21 January, 2010

Passive? Or Aggressive?

Semantics is my bag, baby! I find arguing semantics strangely alluring and seductive. Words, and their various (and sometimes hidden) meanings, make language sexy.

As an editor, I notice, probably more than the average person, words that are used improperly. Recently, I seem to have noticed that a lot of folks have been improperly using the word "passive-aggressive" to explain pure, honest, unadulterated aggression.

"He is so passive-aggressive, he yelled at me and told me to shut up!" Now, I don't know about you, but that would be downright aggressive in my book. Ain't nuthin' passive about yelling, or telling someone to shut their pie hole (unless we're talking about some sort of kinky role-playing). One of my most enormous pet peeves is hearing someone tell someone else to shut up. (No really, YOU shut up. But I quickly digress.)

Aggression comes in all forms, some of it, yes, passively. And I will say, if I am feeling the need to be aggressive (and I try not to ever go that route, but it happens), I'll choose the more passive approach. Passive-aggression is when someone is sincerely trying to "hide" their jabs behind supposedly well-meaning prose. When it happens repeatedly, it is a form of veiled abuse. Because it's not overt, it's hard for the victim to defend themselves, or to even notice the abuse at times. I see this occasionally, and most often in the workplace.

Frankly, why can't we all get along?!

Well, for whatever reason, we can't. We are judgmental people by nature. I strive to be less and less judgmental, as I don't want to waste my time on that anymore, but I'm human. (It's a lame excuse, but it's honestly all I got.) Sometimes, I can't help but see the glaring flaws in others when they so elegantly and successfully stick it straight in front of my face. I'm learning techniques for looking the other way; what used to drive me crazy in the past rarely ruffles my feathers anymore. (An absolutely lovely part of aging!) Aggression, however, is often an in-your-face jab, and it's hard not to notice and respond on some level. But the passive stuff just doesn't stick anymore.

At the end of the day, we should recognize the difference between aggression and passive-aggression. It can be so subtle, you might think to yourself "Did I just take that the wrong way?" or "Did that just really happen?" If you are asking yourself these questions, then it is indeed passive. If you have no doubt whatsoever, that someone just dissed you? It ain't passive.

This public service announcement brought to you by your roving wordsmith.


  1. Well said. SO true. Passive-aggressiveness drives me BONKERS. If you've got something to say that you don't like - just say it to my face. Don't hide it behind a back handed compliment or 'joke'. You see this often with the over use of "LOL. This one guy on a blog the other day told me to 'SHUT THE HELL UP. LOL.'

    What is that? LOL? So...you don't mean it? What a wimp. I'd have more respect if he was forthright. But he was afraid of what OTHERS on the post would think, thus the B.S. "LOL", so it looks like he's really a NICE guy while telling someone he doesn't know and simply disagrees with to SHUT UP. Which is, as you said, highly offensive and aggressive. It's the equivalent of name calling. You might as well surrender to defeat.

    I like to know where I stand, even if you don't like me or disagree with me. But don't stick the butter knife in and slowly turn it and then smile with Parkay margarine all over your mug and an "LOL".

  2. I know, right? I use LOL very sparingly these days. I really truly try to use it ONLY when I'm honestly "laughing out loud", not trying to downplay something I just said. It's too "easy" to mask what you're really saying behind a lot of laughter, both in real life AND online.

  3. Great post. I'd love to hear more like this (although I love the cooking ones too). I've heard that Seattle is famous for passive-aggressive behavior--but I feel I can't judge well since I grew up and still live here.

    The kind of passive-aggression I see a lot is when people speak false kind words, but then storm off and slam things. Hm. Perhaps that is outright aggression, just not aimed directly at the person with whom they are angry. What do you think? Perhaps this is a side issue of triangulation, taking out your feelings on someone other than the person you're angry with.

    As for the phrase "LOL", my niece pointed out to me that on-line, people use LOL when they are not actually laughing. If they are actually laughing, they put :). I thought that was interesting, especially combined with Jeanne's comment above. What is the *real* definition of LOL?

  4. Good points! When people take things out on the wrong person (passively or aggresively), it is MISPLACED aggression. It most definitely is a form of aggression.

    I think, sometimes, some things FEEL passive-aggressive when they aren't meant to be. For example, if I have to say something to someone that isn't the best topic of conversation (but something I feel that I MUST say to them), I really try to start with happy thoughts, compliments, and good stuff, before diving into the not-so-good stuff that we have to talk about. I'm sure that some would consider this as backhanded or passive-aggressive, but isn't that better than just diving in and spewing criticism? I'd rather gently direct the person to my thoughts.

    I'm not always good at this. In fact, I've had to purposely LEARN this by trial and error.

    I just wish we never had to talk about negative subjects, or things that are bothering us, that way we never have to test people's patience. HAH!

    (See, I write "HAH!" when I'm really laughing, and LOL when I'm trying to soften something up. So, in honesty, I rarely use LOL.)

  5. Great discourse!
    Vehemently dislike LOL and OMG ... so whilst I'm in the midst of LOL and want to post it, I take the time to write out "WAIT! STOP! I have to spell this out ... Laughing Out Loud and PMP" ... the last anachronism is yours to figure out. But then, ROTF is a good substitute when your especially in a hurry, but then again, is there really anything you can write, in a few words, that properly describes to a cyber stranger how their wonderful humour has produced so much spontaneous pleasure.

    Have I failed to tell you how much I enjoy your blog ... if so, know now that "IRLI".