3 Ways You Should Never Start an Online Comment

by Brett & Kate McKay on April 10, 2013 · 103 comments

in On Etiquette

indifferent

When you run a website for a living, you get a front-row seat to the nature of online rhetoric. Each day dozens of comments are submitted to the blog and their quality varies widely. Some are highly intelligent and articulate – enjoyable to read even when they disagree with the content of an article. On the other end of the spectrum are comments that are so logically unsound, poorly written, or grammatically incorrect that they kind of make you fear for the future of humanity (truly). Most comments fall somewhere in-between.

For better and for worse, the internet has become our town square – the place where we connect, debate, and dialogue. Unfortunately, online communication doesn’t always rise to the level of its potential. There’s a lot one can say about the ins and outs of the art of rhetoric, but today let’s take a quick look at three easy ways to elevate it just a bit.

How you start an online comment – whether it’s on a blog, Facebook, or forum, is important. It’s your comment’s first impression, if you will. You’re setting the tone for what you’re going to say. Will people want to listen to you and consider your thoughts and perspective? In order to step right out of the gate in a civil and intelligent manner, I recommend avoiding these three methods of starting a comment. In my humble opinion, no man worth his salt should employ them. Ever.

3 Ways You Should Never Start an Online Comment

“I hate to be pedantic/nitpicky/that guy, but……”

A man always says what he means. And yet “I hate to be ____” statements invariably preface a point that is precisely of the nature the writer claims to hate! “I hate to be pedantic, but nonplussed means the opposite of how you have used it here.” If you truly hated to be pedantic, you would not be someone who felt compelled to correct small errors that you found on the internet. So why not own up to and embrace your nitpicky nature and drop the false pretense? Of course if you feel the need to frontload a cushion onto your statement like that, perhaps it’s best to reflect on why. Maybe your correction isn’t so important after all.

“Really?!” “Seriously?!”

This opening salvo is yet another violation of saying what you mean, and is a sure sign that a man is responding more emotionally than logically. New York Times television critic Neil Genzlinger argues that the snarky, faddish “Really?” is “undoing 2,000 years’ worth of human progress.” Now he was being purposefully hyperbolic, but still, he’s on to something. As Genzlinger explains, “Really?” used to be employed to express genuine surprise or the earnest desire for more information. “Catherine’s leg got chewed off by a shark.” “Really?” But now it has become a one-word sneer, used to “indicate a contempt so complete that it requires no clarification.” This, Genzlinger writes, is what makes “Really?” a “cop out word,” for “it relieves the user of having to clarify his own position or approach new ideas with genuine curiosity.” This is the crux of the problem with “Really?” or “Seriously?” – they are often used in place of a true, nuanced, intelligent argument. It’s a rhetorical shortcut for when you’re steamed about something but can’t be bothered to explain why in a coherent or civil manner.

Occasionally, people do preface their online argument with a “Really?” and then go on to flesh out their criticism further. You already know that the person you’re responding to really means what they say, or else why would they have posted it? So why bother opening your comments with a question you’re asking not out of sincerity, but in order to express your disdain for them and their ideas? Why frontload your argument with contempt? Good rhetoric — that is to say convincing, influential rhetoric — stays civil and even starts out by building common ground before segueing into areas of disagreement.

“Meh.”

I’m not sure that “Really?” is eroding modern civilization, but I might put my vote in for “meh” for that role. In all seriousness, “meh” might be my least favorite word (if you can call it such) in the English language.

“Meh” is used to show one’s indifference, boredom, and most commonly, a state of being utterly unimpressed with something. The reason it rankles is because it implies a relationship to the world in which the writer is a passive consumer, and everything else exists to entertain and interest him. Basically, he expects everything he consumes online to align with his own personal standards, interests, and tastes. If these inflated expectations are not met, he is disappointed. “I, the emperor of one, am not well pleased! Send in another jester!”

I am puzzled by these expectations. Sometimes the media I consume greatly pleases me, sometimes I feel it falls short. But I am rarely disappointed. I don’t feel it their job to please me; I create my own pleasure. An educated man should never be bored. I figure something may not have appealed to me, but may have appealed greatly to someone else – my own taste is not a foolproof metric for judgment. I also realize it’s natural for the human producers of any kind of content (be it novels, albums, televisions shows, or blog posts) to have high points and low points.

If something does actively disappoint me, I am not inclined to comment on it. And that’s my beef with “meh.” If something bored you, and you don’t wish to engage with it, why bother saying so? “Meh” expresses indifference, but an indifference not thorough enough to resist making itself known. As John Hodgman put it, meh “universally seems to signal: I am just interested enough to make one last joyless, nitpicky swipe and then disappear.”

Hodgman also touches on another unfortunate aspect of meh: “It’s part of the toxic Internet art of constant callous one upsmanship.” Someone will convey some kind of passion, enthusiasm, or interest in something, and someone else will come along and pour a cold bucket of water on that fire with their droll “meh.” A “meh” says “I’m too cool/intelligent to get worked up about something as dumb as this. Too bad you haven’t attained the same level of sophistication as me.”

In short, “meh” aims to show one’s indifference to something based solely on its lack of alignment with one’s personal taste. It’s what you reach for when you lack the discipline to remain silent, or are too lazy to make an argument, and no thumbs up, thumbs down button is within reach.

Are there other words or phrases that you feel should be jettisoned in order to elevate online discussion? Share your meh-less, really-less opinions with us in the comments!

{ 103 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Eric April 10, 2013 at 8:24 pm

Now that you mention it I have to agree “meh” is really bad in a blog/youtube/whatever comment, but personally I use it a lot on IRC (i.e., chat rooms) and I think it’s perfectly fine there. For instance, if someone asks me how I feel about something, if I really am indifferent about it then “meh” is probably an appropriate answer. It works there because they’re talking to me personally; I’m not just one anonymous reader whose opinion doesn’t matter.

