Teasing vs. the SCA and e-mail

dennis grace amazing at mail.utexas.edu
Thu Dec 5 08:30:26 PST 1996

Greetings, Cosyns,

Lyonel here.

First, let me say right off that I have no desire to begin a disagreement
with Diarmuit on the matter of e-mail communications.  I would, however,
like to argue a bit ("argue" in the original, Latin sense of the word:
*ARGUERE*--to clarify).

Diarmuit notes,

>I've heard all the cop-out BS about the "medium" not being conducive to
>expressing body language, and I just don't buy it.  People have been writing
>for millenia, and never needed them before. Furthermore, aside from the 
>insecure ramblings of some junior high school students, or the 
>affectations of those who are *just* too cute for words, the Internet
>contains the highest Smiley-to-signal ratio in the history of the
>planet, and people are STILL misconstruing our meanings.

Well, yes and no. The medium is not conducive to expressions of body
language, and modern Americans--as any writing teacher can attest--have
learned oral expression as their primary communications mode. Sadly, with
television as their primary rhetorical model, many cannot even express
themselves well orally.  To further complicate difficulties arising from
inadequate writing and rhetorical skills, e-mail has a number of extra minor
limitations.  E-mail can't reproduce bold-print, italics, or underscores,
and while many authors have gotten around this problem with leading and
trailing underscores, asterisks, and smileys, the actual meanings of these
symbols remain uncodified.  Take Pug's little joke for example.  

>> Isn't almost every party setting usually boys looking for girls and vice
>> versa? Not only does it happen, but it happens at most events. This is
>> the whole idea behind "social" gatherings. Besides sharing with old
>> friends, we try to make new friends. Once drunk, it usually turns to
>> making new bed friends. *wink*

Pug apparently intended his *wink* as an indication that he was only
kidding.  I took his meaning that way, and Diarmuit seems to have done

Diarmuit's response--<snip> 
>It took me several times of reading it
>before it occured to me that the person who was uncomfortable with your
>joke, probably recognized it was a joke, and was sinply expressing 
>their concern about the propagation of an image of the Society (even
>as a joke) that the SCA has over the years begun to shy away from.
>In other words, a simple misunderstanding.  Don't take it too badly, I 
>really doubt that the original author (I haven't read any of the follow-up)
>meant to disregard your levity, but rather used it as a stepping stone
>to a more important (to them) topic.

--clearly indicates that he also took Pug's meaning.  Diarmuit also offers,
here, a rather harsh judgment on Crandall's response.  I would offer,
instead, that Crandall and those who agreed with him misread Pug's
I'm-only-kidding *wink* as a wouldn't-you-like-to-join-in-the-lecherous-fun

Diarmuit also notes (correctly, I think) that
<snip>the reason that the humor is being missed is due to a) the
>author's failure to express themselves clearly, or b) the reader's failure
>to bother to actually READ what was before them before ascribing intent
>to it.  Simple cybernetics suggests that there is a c) other noise on the
>line that is not specifically the fault of either the author or the reader.

Again, I think some clarification is in order.  Failures of type (a) and (b)
are common among the best writers and readers.  Ovid's jokes got him
banished from Rome.  Daniel Defoe's one attempt at satire got him locked in
the stocks. Being funny is hard work, and it's dangerous. This fact has
little to do with e-mail, it's just a fact of written discourse. Moreover,
even the not-so-funny often suffer:  _The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn_,
_A Catcher in the Rye_, and _The Color Purple_ were all banned from schools
shortly after publication because they were perceived as offering bad role

Misreadings will occur.  Our language obscures as effeciently as it
clarifies.  No matter who you are, no matter what your intent, no matter how
carefully you read or proofread, you will misunderstand others and will,
yourself, be misunderstood.  This will happen to even the best readers and
writers.  If it's never happened to you, you probably just don't write/read

Diarmuit tells us:
>This means that, as long as you, as the author, have made a real attempt 
>to properly write what you mean, then you have nothing to apologize for.  
>If you, as the reader have really tried to understand what the author is 
>trying to say, rather than just getting pissed off after a brief scan-
>through of the message, then YOU have nothing to apologize for. 

Perhaps, but we all know what the road to hell is paved with.  I often find
that my misreadings--as well as misreadings of my work by others--are the
result of a lack of shared values, beliefs, and assumptions.  Diarmuit's
suggestion that "noise" on the line can color views, fits this situation.
If you inadvertently step into a debate of which you were previously
uninformed, you're likely to draw unexpected fire.

Diarmuit also claims, however:

>As for the third option, thanks to the noise generated by self-important
>people in the SCA (other groups have them too, but I am referring specifically
>to those members of the SCA) with no sense of humor, there is often a 
>a crust of anticipated tight-assed whining that we are given to expect
>when we say something bluntly, or that is not "politically correct"
>(trust me, THIS I know about). 

I agree, with some reservations.  On the one hand, yes, some people do
exactly the sort of thing Diarmuit's claiming.  People who ignore content in
order to address context--who ignore context in order to address
content--make us, as writers, feel used.  When these same people do this for
a living, we call them politicians.  The fact that we all find such
practices so annoying speaks volumes about the problems with modern American

OTOH, I hate the term "politically correct."  I've never accused anyone of
being "not 'politically correct.'"  I have, on the other hand, accused
people of being insensitive, rude, racist, homophobic, tactless, or boorish
in response to what they considered saying "something bluntly."  Pointing
out that a misunderstood statement was merely a joke, politely offers
clarification.  Accusing someone who doesn't see the humor in your joke of
humorlessness is merely rude.

Yours in Virtual Service

Sir Lyonel Oliver Grace
Dennis G. Grace
Postmodern Medievalist
Division of Rhetoric and Composition
Department of English
University of Texas at Austin
amazing at mail.utexas.edu

Si hoc legere scis, nimium eruditionis habes.

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