TROLL: “One who posts a deliberately provocative message to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument” – Urban Dictionary

I used to engage in political debates with a certain relative. The discourse would usually proceed like this:

Relative: I would never vote for [Politician]. His positions demonstrate his lack of sincerity.

Me: [Politician] is plenty sincere. I think he strongly believes in those positions.

Relative: Well, then he’s just stupid.

And there you have the lexicide of troll in a nutshell. Let me explain.

Troll used to serve as internet slang for a provocateur – someone who sought attention by posting controversial or contrary sentiments on a message board (e.g., a paean to steak tartar on a vegan website). Eventually, we all learned to ignore them, or not to “feed the trolls.” Since their comments existed only to get a rise out of people, we knew trolls lacked sincerity.

But as the world turns, so do the meanings of our words. Troll is now an all-purpose insult for anyone with whom you disagree or find nettlesome:

Commenter #1: Vote for [Politician]! She understands the plight of the poor!

Commenter #2: She was raised in Newport and went to Choate. How does she understand the poor?

Commenter #1: Get lost, troll!

Commenter #2 is fielding a legitimate counter to Commenter #1’s thesis, but in doing so, she raises an inconvenient truth, hence she is a troll. This lexicide reveals much about the psychology of the commenters who use it. When they label someone a troll, they assert that their opponent is just voicing a conflicting opinion for attention – because no one in his right mind would really believe that claptrap. In other words, whereas troll used to describe one who lacked sincerity, now it describes someone you think is just stupid – because they don’t share your viewpoint. That’s public discourse in America for you – intolerant of diverse opinions and proper word use. Which is worse? I’ll let you decide.

Otto E. Mezzo

2 thoughts on “Troll”

  1. So, is there a way for someone to take up the opposition side of a given issue in an environment where that side is not at all welcome? IOW, if I comment on an issue in a civil and thoughtful manner (to say nothing of following the site’s own TOS), but the site’s denizens can only reply with all manner of off-top name-calling, am *I* the “troll”? (The denizens screech to no end, and finally got me banned. No opposition thought allowed THERE!)

    Please, feel free to email me privately if you don’t respond publicly. This issue has been one of some frustration me lately!

    1. You answered your own question, I think. If you comment “in an environment where that side is not at all welcome”, you can expect your comment to be… not at all welcome. If you know this to be the case, why comment at all? Given the state of internet civility (none), you will change no hearts or minds. The ‘net is a poor forum for this kind of discourse. Better to engage an open-minded member of the other side one-on-one, away from the peer pressure of social media or comment thread.

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