That’s not to say it can’t be used rudely (if someone else merely expresses enthusiasm for something and I suddenly interject with “meh”, that would be raining on their parade), but I do think there are parts of the internet like chat rooms where it can be used harmlessly.

2 Lance April 10, 2013 at 8:34 pm

Can I do “Really!” or “Seriously!” to start this comment as a parlay to my agreeable viewpoint? ;)

I completely agree with your statement regarding emotional versus logical statements. I love a heated debate that utilizes emotion, but when strictly emotion based, an argument can almost never be resolved.

3 jon April 10, 2013 at 8:37 pm

Seriously? I mean I hate to be someone who disagrees with everything you wrote, but like, really – what’s the big deal if our English is going down the tubes?

http://www.whatyououghttoknow.com/show/2008/02/27/things-we-say-wrong/

Meh.

4 Mike April 10, 2013 at 9:31 pm

“Just Sayin” and “It is what it is” are two I can’t stand! No sh** it is what it is what else would it be? I know you are just saying nimrod you JUST said it!

5 Phil April 10, 2013 at 9:32 pm

As someone who is wholly, entirely, and painfully addicted to arguing online, i wish I could just NOT start an online comment… at all. And see? Here I am doing it again.

6 Scott April 10, 2013 at 9:32 pm

I love reading blogs, this being one of my favorites. With that said I rarely go to the comment section for those very reasons.
One question: Is the irritation of seeing all the mehs and pedants worth joining the new town square?

7 James April 10, 2013 at 9:35 pm

I’m a big fan of “pffft”

8 Graham April 10, 2013 at 9:36 pm

I think another red flag for a terrible comment is when someone starts of with “First off:”
To me, it signals that the following comment will be a long rant by someone who doesn’t truly know what they are arguing – They’re just emotionally banging away at their keyboard.

9 Pryor April 10, 2013 at 9:42 pm

“I’m sorry, but…” is my number 1 bete noire. Written by someone who isn’t really sorry at all, it means “I’m about to tell you why you’re so stupid for disagreeing with me,” with a fake attempt at graciousness that fails.

10 Jack April 10, 2013 at 10:11 pm

IMHO (in my humble opinion) is pretty atrocious to me. It’s a quarter obvious, a quarter arrogant, a quarter apologetic, and a quarter short of anything else. If we are reading the comments section then we know it is opinion, don’t be ashamed of it, and certainly don’t play the ‘i’m too humble to argue or debate’ card.

11 Peter Katt April 10, 2013 at 10:19 pm

I’m annoyed by people who post “tl;dr” — it’s an insult to the person they’re replying to, who took the time to write a long post, and pretty much publicly admits they’re off their medication.

12 Joe April 10, 2013 at 10:20 pm

“That’s exactly the type of comment I’d expect from someone who…” or some variation thereof. You know the rest of the comment has less to do with arguing against the previous poster’s standpoint than to argue about who the person voted for, what church they attend, or some other issue that has nothing to do with the discussion at hand.

13 Rob April 10, 2013 at 10:23 pm

I would like to add “Wow” to the list. It’s not offensive by any means, it simply makes you sound like a moron. And while I am at it, I would love to never again see the use of the term “epic fail”, “fail” or any of their cliched, hipster derivatives in online commentary.

14 Nate April 10, 2013 at 11:10 pm

I just want to second the “really?!” thing. I’m not sure when it popped up, but I feel it has been in the last few years that it’s gained popularity. Drives me nuts. Admittedly it annoys me more coming from a girl… or maybe it’s just that I hear girls use it more than guys.

15 Kename Fin April 10, 2013 at 11:20 pm

All I could think to contribute was a link to perhaps one of the best illustrations of how I perceive the other person commenting on any blog/article/piece that I read:
http://xkcd.com/386/

16 Daryl Yearwood April 10, 2013 at 11:31 pm

I received a bad review of my book on Amazon from a guy who opened with, “Granted, I haven’t read the book, but . . . .” He proceeded to write two-hundred words of critical rhetoric. That tops them all.

17 Vin Pen April 10, 2013 at 11:35 pm

My One Advice on this Matter: Keep it short! Less words, less mistakes and better grammar :)
It’s really hard to compete with all those University graduates in terms of high quality, intelligent and meaningful comments. How can a man, who’s mother language is using a different alphabet to stay at the level of the article author – probably a writer or at least journalist. Keep on trying.

18 Jordan V April 10, 2013 at 11:39 pm

Comments prefaced with, “Listen people”, “Folks”, “You know”, “sigh”, “perhaps you should”, and “mind you,” are usually worthless.

19 Stever April 10, 2013 at 11:43 pm

I’ve been reading this blog for something close to a year, and I am continually astounded (yes, “really”) at the civility of those who offer comments here. Time and time again, contrary (or at least tangential) thoughts are offered, both to the primary blog postings as well as to earlier comments, that are offered with respect to all concerned. What is astounding is, I don’t see such a consistently high level of discourse anywhere else on the web (unless someone is doing some serious moderating, that is). Kudos to this community!

20 abra April 10, 2013 at 11:59 pm

Could you all possibly start an The Art of Womanliness blog, please? I’m doing my best to apply these bits of wisdom to my sex, but sometimes it gets tricky.

I am employed to “moderate” a forum for mothers and I admit I am guilty of a “meh” or two. But I really was bored with the post about how much so and so disliked their mother in law I felt I was being more polite with a “meh” then saying “get the hell over yourself”. Perhaps I was the one who needed to get over myself?

Thanks for all your books/posts. I am looking forward to sharing them with my sons when they aren’t 1 and 2 years old.

