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)

Thank you, Lazlo.

Thank you, Rich.

Hey, could anyone tell I was drinking while commenting?

We should really stop doing that.


Rocket Hat just stands by in silence, always winning. There's a lesson to be learned there.

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterfilsmyth

Wow. This thread has exploded in support of Scott's writing style, which is a relief because for a second I thought America was about to throw the English language to the dark ages.

I do want to apologize for feeding Fyl "Lynyrd Skynyrd" Smith's troll appetite with more snacks. I guess I went a little crazy. I still think they are already (no confirmation that fylsmyth is, indeed, male) a lot crazy.

As complex and backwards as our language seems sometimes with its bizarre rules, there are some which are widely accepted and understood by moat of the people who speak it. Usually the arguments is about the proper use of apostrophes, which "there/their/they're" to use, or the dreaded Alot beast rearing its cute fat head. This one was worth the tackle I think.

Having said that, I do want to bring up one of MY pet peeves regarding spelling. I am just going to throw it out there right now, even though I think I am the only one who used it so far. So here it goes.

"THRU" is not a real word. McDonald's is widely blamed for doing this with their "Drive-thru" signs. McDonald's represents the worst image of America. I refuse to eat there. I hate the food, I hate the commercials, I hate clowns, I hate the stigma of obesity that is attached to it, and most of all, I hate the fact that I used to work on a line of assembly machines that were commonly referred to as "the pass-thru line." Everything about McDonald's reeks of sheer laziness... Including their spelling.

I'm done now. Thank you all for playing. Goodluck and Godspeed to all of you evolving fans of Basic Instructions and American English. I look forward to hearing from all of you again.

And to Missy and Scott: Once again, I apologize for my outbursts. It was uncalled for on your page and I hope that my rudeness does not tarnish your page too much. Perhaps this subject could be covered in a new comic? If so, the Board of Education should be summoned to rule over the likes of Phil Smith, who is still an ass.

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTheMortallyWounded

@fylsmyth I could tell. I used to host many, many drunken rants on the internet, so I know exactly what it's like to fight the world with a bottle. You're still an ass. But you're also an alright person. Note that I said "alright" and not "all-right," because you're just plain wrong in this case. Sorry, buddy.


July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTheMortallyWounded

I just thought I'd mention that "Rocket Hat" is a power-up in Skylanders Battle Mode (the video game).

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChuk

Agree to disagree, Mortally Wound-Up?

Oh, not about my being an ass: pretty sure that's true (though seriously, I am working on that).

There are plenty of things that have long been accepted, that we still manage to correct. Perhaps my assitude will eventually be one of them.

Stay crunchy.

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterfilsmyth

@RPF: You're going to regret it.

@BWM: Google, possibly not your friend, but always a good resource for urban usage

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJack

I teach academic writing at a university. Language is in flux - English especially so! - and conventions vary in the various disciplines. Generally the overarching aim is clarity - and of course academic power.

Why are the fights in academia so bitter?
Because the stakes are so small.

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSpeck

@fylsmyth I do applaud your spelling of "grey" on August 7 of 2011, in reference to your muffin sink. I never thought I would.get out-Googled in the Translate field. Kuritsa.

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTheMortallyWounded

A thousand thanks to filsmyth and TheMortallyWounded for making approving comments such a hoot.

Now, let's just all give each other some hugs and fishhooks and call it good, hm?

July 4, 2012 | Registered CommenterMissy !

Great Scott! Scott. That sure was a swell comic! I wish I was a ...Moon-Lady? this time of year. I bet it's nice and cool up there.

Also, I 'ave a theory 'bout why your comments are so overunnin' with them negative folks:

At your job in Walt Disney World, you have recently been recast as Cinderella and your evil step sisters decided to follow you. Am I right?

They can refer to any number of people or objects, from 0 up to the largest number you can comprehend.

