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On Failure to Fully Flaunt Grice's Fourth Maxim (of Manner) - The Life and Thoughts of Zach

Oct. 24th, 2003

03:10 am - On Failure to Fully Flaunt Grice's Fourth Maxim (of Manner)

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Dinner conversation tonight was great. It's nice to have new friends to just shoot the shit with.

But I wish I could zap a key to my inner sarcastic monologue into people's brains.

Tonight the phrase that came out of my mouth multiple times was "to go balls out" as in "you could soften the language in that article or you could go balls out and publish it with the call to violent revolution left in."

Traditionally such a phrase would suggest that the "brave", "manly", or "macho" thing to do would be to publish the article uneditted. But because I don't attribute any special positive value to masculinity and attribute a general negative value to machismo, the phrase means to me that that option, while the more risky, is probably (slightly) the more illadvised course of action. It was an indirect way of suggesting that I thought editting was a better way to go, hiding behind a (heartfelt) compliment about how radical the uneditted version was. If I had substituted "brave" for "balls out" in the sentence it would have implied a totally different judgement about which option was better.

I use this and similar phrases a lot to sarcastically poke fun at the positive associations of masculinity in our language. I like to use macho phrases in particularly inappropriate moments, such as refering to actions taken by females ("she's really got balls") or a traditionally feminine act ("someday I'll get up the balls to wear a skirt").

A similar thing is to tell a woman she has "manly biceps". In my head this does not imply that the pinacle of muscular coolness for a woman is to be like a man. Saying it like that, instead, to me, evokes the silliness of thinking that men are neccessarily stronger than women. There's nothing "manly" about a woman's strong biceps...most actual men have flabby biceps.

I don't think of this kind of analysis when I'm actually saying the phrases. The phrases just feel right and make me giggle on the inside. I don't sit there thinking "maybe I'll flaunt Grice's maxim of manner by using a macho cliche". I just do it because it's funny (to me) and it flows and I think it will bring levity to the conversation.

Tonight I got (lightly) chastised by the woman that I was talking to because talking about "going balls out" was excluding her from the conversation.

This is a problem I have from time to time with people who do not realize that ANY time I say anything mean or rude I am being sarcastic. I am sarcastic A LOT. duck2ducks and I had some kind of falling out over this years and years ago, as I remember. Then we both grew up a little bit and the crisis passed. Obviously I can not expect people to find funny the things that are funny in my head. Obviously I can't be as deeply entrenched in Zach-speak with new friends as I can with my oldest friends who are plugged into my rhythm (and whose rhythm I myself am plugged into). I can't expect someone who doesn't know me that well to automatically think "Zach would NEVER say a thing like that and mean it...ergo he must not mean it that way...".

I think sometimes I (falsely) associate failure to assume that I mean well with failure to trust me in general with unwillingness to really be my friend. I associate it with a failure of empathy on my part. When someone corrects some speech of mine that they find insensitive I am really set back, I feel that I've really disappointed them, that I've lost MAJOR radical cred, that I've been filed away into the "oaf" box.

I know I worry much too much about such things. I really hope the folks reading this LJ don't think I am constantly dysfunctional with worry about this stuff. It crosses my mind as an interesting concern, I like to share it because this is a journally place, but it doesn't bother me day in and day out. I know my friends still love me even if I am an oaf sometimes.

Still. I wish I could zap a key to my inner sarcastic monologue into people's brains.

Comments:

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From:domystic
Date:October 24th, 2003 05:58 am (UTC)
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by casually using the term "Grice's maxim of manner," you are violating Grice's maxim of manner.

here is what i found out from google about Grice's maxim of manner:

Grice's maxim of manner says "Be orderly."

Grice's maxim of manner directs the speaker to say it clearly and succinctly.

Grice's maxim of manner is "Be clear, avoid obscurity."

A particularly convoluted style can be seen as a violation of Grice's maxim of Manner.

M-implicatures are implicatures produced by exploiting a reformulation of Grice's maxim of Manner.

