Category Archives: etiquette, personal conduct

words on the chopping block



Why do people in emails and so forth nowadays close with BEST?

Best what?

Are they embarrassed or do they think it’s too formal to say BEST REGARDS? Or, as an alternative, BEST WISHES? Which one is it?

And, by the way, in emails, what’s wrong, if you don’t know the person well, with saying — in other words, writing — “Dear” and “Sincerely” for what we learned in elementary school (but I am sure is no longer taught) are called the salutation and the complimentary close?

Who came up with “best,” and why has it been ordained? Since when do we have to use shorthand when supposedly being polite?



— Roger W. Smith

   October 2017

Yankee “friendliness”




“During Rikers Upheaval, the ‘Prettiest Village in Maine’ Beckoned”

The New York Times,

April 30, 2017



The story is based a visit that a Times reporter, Rick Rojas, made over the weekend to the town of Wiscasset, Maine.

According to the Times: “Investigators found that Joseph Ponte, the correction commissioner in New York City, had repeatedly taken his city-issued sport-utility vehicle on trips that ended around here [Wiscasset], a small town near the Maine coast.”

The story goes on to say:

Some around Wiscasset said they had recognized Mr. Ponte or had encountered him or his wife around town. But many said people here tended to place a premium on independence, treasuring a kind of live-and-let-live attitude in which neighbors are friendly but also allow for a bit of space. [italics added]

“Everyone just leaves you alone,” said Deb Schaffer, who owns a boutique downtown and remembers seeing Mr. Ponte and exchanging greetings on the street. “But if you need something, they’re there to help.”

Yes, indeed, I thought. That’s Yankee behavior. Yankee conduct, deportment, manners. Just what is the right word?

Perhaps I should say Yankee ways.

I was born and bred and a Yankee. Grew up in Massachusetts. A descendant of Yankees who go back to colonial times.

Wikipedia entry

In the United States, Yankee largely refers to people from the Northeast, but especially those with New England cultural ties, such as descendants from colonial New England settlers, wherever they live. Its sense is more cultural than literally geographical, sometimes emphasizing the Calvinist Puritan Christian beliefs and traditions of the Congregationalists and Presbyterians, who brought their culture when they settled outside of New England. The speech dialect of Eastern New England is called “Yankee” or “Yankee dialect.” Within New England itself, the term “Yankee” refers specifically to old-stock New Englanders of English descent.

I never recognized the Massachusetts dialect when growing up there. It’s quite pronounced. I have been told that I have lost my New England accent. I can certainly hear it now when I go back to New England or hear New Englanders on television or radio.

But the behavior patterns, that’s what struck me about the characterization of the townspeople in the article. Darn right. I remember it well. Our neighbors tended to always maintain a sort of formal politeness. Never got that close. Rarely visited one’s house. Respected the privacy of others, which was considered of paramount importance.

Unfailing, unvarying politeness.

And, a certain reserve.

Block parties? No such thing. Men outside in summertime with no shirt on? Not usually, except at the beach.

But, say your car got stuck in the snow during the winter; that you needed to borrow a book, a needle and thread, or a tool; that you needed a ride; or some such thing. Your New England neighbor would help you without a moment’s hesitation. Would never ask you why you needed or were asking for help, or inquire directly or indirectly about your trustworthiness. And, they would go the extra mile to ensure that they had fulfilled their duties as a good neighbor and helping hand.

Never would ask for thanks in any shape or form. Not only would they be constitutionally disinclined to do such a thing (it would never occur to them in the first place), but they also would consider it (should it be somehow suggested to them that they deserved some sort of recompense) to be a violation of good manners and codes of proper behavior, as well as an embarrassment to themselves, to do so.


