Mockery and Name-Calling

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In reply to a Gelman post at

“In summary: Not all mocking/criticism/name-calling is the same. Name-calling as a substitute for debate and evidence is not the same as name-calling that dramatizes debate and evidence.”

Very good. Mockery is different from Abuse. I don’t know that anybody ever deserves to be abused, but many people deserve to be mocked. We will differ as to who, to be sure, but that’s substance, and we’re talking about style here.

Here are two ways to distinguish mockery from name-calling:

1. Is the term used special to the individual, or general? Saying someone “has more degrees than discretion” is better than saying someone “is a dumb racist”. It is okay to use a term for more than one person, but it should have some application to the particular situation and it should advance the argument, not replace argument.

This is similar to the old advice in writing about the difference between color and cliche. The first twenty times somebody uses a phrase it’s color, and conveys meaning. Two hundred years later, it’s cliche, and is a sbustitute for meaning.

2. Can the term elicit admiration for its aptness from neutrals and enemies? Trump was pretty good at coming up with derogatory terms for his rivals and enemies, often hitting them squarely even if sometimes falling flat. “Low energy Jeb” was a hit; “Lyin’ Ted Cruz” was a miss. Note that ordinarily the term stings a lot more if it’s apt than if it’s a cliche or over-general.

Two examples are in King Lear.

What dost thou know me for?
A knave; a rascal; an eater of broken meats; a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy, worsted-stocking knave; a lily-livered, action-taking knave, a whoreson, glass-gazing, super-serviceable finical rogue; one-trunk-inheriting slave; one that wouldst be a bawd, in way of good service, and art nothing but the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pandar, and the son and heir of a mongrel bitch: one whom I will beat into clamorous whining, if thou deniest the least syllable of thy addition.

Versus later:

Why art thou angry?
That such a slave as this should wear a sword,
Who wears no honesty. Such smiling rogues as these,
Like rats, oft bite the holy cords a-twain
Which are too intrinse t' unloose; smooth every passion
That in the natures of their lords rebel;
Bring oil to fire, snow to their colder moods;
Renege, affirm, and turn their halcyon beaks
With every gale and vary of their masters,
Knowing nought, like dogs, but following.