How to Treat Your Adversary with Respect

Hey, if you’re going to attend San Diego Comic-Con, please come say hello! 

I’ll be there 1pm-2-pm and 4pm-5pm on the 13th and 14th. I may be there other times, but those are the guaranteed slots. Also, I’ll be at the UClick booth from 10:30am to 11:30am on the 14th. I hope to see you there!

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Reader Comments (62)

The double fish hook with unwashed hands....

Those details are important!

July 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJack

Panel 2 FTW!!!

July 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJames Poteet II


I just have to keep reminding myself that written languages will soon become obsolete -- so it doesn't matter if, for example, the grossly incorrect practice of referring to an individual as "them" becomes so commonplace that it appears even in one of the smartest comics ever drawn.

[Note: I still gave this one a +.]


July 3, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterfilsmyth

@filsmyth When the gender of the subject is unknown or ambiguous, the proper pronoun is often plural. This saves the writer or speaker from using he/she or (s)he all the time. Check it out...

Sorry to post links on your page, Scott. Just trying to defend your always impeccable grammar.

July 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTheMortallyWounded


"@filsmyth When the gender of the subject is unknown or ambiguous, the proper pronoun is often plural. This saves the writer or speaker from using he/she or (s)he all the time."

This is an artifact of the "Politically Correct" movement. Previously the pronoun 'he' or 'she' was fine, you know, whichever was more appropriate for the subject. In this case, with the adversary being male, I REALLY don't think anyone would've cried foul at the use of a gender-specific pronoun.

Please be advised that I am an Asperger's type who learned rules of grammar as they existed 35-40 years ago, and that this is the sort of pet peeve with which I am learning to deal, gradually. When an individual is referred to in the plural, you see, it is a bit of a mindfuck.


July 3, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterfilsmyth

@filsmyth Actually, Shakespeare and Lewis both predate the P.C. movement. Perhaps you did not see my link? The Wikipedia article, "Singular They" is a good source. However, I do agree with your critique of the written language, though I doubt it will become obsolete. This very comment section is an example of how electronic socialization has turned ever-evolving American English on its head over the past two decades.

July 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTheMortallyWounded

Queso since I can't delete or edit my previous comments, this has to be said as an addendum instead of a substitution or correction:

If you're gonna use a plural pronoun, dammit, just pluralize the corresponding noun:

"If you respect your foes, you should tell them..."

"Address your adversaries as equals, and treat them with dignity and courtesy."

@TheMortallyWounded: Apologies, but I did not click on your link. As an aging Aperger's type I have arrogance issues that are only now being addressed, and I can still sound 'dickish' regardless of my intentions.

Example: Shakespeare was a hack.

July 3, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterfilsmyth

fil: Unless you can help English develop a gender-neutral pronoun I'd suggest just sucking it the hell up.

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBrandi

@Brandi Now that was uncalled for. We are having a delightful conversation if I say so myself. I'm always intrigued by the (de)evolution of the American English language, and this topic is of great interest to me. I do not wish my new friend to be so offended as to believe that I might actually take your side in this argument.

@fylsmith If I may be so bold: One does not simply pluralize the corresponding noun.

Take for example the following sentence: "The unknown foe responded with a seemingly logical, yet fatally flawed sense of reasoning; their pattern indicated two-dimensional thinking."

Obviously, that was a backhanded reference to this very topic, but let's throw that little fact out of the window for a second and assume that we know nothing of "the unknown foe" other than the possibility that this is a single individual. Gender unknown, we cannot simply change "foe" to "foes." We know that it is a single person.

Now, we might assume that the unknown foe is a wordsmith named Phil Smith, but we all know what happens when we make assumptions: We make an ASS out of YOU and UMPTION. So let's not make any assumptions whatsoever, and take everything discussed here as simply that: A discussion.

By the way, am I posting on a forum? I thought I was posting a comment to an editor/moderator. I'm missing something. Hang on, LMGTFMyself.

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTheMortallyWounded

@Brandi: I'M TRYING.

At the moment it may appear that my adversary is the English language itself -- but I cannot be angry with it. Instead my ire is directed, not toward those who instigate corruptions but toward those who rationalize the defense of previously incorrect usages as "evolution".

What happens is that even the most respected (and/or widely read) authors are not always correct in their usages, resulting in those incorrect usages becoming commonplace. Someone fucks up and lets 'backseat' float through as a noun, for example (when as a compound, it's only ever been an adjective before). Sure, it passes through spellcheck (when the word 'spellcheck' doesn't even pass spellcheck) but the program only cares if it's a word, isn't sophisticated enough to tell how it's being used. The result is that 'backseat' and 'backyard' are being used all over the place as nouns, for all I know are classified as nouns in the latest dictionaries -- and it's the same with this 'their' business.

'Frontyard' is not a word, not even as an adjective. Nor is 'frontseat' -- and 'their' is plural, by its very nature.

