The Art of the Comment, or What Would Dorothy Parker Say?

Dorothy Parker

What would Dorothy Parker say?

“Luv ur blog!” someone once wrote at Mirabile Dictu.   I was grateful, but the schoolmarm in me demands full sentences.

There is an art of writing comments. Do I have it? No. I am neither a master of the brevity of wit, nor of the repartee practiced by Dorothy Parker and the Algonquin Round Table.   If Dorothy Parker were alive, I doubt she would have blogged. But she might have chortled and left witticisms and wisecracks in comments.  Blogs would become famous for her scintillating wit.

We’re not Dorothy Parker, but it is good manners to comment occasionally.   After reading a smart post by a book blogger toiling in anonymity on the Great Plains, or a Guardian book club essay by Sam Jordison on Caroline Alexander’s elegant new translation of  Homer’s Iliad, I  should leave a hearty, appreciative comment. That blogger in Deadwood, South Dakota, really could use some praise, and Jordison is taking risks with the Iliad.

The trouble is, I can’t think of a thing to say. I can think of two things, but not one. And if I write two things, it will take too long.  When I finally do scrawl a hasty comment, it looks fulsome.  They will think I’m a  blogger in search of a pingback.

Which brings me to the point: are commenters sincere? Or are we just looking for a pingback?  (Sorry, I love that word “pingback.”)

The Roman poet Catullus had his own thoughts on comments.  He  wrote about it in Carmen 70, only I must admit he was writing about love and  I am substituting the word “commenter” for “woman” and “blogger” for “ardent lover”:

but what a commenter (woman)  says to a blogger (ardent lover)
should be written in wind and running water.

See, Catullus knew!

One of the reasons I turned off my comments three months ago was my inability to write comments.  I am cautiously thinking of turning them back on and seeing how it goes.

This means I will have to write some comments. If only I had a template!  But here are some brief notes to myself on how to write a comment if one has little to say.

Do’s and Don’t for Comments, or What Would Dorothy Parker Say? 

1. Do be brief.  It’s a comment, not a master’s thesis.  One  complete sentence is sufficient. As Dorothy Parker said, “Brevity is the soul of lingerie.”

2. Don’t hit the “like” button.  It is a temptation to “like,” but complete sentences are a mark of civilization.  As Dorothy Parker says.  “I hate writing, I love having written.”

3. Do compliment bloggers on their work.   There is an interdict in the midwest against flattery or bragging–the reticence of culture reflects the flatness of the landscape.   Don’t agonize:  you’re not obsequious of you leave a nice comment once a year.   As Dorothy Parker said, “And there was that poor sucker Flaubert rolling around on his floor for three days looking for the right word.”

4. Don’t attack the blogger.  Think twice before you voice your dissent.  Is it worth it?  If you go ahead with it, for God’s sake, say something positive about another point in the blog first.  Rude or venomous comments will be deleted.  As Dorothy Parker said, “Friends come and go but I wouldn’t have thought you’d be one of them.

8 thoughts on “The Art of the Comment, or What Would Dorothy Parker Say?

  1. Hi Kat, I really enjoyed reading this piece. I am always nervous leaving comments on blogs – will people think I’m stupid? will I be able to offer an insightful or genuine comment? I will try to ask myself What Would Dorothy Do going forward! I’m glad the comments are back too.

    • Jeessica, thank you! Commenting should be easy, shouldn’t it? I read mainly book blogs and I am very monotonous in comments: I keep saying, “This book sound great and I will look for it.” I mean it, but… Maybe I can share appropriate Dorothy quotes, if anything applies.

  2. These are all such good points. I’m working on my impulse to leave negative blasts in comments. I read a blog post yesterday about the new Michael Moore film that basically boiled down to, “He’s so fat.” I stewed all day but managed not to respond.

    • Liz, my advice doesn’t apply to shocking criticism of a Michael Moore film! I usually read book blogs so am unprepared for the chaos that accompanies controversial journalism. But, yes, responding could cause a headache. My advice is really to me, but yeah I forget there are some real nutters out there in the blogosphere!

  3. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It lets us hear and make sense of each other even when conditions are suboptimal or words are slurred or in some other way garbled. And anyway, we’re not interested in the sounds we make, but in what we are saying. And context goes a long way to shaping that.

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