21 H.R. April 11, 2013 at 1:04 am

The use of “fail/epic fail” has seeped into verbal communication within my peer group (I’m a 21 year old college student) and it disheartens me each time I hear it. I know that most of my good friends are very bright and in the process of getting an education, so I find it quite irksome and disappointing when they use an internet colloquialism in place of a more original and thoughtful comment. This phenomenon worries me that in the near future young people will simply exchange short, plain verbal expressions like “meh” or “really” and most original thought will be kept private if its going on at all.

22 Stephen April 11, 2013 at 4:25 am

There need not be any emotion in comments beyond simple pleasure or slight annoyance.

People who are “livid,” “perturbed,” or especially “shocked” should not be so bothered about what a stranger says online. Also what Rob said: add “Wow” to the list.

23 Dann Anthony April 11, 2013 at 5:37 am

These phrases make the writer sound really youthful or really impressionable. None of them makes the writer sound as smart or above it all as he presumes himself to be.

24 Geoff April 11, 2013 at 5:45 am

As usual, this article is spot on. Personally I like to use ‘meh’ but usually in texting not normally on FB or twitter. I do have one addition though, and this one drives me crazy! ‘Ugh’ it is the worst one! It comes across as very unflattering to the person who made the comment. I enjoy your articles keep up the good work!

25 Hal April 11, 2013 at 5:53 am

I don’t believe I’ve ever used any of these cliché “words” to start a comment. However, I am guilty of arguing, albeit only a couple of times. I always look back and wonder, what was I thinking when I allowed myself to be pulled into a squabble.
There is one so-called word that raises the hair on my neck.
’nuff said.
As if this is the wrap up, and the writer has the authority to close up shop.
Great post. And a fine site.

26 Jethro Ilagan April 11, 2013 at 6:04 am

I always see “smh” online comments. I hate it.

27 Andrew April 11, 2013 at 6:11 am

My problem is more with something you see at the end of a comment, Facebook post, or whatever: “Just sayin’”. I know you’re just saying it — you just said it! It’s a way to deflect controversy, which is silly. It’s a bit of verbal fluff meant as a defense. Perhaps if you are “just sayin’” it, whatever it is doesn’t need to be said.

Oh yeah, and if you go to start a comment with “I’m not racist but,” do us all a favor and unplug your modem, hop in your time machine, and return to the 1920s. If you have to tell me you aren’t a racist, pretty sure what you’re about to say is really, really racist. That’s a pretty good barometer if you’re not quite sure, haha

28 Jeremy April 11, 2013 at 6:23 am

“Just sayin,” although not usually a way someone starts a conversation, is my personal peeve. It always strikes me as coming across as though the person doesn’t have the moxy to stand by what they’re expressing (which is generally rude and/or confrontational) and instead is trying to deflect the oncoming blow by making it sound like “Hey! It’s not me..I’m just sayin…”

29 Jackie @Auburn Meadow Farm April 11, 2013 at 6:30 am

Ha! This post perfectly sums up something I’ve been thinking for a long time but hadn’t put to words.

The one upmanship is really telling about our modern communication skills. Half the time, the comment reveals that the author did not read the article or at best skimmed.

I’m always amazed at how predictably comments will be posted to a recipe post telling how they make it differently or better. Why take the time to do that? Or sneer at someone’s grammatical/spelling errors?

And, lack of any effort to be polite, to not ridicule or personally attack, and make the effort to understand before ripping apart totally makes me fear for the future of humanity.

I’ve also noticed that the higher brow the publication, the more aggressive the commenters. Comments on The Atlantic for example kill me. I’ve decided it’s a sport that I just don’t appreciate. Kind of a form of performance art.

I prefer the kind of art where you invent your own work and ideas, not rip to shreds someone else’s.

Our unwillingness to truly listen to other views is barely disguised in many of our face to face interactions too… very worrisome.

Not sure how to fix it, but your post is very insightful and accurate… thanks again for your thought inducing work. I look forward to your posts every morning :)

30 Prentiss April 11, 2013 at 6:47 am

GREAT piece! Nearly all of the faddish American colloquialisms irritate me; the ones you mentioned and the ones you haven’t mentioned. They come into fashion and then they go away (hopefully sooner rather than later). I catalog them; not in writing, but with photos; like the sign at the Whataburger (a Texas thang) drive-thru that exclaims, “REALLY? Seriously? Are You Kidding? Under 550 calories – a double meat Whataburger with cheese.”

31 RyanReformed April 11, 2013 at 7:01 am

I get so tired of the use of ‘meh’ to describe everything. To me, this is a cop out to hearing the other side of the story with an engaging mind.

32 brian April 11, 2013 at 7:09 am

“That feeling you get when…” or “That point when you realize…” Make a sentence. We weren’t there when you started the conversation in your head so we’re going to need you to give us the whole thing.

33 B April 11, 2013 at 7:14 am

“I, the emperor of one, am not well pleased! Send in another jester!”

I’m going to start using that one.

34 Stephen April 11, 2013 at 7:32 am

I enjoy this site tremendously. Thank you for upholding and celebrating the very ways I was taught to be a man–starting when Truman was President– yet without that era’s unthinking misogyny, which I did learn to shake off like a bad pitch call.

35 Nenad April 11, 2013 at 7:47 am

Haha, great post! This one is brilliant: snarky, faddish “Really?” is “undoing 2,000 years’ worth of human progress.” I am still laughing.

On a more serious note, I think “meh” is used by people who THINK they’re better/smarter/superior to us and they value their own time so much, that the don’t even want to make a normal comment (the one which might shed some light on their intelligence). At least this is my real-life (and commenting) experience :)

36 James April 11, 2013 at 7:50 am

In online discussions (okay, arguments) I dislike when someone asks a question–partly challenging, partly rhetorical–and immediately follows up with “I didn’t think so.” It’s usually the end of the post, with the implication being that since you can’t answer the question, therefore the argument has ended and I’ve won.

