Three Small Notes About Punctuation, On the Internet or Otherwise
Posted on February 3, 2011 Posted by John Scalzi 101 Comments
1. When a single word or phrase is placed inside quotation marks, it is possible that it has been placed there as a direct quote from someone else, and not in some other fashion, for example, as a scare quote.
2. If you confuse the former for the latter and then send the writer lecturing e-mails/tweets/comments about scare quotes and/or the writer’s trivialization of the subject you believe to have been scare quoted, that writer may feel it incumbent to correct your misapprehension, and not always in manner that is strictly considered as polite.
3. If you ask the author about the intent of the quotation mark usage when you have such questions, rather than assuming what you believe to be the worst-case scenario, you may find the author responds more congenially to that query than to being lectured, and that you may have to spend quantitatively less time being upset in a general sense.
Thank you for your attention.
Since it will not be entirely difficult to discover which word precipitated this entry, aside from the general discussion of scare quotes and real quotes, let me say that I don’t find use of the word “triggering” (the quotes here used to highlight, incidentally) to be problematic or merely some code word for people who are oversensitive. Lots of people have experienced trauma in their lives (physical, mental or some combination of the two), and those folks can find themselves in situations where something triggers anxiety and fear. Which is to say triggers are out there and some books/music/events/etc can be triggering.
This is my way of saying that those who might wish to express the view that triggers don’t exist and that the only reason folks might employ the word “triggering” is for “PC censorship purposes” (the quotes there are being used in a scare quote manner, for what it’s worth) will not be met with much favor by me.
“in manner that is strictly considered as polite.”
I can see you made the word “polite” rather tipsy. Which of course is implying all polite people are filthy drunks. I am very “offended.” (Yes, those quotes were to scare you silly.)
What do you “mean” by this? As if I didn’t already know.
That has a certain finality to it.
With regard to what I think this is about, it’s something I’m sorry to say I had to look up on wikipedia to know what it meant.
John, was that first comment a scare period?
Sorry it was stronger than me. I should have pretended to be offended but I don’t have neither the time nor the command of english needed for that.
One never regrets being polite. That is all.
The period in the first post is a placeholder for when I want to reserve the first post for myself. I post a period and then go back and write more, which I have now done.
I never correct people’s punctuation anymore. This is mainly because my own intertubes writing is ridled with errors I could care less about. It’s the manuscripts I get anal on with regards to punctuation. And then other people correct it better like you!
It isn’t easy to keep a blog conversation civil. But we (or anyway I) appreciate your constant efforts in that direction.
There you go “scaring” people with “quotes” again. Word.
For what it’s worth, the use of the word “triggering” was confusing to me as well. As I have no training or experience in psychology, sociology, or development, it wasn’t immediately obvious to me what the word meant, or how the quotes were intended.
Fortunately, I am a moderately intelligent person, as well as a professional editor, so I simply followed the link, got some more information, and then worked it out from context. Were I still confused at that point, I may have looked up the word in one of several dictionaries that I have near my desk. You know, the way people use to do with unfamiliar terms before the Internet robbed everyone of a) the ability to read and comprehend anything lengthier than a “tweet,” and b) the ability to read anything without taking it as either a personal affront or a personal affirmation.
Three “Small” Notes About Punctuation
Three Small “Notes” About Punctuation
Three Small Notes About “Punctuation”
Fun! I’m going to “use” these all day today!
When I first saw that the other day, I didn’t take it the quotes to be scare-quotes, but to indicate that the word “triggering” was…I don’t want to say “made up” because it’s not, it’s a perfectly fine word. But it was obviously being used in a particular way to infer some sort of meaning that I, initially, just did not get.
I had to follow your links* and read quite a bit to be sure of just what it meant. So I guess I took the quotes to mean, “here is a word you know being used in a way it normally isn’t, just so you’re not put off.”
Oooh! While you’re on the subject of punctuation (particularly quotation marks), may I ask a question? What are your feelings on terminal punctuation and quotation marks? I was taught that terminal punctuation, and commas, should appear inside a set of quotation marks. Yet this can be troublesome when dealing with internet addresses, and other computing terms (commands, especially) where technical accuracy outweighs grammar. I feel dirty when I write a sentence like,
The punctuation is off, but the command itself is more accurate.
My apologies if this veers too far off-topic.
*Understand, though, I was following those links anyway. It was to tantalizing a topic not too.
#11 by Brian Mac:
My experience varies. I’m more likely to look up words these days, as I am now able to easily access unabridged dictionaries in various ways that don’t involve a pack animal and./or risking a hernia. Anecdotal evidence — if that’s not an oxymoron — suggests that my behavior change is fairly common.
To my experience, what’s actually changed most in that regard is that large numbers of people are increasingly unable to take comfort from the mistaken belief that everyone is like them (or should be). I try not to offend them, but sometimes that seems to be nearly impossible.
I, too, had to look up “triggering” (in quotation marks to distinguish exactly what it was I was looking up and not because it afeared me.)
Here’s a little Stephen Fry video about language pedantry I saw for the first time this morning that might be relevant to the conversation. (My apologies to our host if he deems it too far off topic, but I thought it was worth sharing.) And I plead guilty to much of what Fry highlights…especially to having a kneejerk reaction to the verbing of nouns.
I’ll leave a period outside quotes in situations similar to those you note. I find the practicality of doing so outweighs previous usage considerations.
“You know, the way people use to do with unfamiliar terms before the Internet robbed everyone of a) the ability to read and comprehend anything lengthier than a “tweet,” and b) the ability to read anything without taking it as either a personal affront or a personal affirmation.”
No, that’s not an Internet thing, that’s a people thing. The Interwebz just allows you to see more of it. My particular favorite is people asking me questions about a movie or television show we are both watching for the first time.
This is precisely why I hate watching movies in a social context. There’s always someone who feels like they have to run their mouth about whats going on, either asking questions about it, or lamely trying to defuse whatever tension is present on screen with a sarcastic comment.
And that’s all I’ll say about that.
AH, sorry for multiposting. Took me to long to post.