— Roger W. Smith

   May 2017

Thoughts Concerning “Repression of Discourse”


Thoughts Concerning “Repression of Discourse”

by Roger W. Smith



“There is not one but many silences, and they are an integral part of the strategies that underlie and permeate discourses.” — Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction






I was present at an after hours dinner at a Manhattan restaurant with colleagues at the office where I was working several years ago. Somehow, in the context of the conversation, I felt it was relevant and apropos to mention something I had recently read about racial stereotyping. I think it was something about false assumptions that underlie racial stereotyping and how this affects the terminology used to designate ethnic and racial origins and racial categories — I can’t quite recall.

The table fell silent. No one would say a word and the topic was dropped — they weren’t going to touch it with a ten foot pole. It was as if they had seen a ghost.

Perhaps one might say, this sounds rather complicated. Perhaps your listeners didn’t know what to say because they didn’t understand. I don’t believe that this was the case.

I think what was going on was what a psychiatrist would call repression — what, in this case, I would perhaps call “social repression” or “repression of discourse.” Psychological repression is defined in a Wikipedia article as follows:

Psychological repression, or simply repression, is the psychological attempt made by an individual to direct one’s own desires and impulses toward pleasurable instincts by excluding the desire from one’s consciousness and holding or subduing it in the unconscious. In psychoanalytic theory repression plays a major role in many mental illnesses, and in the psyche of the average person [italics added].

Repression (German: Verdrängung), a key concept of psychoanalysis, is a defense mechanism, but it pre-exists the ego, e.g., Primal Repression. It ensures that what is unacceptable to the conscious mind, which would arouse anxiety if recalled, is prevented from entering into it and is generally accepted as such by psychoanalytic psychologists.






I feel that, as stated above, “repression of discourse” is the operative term to describe how my attempt to contribute to the conversation with my work colleagues was received. By this I mean that one cannot talk about some topics in “public” discourse. By “public,” I mean here to convey the idea of a conversation which occurs outside the home, for example with coworkers, in a school, or at a reception. I am not thinking of public forums such as political speeches or commencement addresses, although it is undoubtedly the case that strictures that apply to conversations in the workplace, say, often do apply equally to public speeches and pronouncements, and probably to advertising and the media.

What do I mean by “strictures that apply to conversations”? Topics that are taboo.

One of these topics is race. The topic seems to have become completely taboo in polite discourse; it cannot be brought up outside the home. Hence my experience at the dinner with coworkers.

In present day America, one cannot admit to having some prejudices (undisclosed ones), while it is the case, I would aver, that no one in actuality is free of them. Sometimes, it seems that one can’t even discuss the topic of prejudice itself, unless one’s PC credentials have been established beforehand and the person is making a sanctioned statement, such as someone protesting or inveighing publicly against racism.






Subsequent to the dinner with my coworkers, I got to thinking about what I have clumsily termed “repression of discourse” and how it operates. Having experienced it, in this case, with regard to the topic of race, I got to thinking about what some other taboo topics might be. I started running possible scenarios through my mind.

What if, at the same dinner with my office colleagues, I had said: “Did I ever tell you about my favorite pornographic films? I love the genre of ______” (you name it: girl on girl, films depicting anal or oral sex, bondage, etc., etc.)? Or perhaps I might have said, without naming a specific type of sex act or perversion, “What are some of your all time favorite porno movies? I saw a great one in my hotel room on my last [business] trip to _______.” Think this conversational salvo would fly and be eagerly picked up by my dinner partners?

Or to go to even more ridiculous extremes, say that I introduce in a social setting/occasion, business lunch, or whatever the topic of masturbation and discuss, say, masturbatory practices by me at some time or other in my past or present life (e.g., “I usually prefer to masturbate at bedtime. How about you?”). Think that would fly?

Of course not.

Don’t worry. I am not planning to discuss nor have I ever been guilty of discussing such topics in such situations. But I was thinking, what is it that makes some topics unacceptable to introduce in all but perhaps the most private conversations, and then only in a specific context and at a sanctioned time, so to speak?






