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Sunday, June 29, 2008

The care and feeding of a family blog

One of the few things I've consistently tried to do from the inception of this site is to keep the language as 'family friendly' as possible... even if the topics aren't always so. 

By this I mean that if there was no pressing reason to use one of George Carlin's (A"H) famous words you weren't allowed to say on Television, I generally opted for a word that had less potential to offend.  I also endured a bit of ridicule from some quarters for 'Bowdlerizing' certain words so that they only resembled their naughty linguistic counterparts... or replaced them altogether.

I have admit that this kind of self-censorship often feels disingenuous since I am not nearly as careful to avoid 'bawdy language' in my private life.  And in some cases I feel like I'm giving readers the false impression of a 'Leave it to Beaver' existence that simply doesn't exist here at chez treppenwitz.

So with that in mind, I want to come clean (pun intended) about a few things, and for your input on the importance of this topic in your enjoyment of online reading.

First and foremost is the admission that I sometimes have a bit of a potty mouth. 

I can't blame it all on the four years I spent in the navy... but my vocabulary was certainly enhanced by shipboard life among a cross-section of the population that skewed heavily towards the lower socio-economic sectors of the American south. 

However, during that time I also gained an appreciation for the difference between gratuitous profanity that added nothing to a story (except maybe to reveal gaps in the speaker's vocabulary)... and 'colorful' words/expressions that added appreciably to the topic at hand in the form of nuance and emphasis.

So when writing blindly for a diverse audience such as I do here on treppenwitz, I've tried (with limited success) to err on the side of caution in order to keep the site 'accessible' to as wide an audience as possible.  On the few occasions when I've inadvertently (or deliberately) allowed a bit of profanity to creep in, I've gotten pointed complaints in the comments board, and via email, from a group I've come to think of as 'the church ladies' (even though one or two of them are men).

This is where I need your help with a reality check.  We all know that the squeaky wheel usually gets the grease... meaning those who speak up and/or complain are generally the ones who are heeded.  But that doesn't mean the complainers are statistically representative of the audience.

For instance, if an airline gets a a flood of complaints about seats not being wide enough, they need to figure out if the traveling public is indeed getting too fat large for the standard sized seat or if there is a tiny minority of obese travelers who are lobbying for suitable accommodation.  One requires a universal solution while the other may require (at most!) the addition of a few specialized seats on each flight.

Another example would be if a Major League Baseball franchise began getting complaints about the lack of kosher/hallal concession stands at the stadium.  In such a case they would need to ascertain whether there was suitable audience to justify the change in the status quo (such as in the New York, Boston and Baltimore areas) or if the complaints were coming from a tiny, but vocal, group that really had no reasonable right to expect accommodation (think Minnesota or Seattle).

A last (and probably best) example would be of a radio talk show that catered to a wide audience, but had traditionally attracted a more 'straight-laced' following - which was in actuality a tiny percentage of their listening audience - because they tend to tone down or avoid the more 'racy' topics.  On the rare occasions when bawdier language is used or 'less-wholesome' topics are discussed on the air, their inbox fills up with complaints... but it quickly becomes clear that the complaints are coming from a narrow sliver of the listening audience that is not statistically representative of the audience at large.  If something interesting but 'slightly off color' happens in the world, to what extent is the station management obligated to cater to this tiny-but-vocal demographic when deciding whether to discuss it on the air?

Look, I'm not looking for your permission to 'cuss' here on treppenwitz.  I'm also not asking if it is OK to discuss some of the less savory topics.  It's just that the readership here has grown and changed over the years to the extent that I don't feel like I really 'know my demographic' anymore.

Your responses to this poll, and any thoughts you'd like to add in the comments, will be greatly appreciated. 






Posted by David Bogner on June 29, 2008 | Permalink


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I must confess, I do wish that the "Vote" button had appeared only once at the end of the entire poll rather than after each question. But since I (and others, evidently) conscientiously filled it out anyway, I am asking for something in return that may or may not have to do with profanity in its various forms: pictures of Jordan and Lulu!

Posted by: Rahel | Jun 29, 2008 2:28:33 PM

You once mentioned that Ariella reads this blog. 'Would I want my daughter to read this?' might be a good standard in regards to the blog's content, even if she hears you use it on occasion at home.

Posted by: Karl Newman | Jun 29, 2008 2:31:34 PM

Please don't start "cussing" on the blog. Simply because I not only feel uncomfortable with nivel peh, but also like to forward some of the articles on the blog to my Rabbi, and wouldn't feel comfortable doing so if the language here were risque.

