META: Subject line profanity considered harmful

From: Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Date: Thu Jan 03 2002 - 12:39:07 MST

Do you guys mind? Wise and ancient I may be, but not so ancient that I've
forgotten what it's like to be forced to read the Extropian mailing list
on a parentally owned computer. Think of the children - not when you're
writing posts, of course, but at least when you're choosing subject
lines. Subject lines give people (parents, casual visitors) their first
impression of a mailing list, and the subject lines are too short to
contain internal excuses and rational contexts, so be sure to choose your
subject lines carefully.

Of course, being offended on behalf of others is not a good habit to pick
up, so let me emphasize that I am personally offended as well - albeit for
reasons which lie within my power to control, and are therefore, in
Crockerian terms, my fault.

I don't think that profanity is inappropriate for all occasions, but I do
think that it shouldn't be overused, which definitely includes using it in
subject lines. For example, I try to use the term "damn" only on special
occasions and reserve the other four-letter words for once-a-year use,
when I really want to blow my top. Tolkien called routine profanity
"orc-talk", emphasizing that is language from which all the vigor has been
drained, and I agree with him. No orc-talk on Extropians, please! Also,
I should note that I am beginning to feel nauseous not only about ad
hominem arguments, but also about the fight over whether someone may
perhaps have hinted at ad hominem somewhere - because I see it more as the
expression of continuing personal hatreds than as the discussion of a real
issue - and I see this particular use of orc-talk as a symptom of that as

-- -- -- -- --
Eliezer S. Yudkowsky
Research Fellow, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence

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