“Have YOU ever rubbed blue mud into your navel? Yeah, I didn’t think so.”

37 Chris April 11, 2013 at 8:05 am

I would like to add ot the list any amount of txt spk. You are not limited to the number of characters, you have spell check at your fingertips, and hopefully you were taught proper english grammar in school. If you are incapable of forming full sentences from actual words then your opinions should be kept to themselves.

38 The Dutch Dastard April 11, 2013 at 8:07 am

Ahhh…..Now I finally get why I’ve been getting such negative retorts when I use ‘really?’ on the chat of the community. I’ve always used it to express my genuine surprise or raised interest for the subject. Another proof that the tone of something is hard to translate into letters.

39 Dustin April 11, 2013 at 8:20 am

Go to YouTube and look up a video on ANYTHING. Then scroll down to the comments. Pretty much anything written there needs to be jettisoned from the internet. Even the legitamate comments irritate me, because they should know better than to wrestle with pigs in the mud.

This is especially frustrating when you are looking up cartoon videos to entertain your young child, and you have to make sure you remember to maximize the video so that they won’t be scarred by the comments.

40 Alexander April 11, 2013 at 8:25 am

When someone says, or writes “meh” to me, I usually want to physically accost them…in the face.

Just my natural, immediate reaction.

41 Judy April 11, 2013 at 8:29 am

I second the motion for AoM to build a “sister site” (pun intended) for women. Yes, there are a million blogs out there for women, but most have a narrow focus (crafters, working moms, stay at home moms, etc.) I would love to have someone speak to me, intelligently as a woman, the way you speak intelligently to men. (No use of the phrases, easy-peasy, “squeal!” or OMG allowed!)
In the mean time, I will continue to devour your excellent writing, apply what I can to myself, and share especially interesting tidbits with the wonderful men in my life.

42 Samuel Warren April 11, 2013 at 8:31 am

So this should qualify as the worst comment ever!

“Really?!? I mean I hate to be indifferent, but… meh.”

43 Anthony Guzzaldo April 11, 2013 at 8:32 am

Thank you, thank you, thank you for calling “meh” out for what it is.

I’d go further, though, and call for banning the word not just from blog comments but also from the English language as a whole.

44 snailmail April 11, 2013 at 9:02 am

“Um, actually,….” is one of my comment pet peeves. You can disagree with someone without channeling the Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons.

45 Harry April 11, 2013 at 9:13 am

Anything that starts with a negative (I’m not…, I hate to…, etc.) and had a “but” is trying to make an excuse for being rude. Always an epic fail.
While epic fail gets overused, I don’t think it’s intrinsically an example of itself in all cases. It has some good humor potential.

The bottom line for me is not to comment just to denigrate someone else. Ignore the trolls. Only ost when you have something intelligent to add, an alternative proposal.

46 Guy April 11, 2013 at 9:17 am

I would say John Stewart single handedly is at fault for the use of really in the snarky and sarcastic tone that he does.

47 Don April 11, 2013 at 9:32 am

“This.”

I could live without that gem of a comment.

48 Lucas April 11, 2013 at 9:44 am

Semi-related to this post:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/04/10/us-socialmedia-behaviour-survey-idUSBRE9390TO20130410

Social media has been shown to increase rudeness and damage friendships. Your post pinpoints one way in which that is happening. Good read.

49 Matt April 11, 2013 at 9:44 am

I agree with your points about the growing tendency to employ emotionally-charged words in place of thought-out rhetorical arguments. The phrase that concerns me the most, however, is “I feel like . . .” or “I feel that . . .” I’m a sophomore in college and I am often surprised at how frequently these phrases weasel their way into classroom discussion. Most of the time they serve as a vehicle by which the speaker smuggles his underdeveloped and often unsupported opinion into the discussion. By making one’s opinion an object of feelings, the entire possibility for fruitful discussion is shattered because, if you disagree with the opinion you, then you also disagree with something deeply personal to the individual who issued the opinion: namely, his feelings. In a way, it seems like we use these phrases as a sort of reverse ad hominem fallacy. Instead of attacking another individual because we disagree with his argument, we make it impossible for another individual to disagree with our argument without also attacking us.

50 Mike B April 11, 2013 at 9:55 am

If someone asks me my opinion about something that neither thrills nor disgusts me, I’m likely to say that I’m “meh” about it. Used that way, in reply to a direct query, it seems much less harmful than used unsolicited. When one’s indifference is volunteered, it smacks of someone who doesn’t know how to simply pass by something that doesn’t personally interest him… entitled to comment even when they have nothing to say.

Likewise, I think that “I hate to be that guy” serves a purpose in online communication. It’s just possible that “that guy” truly does hate his that guyness, and works hard against it. (Just not hard enough in that case!)

More likely, though, “that guy” is trying to forestall a lot of tiresome blather about “grammar police” and “but u no what i meant u no u cant give a real awnser!!1!”

Often those commenters act as though grammar is an obstacle to freedom of expression, and their logic is usually as poor as their sentence structure. They take great umbrage at any proofreading, because how dare anyone suggest that they are wrong about anything ever in the history of anything? So any such correction has to come with the tiresome disclaimer, to prevent any third party reading it from concluding that “that guy” is just a pedant and has no substantial reply.

51 Zach April 11, 2013 at 10:02 am

As one who reads quite a few blogs, the comments here are consistently excellent compared to elsewhere. Part of that likely has to do with the article content (which is fantastic), but steady and fair moderation is a wonderful tool for fostering a welcoming online community. Keep up the great work.

52 Richard April 11, 2013 at 10:24 am

I spend far more time than is beneficial to my peace of mind reading the comments on news articles. One thing that immediately brands a commenter as someone not worth my time is the deliberate and insulting misspelling of the President’s name (typically something like “Oblamer” or “Obummer”).