Posted by: Ploni Almoni | Jun 29, 2008 3:27:07 PM

I am 44 and am amused to see that this is the avaerage age of your visitors (so far at least). In fact it looks like I am very average altogether. :-)
I have never been shocked by anything I have read on your blog but then, although I swear very little myself , I am not easily shocked.

Posted by: Ilana-Davita | Jun 29, 2008 4:38:19 PM

since you asked so nicely, I guess I would prefer that you write the way you talk, if that makes it easier for you to write. I read your blog because I am interested in what you have to say, and because I know that you are (usually) extremely thoughtful and concerned about HOW you say it. Yes, I do cringe a little bit inside when people use profanity, in their speech or their writing, especially when it's in lieu of better, more descriptive language. But in most cases, I have the option of not listening or reading, and I exercise that choice when necessary. Honestly, I know what SH!!T is, and I also know that if I read "sugar" or "shoot" on your blog, you are just substituting words for that sake of your readership. I, personally, appreciate that bit of self censorship - I don't think that it makes your blog less authentic; I think that it reflects the fact that you are writing for a wide readership with whom you are not entirely familiar. I think that, similarly, if you were retelling a story - even a slightly salty one - at a bar-mitzvah party or work event or social gathering of people who you were meeting for the first time, you would "adjust" your language to suit the audience. I would assume that if you are getting "church lady" comments, it is from the small minority of people who enjoy what you write, but do not know how to find another blog about Israeli politics/Jewish history and the land of Israel/ family life/bee-keeping/and two cute dogs when the language gets rough. Just out of curiosity - do you get a similar number of "sailor man" comments from people who are offended by your "bowdlerized" profanity, or are you asking because it is bothering YOU?

I wouldn't advise you to censor your topics; nor can I advise you to censor your writing. I, and others, can always read elsewhere. Does being "sensitive" about your language make you less "true" to your content - I think you already know where I stand on that one. You already have quite a distinctive voice on the internet - but if you feel like it's not really YOUR voice, then write however you wish. While your poll and comments will give you a sense of your readership - at least those who will take the time to participate - you will never be able to overcome the divide that is inherent in this type of communication. You will never truly know who your audience is. In the end, you have to decide why you are writing anyway - is it for posterity, for yourself, for your dedicated readership, the casual surfer, or your blog numbers?


Posted by: Debbie | Jun 29, 2008 4:46:43 PM

I made a similar editorial decision to yours. My wife wishes my mouth were as clean as my websites. It is definately an ideal to be strived for. I personally am stricter about lashon hara and hurtful speech than I am about dirty words. The amoral objection to profanity is that it short circuits more expressive speech. I agree with this and have noted it from personal experience. I recently relaxed my website standard to accomodate one word in French that would not have flown in English. I also give my postings the daughter test, even though my language off line could do with improvement. It is good that you care about this question

Posted by: Magdeburger Joe | Jun 29, 2008 5:20:10 PM

I don't write anything on my blog that I would be embarrassed to have my mother-in-law, (who reads my blog), or my boss (who I hope has no idea that I have a blog)read. I think it pays to restrain yourself the way you have done so far.

Posted by: westbankmama | Jun 29, 2008 5:53:22 PM

What is interesting to me is that a number of the words we speak of as profane were nothing more than slang words denoting various meaings that were otherwise innocuous. Even a word like "fuck" had as its origins a perhaps slangy, shorthand, lower class kind of connotation, but one that nonetheless was used not in an insulting or offensive way. I remember reading an account of a trial that took place sometime in the Middle Ages were paternity was trying to be established, and using that word, the accused admitted to having sexual relations, but could not have been the father since he pulled out before the deed was completed. It seems like there are a number of words like that that ended up having the misfortune to make it into the profanity hall of fame, whereas other words, used concurrently, ended up being socially acceptable substitutes. Additionally, country of origin plays some part. My English friends have told me in the past that "bloody" as an intensifier was considered somewhat offensive, but here in the states does not really raise an eyebrow and is seen as a substitute for the above-discussed word. Perhaps your brother-in-law can shine in on this.

Posted by: jordan Hirsch | Jun 29, 2008 8:18:16 PM

Words are just that, words. Sure, a child may read this blog, but it will certainly not be the first time they 'hear' such language, nor will it be their last. By censoring words, you only give that word more power. If all words were created and used equally, people would be able to get over their self righteousness and put their energy to better use!

