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Aug 14 2013

Your various cleverations

A three-year-old observation by John Scalzi, just because I saw it and like it. The failure mode of clever is asshole.

So, apropos of nothing in particular, let’s say you wish to communicate privately with someone you’ve not communicated with privately before, for whatever reason you might have. And, wanting to stand out from the crowd, you decide to try to be clever about it, because, hey, you are a clever person, and as far as you know, people seem to like that about you. So you write your clever bit and send it off, safe in the knowledge of your cleverosity, and confident that your various cleverations will make the impression you want to make on the intended cleveree.

I hate that person already.

Is that so wrong of me?

I can’t bear people who think they’re fraffly clever and are always being it, which means they aren’t. Always being funny when really they’re just being obnoxious or tedious or both.

Two things here.

1. The effectiveness of clever on other people is highly contingent on outside factors, over which you have no control and of which you may not have any knowledge; i.e., just because you intended to be clever doesn’t mean you will be perceived as clever, for all sorts of reasons.

2. The failure mode of clever is “asshole.”

That makes this whole day worthwhile.

15 comments

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  1. 1
    notsont

    Hey, I resemble that remark…=(

    But, I’m trying to get better.

  2. 2
    ajb47

    notsont @1:

    Yeah, I’m right there with you. It’s one reason most of my comments on things take me an hour or more to write. Except this one. Because it takes me an hour to be clever in this many sentences.

  3. 3
    Tony! The Fucking Queer Shoop!

    I wonder how many of us try to be clever in responses, public or private. I know I do at times, but I try to balance the clever with the straightforward. Also, I try to aim my cleverness in such a way as to not offend, especially people in marginalized groups.

  4. 4
    Nadai

    I try to limit my cleverosity to those times I’m actually trying to be an asshole. I’m not sure if that makes it win mode or failure mode.

  5. 5
    Brian E

    I too resemble that remark. I suffer from cleverness deprivation syndrome. Chasing the dragon, for one more hit of cleveritude. :)

  6. 6
    notsont

    Yeah, I’m right there with you. It’s one reason most of my comments on things take me an hour or more to write. Except this one. Because it takes me an hour to be clever in this many sentences.

    I usually type a post, then delete after I read it and realize it sounds really stupid, or its not what i actually wanted to say.

  7. 7
    Robert B.

    If you don’t ever type a post, read it, and then delete it, you are a person who is sometimes really frigging annoying on the internet. They can’t all be winners, after all – every human I ever met has a nonzero rate of saying stupid shit. Self-editing, of course, is also imperfect, but you have to at least try to filter out the stupid.

  8. 8
    Dave

    I did that on twitter a few weeks ago. I thought my cleverness would let me get away with saying something to OB in jest that sounded very much like it wasn’t in jest, and was hurtful. It was a dumb asshole move, and I’m still sorry.

  9. 9
    Richard Smith

    I’ve long observed that it doesn’t take much for a wry wit to go awry…

  10. 10
    Donnie

    Me too…….sorry. Without knowing my personality, my sarcastic remarks are more likely ‘asshole-ish’ then sarcastic. I promise to rethink three times before posting or twitting. Thank you for the point out.

  11. 11
    rumleech

    Oops! I think I have to apologize to everyone on the internet. This probably explains why nobody ever replies to me. I’ve learned something new.

  12. 12
    Routemaster

    I don’t know if American usage of the word “clever” connotes in the same way as it does sometimes in English (I suspect not). Over here it can contain notes of casuistry, a rhetorical flourish to mislead or insisting on a literal rather than figurative meaning. An example would be the government representative denying a request for help by insisting that his memo saying “He wants our help” used “wants” in its archaic sense of “needs” rather than “has requested”.

    If I say “That’s very clever” it’s not generally said approvingly; they’re already a bit of an arse, regardless of the success of the cleverosity.

  13. 13
    Lou Doench

    One of the first things an aspiring comedian needs to learn is the difference between being clever and being funny. The way I thought of it is “clever” is playing to the audience in your head. Clever jokes are the ones that make you laugh. Now there’s certainly some overlap, if one doesn’t enjoy one’s own material it shows. But a truly funny person, someone who is inviting other people to laugh has to always prioritize the audience over his/her own preferences. What made you laugh in your head is personal. In fact if it’s just funny in your head then it’s not even really a fully formed joke. A joke has to be told to an audience and like it or not they get to decide if they enjoy your humor. That goes as much for amatuer night as it does for cocktail hour or the midnight ramblings through the Twittersphere.

    Clever is insular and narcissistic. Humor (the best humor at least) is broad minded and in many ways unselfish (yes, I consulted a thesaurus for that sentence). There is overlap between the two. Sometimes your clever idea can easily translate into a humorous one. But only if you can empathize with your audience, understand how they are going to react, how they might feel about your clever idea. There is nothing inherently wrong with clever thinking in the sense that the word means novel, adept, keen (good thesaurus… have a biscuit). But if you want to translate clever into funny you have to apply additional filters to the idea that’s in your head.

  14. 14
    Lou Doench

    There’s a corollary to the above. The audience doesn’t have as much control over what we laugh at as we would like to imagine. A well joke can be mean spirited, insensitive, any of the various -ist’s we can care to name and still make us laugh. Delivery and charisma effect how we hear a joke. Laughter is infectious, we can find ourselves laughing at the most hideous stuff if a crowd of people around us is laughing as well.

    What’s more, we laugh at jokes primarily because they surprise us. Our ape brains are excellent pattern recognition devices, humor works by presenting us with situations that twist the established pattern. Set-up-punchline, set-up-punchline, set-up-punchline-callback. Knock knock, who’s there etc.

    Thus we need to be careful in our critique of humor if we really want to address a jokes problematic aspects. Because “that’s not funny” is hard to insist if lots of people are laughing along.

  15. 15
    rnilsson

    Robert B.

    August 15, 2013 at 12:03 am (UTC -7) Link to this comment

    If you don’t ever type a post, read it, and then delete it, you are a person who is sometimes really frigging annoying on the internet. They can’t all be winners, after all – every human I ever met has a nonzero rate of saying stupid shit. Self-editing, of course, is also imperfect, but you have to at least try to filter out the stupid.

    ^This
    Please insert clever arrghuments here.
    Oh, I really wanted to make one, instead of usual st-p-d sh-t. This is all that remains after filtering. Kthkx gby

  1. 16
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