It is a social convention, a given, that some topics are out of bounds in polite conversation, which perhaps is (or, perhaps I should say, undoubtedly is) as it should be. One can’t discuss such topics, for the most part, even in the abstract and/or in the most general sense. Agreed and acknowledged, with a caveat. As discussed further below, I feel the strictures go too far and are often used, under the cover of protecting us against uncalled for remarks, as an insidious form of censorship masquerading as concern for persons who might be offended. The problem, as I see it, is that it is often the case that subjects which should be aired get swept under the table in the name of political correctness.

Take a topic such as masturbation. Dr. Ruth can bring it up in one of her talks beecause she is known as an outspoken, anything goes (content wise) sex therapist. Philip Roth described it in Portnoy’s Complaint and people were shocked (or at least titillated), but, well, he was a writer — what could you expect? Nor can one discuss sexual practices — say, those viewed in a pornographic film — that one might enjoy or prefer, as a participant or observer.

You or I could not bring it up, should we be so inclined, under any circumstances, in a conversation held in public. It seems to me that — temporarily leaving aside the most embarrassing and private topics, which I have introduced only for the purposes of illustrating my point and of comparison — this kind of repression can be at times so extreme and sweeping (in the sense of all-encompassing and prohibitive — a sweeping edict) that discussions of some topics and issues which should not a priori be considered of an embarrassing or harmful nature can not be contemplated, where such discussion could often be innocuous, interesting, stimulating, and/or heuristic.

A reader of this post might think or say to him or herself, he’s probably a pervert, and, anyway, what’s the point? Is he saying that he thinks one should be entitled to discuss such embarrassing and/or offensive things in public?

I am not. Public standards of decency should be observed. Distinctions should be made regarding what is permissible to be said and discussed in public versus in private. But, what I am trying to do is to show how repression works (as I view it) in public.





I think an analogy can be made with regard to discussing sexual topics in a non private setting and discussing other topics that have now earned taboo status, such as race.

In earlier times, through at least my grandparents’ lifetimes, topics of a sexual nature were prohibited in all but the most private settings, while language about ethnic and racial groups that would now be considered offensive was common. In my grandparents’ time, sex was virtually taboo as a topic and censorship standards were rigidly enforced. At the same time, ethnic slurs were printed and racial prejudices openly advocated or tolerated in the media without anyone noticing. Blacks were stereotyped and demeaned in vaudeville, the theater, and films. Insulting, pejorative terms for ethnic and racial groups were commonly used in conversation.

Now the public, which is to say most reasonable people, is hypersensitive to anything that smacks of or has a hint of racism. Racism has been eradicated, we want to believe (though we know it hasn’t).

Meanwhile, repression is alive and well.

Progress has been made, at least in the realm of public discourse and the media, where racial and ethnic slurs are prohibited. One hears them less in casual conversations nowadays. But, does this mean that we, as a nation, as people, have wiped the slate clean so that most people other than the lunatic fringe don’t have racial prejudices any more?

This is where I would say an emphatic no.

So why can’t assumptions underlying racism, and reverse racism, be examined and evaluated in a non private conversational setting? In my opinion, it would be salutary (psychologically speaking) to do so. Such conversations could be beneficial both when they occur between members of the same racial group, say, and when they occur between persons of different racial, religious, or ethnic groups.






The PC “thought police” want to control what can and cannot be said, everywhere. I am all for maintaining standards of polite discourse — see my blog post on this topic at

but I am opposed to “repression of discourse,” as defined above.

I feel that people should be able to talk freely, as long as they are respectful and polite. That contrary opinions and thoughts or facts that might call into question the prevailing orthodoxy should be shared. And that “error of opinion,” to use Thomas Jefferson’s phrase, should it be identified and so deemed, should, as Jefferson said, “be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it,” both in private and public discourse.