“So I guess I took the quotes to mean, “here is a word you know being used in a way it normally isn’t, just so you’re not put off.”
That’s how I took it, more or less.
you may have to spend quantitatively less time being upset in a general sense.
But isn’t that why people come to the Internet in the first place, to get upset? Sure, most people won’t admit it; they claim it’s for the conversation or to learn new things. But somehow they manage to find offense, enter a shouting match, and storm off in a huff to return and do it again the next week.
No, I think people on the net enjoy being upset.
At the risk of overstaying my welcome on this post today, Richard wandered right into my own area of expertise: technical editing. Since I so rarely get to use my professional skills in a leisure venue, there are a few ways to solve the problem:
1. Leave the punctuation outside the quotes. Yes, it’s grammatically incorrect, but your audience may appreciate the technical accuracy more than the grammatical nicety. Of course, your audience may be experienced enough to know that you don’t type a period at the end of a command like that — knowing the audience is important.
2. Recast the sentence to avoid punctuating there: Type “dir c:\” at the command line to list all the files on your c:\ drive.
3. Use a different typographic convention. Many of my clients use bold for things the reader is supposed to type: At the command line, type dir c:\. This will list the files and folders of your C: drive. Now you’re relying on the reader to notice that the period isn’t in bold, and you’re back to recasting the sentence, but at least the quotes are gone.
4. For lengthier instances of code, I like to put the code on a separate line, just so there’s no mistaking, especially if the publisher’s style guide includes a specific “code” style. Again, the effectiveness of this technique depends on how much code you’ve got in the text, the publisher’s conventions, and the audience expectations.
Bottom line: Tech publishing hasn’t been around long enough for a solid set of conventions to have sprung up and become universally accepted. You’d think that 30+ years would be enough time, but in terms of language shifts, that’s an eyeblink. The latest edition of the Chicago Manual of Style is the first to address this sort of thing, and that just came out last year (and I haven’t finished perusing it yet).
I apologize for interrupting the grammatical pedantry with a sidebar discussion on grammatical pedantry. I wouldn’t have done so if our host hadn’t commented on Richard’s post.
This thread reminds me of this:
I hope that’s formatted right. What happened to the “preview” button?
I’m not bothered by most quotation marks and certainly not “triggering” ones.
It’s the quotation marks found on restaurant menus around the word “fresh” that always scare me— “fresh” veggies, “fresh” fish… nooooo, RUN! (away from the eating establishment).
That’s some fancy trickery you have with your “.” reservation system. Especially considering there was no “UPDATE:” when you edited the comment.
You could have said, “Anyone who responds directly after this comment obviously hates America and kicks puppies into the mouths of hungry crocodiles.”
And where would I find a crocodile this far north!?!?!
Should be ‘The “blog” of “unnecessary” quotation marks.’
I mean “eating” establishment. Sheesh.
John, in the spirit of not #3:
I’m curious, why did you put quotations around the word triggering? I know comment 1 says “used to highlight”, but why did you find it neccessary to highlight the word?
Actually, I’d never heard of the use of quotation marks for the purpose of highlighting, but I will defer to your superior knowledge on written English, you being the professional writer and me being a science teacher.
John @1: I know that you are not trying to minimize or dismiss the reality and impact that triggers can have on trauma survivors, but since that seems to be in vogue right now, I think it’s worth noting that “anxiety and fear” is a bit of an understatement.
A lot of people who’ve never experienced trauma will experience some level of anxiety and/or fear when startled or threatened, or when they see a scary movie. That is not the same thing as being triggered.
People who don’t have triggers, even if they know what they are and understand that they’re not a product of “oversensitivity” (those were scare quotes) , might make the mistake of thinking of them only in terms of their immediate effect on the triggered person–the flinch, the scream, the panic attack, the seemingly-disproportionate display of anger or fear. These reactions are real and unpleasant, and minimizing or dismissing them would be wrong even if they were the only part of what people with triggers experience.
But a trigger’s immediate effect, if there is one, may not be its only effect. A person exposed to one of their triggers might also have trouble concentrating, eating, or sleeping for hours or days after. They might be even more sensitive to being triggered for a while. Depending on their individual situation, they might be at risk of harming themselves (this is why you might see a trigger warning for people with eating disorders, OCD, or a compulsion to self-harm).
None of which is to say that I think things that might trigger people should be censored (looping back round to the Bitch Magazine discussion). But it’s really hard to have a reasonable conversation about these issues when people are trying to shut it down by comparing triggers to annoyance or aesthetic distaste.
#15: I love Stephen Fry.
I’m relieved to find out that you were directly quoting rather than scare quoting the word, but I’m not sure why you’d be surprised that someone would misread your intentions, given how many other people in that thread alone (to say nothing of the big wide Internet beyond it) had been scare quoting the term.
Your question is answered in the entry.
I’m not responsible for how other people do things, only how I do them. And as a practical matter I would like a good reason for people to assume I am going the scare quote route. In my opinion, “lots of other people are doing it” isn’t a good reason.
I’ll come right out and admit that I, too, thought you were using scare quotes, came close to writing you an email, and thought better of it, because, well. I’m chicken. And because I wasn’t sure whether my assumption was correct.
As to your comment at #31 (I would like a good reason for people to assume…) Um. I’d like a good reason for people NOT to assume. I don’t know you, personally. I’ve read Whatever for years, but I still assumed. (Incorrectly, as it turns out.) Maybe it’s because I live in a part of the internet where the word ‘triggering’ is almost always used in “quotation marks” to dismiss said triggers. So when I come across it here, my gut reaction is to assume that you’re using scare quotes. That was wrong, and I’m glad.
In fact, it’s not. The order of punctuation is a style choice, and it’s not wrong to do it differently when that aids comprehension or even just looks better.
To make things extra clear, I’ve designed my own font so that when I use scare quotes, they look like vampire fangs.
Also, why are people so upset about Roy Roger’s horse?
“I’d like a good reason for people NOT to assume.”
That does seem a bit of presuming people are guilty until proven innocent, I think. Which is, among other things, tiring.
