Inviting the onslaught of mindless sychophants…

This is really a unique experience for me, because, typically, I don’t write these kinds of posts.  I’m kinda big on privacy, and sometimes, seeing a conversation you had with someone pop up on their popular blog is a tad disconcerting.  But since the guilty party in question told me to blog about it….I believe I will.

Ok, so, the other day, Aunt B and i were fussing like we do on the phone, when out of her mouth came something so completely foreign to me, that I have been unable to get settled down with it since.  I don’t exactly remember how we got there, (except that I know she wasn’t sayin it about me) but she essentially said that condescension and hostility are the same.  Wait, to be Fox News fair, she may have said condescension was a form of hostility.

Poppycock.  Balderdash.  Horseshit.  I was having none of it.  So, i think we made a bet, or, rather, i believe I said “I’ll bet you that if we asked 100 people if condescension was a form of hostility….

And I’m sorry, i don’t remember if i gave a number that would agree, or set some other standard, but i was basically claiming to be “right.”  Now, Aunt B will go to her grave insisting that I always have to be right.  I have to win.  Perhaps, but since the disagreement cannot be settled definitively, I will use quotation marks and state upfront that I’m only using this exchange between us to make a larger, if completely disjointed point.

Ok, so, B is fond of saying something to me that, on its surface, sounds perfectly reasonable, but when i think it through, i think its one of those verbal crutches we rely on to hammer home our point.  She says,”words either mean something or they don’t.”

Lets, then, for a moment, examine the words in question, right after i make this disclosure:

My manner of communicating often sounds condescending, whether I mean to sound that way or not.  Having not yet shed the last of my patriarchal pre-dispositions, and,  standing at the threshold of curmudgeon-ness, at 51, AND, AND, when I consider that speaking authoritatively has served me well at times, I doubt that I will ever stop doing it.

That said, if i am unaware that the person on the receiving end is perceiving hostility, how can I be reasonably accused of being hostile?  Let me share a quick example.  (Again, i should state that this was not the catalyst for this post)  Aunt B has a very nice intern in her office, who I have met, and a few weeks ago Aunt B asked me if I would speak to her about buying her first car.  I am always glad to share an insiders perspective, so i agreed.  I am pretty sure this is what followed:

(in my head), ok, I know nothing about this person.  i don’t her finances, i don’t know her tastes.  I do know the working parts of a car deal, so i’ll  start asking what are known as qualifying questions.  I’m a little busy, and i know she (the intern) has work to do, so i am forced to speed through this important step and hope I can make accurate assumptions about what i miss.  Many of my questions probably started with “have you thought about this?”  and “have you looked into that?”

(in the Intern’s head) Sweet Jesus!  Does this guy think I’m a moron?  Of course I have considered my budget, and my driving habits, and my insurance costs, and cost of ownership, and resale value.  And why, yes, I’m perfectly comfortable walking onto a car lot and negotiating on my own.  I can’t believe he thinks because I’m a young woman, i’m automatically an idiot.

Pure speculation on my part, I’ll admit.  It may not be close to what she was thinking.  BUT.  I can say with all due confidence that she was not thinking…hmmmm, why is this guy being so hostile?  Why am i being attacked?

While I’m at it, the synonyms for hostile are here.

So, I say this about that.  Words do indeed mean something or they don’t, but condescension does not mean hostility, or that hostility even exists in the mind of the person being condescending.  I don’t believe it is rooted in hostility.

So, I think i win. Now I need around 99 people or so to back me up here.

Hows that for navel gazing, Garrigan?

Oh Shit!  Completely O/T, but has anyone else seen that Chase bank commercial where the guy gets permission from his wife to buy a new TV?  I loved it.  I’d like to see more of that kind of advertising.  (I’ll see if i can find it, hope that someone can walk me through embedding or embiggening or what not.)