— Roger W. Smith

   February 2017

Marquess of Queensberry rules for arguments (my personal views on the subject)



‘Marquess of Queensberry rules for arguments


Marquess of Queensberry rules for arguments

by Roger W. Smith


My List of Virtues contained at first but twelve: But a Quaker Friend having kindly inform’d me that I was generally thought proud; that my Pride show’d itself frequently in Conversation; that I was not content with being in the right when discussing any Point, but was overbearing & rather insolent; of which he convinc’d me by mentioning several Instances; — I determined endeavouring to cure myself if I could of this Vice or Folly among the rest, and I added Humility to my List [of virtues], giving an extensive Meaning to the Word.—I cannot boast of much Success in acquiring the Reality of this Virtue; but I had a good deal with regard to the Appearance of it.—I made it a Rule to forbear all direct Contradiction to the Sentiments of others, and all positive Assertion of my own. I even forbid myself agreeable to the old Laws of our Junto, the Use of every Word or Expression in the Language that imported a fix’d Opinion; such as certainly, undoubtedly, &c. and I adopted instead of them, I conceive, I apprehend, or I imagine a thing to be so or so, or so it appears to me at present. —When another assert’d something that I thought an Error, I deny’d my self the Pleasure of contradicting him abruptly, and of showing immediately some Absurdity in his Proposition; and in answering I began by observing that in certain Cases or Circumstances his Opinion would be right, but that in the present case there appear’d or seem’d to me some Difference, &c. I soon found the Advantage of this Change in my Manners. The Conversations I engag’d in went on more pleasantly. The modest way in which I propos’d my Opinions, procur’d them a readier Reception and less Contradiction; I had less Mortification when I was found to be in the wrong, and I more easily prevail’d with others to give up their Mistakes & join with me when I happen’d to be in the right. And this Mode, which I at first put on, with some violence to natural Inclination, became at length so easy & so habitual to me, that perhaps for these Fifty Years past no one has ever heard a dogmatical Expression escape me. And to this Habit (after my Character of Integrity) I think it principally owing, that I had early so much Weight with my Fellow Citizens, when I proposed new Institutions, or Alterations in the old; and so much Influence in public Councils when I became a Member. For I was but a bad Speaker, never eloquent, subject to much Hesitation in my choice of Words, hardly correct in Language, and yet I generally carried my Points. –


— Benjamin Franklin, The Autobiography, Part Two


N.B. – The Junto which Franklin refers to above was a club for mutual improvement which Franklin established in Philadelphia. The club’s purpose was to debate questions of morals, politics, and natural philosophy; and to exchange knowledge of business affairs.




This is an essay about how one should, ideally, engage in an argument which involves a disagreement about personal views. Such a dispute may arise from:

a disagreement between spouses — Often, it seems that spouses, when they are young lovers or newlyweds, experience smooth sailing. Then, once they have set up a household together and have started a family, they find that they disagree on many fundamental issues, such as issues related to child rearing, money management, household management, or in-laws. Often, they find themselves to be incompatible and constantly bickering;

sibling rivalry – It happens all the time. Under the surface, there can be petty jealousies, old resentments, grudges over current or past slights, and so on;

conflicts between parents and children – It seems that children would not be normal if they didn’t fight with their parents over all sorts of issues as they mature;

disagreements with someone you thought was your best friend – But, guess what? As you grow older, you find out that there are fundamental differences you weren’t aware of that threaten to torpedo the relationship;

issues with coworkers, a boss, or a subordinate;

issues with someone you can’t avoid (e.g., a neighbor, someone else’s friend whom you barely know) who takes issue with something you have said or done and won’t let it drop.

And so on.




I grew up in a very verbal and articulate family. Everyone had an opinion. This was true of my nuclear family and my extended family. Dinners and family gatherings were often quite pleasant because of the high level of conversation, but sometimes the conversations that took place were not pleasant because of arguments. However, it was not a zero sum game, as far as I was concerned. I was observing and learning how to become not only a good conversationalist but a good arguer myself.

By nature, I don’t particularly like disputation. I prefer conversations where you and your conversational partner share views and enlighten one another, by which process insights are achieved and surprising new things are learned; where your interlocutor might introduce a new thought or idea and you welcome it. But, over the years I have learned how to engage in discourse — a colloquy or argument—when there is disagreement or when matters need to be thrashed out and (hopefully) resolved; and, though I sometimes get very angry, I have learned how to not totally lose my mental bearings. I guess what one would say is that the experience of living in a verbal family skilled in the art of colloquy taught me how to think on my feet.