You are free and welcome to disagree with his policies, but if you will not bother to give him the basic respect that his office deserves, I am not going to waste my time with you (no matter how valid or well-reasoned your argument may be).

If you cannot bring yourself to type Mr. Obama’s name properly, you are free to use the title of his office and refer to him as “The President” or “Mr. President”. If even that is too much for you, then good day to you….

53 Greg April 11, 2013 at 10:43 am

I’m glad that Don caught it–my number one peeve is “^This”, used to show agreement with the previous poster on the thread.

A very close second for me is “Wake up, people!” Often seen on political or socially-minded articles, this idiotic call to action(?) has an imperious air to it, and an up-front insult to all readers (who are either “asleep” or “sheep”), and is almost always followed by an absurd theory. Even when I agree with the poster’s quarrel, that saying is unacceptable.

54 Spence April 11, 2013 at 10:49 am

Brett,
I have five children. I love them all dearly. So much so in fact, that the first time the word “whatever” (the equivalent to meh) comes out of their mouths…well, lets just say they have each used the word, in that context, once in their lives. Anyway, the internet has allowed for the proliferation of a culture of anonymous and disheartening disrespect that I’m am afraid points to a not so bright future. On a positive note there is the Art of Manliness. Keep up the good work.

55 Irena April 11, 2013 at 11:17 am

Agree with all, even tough I am guilty of using some of these terms. Point well taken, I will watch it. I do feel hostile when I read “It is what it is” – I want to throttle someone. Also any reference to “everything happens for a reason” or “you just need to trust God” , “pray about it” – all of that drivel makes me irritable. I’m a Christian, and yet all Christian-ese, mindless regurgitated phrases and AA slogans throw out as true answers to real issues is just what people say when they can’t say anything meaningful, helpful or intelligent.

56 Aaron April 11, 2013 at 11:19 am

Hi, my name is Aaron, and I’m a poor-online-grammar-aholic. I’ve been sober now for 3 days.

My foray into the wild world of the internets was formed in my early years, back in the mid to late 90′s. The internet was a wild and unruly place back then, populated mostly by kids such as myself. The puerile nature of the early internet became second nature to me, and the casual disdain I so often hurled upon other random internet users was generally understood by these other users to not be an actual personal affront, but rather an expected dialogue used primarily to determine the worthiness of these users. A callous barb would be hurled, with an equally callous (and hopefully rather witty) response expected. This online parlance was not so much intended to wound, but rather to bind. Is this guy “cool”? Does he understand the shared online space we will both be occupying? If the context is online gaming, can I expect him to be a good teammate? All of these questions were asked, and subsequently answered, through a terse, yet complex series of what appear (and more or less were) insulting interactions.

And then things changed. Enter the mainstream. Everyone from garbage men to housewives to the pope suddenly showed up on the internet. Facebook, twitter, all that jazz. Suddenly the loose, insulting infrastructure slap-dashed together by a bunch of kids and geeks (who are just big kids) had to support the taste of a more refined palate. Even worse, those who were especially insulting could now be found out and exposed. In person, and on people’s TV screens. Unable to cope with a kinder, gentler internet, the “old guard” started to entrench themselves. Groups like 4chan, anonymous, and a glut of others did their dead level best to preserve the old ways. Individually or in groups, many people who had gotten used to the “old internet” clung to their juvenile past.

But my internet brethren, I must urge you to rethink your approach to the web. It is no longer the wild west we once knew. The telegraph is here to stay, and your fight against barbed wire fences is in vain. Law and order must come to this place if the internet to continue its march into a new era of worldwide information freedom. Heed the advice in this article by Brett and Kate and learn to enjoy the expansion of humanity into this new electronic frontier.

57 Christopher April 11, 2013 at 11:32 am

“More or less.”

I hear this phrase quite often. I understand why it’s crept into our diction as a go-to apathetic phrase, but I feel it’s too often used as a scapegoat for actually spending time to collect one’s thoughts and construct an articulate answer.

“Did you like the movie?”
“More or less.”

Well, which one is it? Did you like it more because it resonated with your view of the truth or did you like it less because you believe it portrayed an inaccurate depiction of how things really are? Either answer would demonstrate a more charitable response by communicating a belief/opinion/perception unique to the individual rather than a verbal shrug of the shoulders.

Keep up the good work AoM.

58 David April 11, 2013 at 11:45 am

I agree with most of this article. I think some of the umbrage taken to certain phrases is a bit misplaced.

For example, “^this”, while at times annoying, is most often used in forums as an Internet shorthand to show agreement. I see it as no different than someone saying “Amen!”, or “hear, hear”, or any other verbal form of agreement with a speaker. “^This” is not a normally spoken phrase and exists only on the Internet, so it seems fine to me.

“Meh” is another one to which I don’t take offence. I understand how some people dislike its use as a wholesale casting aside of an argument, but when used to truly show indifference to a direct query, I don’t see a problem. I don’t like its use as a singular comment without some text backing it up, though. If you feel that indifferent, why post at all?

What I hate is when people start throwing around Latin logical phrases, like “ad hominem” or “Argumentum ad ignorantiam”. Even if you have a PhD in philosophy, which is doubtful, it doesn’t make you sound smart, it makes you sound like a pompous jerk who is completely unwilling to accept any other viewpoint as valid. People that use those phrases in Internet comments always strike me as having an agenda and will twist words around to support that agenda.

I also hate the phrase “it is what it is”. That is not a logical viewpoint or explanation of anything, it is an observance that is at best a circular reference that doesn’t explain anything.

I understand the sinking feeling one might get when seeing the juvenile nature of most online comments, but I’m comforted by the facts that we’re living in the most advanced age in history, and I doubt any of those commenters were going to be doctors, nuclear physicists, or ambassadors anyway.