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40 responses to “Inviting the onslaught of mindless sychophants…

  1. woody02038

    Words are meant for one thing only. Communication. It is up to the communicator to express his/her thought, emotions or idea to the communicatee. If your words are percevied as being hostile, then to that person you were hostile. If I tell a joke that offends someone, my intent was not to offend, on the contrary, it was meant to be enjoyed. However, if that person was offended, my intentions are meaningless. To that person I was offensive. That said, if the communicatee was offended, he/she should express that and give the communicator a chance to rephrase if they wish.
    I hope you were not offended by this answer, and if you were, oh well.

  2. democommie


    First things first. Some script on your blog page is making my computer upset. It keeps displaying a message saying that and it’s running slower than a limping snail. Just so you know.

    I picked this off of Merriam-Webster Online:


    1 : voluntary descent from one’s rank or dignity in relations with an inferior
    2 : patronizing attitude or behavior

    What you describe to me (as your method of delivery) is NOT condescension. If you’re not aware of doing it, it can’t be. Condescension, by definition requires volition. I do agree with Aunt B. about it being hostile, but, again, it’s not what you were doing.

    Condescension is what I do occassionally–well, okay, more often than that. And, when I do it, it’s with hostile intent–not homicidal, but hostile.

  3. Pingback: Random Things I Can’t Quite Make Up My Mind About « Tiny Cat Pants

  4. nm

    Of course condescension isn’t always deliberate. In fact, it’s far more often automatic that consciously planned. If one knows one’s superiority, one speaks and acts in ways that demonstrate that knowledge even without thinking about it. In fact, a “patronizing attitude or behavior” are perceived as hostile precisely because the person on the receiving end is being tacitly informed of how inferior the person condescending to her/him thinks s/he is.

    And when the knowledge of superiority is the result of unexamined privilege (based on wealth, education, sex, religion, what have you), the person being condescended to doesn’t think things like “I can’t believe he thinks because I’m a young woman, i’m automatically an idiot” but instead thinks “typical older man, thinking that because I’m a young woman I’m automatically an idiot.” For an extreme example of the problem, see this story:,0,526991.story

  5. It is important to speak with authority, when one has it. But authority is not the same as superiority. You know about buying a car. B’s intern does not. Some 51 year old men do not. If you think you are better because you do, then you are probably being condescending and it will probably be experienced as hostility, not a threat but as an aggressive wave of the hand in dismissal of a person. condescension comes from overdetermining a situation and moving from lack of knowledge or understanding about one thing to a general lack, and the dismissal tends to generate a defensiveness in the other party that is similar to a response to hostility and so it appears to be itself a kind of hostility.

    that being said, I am confused as to how you can ask “if i am unaware that the person on the receiving end is perceiving hostility, how can I be reasonably accused of being hostile? ” Because people are not always transparent to themselves. In fact, we rarely are.

  6. Demo, sorry about the hostile script, I don’t know how to correct it. Maybe it will just go away…

    I’m scheduled very tightly today, so my absence from this thread is due to duties here at home. Thanking those of you that chimed in.

    So, whats the score so far?

  7. Being drawn like a moth to a flame by a post title involving mindless syncophants, i decided to go look up condescension and got this:

    1. the trait of displaying arrogance by patronizing those considered inferior
    2. a communication that indicates lack of respect by patronizing the recipient
    3. affability to your inferiors and temporary disregard for differences of position or rank; “the queen’s condescension was intended to make us feel comfortable”

    Based on this, your majesty, I think you’re fine. Heh.

  8. I got the same thing, democommie, here and elsewhere – but it went away once I closed the browser and returned.

  9. …AND, AND, when I consider that speaking authoritatively has served me well at times, I doubt that I will ever stop doing it.

    Yet, if it is no longer working, and you begin to alienate people with your manner, perhaps it would be beneficial to re-evaluate your approach.

    Just a thought…

  10. I’m with nm. Condescension is an expression of one’s superiority, and since there are so many forms of superiority (or privilege) that are implicit in our culture, it makes complete sense to me that one might be condescending without meaning to – particularly when one is operating on assumptions of who has knowledge, and who doesn’t.