Beyond that, mind you, I know you’ve visited this site for at least a couple of years. I don’t think there’s much evidence in that time that I think in the sort of manner which makes me an obvious candidate for placing the word “triggering” in scare quotes. I show my ass now and again like anyone does, but I’m good at backtracking when I do and correcting moving forward.
Which is to say I think I’ve earned a little credit, and at least the courtesy of “Dude, those looked like scare quotes to me, were they?” rather than “Dude, why did you put that in scare quotes?”
1) I never knew they were called Scare Quotes when used in that fashion
2) I wonder how it came about that they were called that? They don’t look scary… :)
I wasn’t offended (I had to look the word up, not being familiar with that usage) but it did seem odd to me to use quotes as quotation for single word. Quotations of just one word are rarely seen, so I can understand how people took the quote marks not as an actual quotation but as a form of emphasis and people who do use quotes like that are usually trying to cast the term negatively.
Of course, the proper way to question you on that still would be to have not assumed ill intent but to have done it politely.
Yes, I think so. I don’t have any problem clarifying the use; I do get annoyed being lectured for a use I did not intend.
Many good points have been made here, but Author might want to consider that the sentence was flawed, given the number of people that didn’t know what was being said. NB: I didn’t know either but, as it happened, found it interesting enough to follow the link.
I’m glad to hear that the quote marks you placed around the word triggering weren’t intended as scare quotes, but it seems inaccurate to characterize them as representing a quote when you weren’t, in fact, quoting anything. No one on the Bitch comment thread complained that Tender Morsels or the other challenged book, Sisters Red, were triggering. The complaints against them were, respectively, validating rape as a means of revenge, and blaming victims for attracting their attackers. The third book removed from the list, Living Dead Girl, was removed for being triggering, but complaints about it were apparently received in e-mail – it’s not discussed, and only briefly mentioned, before the announcement of its removal. Only after that announcement does triggering become a topic of discussion in the comment thread.
I think that it was irresponsible to imply that all three books were removed for being triggering. It’s especially irresponsible if you intended the quotation marks to indicate a direct quote that didn’t, in fact, exist.
The author does not believe using punctuation in the manner of its intended and long-standing purpose causes a sentence to be flawed.
Likewise, there is no indication that the very large majority of readers had a problem with the sentence. This entry addresses what I suspect is a relatively small minority, who have been for whatever reason sensitized to either the use of quotes for single words/phrases and/or have seen the word “triggered” popped into scare quotes.
“No one on the Bitch comment thread complained that Tender Morsels or the other challenged book, Sisters Red, were triggering.”
The headline on this post disagrees with you, as regards Tender Morsels. Because the initial complaint regarding Tender has triggering concerns built into it from the outset, I feel comfortable with my characterization in a general sense, and the use of the word “triggering” as a direct quote. You are free to disagree.
I’m with Brian Mac (and others). I don’t have a problem with punctuation, but I do have a problem with jargon. I’m sure that “triggering” is a perfectly familiar concept in certain professions, but it’s a common word in lots of others. I Googled the word, got a lot of obviously irrelevant hits, and gradually worked my way around to an approximation of the notion through context. I SHOULDN’T HAVE TO DO THAT in reading a perfectly ordinary news story about censorship.
the word “trigger” and “triggering” are used frequently in that thread, leading up to as well as after the post announcing the changes to the list.
Points for zeal.
sorry, should add I was responding to Abigail
John, when I read your post the other day, I had no idea what “triggering” even meant. I had to read through half the linked article before I even got a clue, and I’m still not exactly certain. It was definitely an entertaining thread.
The folks there at the mag did call all the books triggering at one point. It may be deeper in the comments thread, but it is there (or was).
I, for one, read John’s intention as a quote. I’d followed the link and saw the word. But mainly because nothing else in what he wrote gave me the assumption that he was using scare quotes. I felt like the intent of his post was pure annoyance with CENSORING and not even remotely related to the validity of triggering. But I can see how some folks might have assumed scare quotes if they’d seen them paired with triggering enough times. It’s always nice to ask, though, and take meanings in the proper context.
Sorry, italics tag fail.
John @42: You might want to fix your link in #42. When I click on “The headline on this post disagrees with you”, I get a “Page Not Found ” error.
Theophylact: You’re right that you shouldn’t need to know special words to describe the psychological fallout of sexual abuse. No one should have to know words like that, because sexual abuse shouldn’t happen to anyone, ever. But it does, and the fact that you’re not familiar with the jargon used in those discussions speaks only to how lucky you are not to need to know, and not to the validity of the language or discussion itself.
Controlling or rejecting language is a powerful way of controlling the conversation, which is why it’s so important to let the people who are being harmed choose the words they use to describe what’s going on. For an extreme example of this, there’s the judge who decided to ban the use of the word “rape” in his courtroom because he thought it would prejudice the jury against the defendant. Can you imagine being a rape survivor, having to get up on the witness stand to testify against your rapist, and having to refer to what your rapist did as “Having sex with” you? Rape means something different, just like “trigger” means something different, and the people who’ve lived through them need language that makes that clear. If they have to spell it out every time, they’re being put at an even bigger disadvantage when trying to articulate their concerns.
I agree that people should be as clear as they can when they’re trying to communicate, but the concept of triggering is well-known in feminist communities, which is the context in which it was being used in the Bitch Magazine comment threads that John was quoting. The moderators and (most of the) other commenters knew what they meant by the word, and the conversation continued apace. Clarity Achieved.
How peculiar it is that you’ve failed to respond to #28.
Annalee – thank you. When I’m triggered, it feels like the whole world has dropped out from under me, giving me nothing to hold on to. I might cry, shake, vomit, get chest pain, or blurred vision. Hours afterward I’m still irrational, paranoid, angry, curiously elated then unresponsive. Days later I’m depressed, having nightmares, reliving conversations compulsively.
This isn’t ‘anxiety’. A bullet of pure fear has been shot into me Scalzi, hence the ‘trigger’ analogy.
@markh – I’m so “happy” that the pain of others entertains you.
