Notes on Civility

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Please read, and take to heart, our "Comments policy".

If you have something worthwhile to contribute, say it courteously and cordially.  There is no need to be gratuitously snarky.  That does not contribute to the smooth, productive flow of discussion.

Be respectful.

Do not be repetitive.

Do not harp on some private hobby-horse of your own.

Be aware that your reputation on Language Log will follow you elsewhere.  Realize that your behavior on other internet fora is known to the denizens of Language Log.  The World Wide Web is mercilessly unforgetful.

These are the sorts of things I learned in my junior high school Civics class — how to be a good citizen.  It's all about how to "zuòrén 做人" ("be a[n upright] person; conduct oneself [honorably]; behave [properly / with integrity]").

The ancient Chinese treasured lǐ 禮 ("ritual; rite[s]; etiquette; propriety; civility; present; gift; ceremony") as a principle for organizing society, and that is why the philosopher Herbert Fingarette (1921-2018) made it the centerpiece of his little classic, Confucius, the Secular as Sacred (1972) and put that character right in the middle of the cover of his book.

To be honest, the vast majority of Language Log readers and commenters do not need to be reminded of these things.  Only a tiny proportion, less than a handful, tend to get carried away with their own vanity from time to time.


Selected readings


  1. V said,

    May 14, 2022 @ 3:16 pm

    Thank you; I did not expect you do that, but it's appreciated.

  2. Mehmet Oguz Derin said,

    May 14, 2022 @ 8:03 pm

    I think the best part about Language Log is the variety in the posts themselves, which are thought-provoking and can naturally attract "various" opinions. Although, maybe because I am younger, I would not judge or bias a person too much just because they wrote a comment here, similar to social media comments, where I always keep in mind that non-native speakers can use vocabulary with very different intentions (but I wish the comments section supported more Unicode characters!).

  3. Arthur Baker said,

    May 15, 2022 @ 12:32 am

    Many thanks Victor. I really wish your advice would be read, received, understood, and acted upon by the thousands of linguistic peevers who pollute online forums with their uninformed, prejudiced, discriminatory opinions on the way others speak and write.

    Sadly, it won't. All it takes is for a single correspondent to a letters column or other online forum to complain about a word or phrase or spelling or grammatical form they happen to dislike ("tell you what my pet peeve is") and the pack is off and running. For days and weeks on end, the Canutilinguists, the Grampedanti, the Peeviators, the Punctupedanti, are out there spreading their hatred towards people they don't even know.

    Discrimination and abuse on the basis of race, skin colour, sex, sexual preference, political opinion, and many other factors, has been illegal and punishable by law for a long time in many jurisdictions. But abuse someone on the basis of their accent, dialect, word choice, grammar, or other linguistic variant, no problem, abuse to your heart's content.

    I hope your comments help to slow the predominance of linguistic prejudice and abuse, but I have to say I'm not all that confident.

  4. Terpomo said,

    May 15, 2022 @ 4:36 pm

    Canutilinguists… I love it. Very fitting.

  5. JPL said,

    May 15, 2022 @ 10:48 pm

    There will always be pedantiquarians and linguistasters. But why is that?

  6. Olaf Zimmermann said,

    May 16, 2022 @ 7:26 am

    Every speaker is also a listener – I presume – just as every writer is also reader, I hope. In alternating between these roles, one has to adhere to certain principles which constitute the basic requirements for constructive dialogue, à savoir:
    1) The Toleranzprinzip (Carnap)
    2) The Principle of Charity (Quine)
    3) The Co-operative principle (Grice)
    Apart from that, if you can't say somethin' nice … don't say nothin' at all.
    A heightened sense of self-importance is not a sufficient qualification for broadcasting oneself.

  7. Philip Taylor said,

    May 16, 2022 @ 8:42 am

    I wasn't planning to comment in this thread, but Olaf's " if you can't say somethin' nice … don't say nothin' at all", requires, I believe, a response. A reply does not need to be nice, or even to include a token niceness; if a comment contains nothing whatsoever of value, then a later commenter should not feel inhibited from pointing that out. But in so doing, the later comment should focus on the content (or lack thereof), not on the individual who made the comment. O would summarise this as "4)", to be added to Olaf's list — avoid ad hominem argument : focus solely on the comment, not on the commenter. No specific authority can be cited, but it is a widely accepted tenet.

  8. DWalker07 said,

    May 21, 2022 @ 9:18 pm

    Sumilar to what Philip Taylor said, Wikipedia's "talk" system, where article editors discuss article updates with other editors, has an admonishment to "comment on content, not on other commenters". That is frequently lost. For some reason, in that particular sphere — especially among politically-charged articles — some editors will say "Editor ABC said XYZ; he or she is obviously an anti-semite, or a Zionist, or an Iraqi", or whatever. I don't quite understand this train of thought that leads someone to presume that someone with a different viewpoint is "obviously" a member of group X.

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