59 Lennox April 11, 2013 at 12:08 pm

With email, texting and internet comments, a lot of people are now writing who would rarely have picked up a pen to communicate outside of work and bureaucratic forms. A lot of these strange and objectionable phrases seem to me to be a kind of shorthand devised by people who are used to communicating in grunts and squeaks. “Duh”, “meh”, “my bad” … the overwhelming impression for me is how childish they sound.

60 Kevin April 11, 2013 at 12:08 pm

As I read through this post I found myself agreeing with everything you were saying. However, as I finished up it struck me that you are taking all of the ability for one to be emotional out of the equation. In real life not everyone is or acts literate and educated whether they are or not. People react with emotion to almost everything. Why should it be different on the internet? Why should there be a different standard? It has to be civil? Who says? People should be who they are and not be constantly trying to find some educated, intellectual, politically correct way to react to things. How boring is that? We want to know what people really think so let them. I for one don’t enjoy feeling like I need to run an analysis of everything I am thinking through some filter every time I comment somewhere. It’s probably why I don’t often comment. Current ‘fad’ communication includes terms like ‘meh’ ‘really’ and ‘seriously’. Other times had their fad phrases as well. It changes with the times it doesn’t mean the world is degrading or getting dumber. I found it humorous to read all the analysis of what those three terms mean. I am quite certain that most people that use those phrases aren’t thinking through all of that reasoning before they say them. The idea that it makes one juvenile or stuck with their uneducated past is offensive to me. I think that is arrogant and a far worse infraction than adding a snarky ‘really?’ to a conversation.

61 Jay April 11, 2013 at 12:19 pm

Thanks Brett for another fantastic piece!

This goes along with what I’ve been trying to teach to the Junior Officers and enlisted members that work for me. Be precise in your language. Say what you mean, but say it respectfully.

You can disagree with someone without being a jerk. Also, someone that has a different opinion than you is not necessarily the enemy, stupid, a racist, or even wrong. They just have a different opinion.

62 Alexander Connell April 11, 2013 at 12:24 pm

I’m with Andrew (above) on “I’m not racist but…”. The second word in that sentence is unnecessary.

Personally, whenever I see someone work the phrase “political correctness” or any of its variants into a comment, I just stop reading. It’s rare anything worthwhile will follow.

That said – I realize I’ve been guilty of using some of the phrases in this article myself. Thanks AoM, for making me aware of that.

63 John Joslin April 11, 2013 at 12:24 pm

“It is what it is, “at the end of the day,” and “not for nothing” are the sayings that make me want to pull my hair out.

64 spazeroid April 11, 2013 at 12:28 pm

i hate to be that guy but… i really like the site and feel that this is one of the good pieces of writing that helps drive home why TAoM is so good. not only do you identify why you personally dislike these comments but you also digest how they don’t add anything to the larger debate.

65 Eric April 11, 2013 at 12:37 pm

I don’t really like “meh.” either, but I love ““I, the emperor of one, am not well pleased! Send in another jester!””. I am definitely going to start using that in internet comments.

66 Vincent Milburn April 11, 2013 at 12:51 pm

I hate that there’s so much arrogant dismissiveness on online forums. Hand-waving someone off is not an actual point.

Many forums are not reasoned debate, but just a democracy based on of which side had more people click on the article and the other side gets harassed into dropping it.

One thing I do is I never post anything controversial unless I’m willing to spend the next two weeks backing it up.

67 Waykno April 11, 2013 at 1:00 pm

I pride myself on using proper grammar, spelling, and sentence structure. In my last 20 years of employment with an unnamed company, the District Mgr. could not send an email that did not have at least one, and many times multiple errors. For all my attentiveness to making sure my emails were correct in every way, I thought perhaps his superiors don’t know either. Anyway, it always bothered me. And with texting now, grammar and punctuation are fading, it seems. By the way, I have never heard of “meh.”

68 Rob April 11, 2013 at 1:27 pm

Since the discussion seems to have ranged beyond just starting a post, I’ll throw in the closer, “for the win” (or the abbreviation FTW) as my pet peeve. Because I have a deeper history with the biker world of yesteryear than the blogging world of today, I spent a long time interpreting the abbreviation in its archaic form of “f*** the world,” which was, of course, jarring in the context. Even worse is the juvenile triumphalism of the sentiment, as if the declaration of victory is the same as victory itself.

One of my favorite sayings is that “every profession is a conspiracy against the laity.” While commenting on blogs is hardly a profession, I think there’s an ever evolving need for those who feel themselves to be on the vanguard of a given community to demonstrate that by using terms that exclude those who aren’t. Much of what I see online, at many levels, seems like an effort to prove one’s belonging, one’s “coolness” rather than to actually communicate. The irony, as this post and its comments point out so well, is that it usually fails on both fronts.

69 Keith April 11, 2013 at 1:37 pm

I think what someone means when they use the “I hate to be ____” line is “I hate to be perceived as ____, and I know this comment is going to look like that, but it’s not.”

70 Janet April 11, 2013 at 1:58 pm

I couldn’t agree more. My annoyances are the use of any cliches. Cliches are overused to the point of inane abuse. I doubt the user even knows what it means. Presently, “on a daily basis” is like a badly tuned violin. When I hear it, I think to myself, ” I will shoot him this weekend. No regrets.” I hear it on television at least once a day.

Another nuisance is the lack of grammar by newscasters, who, unless I am mistaken, have a degree in journalism signifying their proper use of English. I am surprised my television is still in one piece.

Thank you for your challenging, thoughtful and civil discourse. Though I am a woman, I often find your words applicable to me as well.

71 Grizz April 11, 2013 at 3:01 pm

“Not to be rude but…”

72 Tate April 11, 2013 at 3:03 pm

I feel as though I could put up with these three ways to begin a comment in exchange for the commenter simply making an honest attempt at logic.