@TheMortallyWounded: Electronic socialization will eventually be supplanted by quantum socialization -- meaning that everyone will become telepathic, at first through electronic assistance with the use of quantum computing. Once everyone embraces the ability to communicate in this way, written and spoken language will indeed become obsolete.

However there will of course still be language enthusiasts, who will still enjoy the written word -- and for those who specifically enjoy English, I personally hope a definitive and 'more intact' version emerges. Geeks will be geeks, after all...

Oh and the unknown foe is still singular. "The unknown foe responded with a seemingly logical, yet fatally flawed sense of reasoning; that person's pattern indicated two-dimensional thinking."

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterfilsmyth

In all fairness the last panel uses "them" correctly.

I don't come to Basic Instructions for a grammar lesson, I come for a good chuckle.

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPariah

@Pariah High-five!

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTheMortallyWounded

@fylsmith Okay, NOW you're starting to sound a bit "dickish."

So you replaced a pronoun with a demonstrative adjective and another noun. If you had your way, then the only way we would be able to communicate WOULD be telepathically. Written and spoken language would be inefficient. By the time I finished writing this sentence here, I'd be about as old as you and probably just as cynical of every person who decides to bother me. I'd spend my entire life reading dictionaries "just for old-time's sake" and learning larger and more intelligent sounding words to try and intimidate my foes who are so inferior with their language skills. I'd resort to using Anglo-Saxon verbs that were once only uttered by the lowliest of riff-raff, simply to demonstrate that I, fylsmith, have become so superior in mastering the English language.

I suppose that it must be quite a burden to have unlimited knowledge. You have surpassed the limitations of your existence. You have rendered yourself obsolete. You no longer fear death; instead, you fear interaction with life. Think up some more big words while you're skipping every other line. Get together with your Mensa friends and discuss the world's problems and how they are all "the world's problems" and not yours. In the meantime, or mean-time, or whatever the hell it really is, I'm gonna drive on down to McDonald's and spraypaint spray-paint all over the "DRIVE-THRU" sign, because Phil Freakin' Smith said that "IT AIN'T EVEN A WORD"

Hold on, I got an email...

Oh, it was someone being respectful. Sorry. I had to give them a high-five. (It's a form of non-verbal communication, meaning "Niiice.")


July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTheMortallyWounded

That supreme moon-leader is forgetting his deadliest weapon; you can never really get nails like that clean underneath - wash your hands all you like, still nobody's safe from the germs under those claws.

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDee


The lesson is for Scott, not for the readers of his otherwise excellent comic. When and if he addresses this issue, the transition will be seamless -- as in, when and if he sees this as a flaw in his writing skills and manages to adapt, comments from me will no longer contain rants about this personal pet peeve.

...And it IS just my personal pet peeve, it seems, and really, seriously, I'm TRYING to deal with these pet peeves.

...And WOW! I really don't mean to piss anyone off -- but 'someone' is not 'them', by definition.

yay, unintended flame war


July 4, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterfilsmyth

Okay look:

It's not even a matter of 'grammar'. Either it's one person, or it's more than one. Just be clear about it, and if you have to use 'they' please pluralize any corresponding nouns. If you're writing (as opposed to speaking) it's not difficult to change the words around.

This is all I'm sayin'.

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterfilsmyth

Filsmyth, language is defined by usage and constantly changing. So, no, the use of the plural as a gender-neutral pronoun is not "grossly incorrect", it's accepted usage.

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMim


WAR is also 'accepted', yet is also grossly incorrect.

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterfilsmyth

What is a double fish hook? And am I going to regret asking this?

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRPF

Wait wait wait... since when does Rocket Hat do things like threatening or praising, instead of silently decimating his foes?
This is totally out of character.

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterM

Well, Scott's in good company with Jane Austen and William Shakespeare ...

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterb*

Prescriptivist whining about efforts to make the English language more gender-neutral aside, there were twenty of the guys.

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSam Kington

Ahem: "a student who lost their textbook" can easily be corrected by replacing 'their' with 'a' -- and will make a lot more sense.

A student is not a 'they'. It's one student, not 2 or more sharing a textbook. WTF?!

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterfilsmyth

Has it occurred to anyone that Scott may be deliberately using language like this just to fuck with us?!

I think he might be just sick enough to think it's funny.


July 4, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterfilsmyth

The Oxford English Dictionary says this about "them":

2. Often used for ‘him or her’, referring to a singular person whose sex is not stated, or to anybody, nobody, somebody, whoever, etc. Cf. they pron. 2.

1741 S. Richardson Pamela III. xxii. 127 Little did I make a..Complaint against a Person very dear to you,..but don't let them be so to make them not care how they affront every body else.
1853 C. M. Yonge Heir of Redclyffe II. xxii. 364 Nobody else..has so little to plague them.
1874 G. W. Dasent Half a Life II. 198 Whenever any one was ill, she brewed them a drink.

So, it's been going on for over 270 years.