El Perro @53: Given that John doesn’t have a track record of comparing being triggered by a book to disliking its typeface, I don’t need any confirmation from him that he believes triggers are serious. He has clearly stated that he takes a dim view of anyone suggesting that the word really does in scare quotes, and that’s good enough for me.
I just hammered on the point because I figured there would be others here who would be getting their first introduction to the term, and I want them to have a very clear picture of what the word means.
“How peculiar it is that you’ve failed to respond to #28.”
It’s not peculiar in the least. Annalee made a good and cogent point and the only thing I would be able to add to it is “well said.” If I did that every time someone made a good and cogent point on the site, the comment threads would become tedious. If you look at most comment threads here, you’ll see I don’t respond to most comments.
The absence of a response to a particular comment is not, in itself, a positive or negative thing; it merely means there’s not a specific response by me to it.
I am so glad to know the name of “scare quotes.” I was aware of the phenomenon, but didn’t have a word for it.
A deli near me has put up a sidewalk chalkboard announcing:
We serve “breakfast” !!
(Punctuation, and scare quotes, in original.) Before, I was merely skeptical of this “breakfast,” but now I know to be afraid, be very afraid.
Going back to punctuation, here’s a PSA for every boss I’ve ever had.
Please stop abusing ellipses, that’s “…”
It is not the correct way to end every sentence in your email, and it implies reluctance or pregnant pause. So when you tell someone “good job…”, it actually sounds like you’re being sarcastic.
And before anyone suggests this, no, it is not the case that I just do crummy work. I have often gone to see them in person and confirmed that they are in fact, happy with my work. They just don’t have a clue how to end sentences.
I suspect that this correlates with having and MBA, but I can’t prove it.
I like when people “annoy” you John. It allows your “scary” side to come out. We all know the “truth” though. You are just a teddy bear (or perhaps a fuzzy).
@Annalee #28: There’s a good bit of difficulty here in that triggering as a concept gets extensively abused by people who do, in fact, mean nothing more than that they are experiencing discomfort, disgust or annoyance (their “triggers” sometimes being the same as their “pet peeves”), but have observed the power that saying one has been triggered gives over certain social contexts and wish to enjoy that power for themselves. If you don’t believe me, a recent example comes to mind of an excellent essay touching on this topic as it pertains to trans women being banned from BDSM events as triggering, at http://fetlife.com/groups/19953/group_posts/1141990 (Fetlife login required to view).
I apologize. I have my reasons for interpreting your words as I did, and from your post here, it seems you got enough of them that other people made that same interpretation.
But what matters is just as you didn’t intended to come off a certain way, I didn’t intend to hurt you, dismiss your feelings, or be accusatory. I could have framed my email to you a whole lot better. I didn’t. My failure to communicate was something I did by not vetting my words or my approach.
I’m embarrassed and ashamed that my thoughtless actions contributed to hurting you enough to respond in kind. The damage is already done, sadly, but I hope you will be willing to take me at my word when I say I am truly sorry, and will make sure I modify my behavior.
I’m not sure a general conversation on whether people overuse or abuse the term “triggering” is going to be particularly useful here.
Thank you, and no worries.
I’ll also note that the essay noted above goes into some detail about the futility of trying to sanitize against possible triggers, because when we’re talking about people with real PTSD and real triggers, anything can be a trigger. PTSD is idiosyncratic and personal, not prepackaged and predictable.
@John #62: Oops, fair enough. I wouldn’t have added #63 if I’d read your post first. :) I will desist if you don’t feel it’s germane.
That does seem a bit of presuming people are guilty until proven innocent, I think.
It does, you’re right. But I reckon that people, myself included, make assumptions about what they don’t know based on what they know. That includes assumptions about other people, and assumptions about why people use certain words in certain ways.
I know you’ve visited this site for at least a couple of years.
Yup, cos I like it here.
I don’t think there’s much evidence in that time that I think in the sort of manner which makes me an obvious candidate for placing the word “triggering” in scare quotes. I show my ass now and again like anyone does, but I’m good at backtracking when I do and correcting moving forward.
Absolutely. Which is why, on reflection, I dismissed my knee-jerk assumption and didn’t email you when I first read the other post.
Which is to say I think I’ve earned a little credit, and at least the courtesy of “Dude, those looked like scare quotes to me, were they?” rather than “Dude, why did you put that in scare quotes?”
If “Dude, wtf” came from a long-time reader, then I agree. ;)
No worries, chaos — cross-posting happens. And yeah, I think a general discussion of “triggering” is best essayed if/when there’s a comment thread here more directly on the topic. Thanks for checking in on that.
Um. That was me, at #65. Oops.
Riding on the range, I’ve got my hat on,
I’ve got my boots dusty.
I’ve got my saddle on my horse.
He’s called t-t-t-t-t-t-trigger of course.
ear worm. Ear worm. EAR WORM! GAAAH!
On a side note, I never knew they were called “scare quotes”. Consider me enlightened. And also considering I didn’t have to use my AK, today was a good day.
@Greg: Cowboy up, homes.
It is rare to see someone take such clear-cut responsibility for their actions in person, let alone on the internet. I have a great deal of respect for you for doing so.
Approach issues with a sense of curiosity, and ask open-ended questions. Assumptions about another person’s intent are often wrong, especially when discussing volatile issues like censorship and sexual trauma. I wish people would just slow down in general, and I have learned from reading Scalzi over the years how to be more gracious and a better participant in online discussions.
I knew of trigger events (and have a few of my own, the sight or sound of rattlesnakes, for example), long before the initial discussion referenced here, but had neither seen nor heard of trigger as a noun in this sense, or of triggering in this sense (although I have used triggered; perhaps I’d seen them and forgotten them). I still startle when I turn the page or or a page opens and shows me a coiled rattlesnake (it’s a startle, though, not a deep PTSD-like reaction). I am a little concerned that words referencing or denoting trigger events can become not startles, but trigger events themselves; how many layers of abstraction are sufficient? At some point, it would seem that abstracting away from one point will bring you into another, the choice becoming one of whom to affect.
I am glad that I’ve learned new usages for some familiar words, and sorry that people have these kinds of reactions, to either events or words.