Too much of the time, especially on YouTube, one receives an ad hominem attack and a reiteration of the point he or she is challenging.

Just imagine:

I hate to be that guy, but…
All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore Socrates is mortal.

Sound logic to me!

73 Bill Peschel April 11, 2013 at 6:27 pm

Let me throw in

“tl;dr”

which says “I’m too lazy to consider your work, but not lazy enough to insult you over it.”

74 Dan April 11, 2013 at 6:35 pm

I don’t like it when comments start with “You forgot [X]!” or “Why didn’t you add [X]?” after articles that list things, like this one. If the article’s title were, say, “The Only 10 Sci-Fi Movies You Ever Need to See,” the author sort of invited comments like that — but I still don’t like it sometimes.

I really don’t like it when it seems uncalled for. Here, for instance, the article is about 3 (out of possibly many) ways not to start a comment. If someone said you forgot an item or demanded to know why some item was omitted, it doesn’t sit right with me: The purpose of this article wasn’t to provide an exhaustive list of ways not to start comments. And it doesn’t claim to have special criteria behind the ones it ended up with. So those openings feel a little off-topic to me sometimes.

But I make allowances for tone of comment. Sometimes the comment-poster is just using a figure of speech. The quality of the rest of the comment helps me decide what to think. But that opening can sour me toward reading its comment.

75 Rohit Ramachandran April 11, 2013 at 11:56 pm

Hahahahahha! Awesome post! I think your blog’s great. Covers all kinds of topics that appear unrelated but are strangely related from a ‘masculine’ perspective.

76 Cath April 12, 2013 at 3:43 am

Excessive use of punctuation, particularly ! and ? when ending sentances.
It’s completely unnecessary and makes any comment more difficult to read and take even vagually seriously.

77 Gnasa April 12, 2013 at 8:11 am

True story… about a month ago I wrote simply the word “Really…” with the little ellipse after it as a comment to my now ex-girlfriend’s facebook post, and within twelve hours I was single.

It is completely true what this article says about the word “really” being a shortcut to having to present a real argument, because that was exactly what I was trying to do at the time… and it ended up leading to an astoundingly bad argument.

Good read.

78 David Naas April 12, 2013 at 10:45 am

Not words misused, per se, but attitudes bother me.
The most prevalent attitude seems to be, “My side is all sweet reason and maturity, whereas YOUR side is drooling morons and befanged demons.”
I think this silliness started, for the modern era, in the brief popularity of CB radio, when one could make rude remarks anonymously. A small bit of being vis-a-vis with one’s debater would go a long ways toward restoring civility. (“See this fist? Do you know where it is going if you say that again?”)

79 Claude April 12, 2013 at 11:34 am

All these, and a few others, are part of the reason I shut down my Facebook account and stopped reading/commenting in places like Yahoo.

The members of this site seem to stay pretty civil and reasonable for the most part.

80 TimothyAWiseman April 12, 2013 at 4:04 pm

Excellent post.

I will say I think there are times when “Meh” makes sense as a response. But as Eric said, they are normally appropriate when you are actually asked for your opinion on the quality of something. It works fine when speaking informally and asked how you liked a particular work.

81 Branden April 12, 2013 at 4:24 pm

Youtube I think tops the charts when it comes to absolutely uneducated comments. I don’t read them anymore, they make me worry about our future well being as a planet

82 DanielJr April 12, 2013 at 4:53 pm

“Whatever” is intensely annoying to me. I can’t stand that word, especially if followed by a deliberate roll of the eyes.

83 FeatherBlade April 12, 2013 at 5:57 pm

@Judy and Abra:

You could start an art of womanliness blog yourselves.

Or look at blogs like “Ladies Against Feminism” or “Feminagirls” (disclaimer: I am not affiliated with these sites in any way).

There are plenty of this type of blog on the conservative and/or christian parts of the net.

84 J Barnes April 12, 2013 at 7:18 pm

I’m so glad I’m not alone. Everyone has hit on all the buzz words so I thought I’d drop a little knowledge about the suffix “ly”…kind of off topic but when the word “really” came up, I remembered something everyone can use to subconsciously mess with other people.

The next time you’re in a conversation pay close attention to the use of the suffix “ly”. It’s over use can often be an indicator of deception. Not necessarily a lie, just not the whole truth. Regardless, more often then not you can repeat the “ly” word in the form of a question, back to your story teller. It takes a little practice but when you think someone is full of it, this is a great way to fan the fire.

People love the sound of their own voice and repeating these “ly” words gives people the opportunity to dig their hole even bigger. It’s also a non-threatening way to have a little fun.

The key is to state the word and only the word. You have to control yourself and use the voice vacuum. Let them talk.

Really? (too easy
Absolutely? (this is a good one because its so definitive)
Actually? (very common)
Basically?
Seriously?

And many more. I promise it’s fun. When you try it and it works you’ll think “holy crap, that guy on that Manly site was right!”

“ly” words…listen for them!

85 J Barnes April 12, 2013 at 7:31 pm

@danieljr
“Whatever” can almost always be replaced with an “FU”. That’s why I always make sure to further interrogate the user so I may completely understand their point of view.

86 DGM April 13, 2013 at 3:31 pm

Look. Comments that begin with “look” are not only pretentious and emotionally charged, but also pretty much set up the commenter as someone who thinks they know what they’re talking about, but probably don’t.

87 Josh April 14, 2013 at 12:48 am

Glad to be one of the more articulate, well-read commenters on the sites I follow. I don’t post on every single thread, or even a majority, but I try to add insight to whatever is spoken of.

Then again, I am a Redditor and hang around the better sides of it (/r/cfb, /r/trueatheism, /r/malelifestyle, etc). Genuine comments are appreciated there.

