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.
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.