July 4, 2012 | Unregistered Commentercanuckian

I'm not interested in discussing grammar, like I said, in a excellent online comic. But, if hairs are to be split, the one pointing out grammar mistakes should look at their own post before throwing stones in glass houses. Your use of a hyphen(?), dash(?), en dash(?) or em dash(?), in your post; is just confusing as it isn't used properly for any of the 4 usages.

For the record, they, them and their are also accepted as singular, in context of the sentence as written.

Now back to the fun of; Basic Instructions. :)

July 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPariah

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

Sorry, but confusion not resolved. That would leave it as: "Whenever any one was ill, she brewed a drink." Now I'm left to believe she didn't want to deal with the situation, so she brewed HERSELF a drink rather than doing anything at all for the ill. She's selfish and ineffective.

The reality is there are ALWAYS sentences we'll run into in the English language that are ambiguous when following "the rules". In one case, you accidentally assign a gender to someone, making it seem like their gender is germane to understanding the situation (I don't care if some rules say that using "him" is perfectly acceptable when the gender is unknown; it still makes it sound like it's relevant that the person is male). In another case you avoid that problem, but now you don't really know who you're talking about and have to make assumptions. In the third case, the one you abhor, you use a pronoun usually used as a plural and use it as a singular. Using "them", even though it jars your sensibilities, is the best of the evils because we 1) know we are talking about the ill person, and 2) aren't making it seem like it's only male ill people she brews drinks for. We already established it's one person ("any one"), so there's no confusion about whether "them" is being used as a plural or a singular.

I sympathize with your condition. You've been taught a certain way of doing things and those ways seem right to you. In as much as your condition lets you, do try to be a little more accepting of attempts by other people to make the language work efficiently for them. I'm not saying be happy when it seems the language is deteriorating, just understand it's evolving -- and not always for the worse.

July 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterboB

Do NOT look up double fish hook on Urban Dictionary.

July 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMoon

I usually enjoy the clever comments almost as much as the comic, but not today. Apparently some of you need to get a life.

Scott, can your readers buy one through your Amazon link??? :-)

Great comic, as always, Scott!

July 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJen

While it was far beyond my intention to start anything, I would like you all to know that this has been a learning experience for me, one more small step toward becoming 'more human'.

...Or more like Rocket Hat.


July 5, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterfilsmyth

Hi Scott, I love Basic Instructions.

You might want to do this: In your web page, have two sections for reader comments.

If a reader comment says anything about spelling grammar, punctuation, etc., then put that comment into the "English Language Discussion" section.

Otherwise, put the reader comment into the "Cartoon Discussion" section.

Then those of us who want to read comments about the Basic Instructions cartoon can read the comments in the "Cartoon Discussion" section.

Thanks. :-)

July 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBA

Wow, a whole Internet fight over the singular "them"? I always get very confused when I have to use it and make the surrounding tenses sound right, but I did not expect to read an argument. ^_^;
I'm sorry to Mr./Ms. filsmyth, though. I don't have the same mental Autocorrect software as most of society, either, so I know the feeling of unresolved ambiguities leaving me in a debilitating computational loop. Perhaps I am lucky that I am not so vulnerable to the most common ones. "Whenever any one was ill, she brewed them a drink," might be resolved to, "When someone got sick, she went to work making alcohol, and I don't need to know exactly how it was distributed. Based on the context, it is likely that the sick person got to have some."
It would be nice if we had a more logical set of language rules to use, or if Lojban caught on, but the dialect from Idiocracy sounds like a more likely development (adjusting for the addition of chatsp33k). (Perhaps even in such a situation, poets could draw beauty and clarity from what they had to work with, even if it would be incomprehensible to us.) I do hope at least Spivak-like pronouns become more accepted so I can refer to my needlessly large population of non-gendered and ambiguously-gendered characters comfortably within the narratives. (Why do I have so many genderless characters? I am coming to suspect I have bigger problems than the English language, personally. Eh, maybe I will just call them all "he" to serve the additional purpose of giving feminists with badly thought-out priorities something to fuss over.)