I am impressed by how well most politicians, particularly those in high office, can do in give and take with a political opponent and in situations where they are pressed to explain their views. Clearly, they can think on their feet – they seem to always have cogent answers for the toughest questions. (Which is not to say that they do not dissemble; it seems to be habitual.) But, when I speak of colloquies and arguments here (the desired behavior for each), I am thinking mainly of one on one discussions between two people in a close or intimate setting, not in public.

What are the “rules,” if any, for such exchanges?




There is an academic extracurricular activity, namely, debating, which is sort of like belonging to an athletic team, except that it’s a verbal skirmish. I was on the debate team in high school. It did not particularly appeal to me. This kind of verbal sparring is not what I have in mind in using the word colloquy (nor is it what the word means).

There are gonzo freewheeling discussions on TV and radio talk shows which are somewhat like pro wrestling matches. I do not consider them to be colloquies or argumentative discussions by any measure. There are basically no rules; it’s a free for all.

What I am thinking about is a situation where you are in strong disagreement with someone, usually someone close to you.

Let’s say it’s your spouse. You do or say something which you think is harmless or does not require comment. Your spouse feels otherwise and lets you know it. It may be the case that not only does your spouse disagree in principle. Perhaps they strongly disagree and/or object or were offended to hear that you feel that way.

Or perhaps you are a youth or young adult engaged in, or on the verge of engaging in, some behavior or activity that your parents strongly disapprove of. They tell you so, and an argument ensues. You’ve matured, you feel that they shouldn’t be telling you what to think or do, and — you know what? — when you were younger you idolized your parents and thought they could do no wrong. Now you think they are totally off base with respect to their views and perhaps their lifestyle as well. You may, at a certain age, be in a state of almost perpetual war with your parents, issues wise. Perhaps you take pleasure in this, enjoy getting their goat and being on the outs with them.

So, disagreements arise, and before you hardly know it, they can become very bitter. It seems like the ones with your intimate circle are the most painful.

Say I go to a bar. Someone tells me they are supporting a candidate I detest or that they don’t like some ethnic group (though they don’t want to be thought of as prejudiced) or perhaps expresses an asinine view the stupidity, vapidity, or callousness of which offends or annoys me. I may or may not get into it with them. But, I will go home shortly thereafter and forget about it. The other person was a jerk, was ignorant, was a racist, whatever. It doesn’t really affect me.




I have had problems lately dealing with situations in which people I know well have subjected me to criticism and expressed strong disagreement with my views and sometimes with my actions. I have tried to defend myself. This had led to heated discussions that have often ended up deadlocked, in “verbal gridlock.” I seem to find myself (to my dismay) getting into arguments all the time over matters big and small.

Sometimes the “other side” seems so intractable that I have thought to myself, just what is fair and what is not fair in an argument over views, behavior, morals, opinions you may hold of others (views that your interlocutor does not share), and so on? How should one conduct oneself when one feels cornered by an attack being made on them verbally? Is there such a thing as a standard for engaging in such verbal skirmishes?

After all, athletes have a rulebook and ground rules for a given sport.




The following is my own list, my Marquess of Queensberry rules, for arguments over personal matters and views. Many of the “rules” – i.e., principles for argument and discussion – that follow were promulgated by my parents. For example:

speak calmly and deliberately;

don’t raise you voice;

don’t interrupt; listen … wait your turn;

try not to show anger;

don’t shout or lose your temper;

don’t make it personal … avoid slurs and personal insults;

points made by the other side which are valid must be conceded (a point often honored, sadly, more often in the breach than the observance);

one must be willing and capable of admitting it when he or she has been proven to be wrong;

never argue about a fact.

