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#1 Winning
#2 Strategy
#3 Word Skills
#4 Psychology

Andrew Heenan's

flame ~ n. insulting criticism or remark meant to incite anger
A Guide to Flaming

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The Pyschology of Flame

Guide to Flaming - Part 4

41 Conspiracy
42 Boring
45 Obvious
46 Sulking
461 Anonymity
47 Insults
471 Abuse

472 Godwin's Law
473 Name Flame
474 Spelling Flame
475 Ullman Exception
476 Dictionary Flame
48 Humour
49 Last Word
491 Spanking
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Flame warfare is psychological warfare. It is important to understand the enemy, the innocent bystander, the effect of your weapons and your own motives. There is a thin line between protecting your reputation and egomania; know where that line is.

Remember: you do not really know this awful person on a distant computer. So you need to look for the signs; is it someone who simply does not understand how public the web is? Or is it a throwback to the worst days of CB radio, trying, like the last dinosaur, to adapt to a strange new world?

Or is it some poor kid who has not got the attention span to follow a logical argument? Or a tired old git who hates anyone young and fresh?

Try to read between the lines - was that last post meant to soothe your ruffled feathers, or get up your nose. Count, as they say, to ten.


#41 Conspiracy

Don't Believe in Conspiracy: If everyone's against you, it doesn't necessarily mean that you deserve it. But you might. So it doesn't mean that there's a conspiracy against you, and it is by no means certain that you will be doing the entire net a favor by exposing it.


#42 Boring

The Golden Rule of Flaming:

 May your flames be witty, insulting, interesting, 
paradoxical, funny, illogical, caustic, sarcastic, even inconsistent - but never, 
ever, let them be boring. 


Illustration: IMSandman wrote: "That's better! you must have written it in Spellchecker, then copied it and pasted ... " (and on and on) Painful stuff!
Like being attacked by a dead sheep.


#45 Obvious

Saying the obvious is the Flame War equivalent of a suicide note - you might as well hold up your hand and say 'I am a plank'. The only exception to this is if you are being sarcastic 'I do apologise for expressing my opinion, but I thought the whole idea of this group was to discuss our feelings'
Illustration: In response to a joke, DrJkl7885 wrote " that waas stupid". As if that was not a waste of bandwidth, RumpL4skn  felt he had to reply; "No it waaaaasn't, goat-boy".


#46 Sulking

Withdrawing gracefully from a flame war is one thing; sulking is another. If you want people to think you are ignorant or cowardly, sulk away. Otherwise, ignore pertinent postings at your peril.

Illustration: Jeff Dauvin wrote "You cannot discuss (only argue) with someone if they do not or will not understand the issues.
Signing off - Goodbye."


#461 Anonymity

Pseudonyms are routine on the internet, and are widely accepted - in these days of excessive spam, it was bound to happen. So using a pseudonym, consistently, with an eMail address that works is acceptable. Hiding behind a false name, created for flaming, or no name, is cowardly. No more, no less. If you have a point, make it, sign it and stand by it.

If you receive flames from no-one in particular, delete and move on.
Illustration: "NurseyDear" wrote "Quit being a big girls blouse"
Nice comment, undermined by cowardice.

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#47 Insults

Insults are the basis of all Flaming: not to be confused with abuse. Post your insults with humour, and you increase the chances of others coming to your side. Remember that the more effective your attacks, the more you invite response. So update your word skills. Theoretically, flames are not personal - but of course they are. Be it racist, fat-ist, or otherwise hateful, your opponent may try to use it against you. You have the choice in whether to join in, but it is all a part of flaming, and should be expected.


#471 Abuse

The internet is so informal, people 'chat' as if face-to-face - but you cannot pick up audible clues (as on the phone) let alone 'body language' and facial expression. So expect to be misunderstood.

Illustration: Someone recently wrote " ... I NEED TO KNOW" about a usenet question. Mildly curious, I responded (mildly, I thought) "No, you WANT to know. Why?".
Then it got interesting; ebbarton butted in with "Andrew Heenan you are going to break both your legs jumping to conclusions (soon, I hope)".

Even had I been abusing the original poster, this would have been so out of proportion as to be indicative of a serious stress problem. As it happens, sticks and stones may break my bones, but ebbarton has two chances - fat and slim.

