Lemony Snicketism

I've often thought that the worst jobs in publishing — worse even than proofreading the listings for TV Guide — would be to be a staff writer for one of those bridal magazines.

Such magazines do not have subscribers. They do not have a readership that seeks an ongoing, developing conversation. Every issue they print essentially the same articles, features, columns and photographs, with only the slightest variation. They never get past square one.

One of the reasons I left the evangelical publication I used to edit was that writing in that milieu could often be frustratingly like writing for Modern Bride. One might think that, having published in one's June issue a series of articles and essays on, say, the biblical basis for the stewardly care of creation, one would be safe in moving on to a more in-depth article on, say, toxic waste, in the following issue without having to retrace all that was just said. But no.

We would get letters complaining about insufficient proof-texting. "Your article on toxic waste simply asserts that environmentalism is biblical," the letters would say. "What is the basis for this assertion?"

Many of these letters expressed a genuine confusion. The poor souls hadn't read the previous issues, nor did it seem to occur to them that there were previous issues. They wandered in at step three and needed us to go back and go over the first two steps for them. Tedious, but fair enough.

Many of these letters, however, did not seem genuine. The letter writers seemed to be using their faux-naive questions as a way of controlling the conversation and stopping it from moving any further.

The former are like late-arriving theater-goers who take their seats after intermission and pester you to tell them what happened in the first act. The latter don't care about the play at all, they just want to ruin the performance for everybody else.

This latter tactic is also a common practice for blogosphere trolls. Such trolls would require one to stop every time you employ a basic concept or refer to an established fact and explain to them all over again just what the concept means and doesn't mean and why the fact is accepted as established.

I call this tactic "Lemony Snicketism" because these folks won't be satisfied unless, like the children's author, you put on hold whatever it is you were trying to say and explain to them at great length what all the big words mean.

The trick is learning to discern between the genuinely confused and the deliberately obtuse. The key seems to be in how their question is phrased.

If the person simply says, "I don't understand what you mean by …" then the odds are they are innocently asking a question. If you have time and patience, you can repeat what has gone before and try to bring them up to speed. Or you can remind them that Google and your archives should provide ample explanation for their question and for any others they might have. (This is also, of course, why FAQs were invented.)

If however, their question begins with an accusatory "Gotcha!" then in all likelihood their obtuseness is disingenuous and you're dealing with a troll practicing the uncivil art of Lemony Snickettism. Their goal is to turn whatever conversation you were attempting to have into the Sisyphean equivalent of Modern Bride.

I, for one, will not judge you for responding to such with a commensurate incivility.

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  • Retrogrouch

    All good points Slack, but what I really want to see is examples – nothing’s more fun than reading other peoples hate mail!

  • Tlachtga

    I don’t understand what you mean by “obtuse.” Isn’t that a type of triangle?

  • Becky

    Not to nit-pick, just to share: my cousin had a subscription to at least one bridal magazine. She was 16 at the time. And didn’t even have a steady boyfriend. But really really really wanted to get married.
    Now that we’ve lost touch, I sometimes wonder if she ever snagged a guy, and feel kind of sorry for him.
    She subscribed for *years*.

  • Kevin Carson

    The absolute master of this was David McDonagh, a troll on the World Socialist Movement’s yahoogroup.
    I engaged in exchanges with him that must have been two dozen posts long, in some cases, and every post was like starting over from scratch.

  • gazould

    Yeah, to completely ignore the actual topic of your post, LOTS of women subscribe to bridal magazines. And you know what? They probably remember what was in last month’s issue. Maybe if evangelical environmentalism involved lots of gifts and being a princess for a day . . .

  • michael (in DC)

    …the Sisyphean equivalent of Modern Bride.
    I think there needs to be a Koufax Awards category for Original Phrase Most Likely to be Mistaken for Dada when Taken out of Context. Or something like that.

  • Jon H

    I suspect most of the ‘articles’ in Bridal magazines are there primarily to fill spaces created by the necessity of selling smaller-than-full-page advertisements.

  • Rachel Robson

    Another way in which such trolls are like Lemony Snicket is in their idiosyncratic definitions of terms. I once had a long debate over historical liberalism, in which the main argument was along the lines of: “America has never been a liberal–a word which here means evil and despised by God–nation, so I don’t understand how anyone can argue that Thomas Jefferson was more liberal than Edmund Burke.”
    One way in which such trolls are not like Lemony Snicket is that Snicket–a word which here means the alterego and pseudonym of author Daniel Handler–preaches the virtues of reading and civility.
    “In my experience, well-read people are less likely to be evil.” –The Slippery Slope, book 10 in A Series of Unfortunate Events

  • Argumentation

    Fred Clark at slacktivist explains Lemony Snicketism, one of the common ways people argue in bad faith: This … tactic is also a common practice for blogosphere trolls. Such trolls would require one to stop every time you employ a

  • Don’t feed the trolls!

    Why is it that dogmatic maniacs always get to set the terms of debate? They know they’re just asking the same questions over and over again, and their real goal is to keep the debate from moving forward. So what should we do, then?…

  • David McDonagh

    I see a poster refers to me as someone who continually asks for justification so that he had to go back to the beginning[Kevin Carson].
    In actual fact, I gave up the bogus notion of justification/ backing up ideas under the influence of Karl popper’s books, back in 1968. Free of that idea I went some four years in the little sect the SPGB before I left in 1974 as it could not deal aptly with the economic calculation argument & nor could I. I never imagined that most of the SPGBers, like most who imagine they are on the left [i.e. who push the old protectionist Tory ideas under the new name of socialism; ideas that were on the right wing of the French Assembly prior to 1789]; hated debate like the very devil, till I joined the WSM list & saw their silly defensive ploys to dodge any form of thought.
    “Troll” is generally used for a list member who does not agree with most members on the list. The SPGB even had a split off group that put the word “debate” in their list title, but still resorted to this defence ploy protectionist word “troll” to dodge any chance of debate. The jackass who thought up the jargon defence ploy word, “troll”, would be ashamed of himself if he could think clearly.
    That they cannot think clearly is why they remain socialists.