It took me a bit to actually figure that one out. Mainly because I did read your use of “triggering” as you apparently meant it to be. Context is everything and it did seem to me that you were quoting, rather than scare-quoting.
Darmok and “Jalad” at Tanagra.
Both triggering and scare quotes were concepts I was familiar with but did not know the specific taxonomies for until today. Whatever has Dictionary.com’s “word of the day” beaten 2-0 today. Well played, sir.
(And yes, I know “taxonomy” is an odd usage, but what good is language if you don’t play with it?)
I confess I’m a fairly recent RSS reader of Whatever and I typically don’t click through very often to view or skim comments. As such I honestly have no idea what this is all really about, what “triggered” the discussion, if you will…
However, the debate reminds me of a site I once saw referenced over at Language Log (probably a couple years ago, but it stuck in my brain for some reason). The site features pics of signs, ads, notices, whatever… showing exactly what you would think and thus casting the message in ironic or doubtful terms:
Just thought it might fit in tangentially and that some folks might find it momentarily diverting within the topical context.
For the record and for what it’s worth, I am well acquainted with the term “scare quotes.”
Ah, my apologies…
I’m a bit slow tonight and now I see where the “”triggering”” discussion commenced and what it’s all about. Now that I’ve better clued myself in, I will just add that I undertood the use of quotation marks in the instance in question (although admittedly perhaps I was clued in by this very discussion first, so maybe it doesn’t count). And while I can also understand some potential confusion (without the benefit of the context of this discussion), there’s no reason I can see for anyone to assume a negative attitude toward the usage in question or that the quotation marks were utilized in a derogatory fashion.
At any rate, my tangential site reference in my prior comment remains for amusement/annoyance as the case may be.
htom, that’s the thing about triggers, is that it’s really not possible to make sure your work will not trigger anybody. There are triggers that are pretty common, like graphic depictions of rape for rape survivors. But I read an article once about one rape survivor who was triggered by bears. Nothing bear-related in what happened to her, but somewhere in her head there was a connection, and bears became a trigger. A trigger can be anything.
For survivors, there are a variety of coping methods to manage or eliminate triggers. For writers, artists, publishers, sellers and reviewers though, the best thing that you can do is make sure people have the information they need to make a good choice about the work, and trust that they’re capable of doing so.
Put me in the group that didn’t read from your post what you intended. And it wasn’t just the regular quotes vs. scare quotes issue, either. The whole thing was confusing.
The general tone of “How to Piss Off a Bunch of YA Authors” came across as really flip and eye-rolling to me. But it wasn’t clear to me why you were rolling your eyes. Because people challenged whether certain books on a feminist-labeled list were actually feminist? Because Bitch magazine failed basic feminist community etiquette by not including trigger warnings where appropriate (standard practice in most third-wave-oriented communities)? Because their solution was to remove the titles? Because a bunch of other authors on the list requested their titles be removed as well? Because of the accusations that the people who were triggered were being too sensitive? Because of the frequent comparisons between someone who says a book might not be particularly feminist to someone who actually works to get books removed from libraries?
You’re an author, so it’s not unreasonable to assume that that’s the group you’d most likely support, but they certainly weren’t behaving as models of maturity or understanding on that forum. I’m not surprised that several people thought you were using scare quotes, especially because that’s exactly what was happening on the forum you were discussing.
I still don’t really understand the purpose of your earlier post. Your tone suggests that you think it’s better not to piss off YA authors, but how do you think it could have been avoided? Did you have an idea of what a more appropriate response would have been, from any of the parties involved? There are a lot of possibilities here, and I’m genuinely curious as to your reasons for writing about it.
“The general tone of ‘How to Piss Off a Bunch of YA Authors’ came across as really flip and eye-rolling to me. But it wasn’t clear to me why you were rolling your eyes.”
Well, I am often flip in a general sense, but this isn’t the same as saying I’m not treating something seriously. One has to be careful about making the distinction between the two, as I am often flip regarding things about which I am deadly serious.
That said, I don’t find it in the least surprising that the authors were pissed off by how Bitch Media chose to handle the complaints about those books — authors are essentially pre-conditioned to get their hackles up when books get removed (physically or conceptually) for reasons they find less than defensible, and YA authors more than others because their books are so often challenged. So what you were picking up from me was probably my feeling of “well, this is the expected reaction, isn’t it?”
“I’m not surprised that several people thought you were using scare quotes, especially because that’s exactly what was happening on the forum you were discussing.”
However, and once again, I’m not responsible for what other people do, only what I do. I can certainly understand if people were concerned that I was using scare quotes, but I don’t think it’s difficult to ask for clarification, and I don’t feel bad for being annoyed that people made an assumption about me that I find offensive.
“Your tone suggests that you think it’s better not to piss off YA authors, but how do you think it could have been avoided?”
I think it’s perfectly fine to piss off YA authors, if that’s your intent; in this case I doubt it was. Likewise, I’m not sure it’s my job to problem solve this for Bitch Media, or that my attempt to do so would make me any friends.
I will say that when I went out of my way to create a canonical list of media (in my case, a list of the “50 Canonical Science Fiction Films” for my Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies book), I made sure that as the list maker a) I had strong personal knowledge of every work I placed on the list, b) that I was able to defend the selection of every work on the list.
I clicked through, read the ‘we are removing this book from or list’ and immediately did a face palm. These guys didnt read the books on their own list. People were saying stuff like ‘you were so bold to put this on you list now you are cowards for removing it’. The problem is they werent bold in the firat place. they didnt know anything about the books, they just asked for other peoples opinions. which turns it into a popularity contest. and when someone else came in and said they didnt like a book on the list, Bitch obviously didnt know anything about the book themselves and decided to play it safe and only list books no one disliked.
the lesson here would be ‘dont recommend a book if you havent read it’ as Scalzi says. I’m just amazed they violated this common sense rule.
John, you know that list you made of things that you don’t have to think about?
Another thing you don’t have to think about is whether yet another person is ridiculing your everyday experience with their wording.
