I spend a lot of time at Garden Web's House Plant Forum. It's a nice enough place, and one of the more active forums, but there's one thing that comes up every once in a while that annoys me enormously. I was reminded of this by a recent post there from someone who wanted to know if she should, or could, put used tea leaves in her potted plants' soil. She got an answer a few hours later from one of the forum regulars, a guy with a lot of experience and good advice, saying basically, no, why on earth would you, and in the response he used the word "allelopath."
Her reaction? To ask him for "English, please," inform him that sometimes he sounded "arrogant," and tell him she didn't want to have to use her dictionary. She capped it off with "not everyone here is a master gardener, some of us do it for enjoyment." Which I think is just as snippy as it sounds; he didn't seem to take it that way, but he's a nicer person than I am.
So, you see, it's okay to pop on a forum and ask a complete stranger to take time out of their day to answer your question for free, using their experience and knowledge, but looking up one word is out of the question.
Well. Windmills do not work that way, so I posted back:
If you don't want to learn, don't ask the questions. If you do want to learn, you might expect that it's going to take the teeniest bit of effort on your part. Be prepared to use a dictionary. Or Google. Or Wikipedia.
And if you want to talk about coming across as sounding arrogant, feeling entitled to a free answer to your question, in a few hours, from a more experienced gardener, and then feeling free to complain that it wasn't presented at the exact vocabulary level you want it in is very. I mean, who are you, that you're too busy to spend two minutes googling a word? At the very least you could ask nicely for clarification, if a dictionary is just completely out of the question.
And then after I posted that, I realized that it would be funny to answer the question after all, but answer it really wrong. I was going to go with "oh, and just to answer your question, even though you asked rudely -- an allelopath is a veterinarian who specializes in the treatment of dogs that are one-half Lhasa Apso," but Garden Web has an anti-spamming measure in place that won't allow a person to post consecutive multiple replies to the same post, so I couldn't put that up until after someone else had replied, and by that time I was no longer in the mood. Which is probably just as well.
It's a touchy subject for me, as you can see. I myself have been asked to speak English on forums (specifically, to provide common names for plants I mentioned, at this post), because "not all of us have degrees in botany or horticulture." Yes. Well. And with that kind of attitude, you never will, either.
What is it about this stuff that intimidates people so? It's not like I have a degree in botany either. They're names. Nothing more, nothing less. If you can learn that your neighbor is John Smith and your daughter-in-law is Mary Brown, you can learn that a Dizygotheca elegantissima is a Dizygotheca elegantissima. (Hell, if you can learn that Mary Smith is Mary Smith but used to be Mary Strazynski before she got married, then you can probably learn that Dizygotheca elegantissima is more correctly called Schefflera elegantissima, to boot. Brains are marvelous things. Often.) If you can't learn a name without a face, then by all means, stick a couple googly eyes on the plant. If you have some kind of name-specific learning disability that makes that just impossible for you (not being sarcastic: I'm sure such things exist), you can still use a search engine. What you don't get to do is pretend that you're entitled to dictate the vocabulary level of the explanation you get, or get huffy because OMGWTFBBQ somebody's using big words and how dare they treat you like somebody who might know stuff or own a dictionary or something.
I've been noticing this kind of thing a lot lately, and it weirds me out. Bad Astronomy, a few weeks back, had to put up a post explaining that his readers, though he appreciates and treasures every one, don't actually get to tell him what topics he's allowed to post on, and if he wants to talk about the election or "Doctor Who" instead of astronomy, then that's what he's going to talk about. Boing Boing recently had a similar thing happen (they took down some links to another blog because they used to like it and then they decided for some reason that they didn't like it anymore, and a thousand screeching netmonkeys descended on them throwing around words like "censorship." Um. No. It's not a freedom of speech issue: the speech is still there. It's freedom of association, which is also important.). I not too long ago saw a post at IO9 about politics where a good third of the comments were in the vein of "I don't come here to read politics, I come here to read about science fiction."
I'm not sure what this is. Why do people think that they deserve never-ending free entertainment and information, to the degree that if they don't get the exact subject matter they want, with the exact vocabulary level they want, they feel entitled to get angry with the provider? (As opposed to, say, looking elsewhere, or skipping that post, or googling an unfamiliar word.) I mean, this is part of the beauty of blogs, that you can post about whatever interests you at any given moment, without having to stick to a single topic all the time. Even within the plant posts I do, I try to throw in other stuff that relates the plant in question to the rest of the world, be that contemporary Hawaiian or Puerto Rican culture, Buddhist goddesses, "Futurama," my personal semi-estranged relationship with my family, British royalty, eighteenth-century children's literature, actual honest-to-God botany, The Breakfast Club, drag queens, medical research, the Holocaust, Amy Winehouse, plant patents, Aboriginal culture in Australia, hard-boiled-detective novels, tree frogs, cathode-ray radiation, evolution, Greta Garbo, Patty Duke, my old crappy jobs, my current occasionally crappy job, etc. etc. and etc. I don't expect that anybody's interested in all of those things except me (and I wasn't necessarily interested in them myself, until the research got me interested), but the point is to show that things are connected to one another, that everything, looked at in the right way, is familiar. And that everything is strange, viewed from the right angle, as well.
(In fact, if PATSP has a mission statement, this is it: to take familiar plants and make them strange, and to take strange plants and make them familiar. How am I doing?)
So let's get something straight here, you and I. I love that you're here reading this, and that you might actually care enough about it to comment, or Pick the post for Blotanical, or even that it might upset you enough to leave a comment, angry, encouraging, or otherwise. There is, however, no way that you get to dictate to me how I will talk about a particular topic, or which topics I'm permitted to cover. You have that kind of control on your own blog, if you have a blog (and if not, how come? All the cool kids have one. Some of the really cool kids have several, even.). But this is my blog. Don't confuse the two.
Not that I thought anybody was going to be doing that here in the first place. I just wanted to be really really clear where I believe the line to be. And also to vent about it, because it turns out that I'm still mad, even though it was a couple weeks ago, and this was the only way I could think of to get over it. Which I probably shouldn't be making your problem, but there you go.
I also don't mean to imply that this is all that common a thing. I mean, most people on line are very good about just asking, "what's an allelopath?" or looking it up, because they actually want to learn something. Maybe two people out of ten thousand feel entitled to complain about the answer instead of attempting to understand it.
The woman who got me all riled in the first place, incidentally, responded to my post by saying that of course she knew how to google, and it didn't take her two minutes, as I'd said, it took mere seconds.
Yes. I know. I was being extremely (almost uncharacteristically) generous. So go do it already.
She also said that she wasn't looking for answers from a "more experienced gardener," she was looking for someone who had tried it before.
Because trying things is different from having experience, I guess.