Apr 222012
Sir Humphrey Appleby

Sir Humphrey Appleby (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It can be amusing to watch an exchange of views happening on the Internet. Now, because it’s a public place, you have to watch what you say: not just because of the dangers of being sued for libel, but also because you don’t want to ruin your argument by effing and blinding more than strictly necessary. Sometimes the whole thing looks remarkably like a dialogue from Yes Minister.

For those unacquainted with this classic British political comedy, the series chronicled the struggles of a politician assigned a minor ministry in a government of undefined political colour with the chronic, probably innate, resistance to all change displayed by the Civil Service as a whole and senior civil servants in particular. The fictional politician was called Jim Hacker (supposedly dubbed “the egregious Jim” by real satirical magazine Private Eye) and his civil service nemesis the smoothly manipulative Sir Humphrey Appleby. Try to see a few episodes, if you can: it really was an excellent series. In fact, some of Sir Humphrey’s euphemisms are still very much in use today (they may be actual Civil Service phrases, according to some politicians):

“With respect”
This is foolish.
“With the greatest possible respect”
You are a complete moron.

So it is with online debate. There are codes hidden in the vocabulary. Here are some I’ve isolated:

Alternative/integrative medicine
Umbrella term for a wide range of therapies, most of which are ineffective and some are actively harmful.
“Atheism is a religion”
“Not only am I incapable of comprehending that for many people my god does not exist, but the sentence ‘there is no God’ has never survived the journey through my eardrum”
When used by a sceptic, will usually refer to ethical and moral issues. When used by a religious fundamentalist or proponent of Alternative medicine (q.v.) it generally means “science I object to”
Indicates a sceptic has detected a logical fallacy or misleading statement (q.v.) often advanced by proponents of pseudoscience and is somewhat exasperated by their disingenuousness.
“I’m not (a bigot), but…”
I am a bigot. Most frequently employed in arguing against equal rights for a particular minority: the poor, gays, blacks, gays, atheists, gays. These people have a thing about gays. If you happen to be a poor, black, gay atheist you are in deep poodoo when these people are around.
Misleading statement
A lie.
“Science hasn’t caught up with (X) yet.”
This indicates that ‘X’ (insert name of therapy here) is a huge malodorous pile of Kentucky-fried bollocks. Use of this phrase may elicit the *DRINK* (q.v.) response.
“Science is a religion”
“There is no place for reason in my world view and I have a deep-rooted, quasi-religious faith in my specific brand of Alternative medicine.”
Unproven therapy
Sheer, unadulterated quackery. NB: a genuinely promising new therapy that is as yet unproven will be referred to as “in trial” or “currently being researched”
“You are being disingenuous”
You are a lying, weasely little scumbag who wouldn’t admit the sky is blue on a sunny day if it didn’t suit your agenda. Fuck you.

 I hope this is of use in decoding discussions. Don’t hesitate to add any terms I have missed.

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anarchic teapot

Site owner. Opinionated bugger. Qualified accountant, IT bod and French-English translator. I swear a lot.
anarchic teapot has written 65 posts on this blog.