If a definite NP is uttered in a context where there are number of "old" discourse referents that are equnally likely to serve at it antecedent, then the hearer is faced with unresolvable ambiguity, in violation of Grice's maxim of Manner.

The defeasible law Narration is a manifestation of Grice's Maxim of Manner.

Google doesn't know enough about Grice's maxim of manner yet.
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From:zarfmouse
Date:October 24th, 2003 09:11 am (UTC)
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by casually using the term "Grice's maxim of manner," you are violating Grice's maxim of manner.

I couldn't resist. I knew someone would get the joke.

You say violating, I say flaunting. :P
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From:zarfmouse
Date:October 24th, 2003 09:16 am (UTC)
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Oh I know they're common. But so are "you guys" and "he" as gender neutral constructs. And those (I think, sometimes, rightly) bother some women who are concerned about gender inclusivity. I try not to use those phrases (prefering "you all" and singular "they" even though they would be commonly understood.

I'd be mad at me if I really thought I was using the phrase in a traditional maleness=essense/strength way.

Also, I wrote that entry at 4am. I'm sure it seemed much more important and deep to me at the time than it really was. :)


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From:culfinglin
Date:October 24th, 2003 09:55 am (UTC)

gender politics in language

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wow, i'm sure several doctoral dissertations have focused on this very subject. however, my take will be much briefer:

normally, as a woman, i'm not bothered by "masculinist" language. i don't expect the men around me to prescreen everything they say through a PC filter. but every once in a while, usually when i've had a really shitty day and/or had to deal with sexist morons of either gender, that sort of thing *can* get to me.

many men use phrases like that without even thinking that they might be potentially offensive, and it sounds like this new friend just didn't know you well enough to know you were being sarcastic instead of ignorant. it's not a failure to trust you... as i'd say the majority of men, no matter how well-intentioned, wouldn't have realized it was a potential pitfall. seems like she was just trying to gently let you know she felt left out.
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From:zarfmouse
Date:October 24th, 2003 10:37 am (UTC)

Re: gender politics in language

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Yah, definitely. I want to note that my post was more about recognizing this trend in communication failure than complaining about it. People frequently have to back up and resync their expectations for a conversation. It's part of communication.

The comment she made surprised me because I thuoght I was being all silly and stuff, but I'm glad she made the comment rather than stewing about it.

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From:kateorama
Date:October 24th, 2003 10:24 am (UTC)

don't forget where you are!

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A rambling response/rant....

I think another piece of the context here is that you're in the nearly-rural midwest, and (as far as I know), you're pretty immersed in a heavily "political" crowd. That means two strikes against sarcasm or subtlety, in my experience. Having come from the east coast and then from San Francisco, I was used to having some latitude in terms of being sarcastic, negative, subtle or just plain opinionated. However, the more "political" the people I've hung out with, the less likely they are to tolerate sarcasm or the kind of subtle humor you're talking about. All of that got worse when I got to IL, where people are so earnest that I sometimes mistakenly believe they are being "ironic" (i.e. self-mocking, which I think is not the true meaning of "irony" but you know what I'm getting at).

I suspect that all sounds self-contradictory. I've just found there's a very narrow range of "acceptable" language and humor here.

I call my female friends "dude," just for kicks and because we are a gender-bendy lot. I use both "having balls" and "having ovaries" as funny ways to express admiration (or mock admiration). And I like to tell people to "suck my dick" or "suck my fat one" when I'm irritated at them. And I use male and female "jackoff" gestures when I think someone is, well, a jerkoff. People who don't like that sort of thing tend to filter themselves away from me (or I from them) eventually.

I do my best to be sensitive and aware in my use of language, and I hope people will tell me when they're offended, and I won't ignore what they say about it. But I don't have enough energy to contort my speech to fit the needs of all the different contingents and levels of sensitivity.