    And I do think expressing superiority is a hostile action, just by virtue of implying the other’s inferiority.

    I’d concede that there are degrees. Some people come across as condescending because they haven’t examined their privilege: for example, the customers at the fancy-pants cafe where I worked last summer. People said things to me as a “girl” behind a counter that they never would have said to me if they were interacting with me as an adult PhD candidate. (Sometimes they were expressing doubt in my competence; mostly people were just trying to be friendly, but couldn’t conceive of interacting with me as an equal, and so were patronizing.)

    Other people seem condescending just because they’re not so awesome at explaining things with charm and sympathy.

    The more humane response in either case is to either change what you’re doing or accept that it alienates people, rather than to expect people (especially those who are very accustomed to receiving condescension) to distinguish between hostile condescension and yours.

  11. Yet, if it is no longer working, and you begin to alienate people with your manner, perhaps it would be beneficial to re-evaluate your approach.

    I clearly stated that I was not about to change this. It still serves me well, and it is, well, me.

  12. nm

    There are, of course, ways to continue to speak with authority and yet preempt any feelings that you’re condescending. F’rinstance, I was trained this week on a new piece of machinery. The person training me started out by saying, “I don’t want to insult your intelligence, but I don’t know how familiar with machines like this, so I’m going to press every button and pull every lever as if you know nothing about it.” And then went on to describe all possible functions with complete authority. All problems avoided.

  13. heartbreaktown

    Well Mack, if you were looking for simple “yes, they are the same”, “no they’re not” – you’ve come to wrong place. That’s awesome.

    I do not think in layman’s terms that condescension and hostility are synonyms as a general rule. I’m sure in some circumstances they might be cousins, however.

    But even though I might get grounded for this, I disagree with Woody that it is solely the speaker’s responsiblity to communicate clearly. I think a listener brings some responsibility. It’s a nice effort to always choose our words carefully so that they are the most entertaining, informative and do not offend, but it’s only fair for a listener to attempt to assume that the words they are hearing are not meant to offend.

    An embarrassing case in point happened to me yesterday… I’m one of those people that speaks out of habit with catch phrases that are meant to be friendly. For instances, when I serve my 6’1″ 200lb boyfriend a big bowl of ice cream or something, I’ll say, “Eat it, You’re a growing boy”. I say it often. In fact, when an african-american co-worker had a huge lunch yesterday, I referred to him as a “growing boy”. Having left my time machine at home, my only hope was that he would know I meant no offense. I smiled and he smiled and I assume he understood that I was not calling him a boy. Oh god, I hope not.

  14. I think a listener brings some responsibility.

    Ding ding ding! We have a winner! Bingo. Exactly. Amen. Truer words, etc.

    I totally believe that the listener must give the benefit of the doubt until it becomes obvious that the person has set out to offend.

    Heartbreak, you are wise beyond your years. 😉

  15. I clearly stated that I was not about to change this. It still serves me well, and it is, well, me.

    But…you asked for your readers’ opinion, so why ask if you have no intention of taking their thoughts into consideration?

    If you think it serves you well, then it’s your prerogative to continue down that path. As your friend, I would like to say that I do not think it always serves you well (we all have stuff like that that can be improved upon…I know I do!), and I agree with B that condescension and hostility are often times intertwined.

    nm has a great point…sometimes beginning a discussion with the type of disclaimer she describes above is a fantastic way to avoid alienating your audience, whoever they might be.

    Bottom line, however, is that you know I think the world of you…boogers and all…I just believe that there is not one of us who cannot improve on how we relate with one another.

  16. Ginger, stop twittering and go back and read the post. I asked about condescencion, and how it related, or not, to hostility. I did not ask for opinions on whether or not I should change my habits, as I, again, clearly stated I was not about to change, and the post wasn’t about me.