“Never argue about a fact.” This last rule was stated in these exact these words to me by my mother, quoting her father. When you think about it, it’s obvious.

You say the president immediately preceding Abraham Lincoln was James Buchanan. No, I say adamantly, you’re wrong. It was Franklin Pierce, and an argument ensues.

A totally pointless argument, as stupid as it would be to argue over who pitched the first perfect game ever. It is said that bars used to keep reference books behind the counter to resolve such disputes and keep them from ending in a barroom brawl.




My own thoughts about what is “fair” and “unfair,” “reasonable” and unreasonable”; what is and is not counterproductive — in short, what is desirable – when it comes to personal arguments:

You must argue in good faith. You should not do it if what underlies the dispute is pure malevolence or the simple desire to taunt, vex, or annoy the other person.

You have to make a sincere effort to see the other person’s point of view. This rule is ignored so often it is beyond belief.

Both sides should have a chance to make their points and to respond to points made by the other side. Often, you will find this “rule” being broken, with one side browbeating the other verbally and constantly interrupting or cutting the other side off before they have had a chance to make a counterargument (or stomping off in a huff mid argument).

One must be able to get outside of oneself and put oneself in another’s shoes. Is this asking too much? I don’t think so. Because if the conditions are such that this cannot occur – speaking, let’s say, of heated arguments over painful or contentious issues – a successful conclusion of the argument will not occur. In my experience, I have found that this “rule” is often violated when the other side can only think of one thing: their own self-interest in prevailing; and abhors the thought that they might “lose” an argument. (Perish the thought!)

If you can’t establish common ground — identify areas of agreement, things you DO agree on (which can serve as a starting point) — you will not be able to make progress. I have often tried to achieve some progress or headway in an argument, some “daylight,” by trying to see if my interlocutor and I can find some areas of agreement, which would allow us to put them aside and get to the main points in dispute. To my consternation, I’ve found that some stubborn people are not willing to do this. They seem to think if they grant, acknowledge that they agree with me on a point or two, they might be weakening their own case somehow, and perhaps making themselves vulnerable to “defeat.” As a tactic in argument (and to adhere to the principle of fairness), I would advise that you point out and acknowledge areas upon which there is common ground (on which you can agree) so that the areas of legitimate disagreement can be seen clearly; acknowledge up front what you can agree on, to clear things up a bit and make some headway, before getting to the most contentious issues. Great, if you can!

You should be willing to at least acknowledge, hard as it may be, and make a sincere attempt to see that, while you may be in total disagreement, you can see why someone else might think differently (if you can honestly tell yourself this).

You should be agreeable in principle and in conversation to have a give and take, ideally a civilized one, an exchange that, though it be in earnest, is not a winner take all contest, a pro wrestling bout or mudslinging match.

You should not let yourself be intimidated into giving up deeply held views, but neither should you be pigheaded.

You should give serious consideration to the views of your opponent, presuming they are worthy of such consideration. By this I mean that, while you may think absolutely the opposite, you should acknowledge views that have intellectual legitimacy and are sincerely held and cogently expressed. An example might be a cultural or political liberal and someone at the opposite pole: a conservative. Both sides have developed and articulated informed and well thought out views over the centuries. One can learn a lot from the other side!

Not only that, but it can be a productive intellectual exercise to be able to look at things from a totally different point of view — one you had not considered before — for the sake of testing your own views and perhaps rethinking or maybe refining them. Which is not to say that you have to give up your views, but it can help to kind of sift and weigh them, to examine them from different perspectives, including ones that would not ordinarily have occurred to oneself. You may find yourself modifying your own views and, if not, such an intellectual exercise may help you nevertheless to better articulate your views in future discussions by seeing where and how they are distinguished from contrary views. By seeing how one’s views may or may not be amenable to modification or amplification, one can deepen one’s own understanding. And, viewpoints or opinions that at first might seem strange can lead to new insights and developing an ability to look at things from different angles. Open mindedness is a virtue to be sought after; it is not an indicator of intellectual weakness.