It’s kind of like how it’s good manners to not use “niggardly” to describe tightfisted people who happen to be black. There are Unfortunate Implications regardless of intent. For a speaker or writer who isn’t of a particular marginalized group, that’s purely academic; the most trouble they’ll ever have from dropping an Unfortunate Implication is maybe getting irritated and insulted when other people call them out on it. But for someone who is part of that marginalized group, it’s yet another microaggression in a culture of dismissal or hostility toward them. Even if that’s not how you meant it.
Which is to say! If people try to trip me all the time, then when you stick your foot out in front of me? I am probably not going to stop and inquire politely whether you are trying to trip me or merely show off your new shoes, and if you’re trying to trip me, please don’t. I’m probably going to step around and give you a dirty glare, or tell you to fuck off — or, hell, if I’ve been tripped one too many times that day, I might just haul off and plant my fist in your face.
And if the entire society in which you live makes a habit of tripping up certain groups of people, it is probably unreasonable and entitled to demand that they — the daily beleaguered — be always courteous to you when you — who look pretty much like everyone else who trips them or stands by doing nothing — stick out your foot in front of them.
Ladies, gentlemen, individuals of all stripes: this has been your long and overwrought metaphor of the evening. tl;dr, check your privilege.
“or, hell, if I’ve been tripped one too many times that day, I might just haul off and plant my fist in your face.”
To put this as delicately as possible, I’m not sure where you’ve taken this metaphor is beneficial to the overall point you wish to make. What you appear to be suggesting is, because other people I don’t know or have any association with have tripped you before you and I ever met, if I accidentally put my foot in front of you, it’s possible you’ll physically batter me. My response here is that as sympathetic as I might be to your plight, and as sorry as I might be that other people have been assholes to you, I still don’t deserve a fist in the face, and if you choose to put it there, I’m going to have you arrested for it.
Beyond this, I’m not aware of demanding people be courteous to me, either explicitly (the first time the word “demand” showed up in this thread is when you brought it into the discussion) or implicitly. People will do as they will and demanding they do otherwise would be silly of me. What I have done here is note that if people wish to ascribe to me an intent I do not have, and then choose to lecture me about it, I may choose to correct their misapprehension, and reserve the right to do so however I feel appropriate.
Likewise, I do not require those who feel I’ve slighted them in some way to stop and ask me for clarification of my intent, because, again, that would be silly of me. If they did, however, I would certainly appreciate it, because like anyone I prefer to be given the benefit of the doubt, and I would be glad of the opportunity to clarify my position.
Which is to say I think there’s a difference between saying “Do this!”, which it appears you are suggesting that I’m doing, and saying “If you do ‘x’, then the result may be ‘y'”, which is what I’m saying I did. One is telling people what to do; the other is informing people of a possible outcome of an action. In both cases, of course, people are free to do as they will. But one lays expectations on the actor and the other does not.
check your privilege
That’s an interesting invocation of the word “privilege”. In this case it appears to be used to mean “one person’s experience is inherently more important than another’s.”
John’s OP basically said “If you yell at me for using scare quotes when I didn’t use scare quotes, I may be not entirely congenial in response.”
If you wanted to say “If you use what appears to be scare quotes around something that is important to me, I may be not entirely congenial in response” that would be a more equitable response.
Scalzi explains his experience. You explain yours. Both explanations leave room for the other’s experience. No where in this thread did Scalzi say “you are not allowed to get upset by my quotation marks”. You’re allowed to get upset at Scalzi. Scalzi is allowed to get upset in return.
To invoke the demand “check your privilege” essentially removes any space for Scalzi’s experience here. It attempts to preempt him and say he can’t use quotations for quoting things if anyone might take it as scare quotes. And it attempts to demand that if someone *does* get offended by misinterpreting his quotation as “scare quotes”, then Scalzi’s only “appropriate” response is to politely and profusely apologize.
You are using “privilege” in a way that essentially means “My experience of this incident is more important than your experience of it”.
Which seems to be one of the more common uses of the word “privilege”, unfortunately, like its some kind of trump card that allows them to “win”, whatever that might mean to them.
Scalzi: Bitch removed books that people said were “triggering”
Reader: Your use of scare quotes around “triggering” was an assholish move, asshole.
Scalzi: They weren’t scare quotes, they were direct quotes. Stop lecturing me.
Reader: Your failure to surrender your experience and to apologize for my experience, is a function of your privilege.
Privilege is when some dominant group is raised above the equality waterline as a result of discrimination against some minority group, and when discrimination is removed, the dominant group sinks to the equality waterline alongside everyone else. Plantation owners making money hand over fist off the backs of slave labor would be an extreme and obvious and inarguable example of privilege. Remove slavery and the plantation owners don’t make as much money.
Using “privilege” to mean “your experience is invalid” is the sort of usage that gives privilege a bad name. Unfortunately, it seems to be a more common usage of the term.
@ 84: That seems to be quibbling over precise wording, which is suited for law or literary criticism, but rarely useful in other interpersonal interaction. As I can attest with some chagrin :P
@ 85: The privilege I am talking about is the privilege of the straight cis man who has never, for example, been raped. Rape survivors and victims are a demonstrably marginalized group in our society; I’m not sure why you are suggesting otherwise. Once one group of people is disadvantaged, the rest automatically have an advantage over that group. That is called privilege. For example, as an able-bodied person, I have the privilege of expecting that almost any place I want to go to, digital or physical, is accessible to me. Does this sound like a huge special deal? No. But it is an unearned benefit of life that I have, due to my being able-bodied, that disabled people are denied because of their disability. Privilege isn’t limited to big things like being richer than other people or having people, dunno, call you by superior titles.
I’m not sure where you’re getting “your experience is invalid.” There was a time when I used sexist language. People told me it was sexist. I stopped. Does this mean that they were telling me “your experience of sexist language is invalid compared to mine”? If I walk around- wearing extremely strong fragrances and my coworker tells me to please cut down on it for the love of god, she’s allergic and we work in an enclosed space, is she invalidating my experience of loving strong fragrances and telling me it’s less important than her experience of being allergic? What if my coworker snaps and says FUCK IT LEY YOU SBELL LIKE A FUCKIG CHEBICAL FACTORY AD I’B SICK OF HAVIG BY ALLERGIES SET OFF? Am I then entitled to say, WELL FUCK YOU MY PARTNER REALLY LIKES THIS SCENT ARE YOU SAYING THEIR OPINION IS INVALID?