  17. nm

    I’d say, though, that repeated instances of condescension, failure to use disclaimers, and unwillingness to confront the possibility that one’s own approach my be alienating listeners are all indications that, at best, the speaker doesn’t care whether s/he is condescending. And that is sort of hostile.

    I want to make it clear, in this context, that I don’t believe that Mack has ever dealt with me in condescending or hostile ways: irritating and even irritated ways, yes, but nothing that a little “you what?” couldn’t put to rights. I’m dealing with the hypothetical here.

  18. the speaker doesn’t care whether s/he is condescending. And that is sort of hostile.

    Like my last comment to Ginger? 😉

  19. Ginger, stop twittering and go back and read the post=condescension. 😛

    oh, and bite me.

    Wait…is that hostility?


  20. I’m in favor of listeners having responsibility. And readers. I teach composition and theory, so my whole life is about preaching responsible reading and writing.

    A balance of responsibility in communication is preferable, but since the conventional default leans toward requiring the offended to justify their offense, I’m also in favor of believing the offended have a point. Saying “you’ve misunderstood!” or “you’ve got it all wrong!” is a popular way for people in positions of privilege to shut down conversations about offense… as seen on radio (Don “I’m not a racist!” Imus) and TV (Jay “Gay jokes are comedy!” Leno).

    Obviously these issues are not at stake in the example you gave. I’m just sayin… it’s more useful to ask yourself if you’re falling into harmful cultural patterns than to assume you’re not.

  21. It depends on how far one take one’s condescesion.

  22. I just want to clarify, too, that Mack and I fuss at each other about a lot of things–if he thinks I’m being unfair to someone else or if I think he’s not considering some other party’s perspective or whatever. And so, I just want to reiterate that we were not talking about him or his actions. There’s not much about Mack I would change, even if I could. I’d like for him to be more relaxed. I’d like for him to build me a house to live in on his land for free. I’d like for him to get a burro, named Jimmy, who would hang out near my house and keep me and the dog company. And I’d like for him to be better about conceding when I’m so clearly, clearly right about things.

    But I don’t find Mack condescending and, actually, we were talking about the problem of how it is that two people can say the exact same thing to you and one you see as being teasingly belligerent and the other you experience as being a condescending asshole.

    I, clearly, experience condescending assholery as open hostility. And I think what Mack is trying to say to me is that, if you could hear the same thing from a friend and not get angry, don’t you sometimes owe it to others to hear it from them and not take it as a personal affront.

    I’m not sure I agree with that, but I’m mulling it over.

  23. nm

    1) forget Jimmy the burro; when’s he going to finish the chicken coop?

    2) people who have already taken the trouble to establish a friendly relationship get a lot more leeway; especially friendships that are based on a joking form of challenge and response. I don’t think we owe the same assumption of goodwill to strangers, or to those who have acted badly in the past, that we do to friends, who have earned the assumption.

  24. In my mind, that’s no chicken coop, it’s my foyer.

  25. nm

    Ah, gotcha.

  26. people who have already taken the trouble to establish a friendly relationship get a lot more leeway; especially friendships that are based on a joking form of challenge and response. I don’t think we owe the same assumption of goodwill to strangers, or to those who have acted badly in the past, that we do to friends, who have earned the assumption.

    Exactly. I agree with nm 100%. Mack, you & I and you & your other friends (as an example) do the sparring thing all the time…that’s just how you roll and those of us who know you understand that. However, for people who have not spent a great deal of time with you (or anybody for that matter), they have no history to refer to…thus it is completely understandable if they were to interpret your “authoritative” attitude as condescending…and possibly hostile.

    Also to take into consideration are cultural differences in the way people communicate in different parts of the country. In this part of the country, I have often heard people say that they think New Yorkers are unfriendly. Well, we all know that isn’t true as a general statement, but many southerners are used to being spoken to in a different, slower, more friendly tone. It isn’t uncommon for terse speech patterns to be misinterpreted as hostile.