You should not get angry at someone just for holding an OPINION you disagree with, no matter how much you disagree. Personal insults are one matter. But, opinions sui generis should be tolerated, no matter how offensive, contrary, or misguided they may seem.

An argument (of the type I am expatiating on here) should not be a grudge match. Yes, arguments may get personal, often do. But if there is too much underlying animosity, let alone hatred, if someone is out to settle scores, or to let someone know how much they dislike not only their interlocutor’s views, but the person himself or herself, then the argument should not be continued.




This may seem counterintuitive, but the goal in an argument is not simply to WIN (though you would like to). Your goal is to make your points, consider and respond to those of the other side, make counterarguments, and so forth, and to see what results. The goal is to play “the game” (a colloquy or personal argument) fair and square and to make your points to the best of your ability. If your mentality is win at all costs, you won’t be likely to observe the “rules” I have promulgated above — to “hear” what the other side has to say, for example, or to acknowledge the other side’s good points.




Then, there’s the “if the shoe were on the other foot” angle.

My interlocutor will say, “How would you feel if it were you?” (who is being subjected to criticism). Personally, I have been subject to people trying to get me to see another point of view by introducing this line of thought. I will be defending myself, presenting my point of view, trying to explain myself and perhaps justify my actions, and someone tries to get me to consider how I would feel if the positions were reversed, if I were on the “other side.”

It usually — or at least often — is the case of an emotional or behavioral issue with interpersonal content, so this may not apply to abstract discussions.

But, it does apply sometimes. To make a counter point, I might say to my interlocutor, “You don’t feel I should be criticizing you or objecting to _______ [their  actions or opinions]. But, how would you feel if the situation was reversed, and it was me?”

I am surprised how often this seems not to work — the other person can’t bring themselves to entertain such a possibility.

Yet, when others have used such a tactic on me in discussion or “debate,” it has caused me to reflect and reexamine my own assumptions/presuppositions.




A final thought. It has occurred to me — from reading about and occasionally watching rancorous political debates over the past few months, and experiencing disputes arising from politics within my own family circle — that the issue of politeness is pertinent here.

The above is intended to be an essay about personal arguments, not public or political debates. Yet, arguments between individuals — friends or family, say, and other people whom one encounters in the workplace or on social occasions — often arise over political issues, and then, of course, there are contentious encounters in various settings (such as a lecture on a college campus) in which a heated exchange occurs. Politics often seems to be the catalyst.

I would like to merely state that the issue of politeness is not irrelevant on such occasions. Politeness is often seen as a sign of weakness, snobbery, elitism, and so forth. Actually, I feel that it is a boon to society — to social intercourse — and can help people to avoid unpleasant, rancorous discussions that lead nowhere. I feel that this holds true in the public arena as well as in the case of non public arguments and discussions.


— Roger W. Smith

     September 2016; updated May 2017






The dictionary definition of colloquy is (1) a conversation, dialogue; (2) a high-level serious discussion (such as might occur, say, at the United Nations).

A colloquy is serious discussion, not a lightheaded one, and it is one that is entered into by two sides eager to resolve an issue or a dispute.

Hopefully, such discussions will lead to agreement. But, often, what starts out as a colloquy turns into a dispute.

An argument can, and hopefully will, involve a colloquy of sorts, but an argument is more personal and disagreement is a given, whereas the two sides in a colloquy might start out actually being essentially in agreement while needing merely to clarify and resolve a few points.





A clear, helpful treatment of the topic of arguments — how to avoid getting into them and how to manage them — is provided in Part Three (“How to Win People to Your Way of Thinking”) of Dale Carnegie’s best seller How to Win Friends and Influence People.




See also:


“How to Argue Fairly and Without Rancor (Hello, Thanksgiving!),” by Christine Hauser, The New York Times, November 16, 2016



A brief article which makes very similar points.




Acknowledgment:  Thanks are due to G. Scott Milnor, who suggested that I write this article based on a discussion (not an argument) we were recently having.