23 February 2014

The difference between taking offense and being insulted

This keeps coming up. So a quick word about offensiveness and insults.

Someone may find something you say offensive. You may think they were wrong to take offense.

You may have good reasons to think that they are wrong. They may have misinterpreted the plain meaning of what you meant. It happens. They may be informed by an assumption that is factually wrong. It happens. They may have assumed that you were informed by something you didn't know. It happens. There's other reasons why someone may be wrong to be offended.

Many people try to just dismiss anyone taking offense at what they've said by trying to “clarify”. That's shenanigans, but it does not mean that opening a dialogue about whether a comment was rightly offensive is necessarily wrong. If there truly was a misunderstanding, correcting it makes the world a better place.


If you knew that people would take offense — even wrongly — then you have deliberately chosen to offend them. The term for this is an “insult”.

One might rightly debate whether the comment was offensive in such a situation. But there is no question that the comment was an insult.

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