    So perhaps the best policy is that when in Rome…

  27. bridgett

    This is a subject near to my heart this week. I was accused of being condescending when I was getting screamed at by another professor in a faculty meeting and I calmly and firmly demonstrated that she was wrong. Sometimes refusing to be “nice” (i.e., rolling over) when you know you are in the right and continuing to debate reasonably when the other person who is used to being the authority has flipped her shit and abandoned reason can be seen as hostile, condescending, and patronizing. But you know me, I can be pretty fucking aggressive when I need to be and I don’t leave much room for doubt when I really want to be perceived as hostile, so I don’t see them as the same thing at all.

  28. Democommie, Voorhies, others –

    It’s probably your browser & not the page (which Voorhies found out & I’ll assume Democommie’s shut down & restarted browser since 5 this morning anyway, but just thought I’d throw it in anyway).

    I have that “slow script” problem over at NIT often but usually when I’ve had fifty million windows & tabs open & my browser’s been open a really long time.

    Restart (possibly clearing cache first) whenever this happens & you should be fine.

  29. Ahem. How does one clear their cache?

  30. Bridgett! You’re taking his side in this?! I’m so going to have to endure some kind of “na, na, nah-na na” dance now.

  31. Nya nya nya nya nya.


    Me: A bunch

    Aunt B: Not so much.

  32. You were a condesending bastard to me all the time and it pissed me off.

    However, while we don’t have the traditional father-daughter relationship, I can’t really say I ever regarded it as hostility.

    Perhaps this is because we stem from the same DNA, so our internal wiring MUST be simaler.

  33. Fascinating.

    It’s all about perception. While you can be outwardly condescending or hostile, one of my favorite hobbies, some moron might not pick up on it. Other times, you come off as hostile because of a perceived inferiority/superiority dynamic. I don’t think you can win either way.

  34. bridgett

    Hold on. It occurs to me that you guys are talking about two different things. I piss people off because they hear condescension when none is intended — I really use big words and think big thoughts and read big books and all that stuff and I’m not breaking that out just for belittling effect. People can hear things as condescending and interpret them as hostile that aren’t meant to be condescending (when, for example, they feel insecure or threatened by someone they think of as uppity, someone who they think should be deferential but is not). People can also feel patronized when they go off the rails and the conversation doesn’t move into soap opera mode, like you’re speaking to them like a child mid-tantrum.

    I find that I retreat into more and more empirical academic tone as a protective reaction to a toxic combination of illogic and aggression, especially if it’s served up with a side of “explaining things” to me. It’s what I try to choose instead of hostile, but like I said, if I do that with someone who is used to a lot of deference, they get pissed because they hear condescension rather than me trying to be heard as an intellectual equal. That’s their insecurity, which is not my issue.

    But what B is talking about is intentionally being condescending, which indicates you think the other person is a dumbass. That’s demeaning, so intentionally doing it is saying “I don’t think you’re my equal. Yes, that haughty patronization is hostile — and it’s part and parcel of “explaining things.”

  35. intentionally being condescending,


    Thank y’all for playin.

  36. Great. Now I have an excuse to run around being all “oh, bless his heart, he just doesn’t know better than to be condescending,” which is an act of condescending assholery. The circle is complete.

    Somehow, I feel as if I have won.

  37. bridgett

    Glad to be of service. Everybody plays, everybody wins.

  38. Nyooooooo, you’re not condescending at aaaaaaallllll.

    Tee Hee

  39. Hey, I’m not saying I’m not condescending. I’m just saying I often mean it as an act of hostility, but now that Mack has assured me that it’s not? Well, free reign for me!

    And you ‘tee hee’d me! That cracks me up.

  40. All communication requires the active participation of two people. In a situation where one knows more about a subject than the other (like car buying, f’rinstance), there probably is some “I know more than you” attitude involved and it is condescending. But that’s not automatically hostile, just iritating. And it’s usually irritating (or hostile) based on the attitude the listener brings to the conversation if the speaker is just trying to pass on knowledge.

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