Abuse rarely helps your case, and often confirms that you are a jerk; if your 'name' is designed to offend, why bother to stretch your imagination anyway?
Illustration: Because the debate was over his head, [email protected] (GOD) wrote "H*** s**t! I'm not sure if your post is flame bait, or are you really just that much of an a*****e? ... F*** you ..." (My **s)

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#472 Godwin's Law

"As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one." There used to be a tradition in many groups that the thread would be closed once this occurred; whoever mentioned the Nazis was considered to have lost the argument that was in progress. If Godwin was right, the Law practically guaranteed a thread length limit in those groups.


#473 Name Flame

People are often very sensitive about their names, so the Name Flame can be effective where all else has fallen on stoney ground. A simple mis-spelling can cause some to lose their cool entirely, while a pun, sex change or other name manipulation seems effective against most attackers. Strangely, the newsgroup bully with the silly (false) name seems most at risk to this ploy. My favorite Troll, [email protected], used to go ballistic if I made feeble jokes about spirogyra (one celled organisms). Every single time. So to save its feelings, I started joking about spirochetes (spiral bacteria, causing, e.g., syphilis) instead. You know, it felt like justice!


#474 Spelling Flame

Spelling flame: A posting ostentatiously correcting a previous article's spelling as a way of casting scorn on the author, instead of actually responding to that point. Of course, people who are more than usually slovenly spellers are prone to think any correction is a spelling flame. Of such trivia wars are made. Spelling flames often contain spelling errors.

One of the ebay marketing newsgroups' resident trolls, linklurker, once managed "'yanks' don't say "prat". And when they do, they don't misspell it "pratt". Time for surrender? I think not.

Don't criticise typos or spelling mistakes - the rule is you lose by default. Everyone makes them - some more than others - and it really is a pathetic jibe. Flame is about content, not the structure of the post.


#475 Ullman Exception

The Ullman Exception is when someone makes spelling mistakes or typos whilst complaining about someone else's spelling. Then, according to Ullman, it is a moral imperative to flame the SOB.


#476 Dictionary Flame

An attempt to sidetrack a debate by insisting on meanings for key terms that presuppose a desired conclusion or smuggle in an implicit premise. A common tactic of people who prefer semantic argument to reality. Far from being the last refuge of the scoundrel, the Dictionary Flame is the last refuge of the pedant.

Much favoured by academics, this flame usually falls foul of Rule 42


#48 Humour

Many of the techniques described above can involve humour; I recommend it. If the situation is defusable, humour maintains that option. On the other hand, total humiliation can destroy the enemy, while keeping the sympathy of the audience.


#49 The Last Word

For some strange reason, Flame Wars often drag on because everyone wants to have the last word. This is probably a mistake, as once boredom and apathy has set in, quality can only go down. So your Last Word is left hanging, to wither on the vine. Better to spot the trend and leave quietly - not to be confused with sulking - you can always rejoin if the thread comes to life.

Illustration: Lee Stoudt wrote "I'm a stubborn son of a gun, so flame me not, it won't help! So, if this stuff upsets you, please go take a nice warm bath and get all cozy and warm and please forget about me. But, I also know, some half wit will still complain ... Go Figure!"

He knows how the idiots must have the last word - and takes the joy out of it.

Offering the last word can be a good way to end a declining thread; it gives you the moral high ground; you are the one with the sense to leave it. But suppose the other guy gets his offer in first? Depending on who you are dealing with, there may be one throw of the dice:

Illustration: Egbert White wrote "I see no point in continuing this discussion. You may have the last word."

As Egbert had been about as pedantic and silly as it's possible for an Earthlinker to get, it seemed only fair to respond:

"You are very kind, considering that you own Usenet, and that permission is yours to give. I think the word that suits you best is: idiot"


#491 Spanking

What could be sad enough to follow The Last Word? "Spanking", that's what. Those who fail to understand Rule 49 take an adolescent pride in their stupidity; they boast about their 'victory' - being the last one left when everyone else has died of boredom, they have, therefore 'spanked' their opponents.

From 1997 until 2002, I resisted even mentioning this (See Rule 42) however, I've added it for Jack Maxfield, who assures me that it is a way of Winning.

The 'winner' - or Spanker - is, of course, rhyming slang. Don't go there.

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Guide to flaming