Tangential question: If the human race switched to quantum telepathic communication, in what format would the information be exchanged? As I have grown up I have been shocked at how differently my own family members internally process information. My mother thinks almost entirely in language, my father thinks almost entirely in pictures, and I think in subtitled pictures that are completely unlike my father's. Do you suppose a common format for the raw/underlying information would emerge in studying the human brain?

July 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterViolet Black

Hey everone.

Been readin' BasicInstructions for a while now, enjoyed every comic, but hardly ever commented.

I too suffer from Asperger's Syndrome and feel the need to direct some language towards commenter Filsmyth as follows.....

I know it's hard to try and look beyond the cracks in the world around us. But people manage to get by. It's a burden to let such seemingly small things get to us, but it's just another challange thrown in our path, that we have to learn to overcome, aye? Sure, we're stern and set in our ways, but this isn't the way of the world. We have to go with the flow, we have to keep on changing and shifting; Evolve or die!! Right?

Of course, I'm hopin' that this won't be a world where people learn that "tlkin lyk dis" is acceptable, as this is just pure laziness. We have to hope for a better world tomorrow than there is today.

But this also means we have to hope to become better people as well.

You said that you were workin' on these issues, and this is very admirable at you. As bad as this sounds, I don't think the people here quite understand. I'm not saying I do either. But your personal issues are as real to you as the rise of the sun itself. So it's admirable that you're doin' your best to be a better person. You should be proud of yourself!! Could always be worse, right?

I know you're goin' to pick apart my English here. But please be aware that I speak in a very colloquial manner, a mix of English and American-English, and intentionally leave out words such as "I" and "me". (Long story).

Anyway. Don't be too hard on yourself, and please don't hold the world up to your standards, because it's only goin' to leave to disappointment. Okay?

~ Sniffy. ^_^

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

As for the rest of you guys....

Just as someone above (forget who) said, Filsmyth as Asperger's syndrome. It's quite a complicated thing, with many different (and even contradicting) symptoms. It's something a person is born with, and just has to learn to deal with. There's no curing it, there's no fixing it, it's just a bloody struggle.

As for this person being a troll? Well, in their very first post they said that it was a pet peeve. Meaning that their opinion was only their opinion. It was personal and didn't reflect the opinion of everyone else who uses the language.

I'm not suggesting that Filsmyth is in any way correct, or should be immune from your corrections. But is there such need to delve so low on this? Hell, we're talkin' about textual communication here. Scott gets the point across rather well with his choice of words. Granted, not everyone has such a grasp on the language, but I'm sure readin' his comics would only help someone willing to improve.

But I could see all of this really getting grimy towards the end. And it really doesn't need to be this way.

'Course, I'm expecting you all to pick apart what I'm sayin' here, you're goin' to tarnish my grammar, my spelling, my use of the proper words. Whatever. Point is, I'm doin' my best. At least I'm not lazy and usin' proper contractions and everything!!

As for the subject of telopathically communicating? I'm not so sure that would ever work out without the aid of text or spoken language. I read an article somewhere on deaf people and how they thought.

Turns out that people born deaf have to visualise hands signing in their mind. If they're not able to structure language in their mind (in one way or another).....

Actually, I'll just find what I was readin' rather than trying to recite it all....

This explains it better than I ever could.

Sorry for the ramble guys!! Didn't mean to take up so many characters!!

Hope everyone has a good day.
~ Sniffy. XD

Scott, you're a brilliant brain, wrapped in a sexy capsule!!!!

July 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSniffy

I'm guessing that filsmyth learned the rules as set forth by Strunk and White's Elements of Style. Many people did. The problem with that is that Strunk and White had absolutely no idea what they were talking about. They just made it up as they went along. They were wrong about so much. So, so much. The rules they put down were basically just a list of things they did or didn't like with no regard for actual grammar. It would be like learning colors from Reese Wilkerson and spending the rest of your life correcting everyone who "thinks" that yellow and blue make green when you "know" that yellow and blue really make blellow, or learning math from Calvin and insisting that 1+2=12.

