Flame wars are all about words. If you are not
articulate, you may get burned. If you are dyxlesic, you may not be taken seriously.
But the key to survival is those word play techniques; sarcasm,
irony. Words can brutalise your opponent - your opponent's words can do the same
to you. The rule is - don't give it if you can't take it.
Patronizing your opponent
is easy: Preface your argument with unnecessary adverbs - "Clearly, Fred Flooney
is a liar" "Obviously, no-one believes political extremists". But do not forget
that other readers may resent this approach. You need to balance this risk against
the possible advantage.
Illustration: "You are an idiot. You take
snippettes out of context ... so I'm going to take you thru, step by step"
This approach can so anger your opponent that tempers are lost - with unpredictable
consequences. Be warned, it is all too easy to be boring
if you overdo it.
You may be tempted to psychoanalyze by the seat of your
pants: you've heard of Freud. You read the Sunday supplements: you may feel you're
qualified to psychoanalyze your opponent. "By using the word 'zucchini' in her
posting, Polly shows she has a bad case of penis envy." Well, that's fine. But
if your opponent knows more than you ... On the other hand, if someone is ranting
in an incoherent way, and becoming more and more irrelevent, it might be better
to imply mental illness (there's a lot of it about, after all). See innuendo.
of the fascinating aspects of flame wars is how quickly the truth is left behind.
If your back is against the wall, you will be tempted to make things up: it's
important to make your lies sound true. The rule is: if you do not tell the truth,
the whole truth and nothing but the truth, you are on your own if caught out.
Your opponent may be
the gentlest, sweetest person on the planet. They can, however, be reduced to
screaming wreckage by extrapolation. For example, a suspicion of sexism can be
extrapolated to the greater charge of Redneck. A chance comment about Welsh people
may be pushed through racism into White Sheet territory. In most cases, however,
this is like using a laser beam to open a beer can. Use carefully.
moves from an attitude to a specific charge, generalization does the reverse.
If a chance comment reveals a dislike or allegiance, this can be generalized to
insult a person's taste, backgound ... whatever. But it can leave you wide open,
as it frequently insults innocent bystanders too, pulling people in against you.
is a legitimate weapon, the best. You won't find better!
(See also understatement).
opposite of exaggeration, can
be quite elegant. It is probably a minor form of sarcasm;
the same rules apply.
Innuendo is very powerful, and very hurtful. "I have always stood
up to bullies" ... "I have always tried to understand mental illness" ... "I never
realized the Nazis still marched in your area". Innuendo succeeds where insults
do not, especially if there's a bit of humour
The 1996 Flame Convention agreed that "As innuendo can do so
much damage, its use must be restricted to (a) retaliation against personal insult
and (b) protection of vulnerable third parties." In practice, this has been taken
to justify its use against people who are grossly sexist, racist or who have attacked
those unable to protect themselves.
But if all else fails, all's fair ...
Clichés: Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit ... Lies, damned lies and statistics.
Use foreign phrases if possible; Latin is the lingua franca of flaming;
Try to use "ad nauseam" at least once per flame. It doesn't mean anything;
but it gives that polished feel to your postings.
If you really want to hurt - or to
stop an unstoppable assault - this one is the best. But do not expect to be friends
afterward. Sarcasm is the verbal demonstration of contempt. Once released, there
is no reverse.
Some people get offended at any use of sarcasm; Kassandra
Oftroy's signature ('I refuse to have a battle of wits with an unarmed person')
started a mini war on one group.
Use out of context quotes. These are easy to find on the Internet
and there is one for every situation. If the author is well known and held in
high regard then, give credit - if they insult you, by implication, they insult
If at a loss, the Declaration of Independence will back your
claims; "We hold these truths to be self-evident"
#38 Pseud's Corner
Chucking in a random bit of
Latin or science can be a powerful weapon - but more often than not, it's a sign
of pure vanity.
Example: When Phil Payne had been raving like a grounded
teen, I suggested he stop talking like a college kid. He responded: "I
think we can leave the ad hominems out". He could have said "stick
to the point" or even "don't shoot the messenger" - but Our Phil
has a 'Self Appointed Guru' reputation to protect. While he clearly thinks he's
(a) Educated and (b) Mature, to us ordinary folk, he's got his head up his a***.