Being nice on the internet
So... the instapundit linked to a rant on internet etiquette. I found it inspiring myself. Here is what it inspired:
Dear Mr. Gilsdorf,Alas, that site does not allow anonymous comments, and would certainly have chosen not to publish mine.
I would love to say that I enjoyed reading your article, that I found it
to be insightful, amusing, and a useful application of my time. I wish
I could say that I will carry the wisdom of your words with me for
longer than it will take me to compose this reply. However, I fear I
value my honesty more than your opinion of my politeness, so I must
refrain. I hope my well-meant verbosity will be sufficient substitute
as a buffer for your tender palate, and I regret to say also that the
time spent composing this reply has already exceeded the value of your
Your primary complaint -- indeed, the entire reason for your article --
appears to be that someone was mean to you on the internet. No doubt,
following your first draft, the editor who reviews your work
mentioned to you that people are mean to other people on the internet
all the time, and suggested that you perhaps expand on your original
complaint by generalizing from one example onto an entire population. I
respectfully suggest that your editor's time might be better spent
proofreading your headlines, as I notice that your article did not
actually deny that the headline of the article penultimate to the one
upon which I am commenting was in need of such services.
It is with the utmost respect and sincere desire for you to find a
proper home for your talents that I recommend you cease writing articles
upon the internet and return to your obvious true calling, by which I
mean the writing of letters to the editor.
Your clear command of the
nicer elements of courtesy appropriate in a written -- nay, even unto a
printed! -- letter will serve you well. As will the time spent in due
contemplation as you carefully write, or perhaps type, a
perfectly-spelled letter that you will then fold, place into an
envelope, wet with the appropriate soaked sponge (never, never the
tongue!) and fix a stamp upon the appropriate corner.
As you carefully print your return address in your best cursive
lettering, you will have ample time to contemplate that the rules of
proper etiquette vary by time and place and the level of formality
desired. Perhaps by the time you are writing in your careful hand the
address of the newspaper you will even be able to find
inspiration in the realization that the email writer whose prose you so
delicately undertook to mock -- not to correct, mind you, for the target
of your politely-phrased derision was to all evidence completely
correct on the merits of his accusation -- but which you undertook to
mock for the manner and appearance rather than the substance was in a
position with regard to you as you will be in regard to the newspaper
editor who will, in some few days or weeks, deign to open your letter,
consider whether it is reasonable to publish, and in fact, possibly do
In point of fact, were you to write a letter to an editor of a
newspaper, you would be understood as even requesting publication and as
such have undertaken on your own account to carefully edit your own
submission to follow the rules of formal speech to which you are no
doubt accustomed. How dramatic a gap already exists between a writer of
formal letters to the editor such as your hypothetical self and a mere
commoner, a peon as it were, who seeks only to bring to your attention
the lack of proof-reading applied to your own work, whether it be your
own fault of that or your editor or perhaps both. Indeed, rather than
engaging to mock and abuse such a person, you might be better served by
contemplating the following course of action:
1) Correct the headline of the original article, as your email-writer so helpfully pointed out to you.
2) Thank the email-writer politely (you are so good at that!) for
pointing out the error, which you might otherwise have had to pay an
editor to discover and the prompt correction of which will spare you no
end of future humiliation at the hands of other people who are being
mean on the internet. Remember, for everyone who writes in to inform
you of the error, a hundred or even a thousand noticed, laughed, and
said nothing... to you.
3) Apologize most humbly to the email-writer for using his helpful and
polite, if informal, correction request as fodder for mockery and abuse
of the most caddish sort. You should strive to achieve not only the
formal rules of courtesy, but also true sincerity in your apology. As I
hope you are now aware, observing the rules of formal discourse does
not mean being nice.
4) Apologize even more humbly to those whose lives have been affected by
people being mean on the internet in ways much more concrete than
yours. To those who have received death threats, for example, making a
fuss about failing to use "Dear Sir" and declining to say something nice
and meaningless before getting to the point must seem like some sort of
Remember to begin now! If you hurry, at least a little, in your
leisurely stroll between your domicile and your local post office, your
letter to the editor may even be delivered to your doorstep before the
last printed newspaper goes out of business.
I wish you the best in your future occupation,
A not-very-concerned reader
P.S. A "proof" is an early copy of a book or article meant for future
publication, used to check for errors before the process of high-volume
P.P.S To "read" a "proof" is to verify that the proof contains no errors and is correct.
P.P.P.S If you have a "proof" you may be said to "read" the proof, or to "proof read" it.
P.P.P.P.S "Proofread" is an informal contraction of the two. To "proof
read" is therefore perfectly correct, if somewhat formal or antiquated.
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