88 Mike Moore April 14, 2013 at 7:14 am

This is the first time in months I’ve read through the comments following an article without losing some degree of belief in the basic goodness of humanity. The lack of civility so often seen online is baffling and Internet trolls have made comment sections something I tend to avoid. In complete agreement with this article and would like to add that the outright use of expletives and insults from the safe and often anonymous place behind a computer screen are especially cowardly ways of showing off one’s lack of intelligence.

89 Abbott April 14, 2013 at 7:21 am

As much as I agree with everything here, each of us know we cannot change the way 6 billion+ people comment…it is much easier and better to ignore such comments in an e-environment. Or you risk your goats being gotten anytime someone mehs/duhs you or your online joy soured and diluted.
Whatever.
Enjoy! ;)

90 Heath April 15, 2013 at 9:35 am

This is one of many reasons why I enjoy reading AoM. This blog tends to attract men (and some women) who are interested in being better people. For most, I would suspect, that includes being able to participate in an appropriate dialogue.

In other areas of the internet (facebook, youtube, etc.) the conversation, if you can call it that, often dissolves into something so vile that it reveals how bad people can be to one another.

For my own sense of well being I try to avoid getting sucked into such conversations.

91 Rick April 15, 2013 at 9:47 am

Excellent post … but did you expect the volume of responses you’ve gotten? (Most of which are likewise provocative and helpful …) AoM is at the top of my blog recommendations, whether for sartorial guidance or sandwich suggestions — great work!

92 James April 18, 2013 at 11:59 am

I find this website refreshing. With the ever-expanding internet universe that mostly contains small emotionally/intellectually/morally insignificant pages, it’s fantastic to find a website that’s dedicated to topics for gentlemen and not trolls.

I completely agree with your opinion on the “meh” utterance (it’s hardly a word). As someone in their early 20s, it disgusts me how much time my peers waste on slap-stick humor and kitten pictures. Internet didn’t make people egocentric, but it helped; hopefully an widespread adoption of norms for online behavior will let the web progress from the current dark ages to a renaissance-esque facilitation of progress.

93 Shane April 18, 2013 at 9:32 pm

What really pushes my buttons when I’m in a good argument or discusion, online or in real life, is when the the other party gives up with the “relitive truth” nonsense that seems to have taken over todays minds. “Well whats true for you is not true for me” is a complete cop out of the whole conversation due to that persons inability to keep an open mind or lack of conviction to finding the real truth of the matter. If truth was a thing that could be relitive then Scientific or Moral Laws couldent hold any power, gravitiy would only work if it was true to you, or killing couldent be lawfully unjust just because someones truth said its fine. If they arnt willing to keep an open mind towards always finding the truth and only want to cling to thier knowledge as truth, then please dont pacify me by calling both of our views as Truth and yet not.

So for me the jettisoned phrase would be the “what’s true for you, is not true for me”. Its a cop out of having to defend your position and it shows your unwillingness to keep an open mind. And its a complete Untruth/Lie/Unfactual/Falsity.

94 Augustin April 22, 2013 at 7:33 am

@Branden

I downloaded an extension in order to hide YouTube comments. I know I could always just not read them, but scrolling down is a habit of mine.

95 Morgan May 11, 2013 at 3:34 pm

It is ironic how the majority of comments on this page were made with an intellectual intent just to prove we can fit into that high-scale classification. So did we really take from this or did it just poke at our defenses? However, my point, if you’re one of these (as probably I) this means you can (at least try) to better yourself with this idea.

96 Ashton Pennington May 13, 2013 at 3:30 am

I agree with your statement that the internet has become the “town square” (well put) for humanity. I must say that in such case, the abuse of communication occurs much easier than just the average chin-wag, considering it might be hours/days/months before one would see the message. I do my best to keep comments and debates in a real-time manner as to alleviate myself and the other of any misunderstanding. That being said, I do recognize a well said article, and this one was quite a fancy to read.

97 Loyd McIntosh May 17, 2013 at 12:24 pm

I’ve always had an issue with the phrase “all I know is …” not that I’ve seen it much online, however. I think it’s normally heard when a civil debate turns into a heated, emotional argument, and one of the two parties becomes painted in a corner with the realization that his viewpoint/idea/notion has more holes in it than Swiss cheese. Instead of agreeing that he may have learned something or gained a new perspective on a topic, he closes the door on the conversation with “all I know is …”. To me, that phrase is a true mark of close-mindedness.

98 Sheila June 21, 2013 at 7:32 am

Name-calling. The phrase “try to keep up.” If you’re in a group full of poor spellers, people who appear to know nothing about the topic, or housewives griping about the mothers-in-law … either be polite, or walk away. Why come onto someone else’s turf and spend all your time trying to prove that you’re better than them? Is your self-esteem that low that you have to prop it up by proving yourself superior to youtube commenters? Especially in mostly-female groups that seem to be full of whining … keep in mind that this is often the only social interaction these women get. They want to commiserate with their friends. If you’re not interested, click away.

The fact is, it’s possible to be well-mannered in the middle of a group of people who aren’t. If people are rude and offensive, don’t be childish and declare “I’m offended.” (If they are being racist or something, politely explain why what they said was offensive. Otherwise, assume they didn’t mean it that way.) Meanwhile, if people are offended by what you say, even if you think your comments were completely benign and they’re being oversensitive, apologize and/or moderate your tone. Are you going to be that person who intentionally hurts other people’s feelings after you’re told you are offending them? If you can’t win an argument without upsetting people, maybe that argument can’t be won in the first place.

99 Paladin July 1, 2013 at 12:38 am

How about “Your an idiot!”? Bad grammar, personal attack.

100 Froswald July 10, 2013 at 12:55 am

Apathy is my biggest turn off in every sense of the meaning, so I wholeheartedly agree with the judgement for that blasted word, ‘meh’. Now if they could stop using one or two word responses, we’d be getting somewhere! Though that’s more my tastes than a wanted rule, I suppose.

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