shoving, showering, shying, slinging, splattering, spraying, sprinkling, starting, stoning, strewing, thrusting, tossing, tumbling, unhorsing, unseating, upsetting, volleying or wafting.
posted by UbuRoivas at 12:04 AM on August 6, 2010 [8 favorites]


Proof is in the pudding. If this many people find the prose distracts from the point, then you have to ask yourself if maybe you really are doing it wrong.

Unless the medium really is the message. In which case, man up. There is no crying in writing.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:57 AM on August 6, 2010


Hellfire, The Straightener, that was well beyond serious-ish. That was the most concise and informative take on the new media landscape—and its implications for content providers—I've ever read.
posted by Mister_A at 6:32 AM on August 6, 2010


The wafting.thesaurus is my new art-music collective.
posted by The Whelk at 7:57 AM on August 6, 2010


A pretty quick scanning finds several sentences that could be de-convoluted by moving around phrases.

In which direction must one move around the phrases? Should the orbit be circular, or elliptical?
posted by Sys Rq at 8:08 AM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


And I learned the words Babbitry

It was in fact coincidental bordering on synchronistic that he barged in here when I was 2/3s of the through Babbit. The book was already making me vaguely uncomfortable in ways I didn't want to admit, and now it turns out on introspection, that I'm really just a kind-of smart parrot.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:16 AM on August 6, 2010


OH SHIT! GRAMMER EMERGENCY!

Oh, dear lord!
posted by Sys Rq at 8:28 AM on August 6, 2010


One would presumably displace the constituent phrases and clauses via to a deconvolution matrix. I'd recommend downloading GIMP but you can do it in Matlab as well if you've got access to a copy.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:58 AM on August 6, 2010


OH SHIT! GRAMMER EMERGENCY!

Oh, dear lord!


1. poor guy, that's gotta hurt
2. wish there was more lead-in so I knew what smug, ugly point he was abruptly STOPPED from making by God, physics, his own self-absorbed lack of coordination.
posted by philip-random at 9:11 AM on August 6, 2010


I know that's not how karma works but I can't help but think, "That's what he gets for tupping the babysitter."
posted by Mister_A at 10:06 AM on August 6, 2010


I know that's not how karma works but I can't help but think, "That's what he gets for tupping the babysitter."

Tupping.
tup (tup)
noun
1) a male sheep; ram
2) the striking part of a pile driver or power hammer
Origin: ME tupe
transitive verb tupped, tupping tup′·ping
1) to copulate with (a ewe): said of a ram
Schtupping.
Noun
1. shtup - slang for sexual intercourse
posted by zarq at 10:28 AM on August 6, 2010


I always kinda figured that shtup/schtup was related to "tup" etymologically. Anyone know about such things? Any language people of headwear?
posted by Mister_A at 10:48 AM on August 6, 2010


Huh, tupping is regional English slang for sex between people too. Said of the person doing the tupping, not the tuppee, which isn't a word. Also 'covering'. Not where tuppence comes from, though it should be.
posted by shinybaum at 10:49 AM on August 6, 2010


It's sort of a country/farmer thing, I think.
posted by shinybaum at 10:50 AM on August 6, 2010


> I always kinda figured that shtup/schtup was related to "tup" etymologically.

Nope. I prefer "tup" in this case because it's less expected and has more literary resonance ("An old blacke Ram Is tupping your white Ewe").
posted by languagehat at 10:53 AM on August 6, 2010


My familiarity with "tupping" for sexual intercourse comes from Shakespeare's Othello:

...an old black ram
Is tupping your white ewe.

posted by Mister_A at 10:55 AM on August 6, 2010


I should really use that preview button.
posted by Mister_A at 10:55 AM on August 6, 2010


Actually I wonder if it is where tuppence comes from, because I have no idea why else a vagina'd be called a tuppence. Or at all really.
posted by shinybaum at 10:58 AM on August 6, 2010


Heh. Okay. :)
posted by zarq at 11:01 AM on August 6, 2010


That (tuppence) is from "two pence." I can sorta guess how it became slang for vagina.
posted by Mister_A at 11:52 AM on August 6, 2010


When and where did tuppence became slang for vagina? The only slang sense in the Cassell Dictionary of Slang is Australian 'fool, halfwit.'
posted by languagehat at 12:25 PM on August 6, 2010


Is this the thread where people are talking about tupgirl?
posted by shakespeherian at 12:32 PM on August 6, 2010


I dunno the etymology for it,which is why I said I didn't know the etymology for it. However, urban dictionary, wikipedia and about fifty million google links wondering why it's called a tuppence have all heard of it so it isn't just a Lancashire thing.
posted by shinybaum at 12:35 PM on August 6, 2010


I've never heard it, assumed it was some new English atrocity.
posted by Mister_A at 12:35 PM on August 6, 2010


Old English atrocity.
posted by shinybaum at 12:39 PM on August 6, 2010


It's taking a tupping liberty is what it is.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 12:54 PM on August 6, 2010


Go tup thyself.
posted by Mister_A at 12:58 PM on August 6, 2010


Tupperware Party!
posted by Burhanistan at 1:12 PM on August 6, 2010


Is this the thread where people are talking about tupgirl?

2 girls 1 tup?
posted by juv3nal at 1:52 PM on August 6, 2010


No, that would be "2 Girls 1 Tupperware Container".
posted by Burhanistan at 1:54 PM on August 6, 2010


Actually I wonder if it is where tuppence comes from

That was in the days before 9V batteries.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:05 PM on August 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


ah, i love words
unless someone is yelling at me about how I should appreciate (theirs) more
posted by angrycat at 2:06 PM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Not your Grandma's line of preparation, storage and serving equipment. Although in her day it was likely a ha'penny and glad of it.
posted by shinybaum at 2:11 PM on August 6, 2010


That (tuppence) is from "two pence." I can sorta guess how it became slang for vagina.

Tuppence, same as in town.
posted by Babblesort at 3:50 PM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'd just like to add one piece of noise to the noise:

Dery's book Flame Wars: The Discourse Cyberculture was timely and important, within some narrow cultural band. And it meant a lot to me when I read it in a summer class at Johns Hopkins as an earnest high school junior. (Not least, it introduced me to Julian Dibbell's 'A Rape in Cyberspace,' which changed my life for better and worse.) I'd congratulate and thank him for that book.

His piece on writing for the web is both characteristically pretentious and (characteristically) in large part correct; his comments here, however, are childish and hugely pretentious, and do him no credit. A big element of his style is a familiar (pseudo)academic name-dropping practice; well, he'd do well to spend less energy riffing on the work, and copying the mannerisms, of his literary betters - and more effort emulating their restraint and dignity.
posted by waxbanks at 8:12 PM on August 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Coincidentally, his essay on the cephalopod as a totem of the current era was recently required reading for Vacation Necronomicon School. It's a good essay, despite his barely concealed contempt for people like me who are interested in technology and octopi and Lovecraft and stuff.
posted by infinitywaltz at 8:36 PM on August 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


It is absolutely acceptable to end a sentence with a preposition.

Nuh uh. It's right there, in the definition: A preposition is a word you cannot end a sentence with.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:15 AM on August 8, 2010


Also in the stylebook: avoid ending anecdotes about video games with Pole Position.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:55 AM on August 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


I didn't have a position on Poles last time I Czeched.
posted by everichon at 10:17 AM on August 9, 2010


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