July 13, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterwumpus

Thank you Sniffy.


Having only realized at the age of 44 that I'm an Asperger's type, I've spent most of my life basically making myself miserable while annoying those around me. The trouble is that we think differently from the vast majority, which makes it more difficult to 'fit in'. Daresay our language would make more sense if we weren't in the minority.

Can't speak for others with the 'syndrome' and could be I can't even blame this on it, but things that don't make sense are what get me agitated (and yes, sometimes I slip and allow some particular little item become the target of a rant). The bright side of this is that it drives me to make sense of things, so I am compelled to educate myself.

Sometimes I even come up with theories that help explain the world around me. For example, I think it quite likely that autism is the result of Asperger's children suffering brain damage. This is of course preventable, but for some reason many vaccines still contain mercury as a preservative.

Actually I know the reason, and it upsets me -- because not only is it difficult to make sense of, it is a symptom of a much larger problem...

...But you know, a LOT of things around us go unnoticed, and until very recently this 'them' / 'they' thing was something that slipped by me. I just have to accept it as a flaw in the language, now that I've seen that way to look at it. It's wrong, but can't be fixed, so I won't let it bug me anymore.

OKAY, moving on...

Quantum telepathic communication:

To me it makes sense that this is something we should be able to achieve within the next decade -- and that when we do, it will change everything, exponentially MORE than the interwebs already have.

Thought-command interfaces are being developed. Some teams have publicly shown their progress -- and other teams, we can imagine, are proceeding more quietly. How long before machines can not only recognize thoughts, but answer back in thought form? The machines don't have to be intelligent, merely programmed properly and capable of some very quick processing. Before long there should be an interface developed that will allow a pair of users to communicate thoughts back and forth. It would be rudimentary at first, with limited vocabulary, but it would be progress.

Imagine something like instant messaging (or 'texting'), but using your mind instead of your eyes and fingers. Even if the system can only receive thoughts (and not project them into the mind), users would at least be spared the task of typing them in.

If you say computers have enough trouble translating speech into text, that thoughts represent a much higher level of difficulty, I'll agree. So, why not bypass translation and deliver the thoughts mind-to-mind? The machines don't need to be able to comprehend the data in order to transfer it.

Ah, but all this WILL require an huge amount of memory and processing power, and this is where quantum computing comes into play. Not sure if it's possible without it.

But, does it matter how we process our own thoughts? If one 'hears' one's own thoughts in French, does that mean another person would 'hear' transmitted thoughts in French? No, I think thoughts are thoughts. We're certainly capable of thinking things we find difficult to put into words, things for which language in any form is simply inadequate.

So, it shouldn't matter whether you think in pictures, or in text, or in pictures with subtitles, or in sign language, or if you 'hear' your thoughts in spoken language -- we should be able to communicate using quantum telepathy regardless.

Not only will this allow people who don't speak the same language to communicate, it will help us to transcend language altogether, allowing a deeper level of communication than any written and/or spoken language ever could.

It will also allow us to tap into recorded knowledge as never before, at whim -- anything at all can be accessed by anyone asking the right question (a bit like tapping into the 'Akashic Record'). It will make it difficult if not impossible to lie, or to hide anything.

The Greek word 'apocalypse' can be translated as 'the uncovering of something which had been purposefully hidden', and when capitalized has been interpreted as 'the Great Revealing'. I say the Apocalypse is already underway, and will not be completed until after we have achieved quantum telepathy.

Stay crunchy.

July 14, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterfilsmyth

The singular they is correct. It has been in use since the beginning of written English.

Telepathic communication (quantum or otherwise) sounds awful. I don't want my thoughts being broadcast to others. I'm a very private person. And I don't want to receive other people's thoughts. Many other people have dirty thoughts in the gutter, I want nothing to do with that. Even if it can be turned on and off at will, it's just not worth the risk. I don't use social media at all, for these very reasons. Telepathic communication would be the same, but much worse.

June 27, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMr X
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