I confess I’m coming at this from less of a “don’t yell back” angle than I am a “educate yourself and don’t do it in the first place” angle, but either way, I’m not seeing it. John’s argument seems to consist mainly in saying “But I didn’t do it, so why should I be affected by it?”, which makes about as much sense as saying “But I’m not a homophobe, why should people get mad when I call them fags?”, or “But I’m not the one who killed their mother, why should I refrain from excessive jollity in front of them?” People don’t exist in isolation! This is a cultural context which we should all be aware of in the first place — and even more so should a person who has power relative to others. [Spiderman quote goes here.]
“That seems to be quibbling over precise wording,”
Well, no. It’s a matter of how one is approaching others in relationship to one’s self, and that’s not a quibble. If one is demanding, then one is asserting that one has a certain inherent power over the other in an exchange, which the other party must follow. If one says “if you do x, then y may be my response,” you are not asserting that the other party must (or ought) to follow your demands; you are informing them what result a particular course of action may have. The former is an imperative and the latter is a conditional. It’s the difference between saying “this is what you must do” and “this is what I may do.”
I disagree with you rather emphatically that wording is not important in interpersonal relationships; in my experience people are not stupid and they can and do recognize how people use words to define their relationship to others.
“John’s argument seems to consist mainly in saying ‘But I didn’t do it, so why should I be affected by it?’, which makes about as much sense as saying ‘But I’m not a homophobe, why should people get mad when I call them fags?'”
I suspect that you and I have a major philosophical difference regarding the aptness of comparing quotation marks used in a primary and grammatically correct manner, but which independently have a secondary rhetorical association in specific circumstances, with the use of a word whose overwhelmingly primary definition when applied to people is as a slur. That’s probably the most polite way I can phrase that. It’s possible you may see this as another example of “quibbling over precise wording,” but, again, it’s really not.
Beyond that, I didn’t say that it shouldn’t affect me; quite obviously it does, and has. What I did say that if you assume I used the quotes in a way that I didn’t and then choose to lecture me as if I did, then I may correct your misapprehension in a manner I see fit.
Ley, if I may say so, your argument does seem to boil down to two points:
1. Don’t be surprised if people who get pissed on get pissed off if they see you do something that looks to them like you’re pissing on them;
2. Try not to give the appearance of pissing on people in the future.
To which I would say:
1. Yes, good point;
2. Also a good point.
Yeah, I was behind on your blog… until I saw the entry re-posted in a snark community on LiveJournal. Wow. I’m surprised just how often (and on the VARIETY of different communities) that I see your stuff on LJ.
Thank you for addressing this concern. I wasn’t going to write you either, but I admit to a bit of side-eyeing when I I read the entry the first time.
Always happy to clarify my positions.
I was thinking of asking what “triggering” meant; I certainly couldn’t figure it out from context in the source you linked to. For what it’s worth, though, I instantly assumed you were quoting the word rather than using scare quotes; not only did the context demand it, but it doesn’t sound like the kind of word you’d be likely to use that way.
Ley, if for just one moment you would stop and really consider the extent to which you are attributing words and intents to me that I neither said nor intended, then perhaps we could have a real conversation.
For example: Rape survivors and victims are a demonstrably marginalized group in our society; I’m not sure why you are suggesting otherwise.
Holy shit. Seriously? Where in God’s green earth, and everything I posted here, did you see me say “rape victims are NOT marginalized in our society?” I don’t think I even ever mentioned rape victims, let alone asserted anything about their status re: marginalized versus nonmarginalized.
I did not suggest anything whatsoever about rape victims and you’re cheesing me off to make such a nonsense accusation out of absolutely zero words saying anything remotely resembling that in any of my posts here.
People don’t exist in isolation! This is a cultural context which we should all be aware of in the first place
Yeah, like, for instance, accusing people of saying things they didn’t say, and then lecturing them at length about how horrible they are for saying it, might tend to piss them off to no end.
What if my coworker snaps and says FUCK IT LEY YOU SBELL LIKE A FUCKIG CHEBICAL FACTORY AD I’B SICK OF HAVIG BY ALLERGIES SET OFF? Am I then entitled to say, WELL FUCK YOU MY PARTNER REALLY LIKES THIS SCENT ARE YOU SAYING THEIR OPINION IS INVALID?
I said ‘You are using “privilege” in a way that essentially means “My experience of this incident is more important than your experience of it”.’ When I said you seem to be using privilege to mean “your experience is invalid”, I meant that you’re using privilege to mean “my experience is more important than yours”. You then make up a story about you and some coworker arguing over cologne/perfume where you then try to say “are you saying their opinino is invalid” as a weird way of trying to twist what I said into nonsense.
If Alice tells Bob, “your cologne sets off my alergies”, that’s her experience of the cologne.
If Bob says “My wife, Eve, likes it, are you trying to invalidate her opinion?” thats Bob trying to say his wife’s experience (Eve) experience is more important than Alice’s.
Which was exactly what I said you were doing with the whole “privilege” accusation. You were trying to invalidate everyone’s experience but whoever you percieved to be the under-privileged. As you said, “educate yourself and don’t do it in the first place”. Don’t do what? Don’t write or say anything that might get interpreted in a way you did NOT intend and upset someone????????????
The only way that “Thou shalt not make intentionally harmless statements that someone might unintentionally interpret as harmful” is if you say the speaker’s experience if IRRELEVENT. And that’s exactly what you’re doing with the “privilege” argument. Don’t say anything, no matter what your intention is to say, no matter waht your experience of what you are saying is, if it could in any way possible be interpreted by someone else in some harmful way to them.
You’re sayig the listening experience of the person harmed trumps the experience of the speaker who intended no harm.
