> Isn't your assessment of your audience *part* of the "simple honest
> content" of any message that circulates in public? If you indicate
> disrespect for the sensibilities and concerns of the person you are
> communicating with why shouldn't you expect them to be offended?
To the extent that language is a matter of social convention, one cannot escape social implications of its use. I understand that, but I lament it. If I could communicate about objective realities without having to resort to ambiguous words that may have connotations I don't want, I certainly would. Perhaps some future technologies will simplify that, allowing uploads to share experiences without imprecise language. Until then, we must use language, and we should learn to use it effectively--and by "using language" I mean developing skills of listening as well as speaking. It takes two to communicate, and both ends have to develop the skills to make it effective.
I'll make an analogy to science here: there is a scale with total credulity on one end and pathological skepticism on the other; let's call it the old 1 to 10. At 1 are those who will believe anything they hear immediately; at 10 are those who refuse to believe anything regardless of the evidence. Society at large, I think many of us may agree, is too low on this scale, maybe around 3. While the most effective, empowered people are closer to 8 or 9. If we could move society as a whole at least a little to the right, we'd be in much better shape.
A similar scale exists for speaker/listener tolerance. Some might think that a speaker has an absolute 100% obligation to be tolerant and understanding of every listener, and apologize for any offense, no matter how slight or unintended. They are the 1s. At 10 are those free-speech absolutists who think they should be able to be as raw and inflammatory as they like, and it is the obligation of listeners to be 100% tolerant. I'd like to think I'm in the 8 to 9 range; I don't believe there should be laws against slander or libel; I do think listeners have a positive obligation to be tolerant of speech they don't like though they certainly don't have to keep listening. I believe that this is the most effective, empowering choice. But I'd be happy if society at large moved a bit from where I see them now (maybe 4-5) toward the higher end of the scale.
People who give offense too frequently may be bad speakers, but I suspect that the vast majority of cases of offense are reasonable speakers talking to bad listeners.
-- Lee Daniel Crocker <email@example.com> <http://www.piclab.com/lcrocker.html> "All inventions or works of authorship original to me, herein and past, are placed irrevocably in the public domain, and may be used or modified for any purpose, without permission, attribution, or notification."--LDC