4 Reasons To Quit Being "Offended"

December is a good time to get rid of the year's accumulated crap, and it's also the season for culling useless words that take up space in the American vocabulary. Today's discard: "offended."

Apropos of Mark Morford's recent column, "Hi, I find you totally offensive," here's why we should get rid of the o-word entirely.


It's overused.

As Morford points out, "there are so many things to be offended by," from poor spelling to a "snappy reference to, of all things, Glenn Beck watching gay porn with Tiger" — and wherever there's an opportunity to be offended, someone will take it. Result: "offended" is like Kleenex — its brand has been diluted to the point that it's lost its power.

It devalues actual, justified rage.

This point is basically a corollary of the first one. When everybody's offended by something, legitimate complaints get lost in the general chatter. Valid criticisms of, say, sexist advertising or homophobic stereotypes just get buried under mountains of offense at proofreading errors or slight slips of language. And all rhetoric gets thrown in the Relativism Blender, where arguments get chopped up into indentically tiny and worthless pieces.

It encourages self-congratulatory offensiveness.

The quickest path to no longer being fresh or funny is to start congratulating oneself for being controversial, and the word "offended" just makes this path all the quicker. Once people start taking offense, writers and rappers and onetime comic geniuses (Parker and Stone, I'm looking hard at you) get to start calling themselves "equal opportunity offenders" and patting themselves on the back for pissing people off instead of doing the transgressive and interesting things that pissed them off in the first place. Morford's version of this is the following:

I am not, and never have been, a very safe writer. I do not aim for the lowest common denominator of humor and referent, the lukewarmiest punchline, the Jay Leno of tepid MOR verbosity. In fact, in a column like mine, if I don't upset the hypersensitive and the uptight on a regular basis, I'm probably doing something very wrong indeed.

Memo to Morford, Eminem, Parker/Stone, et al: when everyone is offended by something, offending people does not make you cool.

And, finally: we already have better words.

The thing about "offended" is that it lets people lash out while pretending their emotions aren't involved. Taking offense is a sort of special, quasi-intellectual response that's hyper-personal, yet somehow impersonal, as evinced by the popular distancing dative: "your column/post/show/very being is offensive to me." But why not own our emotions? There's no shame in being angry at things that deserve our anger, no reason not to say we're enraged when something sparks our rage. And if something's not a big enough deal to be authentically, hotly angry about, maybe we need to let it slide. Because there are plenty of things in the world that should fucking piss us off, and there's no reason we should politely claim to be merely "offended."

In the Washington Post, Gene Weingarten published a heavily-expurgated reader letter that began, "DEAR DOUCHEBAG [expletive] [expletive] [insensitive reference to an alternative lifestyle] [expletive] [expletive] [ethnic epithet] BASTARD:" and concluded "YOU ARE A LIBERAL, DUMBOCRAP, GUTLESS, WEASEL, UNAMERICAN [expletive] PIECE OF DOG [expletive]." Weingarten uses this model of intellectual debate as a jumping-off point for his Advice for Angry Letter Writers, including, "letters that are written entirely in capitals impress us with their emotional intensity," and "an e-mail can never have enough exclamation points [...] Henry Kissinger always uses at least 250." Weingarten jests — though some will no doubt take his advice to heart — but I do kind of prefer the straightforward style of the "DEAR DOUCHEBAG" letter to the cloak-and-dagger primness of offense. Capital letters may hurt my eyes, but I'd rather have good old-fashioned rage than its more milquetoast cousin. Which is why I say we throw out offense with our 2009 calendars, and instead return to the emotion that's kept this country running for hundreds of years: anger.

Hi, I Find You Totally Offensive [San Francisco Chronicle]
RANdom CAPITALizATION And Other Secrets Of Angry Letter Writing!!!!!!! [Washington Post]