This is demonstrated almost perfectly by your paraphrasing here:
“But I’m not a homophobe, why should people get mad when I call them fags?”,
Recall that the actual word that got some readers upset was the word *triggering* put in quotations because it was quoting someone who said the word *triggering*, and the person who got upset thought the quotation marks were “scare quotes” rather than being quotes indicating a verbatim quotation.
using quotes to indicate verbatim quotations is a perfectly valid mechanism. It’s not like using the word “fags” to refer to homosexuals. Therefore your paraphrasing takes Scalzi’s valid experience, using quotes to indicate verbatim quotation of someone’s words, and turns it into something that can only be an invalid experience, using an offensive homophobic slur and expecting no one be offended.
so once again, you are invalidating someone’s experience.
You turn Scalzi’s legitimate use of quotes into a homophobic slur. You turn my point of you dismissing other’s experiences into me somehow making assertions regarding the lack of marginization of rape victims.
When you can talk about Scalzi’s use of quotes without strawmanning it into nonsense, you’re allowing for his expereince. You’re acknowledging that someone could put quotes around “triggering” and not mean them as scare quotes but verbatim quotations.
When you can get that strawmanning Scalzi’s use of quotation marks for quotations of verbatim text into no different than using a homophobic slur then you might get that you really are trying to dismiss one person’s experience over that of another person’s experience. And if you get that, maybe you’ll finally get my experience without turning what I said into “rape victims aren’t marginalized” weirdiness.
Annalee @79 Yes, that’s what I meant. The mind is a wondrous link and pattern finder, even if the result is either obscure or non-existent. I can rationalize the “bear as rape” trigger (bear –> ursidae –> ursine –> hairy body –> rapist –> rape; the mind runs the chain the other way.)
To me “check your privilege” is a way of saying “I have a special understanding and/or relationship with this topic and you do not” (that is, it is an actual a claim of their privilege), denying the possibility of empathy, sympathy, or co-victimhood; my frequent reaction is to ignore the privilege claimant’s claim.
Well, sometimes “check your privilege” just means “be aware of the place from which you’re coming when you make a statement about others.” And that’s not a bad idea.
That said, I think we’ve begun drifting into a general discussion about privilege, so it’s worth bringing it back around to the subject at hand.
I am so confused by the post and this entire thread. Yes, I have scanned my way down the thread. I even looked back at the post about the YA Author’s list. Apparently, after reading three books over the weekend, the sponsors pulled one of the books because of its triggering nature. I don’t even know what means. All I can figure out is that Scalzi used double quote marks in his post when quoting from the YA Author list site, and somebody must have jumped his case thinking he was using scare quotes (which I have always known as quotes for emphasis, not to scare anyone) when really he was quoting a source. Can anyone explain to me how a book can be bad because it triggers something? Like I said, I am so confused.
That appears to be part of the question. Evidently, one of the commenters on the list felt that, yes, a book with triggers (I believe the trigger in question was rape) is indeed “bad”. The author of the list decided to concede to the commenter’s complaints and swapped the titles out of the list. Other commenters took exception to this.
That triggering books are bad is certainly a debatable point. On the opposite end of the opinion spectrum on triggers is the stance that triggers are signs of oversensitivity and language policing. It seems that one of Scalzi’s readers interpreted the quotation marks as indicative of him (Scalzi) being at this end of the opinion spectrum, and proceeded to lecture him. Scalzi took exception to this.
pulled one of the books because of its triggering nature. I don’t even know what means.
A trigger is a psychological notion. Something happening to you right now causes you to flashback to something that happened to your before. It could be something short and common, such as a loud bang gives you a flashback to your time in combat. Therefore fireworks, a car backfiring, a hammer hitting a nail, could all be “triggers” for you. The smell of Jack Daniels might cause you to wretch and a taste of it might cause you to vomit because of that one night, back in college, where you drank a whole bottle of it. So the smell or taste of JD could be a trigger for you.
One main point about triggers is that they arent’ generally designed to be triggers for someone, but rather are whatever they are, but someone might get triggered by it. My understanding is that this particular case, the trigger was a scene in a book depicting rape and a reader was triggered to recall when they were raped themselves.
I think a book that “triggers” shouldn’t be listed as inherently bad since triggers are seldom designed to be triggers, but rather they could be anything the reader’s mind latched onto during their trauma. I might take issue with a book that depicts the victim of a rape as deserving it because she was dressed provacatively or plugging into standard cliches like that. But the issue with this book apparently wasn’t that its depiction of rape blamed the victim or anythign like that as far as I know. The issue was that the rape scene triggered in the reader’s mind a memory of when the reader had been raped.
I haven’t read the book in question, so I can’t say for sure if that’s exactly the issue, but that’s my understanding thus far.
Actually, thinking back to the thread, I seem to recall that the complaint was not just that the book was triggering. If memory serves (and I really don’t want to read through the thread again), not only is there a rape, but theres a later plot development that the victim orchestrates the rape of the attacker. Thus, the commenter also found the book to be exploitative.
Gentlemen–Thank you. Your explanations make the murky waters of this thread way clearer. Never having flashbacked to a negative life-experience due to a current-time trigger (that I can recall), I was in a fog on the the whole trigger issue of the thread.
I sure hope the aliens are getting all this…is this radio antenna on?…
Just kidding. They’re too busy listening to Klingon opera.
I didn’t know which “word” you were “referring” to in the “post” until I got into the comments section. Then I thought, “Ah, now I can find out what ‘triggering’ means. All good things come to those who are patient, or something like that.” Because I read that other post about Bitch magazine’s reading list first, and I thought, “Triggering what? Can I get an object with my verb?” Then I read the two actual posts you linked to on the Bitch website, hoping to get a little context. Nope. Nadda. Was the book triggering bombs? Or maybe riots? Perhaps that’s just negative thinking. Maybe the book was triggering ticker-tape parades? Or could it be some force of nature, like avalanches? Wikipedia was no help. Urban dictionary told me where to get off. Google was a non-starter without context to narrow results. Then, like sun breaking thunderclouds, there came forth the “light” of hope as you beat back the philistines assumptive scorn and, completely incidentally, triggered comments that told me what the hell “triggering” meant. Yay!