Yesterday I wrote about my recent decision to invent a word while in a debate with another person in order to determine his intelligence. My assumption was that if he ignored the invented word and pretended that he understood its meaning, I could rightfully assume he was an idiot.
My wife, and about 85% of my readers, disagreed with me, oftentimes with vehemence.
Rather than responding individually via Facebook, Twitter, email and the comments on the post itself, I thought I’d write another post in response.
First, as for the comments about the typos on the post (and other posts), these were the only responses that annoyed me (perhaps because I received so many of them).
Yes, I proofread my blog. My wife proofreads my blog as well. But proofreading does not guarantee the elimination of typos, especially when one is writing everyday and posting on the same day.
To suggest that proofreading is not happening or that I am careless is just silly. Anyone who writes knows that our own typos are the most difficult to see. There is a reason that professional copyeditors and proofreaders exist. This is the reason. Proofreading is not an easy job. It requires a special skill set that I do not possess.
However, if you are ever annoyed by a typo on this blog, please know that I am at least as annoyed as you are. I despise typos with every fiber of my being. When I see a typo a day, a week or a month after publishing a post, it embarrasses me to think about how many people have already read the post and seen the error. Therefore I encourage you to inform me about typos by any means you so choose. I want to know about them and am never offended when a reader points them out. I am only eternally grateful.
Okay, onto the crux of the argument.
First, most of you agree with my wife in her assertion that inventing a word for the purposes of determining intelligence is mean-spirited. In rereading the post, I realize that my mistake was twofold.
First, I failed to acknowledge that I agree with my wife’s assertion. I agree that the purposeful use of an invented word to determine intelligence is mean-spirited.
Second, I failed to inform the reader that the person with whom I was debating was acting like a jerk and a blowhard. I was not engaged in a civil discussion about the merits of one educational policy over another. Instead, I was in a heated argument with someone who was at least as mean-spirited as me.
In this circumstance, I was not trying to be nice. I was in a heated debate with a person who was being equally impolite. While it might be inappropriate for me use this tactic on a friend or colleague (as much as I may be tempted), I was debating a person who I did not know well and who was engaged in verbal fisticuffs with me.
We were really going at it.
Yes, it was mean. I agree. I just don’t think I am required to be polite or forthright when engaged in this kind of argument with a person who I barely know.
You may disagree on this point. If so, I can respect that.
As for the effectiveness of the tactic, I think that many of the people who responded are correct in asserting that this is hardly an effective means of determining intelligence.
I have found in my life their are many words I may not know but go by context of the sentence to come to a reasonable conclusion as to what a word may mean.
It's also possible that the person thought you were using a word you did not understand and wanted to save you the embarrassment of bringing it up. Maybe they were just being polite.
Your debate opponent didn't wish to embarrass you by confronting you about your made-up word and so you appear to them to be the dolt. I have actually been in this situation - hearing someone make up a word, create an unintentional malapropism, or simply mispronounce a common word (in one case the common word being "rice pilaf" in which they reversed the vowel sounds in "pilaf"). I had to choose whether or not to help them out of their blunder or maintain professional courtesy.
It's possible that the guy wasn't even listening in the first place. That happens to me all the time.
Maybe he thought you were the moron for using a made up word but had the social graces not to embarrass you.
These are all valid arguments, and I agree completely. To expect that this tactic would yield any measure of intelligence was stupid on my part.
There were also readers who thought that my tactic probably made me look like the fool.
Seems to be the person may not wanted to seem stupid by asking the definition. Pretty sure they are telling their friends that you are full of yourself or maybe other choice words!
I regularly have to talk to a guy (work thing) who "thinks" he is the smartest guy on earth. He makes up big words and uses others completely incorrectly. I NEVER get off the phone thinking he's brilliant and in fact usually hang up the phone thinking he's an idiot and how sad it is that he doesn't know it. I obviously agree with your wife here.
Honestly, I'd first think you were an idiot for making up words. In my line of work, people make up words all the time to seem smart. I would also probably go home and look it up just to make sure I'm not the idiot.
These arguments hold considerably less weight with me because the man’s opinion of me in this case was irrelevant. In fact, I often find it advantageous to have my verbal opponent misjudge my abilities. When I debated competitively in college, I would often open the debate with a statement meant to mislead. I might intentionally appear unprepared, ill informed or falsely imply that I would be assuming a position that was easily countered. Going into a debate against an opponent who underestimates you often puts you at an extreme advantage. His opinion that I am an idiot is irrelevant to me and possibly beneficial.
Several people compared my actions to that of a bully, and still others implied that this tactic was nothing more than an attempt to demonstrate my mental superiority over the man. For example:
How does that separate you from any school yard bully? Why is it so important to you to be mentally superior than another?
I agree with all. It seems you are using your intelligence to bully others in this sense.
I’m not quite sure how to feel about these comments and others like them. At its heart, isn’t a debate an attempt to exert your mental superiority over another person? Doesn’t the debater use his or her mental facilitates, expertise of the subject matter, cunning and wit to counter any attempt by his or her opponent to do the same?
Does an attempt to change a mind or at least convince a person that they don’t know what the hell they are talking about amount to verbal bullying?
I’m not sure. I’ll continue to ponder this question.
Lastly, there were at least three people who expressed concern that yesterday’s post and posts similar to it do not serve me well in terms of the sales of books. In short, presenting myself as an unlikable jerk does not make people want to support my writing career. This is an interesting point and one that I have considered quite often over the years.
The question is this:
Should I continue to be as honest as I am on my blog, or does my honesty sometimes do more harm than good?
In thinking about this issue, I was reminded of the number of people at a recent book retreat who expressed appreciation for my honesty. One person said, “You’re just not afraid to tell us how stupid you are.”
When people comment on my level of honesty, I think they are actually talking about my openness. My fellow authors at that retreat were undoubtedly just as honest as I was. They simply did not always opt for full disclosure. They chose not to offer details about their lives that might make them appear like idiots or malcontents.
I have a greater tendency to do exactly that.
One of my friends often says that I “live out loud.” He’s right. For whatever reason, I have always been more willing to share the less appealing aspects of my life and my personality.
Does this hurt book sales? I don’t know.
Perhaps for every person who appreciates my openness and honesty, there is a person who would like me to shut the hell up.
This is also a question I will continue to ponder, though I suspect that little will change in this regard. Like many of the characters in my books, I can only be myself, as unfortunate and ugly and detrimental as that might sometimes seem.
Hopefully you will continue reading about my journey and forgive the occasional outbursts of stupidity.