Posted by: Seth | Jun 29, 2008 8:41:42 PM

I'm interested in your reference to what you call the "church ladies" point of view. It sounds as if you are patronising towards the point of view represented. I'm thinking about the Torah point of view.

I personally don't think any man who wears a kippah and tzitzit should be thinking about whether it's acceptable to use what you call profanity, and to curse and spit out anger, especially as part of his writings to offer other people. Otherwise the wearing of those holy symbols becomes a mockery in my eyes. How does the Torah view the spilling out of anger--venting and ranting? I don't think it's regarded as acceptable. If you want to express anger, disappointment, frustration, even a sense of betrayal there are plenty of ways to do that eloquently and persuasively. Cursing and swearing are not among them. The ways to deal with righteous anger and rage are there in the Tehillim and other sources. They combine intensity of emotion with dignity, which cursing and ranting never can.

The internet is a "cool" medium. That's why it's seen as unacceptable even to use capital letters for whole words and sentences--shouting on the net is not only unacceptable, it demeans the person who does it and makes them seem like a dork. Ditto, as far as I'm concerned, for swearing and cursing. In a real life situation you may lose control and say things you very much regret or realise are hurtful and aggressive ways to express yourself. At least time passes on and the memories fade, except perhaps for anyone unfortunate enough to have been on the receiving end. Why put words like that on a blog where they stay there and present an enduring spectacle of you making a dork of yourself?

As for the cursing words, what are they about? Using the name of the Almighty to invoke hurt against someone, or even speak of damning them. Calling them names which express contempt for women and callousness about sexuality?

I can't think of a single piece of blog writing that has been enhanced or improved by the use of profanity; every instance of it I've seen does not reflect well on the writer.

Sure, men curse and rant in the Navy, as they do in prisons and other environments where they are confined and lack power and status. Not a good model for an internet blog, which has the potential to reach millions and achieve the status of the mightiest newspaper.

Leave the cursing and ranting to the Amadhinejads of this world--it shows them for what they are. There are enough people about who think that Israel's settlers are a bunch of swivel eyed raving angries. Let's try not to offer evidence that supports that view.

Posted by: Judy | Jun 29, 2008 10:06:50 PM

I have a tendency to curse while I'm driving and once was leaving a message on someone's voice mail while talking on my cell phone (hands-free of course) when someone cut me off. I let out a stream of words that would make even a former navy man blush. I was mortified when I realized that it had all been recorded on my [very clean cut, frum] friend's voice mail. I'd like to say I learned my lesson, but that would be a lie.

I think your blog is fine the way it is, by the way...

Posted by: Baila | Jun 29, 2008 11:53:44 PM

Self-censorship is a sign of civilization. This I know from many painful years teaching middle- and high-school students, who think that self-censorship is some sort of mental "shackle" they must free themselves from, in order to become free-thinkers (thanks, English teachers! Thanks a *lot*!).

It's funny -- I didn't swear much (even mentally) at all until I got married. And now, years later, I am letting it go again. But that 1st ten years of marriage and raising one's first teenage girl? Whew; there's a stressor... must be like being in the Navy.

Here's to self-censorship! G-d bless us all!


Posted by: Wry Mouth | Jun 29, 2008 11:58:43 PM

P.S. I am one of those who contrary to my last post, think that there are not really many "bad" words, if words are used properly. Guilty as I am of using words badly, I strive to only use the "bad" words in their good, profane way.

I just opened up a facebook and myspace page, just for the mental stretch of seeing what those communities are like, and "networking" with faculty and students past and present, and I gotta tell ya -- the level of profanity is about what I should have expected from a world full of profane people, but still. I find it taxing and, in a word, disappointing.

My pages, OTOH, I strive to make peaceful oases of non-profanity. Just to see what happens.

Congrats, again, on making your family's site so interesting and NICE. You are a part of my "morning cuppa joe," which is extra important because I don't actually drink coffee -- I just walk around a few sites in a little territorial amble, to wake myself up.

Posted by: Wry Mouth | Jun 30, 2008 12:04:26 AM

As an artist at heart, I philosophically find censorship loathsome and an affront to a free democratic society. That being said, to quote The Clash in Know Your Rights: "You have the right to free / Speech as long as youre not / Dumb enough to actually try it."
As a general rule, though, I do find myself self censoring, but that is more a product of keeping my impulsive ADD in check (see previous Clash quote).

