Here's my theory: when we talk about developing a personal style in our blog-writing, what we really mean is establishing an exact ratio of facetious:serious content. And when drive-by commenters misinterpret our writing, it's usually because they get that ratio wrong. Perhaps we should include a warning right under our profile pics: the content of this blog is 87% facetious.
"Facetious" is a word that has many opposites. Its opposite could be "literal" or "sincere" or "precisely accurate." If I say, "I'm going to strangle my husband," my words are not literally true, but they are probably sincerely heartfelt. That remark is true on an emotional level; it is facetious only because it is not to be taken literally.
If, on the other hand, I say, "Children are a practical demonstration of the doctrine of Original Sin," (not that I would ever say something like that at, say, a small-group Bible study and then have to face down the shocked stares from everyone else in the room), my words do not represent my sincere emotions: they are facetious in that fuzzier sense of being true, but only kind of true.
I once had someone link to a post in which I made the following remark: "After a year of practising family law, hubby says that divorces always happen for the same reason: one partner is crazy, and the other is controlling." The linker commented - probably facetiously - that she had always assumed her ex-husband was both crazy and controlling, but now she had to rethink. Her commenters responded with a chorus of sincere and literal outrage. How could anyone make so offensive and untrue a statement? How disturbing that someone holding such beliefs was practising family law!
Regular readers of my blog seemed to take that remark in the spirit in which it was meant: when I say "always," what I usually mean is "maybe about fifty percent of the time." (This is why it's my husband who's the lawyer and not me: he naturally loads his remarks with qualifications to ensure technical accuracy. So not only was his remark not to be taken in an absolute or literal sense, but it was also probably misquoted.)
Facetiousness is a lot easier to recognize when it's funny. According to Dictionary.com, the word has the following meanings:
1. not meant to be taken seriously or literally: a facetious remark.
2. amusing; humorous.
3. lacking serious intent; concerned with something nonessential, amusing, or frivolous: a facetious person.
The third definition, I think, has always been characteristic of my personal writing style, dating back to Grade Seven when Mr. Steers criticized my school diary for being overly concerned with trivialities. The second definition is trickier. Not all amusing or humorous remarks are facetious; to be considered facetious, a remark must be funny precisely because we know the speaker doesn't sincerely or literally consider it to be true.
A great example of humorous facetious writing is this recap of Heroes:
Sylar and his new padawan Luke are on a road trip in the Griswald family truckster, and Sylar totally made a mixed tape with such staples as Steppenwolf's Born to be Wild- the extended cut. Luke doesn't understand the word "skanky" as he uses it to describe a diner, which is unlike every diner I've ever been in but exactly like the one I'd like to go to.
This is exactly what facetious humour is supposed to look like. The first part is funny merely because of the Star Wars/Vacation movie references; the facetious part kicks in in the second half of the first sentence. Sylar did not make a mix tape; Sylar would never make a mix tape because he's too busy stalking people with superpowers so he can cut their heads open with his finger. The writer knows this and readers familiar with the show know this, so the remark is funny precisely because it's not true (and because the weird emphasis in the show on the road-trip music makes it seem kind of plausible). The second sentence is facetious humour for the rest of us: whether or not we watch the show, we can recognize that expressing a desire to visit a skanky diner is the kind of thing that is both sarcastic and sincere at the same time.
Mostly true but kind of not true. (Or, alternatively, clearly untrue but kind of true anyway.) The Heroes review works because it deploys this kind of facetiousness in every single paragraph. My blog, on the other hand, uses facetiousness only in emergencies, and thus alienates readers unaccustomed to my writing style who don't know when and to what extent I'm being sincere.
Perhaps a good user's guide to this blog would go something like this:
The following blog may contain vast overgeneralizations. These statements are not usually made sarcastically, and may well contain a nugget of truth. It is the reader's responsibility to supply the omitted qualifications: phrases such as "in most cases" and "with some exceptions" are not included. Use at your own risk.
Does your blog need a user's guide? What would it say?