As for "radical cred," well, I hope you don't concern yourself too much with that. I think referring to oneself as "a radical" is one of the most comical and least radical things a person can do, and double thatfor adjusting your behavior so as to be credible as a radical in someone else's eyes.
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From:zarfmouse
Date:October 24th, 2003 10:45 am (UTC)

Re: don't forget where you are!

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Haha. I can always count on you for a healthy dose of cynicism towards the activist crowd.

Really, as I've been saying in responses above, it wasn't that big of a deal. I was more observing the trend of how people with equally good intentions in language can get messed up in weird ways when communicating. I got a little melodramatic about it because it was 4am. But it wasn't like my friend was mean to me or anything, she was really nice about it.

And I assure you I only use the term "XYZ cred" with the highest level of self-mocking irony.

That's an interesting observation about the midwest. I've never lived outside the midwest so I don't know what the trends are like. I do think that this particular instance is more about me being overanalytical than about regional attitudes but I bet you are right in general.
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From:juvenilia
Date:October 24th, 2003 01:14 pm (UTC)

Re: don't forget where you are!

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kate's TOTALLY right about the midwest, in that respect. but you also have to keep in mind that no matter where you live, there are going to be people who are ultra-sensitive to the language you use.

in my experience, the people who are sensitive about language to the point that the words we use to describe things become more important than the things they are describing are the people who cause the most trouble, and get the least done.

but that's merely my experience and my opinion. i'm a lot more results-oriented than language- or process-oriented and you know this.

;)
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From:kateorama
Date:October 24th, 2003 03:04 pm (UTC)

Re: don't forget where you are!

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wheee! I'm "totally right!" yahoo!
But seriously... (1) I know you were overanalyzing, it's just a sport I enjoy. (2) sorry to be so predictable about the cynicism/activism thing. I'll have to get a new schtick. (3) Faith is also totally right about some people being unproductively oversensitive about language, regardless of where they hail from.

re: lack of humor, this is one of my favorite jokes:
Q: How many feminists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A: That's NOT funny!
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From:signsoflife
Date:October 24th, 2003 07:22 pm (UTC)

Re: don't forget where you are!

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Q: How many college girls does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A: That's college WOMEN, and that's not funny either!
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From:signsoflife
Date:October 24th, 2003 07:20 pm (UTC)

On the other hand. . .

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. . . it's kateorama's fault I wound up here, please pardon my chiming in.

I wish people could just speak up about what they find offensive without it turning into World War III all the time, and we accepted that sometimes we say the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong person, and that it's not an insult to our various characters if that person chooses to say something about it.

I know there are people who are on a hair trigger about such things (god knows I've known enough of them; sometimes it's like they're playing a game of "gotcha!") but I think it's also a problem if people are afraid to speak up for fear of being labeled PC troublemakers. E.g., for reasons beyond my comprehension "retard" is gaining a new currency in my social circle; I've been mustering courage for WEEKS to try and figure out how to say "every time you say that it feels like a kick in the ribs."

Relevantly, one of the limitations of the friend to whom I know "retard" is specifically hurtful and isolating is that she has trouble identifying sarcasm and teasing; she and I were nearly Not Friends because of a half-assed joke I made early on which she took very much to heart. It would have been easier if she'd said something at the time.

Said friend may not have "assumed I meant well" to the degree I wish people would, but she was *open to friendship* in the sense that when I explained to her that I'd been teasing and never meant to hurt her, she was willing to believe me and give the friendship a new chance.

Um. *means well*
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From:zarfmouse
Date:October 25th, 2003 12:50 pm (UTC)

Re: On the other hand. . .

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Yah, this is definitely where I'm at...finding the line between being open to other people's feelings and being able to tell a joke. That's why I mentioned empathy up above, I feel like when I get it right and use language that a given person is comfortable with (i.e. they get the joke) then I've read and understood that person well.

Not a huge deal when it fails, just learn and try again.

I waged the same battle as your "retard" battle with some folks in High School who insisted on calling things they didn't like "gay".

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