Posted by: arrrteest | Jun 30, 2008 2:04:31 AM

I would say that if you regard Trep as some form of personal self expression and/or a means to communicate with friends and a community of close knit associates, then free expression is to be encouraged, including whatever language you're comfortable with.
I would add that if you consider it a form of literary expression, then you should write what you feel, and censorship be damned.
But if Treppenwitz is meant to be a slice of life blog from a religious settler on the West Bank, and you attract a diverse readership of internet readers who think of you as such, then the profanities, and perhaps their bowdlerization, should be dropped. Of course, knowing you personally, I know that pidgeon holing you with the above description is unfair (for you are LARGER THAN LIFE (oops, capital letters)), but for readers who don't know you personally, and see the pictures on the blog of how your family lives, and read how you lead your life and where you are situated, then perhaps the cussing is a bit offputting.
Personally, I don't give a flying truck (and that's from a guy who writes a blog of children's stories).

Posted by: Larry | Jun 30, 2008 5:01:23 AM

I just got new bifocals, and yet I still thought the heading was care and feeding of the family dog, and I thought, Oh, goody, more stories and pictures of their cute puppy and youngest son.

Now I am embarrassed to ask when/where exactly have you been naughty on a blog?? I can't remember a story you told where you cussed.

Thanks, 52 on Thursday

Posted by: Joyce | Jun 30, 2008 5:50:33 AM

Your blog, write as you will.

Posted by: Jack | Jun 30, 2008 5:42:00 PM

I should point out that David's B-I-L is a lexicographer of some renown.

Posted by: jordan Hirsch | Jun 30, 2008 8:51:51 PM

a lexicographer of some renown

One of my goals in life is to one day be described as being of some renown. The trick is to see that it is a meaningful description. I am not looking for fame, although I will take it over infamy.

Something to ponder alongside whether I should be allowed to say @#%@ or $#TY^@& or #$@%$^^ all over this post.

Posted by: Jack | Jun 30, 2008 9:31:18 PM

i don't care what type of language you use.

"too fat large":

hah. http://agmk.blogspot.com/2007/05/little-firemen-and-big-ladies.html#links

Posted by: Lion of Zion | Jul 1, 2008 8:54:42 AM

Whether or not to use profanity is really up to you, and you alone. It seems to me, however, that the presence of profanity may offend people; its absence, on the other hand, while resulting in a blog less...piquant, shall we say, does not cause offense. So go on doing what you're doing.

As if I should give you advice. My blog is (occasionally) profane and my readership is a tiny fraction of yours. Not cause-and-effect, mind you, but it means you probably shouldn't be listening to any of my useless advice.

Posted by: Elisson | Jul 1, 2008 1:36:15 PM

Would I be offended if you curse? No, it's not my problem. Would I complain about it? No, it's your blog. Would I think less of you for it? Of course I would. I only know you by your words. The alternative to expletives is the use of more suitable words. Ultimately, an expletive is no more intelligent than a dog's bark. It seems to me that people with weaker vocabularies are the ones that most often resort to such terms. Is it self-censorship? Of course it is. Everything you do in life has some manner of self-control involved, or you'd be an animal. Personally, I try to speak as though God were part of my audience. If I believe in God, then I must accept that premise.

Posted by: M. Patterson | Jul 1, 2008 9:59:36 PM

I abhor vulgarity, especially gratuitious. I sometimes I curse, though admittedly I do it more intensely in English bcs in Portuguese the equivalents are far too vulgar, but cursing doesn't autmatically equal "vulgar". I never wonder whether people will be offended and I certainly never ever censor myself. I write for me, my blog, I rule, as simple as that, anyone reading has the freedom to not read anymore, my blog is my sanctuary and if a "bloody hell" makes it more so then that's how it is. Someone reading this very comment may already be bleeding from their eyes but that's how they are, not me. I have been told that as a Jew I mustn't and well, WELL. That is between my God and I, I am always a good person regardless of whether I curse or not, I am always aware of others, I really cannot even muster the energy to respond to it. You should write exactly as you want to, exactly as you yourself feel comfortable with, always, regardless of who reads you.

Posted by: Lioness | Jul 2, 2008 5:08:28 PM

[Forgot to add, there can be beauty woven around a "sod it", and people who never curse can still be absolute tossers and a waste of breath. I am very fond of the greys, always, in B&W self-righteousness and holier-than-thou lies.]

Posted by: Lioness | Jul 2, 2008 5:13:58 PM

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