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEddie


...Over 270 years of people being confused over how many others to which they were referring.

"Whenever any one was ill, she brewed them a drink." Just omit 'them', confusion resolved.

Communities have been adding fluorosilicic acid to their water supplies since the late 1950s too -- doesn't make it right.

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterfilsmyth

Yeah and what the hell kind of an example is this?

"Whenever any one was ill, she brewed them a drink."

Just one drink for all of them to share, because one among them was ill?!

It's the ill one who needs the brew, right? Or is she brewing something for all, so they can all get drunk enough that they don't care that one of them is ill?

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterfilsmyth

filsmyth: Every reference I've ever seen says to use "them" when you are referring to an unknown number of people. The moon emperor has many enemies; he should apply these instructions to all of them. And since I'm sure he has plenty of female enemies as well, using "them" instead of "him or her" repeatedly is a completely acceptable substitute. You only have reason to complain if the instruction were limiting itself to speaking only of Rocket Hat.

When you get over-pedantic and tedious over acceptable English use, most people tune you out or get mad at you rather than thinking you're super smart, and future corrections of actual grammar errors will be ignored. Go edit Yahoo News or something. Use your knowledge for good, instead of annoyance.

Scott: Great comic. "Festooned" doesn't get used enough in everyday life. :)

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterrobin

Someone help me out; what is a double fishhook? Or tell me what a single fishhook is, and I'll work it out from there.

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBWM


Put this in your pipe and smoke it, you self-important prescriptivist twat:

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCzernobog

I always thought "them" was a sutable word for refering to hypothetical iindividuals of unknown gender.

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRatrace

@RPF Hooking both index fingers into the corners of your opponent's mouth and pulling outwards.

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCzernobog

Eddie, I think you've provided the final word on "them."

Scott, you're reliably hilarious...thank you!

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermdf-nyc

Filsmyth, you are both incorrect (see Eddie's quote from OED), and a thoughtless prick who started a flame war over your own faulty and arrogant opinion, not to mention the fact that you were the first to use inappropriate language in defense of said grossly stupid opinion. GTFO, DIAF... just begone, and stop harassing the author and the legitimate commenters.

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterElasmo

@filsmyth I'm not all that interested in any kind of flame war. I enjoy these comments here because it is a relief from comments, like you can find, on Youtube.

It does annoy me when someone comes on and dissects the grammar, on any comments section when they should really scrutinize their own post for grammatical errors. You use of the hyphen/dash/En Dash/Em Dash is not clear and in each case the usage of all four is used wrong and confuses the sentence.

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPariah


You're correct that the proper pronoun for a person of unknown sex* is the masculine** pronoun. This is not just in English; it's actually carried over from French, one of English's parent languages. However, you've got to understand that it has always made some people uncomfortable, and these days most people are more uncomfortable with the inherent sexism in that practice than they are with the improper pluralization. Trying to fight it just leads to flamewars.

* Not gender. Since it's a discussion regarding pedantic rules of English and all.
** That's gender.

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRich

I love all the people ranting and getting mad @filsmyth. He starts off telling you about his mental deviation from the norm over which he has little to no control and that his comments are originating from that place. Then they feed his condition by trying to argue rationally with the person who has just told them that he is not capable of being rational on this subject. Who's the one being a dick here?

Now for my turn to poke the bear! @filsmyth: I noticed you using the '@' symbol in a way in which it was not used when you learned the "rules" of the English language 35-40 years ago. Apparently your usage of the language has evolved in some ways to conform with modern usage. Try to keep in mind that there is no central authority for correct usage of English. I've had, and have, some similar issues on the very same subject. It helps me to think of language as an art form. After all, art is a way of expressing ones self and, while language may be used strictly for conveying hard information, it is also used to convey all sorts of other nuanced pieces of information which may not fit in, or need, a set of hard rules.

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLazlo

Of course, english is a living language, so if enough people decide that the singular they is good, then it's now officially proper english.

There's nothing wrong with a singular they. It doesn't hurt anyone, it doesn't confuse things. It's good in all ways. It's more egalitarian, and solves the situation where the un-named person's gender isn't known. There's no good reason to hang onto the old rules except being stubborn.

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSi Guy

Three comments:

A fishhook involves placing your finger in someone else's mouth.

Those who choose to write convoluted sentences, in order to avoid placing a preposition at the end of a sentence, always amuse me. It was appropriate in Latin to avoid an ultimate preposition. Such a restriction makes zero sense for English. It is one of several ridiculous--dare I say incorrect--rules of English grammar.

Languages, both written and spoken, evolve over time. If not, we would still be writing like Chaucer. No, thank you.

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSoul of Wit

I had to look up 'fishhook' on Urban Dictionary. You jerks. Anyway, they define it this way:

"While behind someone inserting your index finger into their mouth and pulling back towards the back of thier head therefore catching them like a fish on a hook."

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRPF
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