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The failure mode of clever? It's "asshole." -- John Scalzi

 
gardener
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Have you ever had a joke fall flat because you were trying to communicate it on Twitter, or via email, or because you were posting it in what you thought was a funny thread on the forums, but somehow other people didn't get the humor the way you intended?  A lot of time that's because the internet strips away your tone of voice, or your comedic timing, or the funny look on your face, or the hand gestures -- everything you could use in face-to-face communication to make your clever joke fucking hilarious.

This happens so often it almost seems like there ought to be an internet law about it.  And there is!  It gets shortened, these days, to the maxim "The failure mode of clever is asshole."  Remember that.  If you're trying to be clever or funny on the internet, somebody is likely not to "get you" -- they'll just think you're an asshole.  Sometimes with very tragic results.  You can lose friends, relationships, jobs, even spouses this way.  It's happened.

I'm sure many people have made this observation, but the most famous version is probably this 2010 blog post by science fiction writer John Scalzi.  

The Failure Mode Of Clever

1. The effectiveness of clever on other people is highly contingent on outside factors, over which you have no control and of which you may not have any knowledge; i.e., just because you intended to be clever doesn’t mean you will be perceived as clever, for all sorts of reasons.

2. The failure mode of clever is “asshole.”

 
master pollinator
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I can't believe that could ever happen to me.

On second thought, if you've ever looked at something from me and thought, what an asshole, it was just a failed attempt at humor. Sorry about that.
 
Dan Boone
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Shit, man, it’s UNAVOIDABLE. Part of being gentle to each other on the internet is remembering that.
 
pollinator
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Some of the funniest shit that's ever happened to me, even on this site, has happened when I give a clever or deadpan answer, and someone receives it in a way I hadn't intended, or misconstrues my position because text doesn't do sarcasm well.

Mind you, I have had friends of mine of long years, who I spent many, many hours hanging with, stop and stare incredulously at me after a comment I delivered. It seems that at times, even in person, it can be impossible to know whether or not I am joking.

-CK
 
pollinator
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A really good point, Dan. I censored myself just this week on this site, after typing up what I thought was an incredibly clever, witty and entertaining reply. Just before hitting send, I thought, what if the original poster thinks I am making fun vice seeing the humor in the situation?  A joke always loses its “funny” when you have to explain the punchline (or apologize for hurt feelings). Doing the cost-benefit analysis, the risk of asshole-ness seemed to outweigh the humor in my cleverness, and so I deleted. And at the end of the day, I still got to chuckle at my cleverness!
 
Dale Hodgins
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I often joke about who should be strung up. If someone's meeting me for the first time, they may be shocked. But it's just part of my everyday conversation with people I know. We should shoot them all or run them all through a grinder or whatever. I throw the words sissy and pansy around quite a bit. They know that I'm just saying that certain things bother me and I'm venting, and entertaining at the same time.

My friend Sahoshi has an awesome way of shutting down anybody that he thinks is getting out of hand with pronouncements like mine. He says, "you're a wonderful person." Only people in his inner circle would realize they are being called an asshole. If we get cut off in traffic or we are talking about some politician who's done this or that, he will say "what should we do with them Dale?"  This is my cue to come up with a creative and entertaining form of corporal punishment. Then we move on.

On the internet, joking about who should be strung up can get you punished, so it's probably best to avoid that.
 
pollinator
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If I come across as an asshole, it's likely because I'm an asshole.  

Sometimes I try to be funny and it goes over like a lead Zeppelin, but that's probably rooted in my assholishness.  
 
Dale Hodgins
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Zeppelins first public performance went over like a lead balloon. And that's the reference in their name.
 
Posts: 1978
Location: Zone 5 Wyoming
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Happens to me ALL THE TIME!
 
I will suppress my every urge. But not this shameless plug:
Heat your home with the twigs that naturally fall of the trees in your yard
http://woodheat.net
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