Making ones point

June 12, 2009

On a mailing list to which I belong, there has been a discussion of “top-“ and “bottom-posting”…that is, when replying to an email, whether one should type one’s responses over the reply, or under it.

Someone gave this example of how top-posting can be confusing:

 The problem with this practice (top-posting) is neatly summed up by the following FAQ

 A: No.
 Q: Should I include quotations after my reply?

Someone else then pointed out that this was not a valid example:

The fallacy with that example is that no one has viewed the question
("Should I include ....?") before the answer pops up. Whereas in real
mailing list conversations, the answer is always (99% of the cases at any
rate) 'below' the question in the temporal axis. (that means, the response is posted AFTER the first mail message...that's a more precise way of saying it!)

There are many things to be said in favour of proper quoting and bottom
posting on publicly archived mailing lists, but using the above example to
"prove the point" is improper and misleading to say the least.


I do enjoy such witty ways of making a point; no offence is given, but the point is carried, and because of the humour, probably carried better than a “you-should-do-it” stricture. And since it’s generalized, it’s not aimed at anyone in particular.

A: ‘Sugar’ is the only word in the English language where ‘s’ is pronounced as ‘sh’.

B: Are you sure?

There, is, I think, an art to correcting people and perceptions; it’s easy to say “you’re wrong” to someone’s face and correct it…but others take the trouble of talking to/emailing the person separately, and correcting them. I find the latter practice to be so much more pleasant, and I think it’s more mature.

It happened to me recently. In the sleepiness of the middle of the night, I had mixed up a lot of photographs, and posted them with wrong ids.

Several people immediately pointed out the mistake; now this in itself, to me is a Good Thing. People who don’t care would have just looked at the post, said, “oh, wrong id’s!” and carried on. These people who corrected me, did take the time and trouble to do so.

But ....she sent me a separate email, rather troubled, with a suggestion (!) that my id's might not be correct. It did not make me feel bad about having made a mistake, and allowed me to correct the lapses, too. And left room for the possibility that I might be right, after all...that was what I found most mature about it!

Having said that, though, I would agree with the view that the example (given above) is a fallacy….the point being made may not necessarily be the “right” one! I would, for one, be carried away by the wittiness of the argument, and only later realize that it’s not something I agree with…by which time it would be irrelevant to go back again to the discussion!

Conversation, and rebuttals in conversation, are fascinating. It’s so interesting to see the thrust-and-parry of two people who have their points well-thought-out, and who can express those points wittily…and quickly.