Contwow-fweak Games

by John Holbo on October 2, 2005

We have a troll at the Valve, the Troll of Sorrow (among other aliases). I know, I know; just one. But that’s like having just one case of herpes. (Not that I would know, please believe.) We caught him from Adam Kotsko. I don’t blame Adam. We’ve tried the patent remedies. Deleting, IP blocking. A touch of disemvowelment. Nothing seems to reduce the unsightly swelling permanently. It’s an unusual strain, a platypus you wouldn’t believe in if it weren’t plainly real: antisemitic, homophobic, Quine, Russell and logical positivism-fixated. It’s strange that someone should be obsessed with providing slightly mistaken, severely tourettes-afflicted readings of the intricacies of the early 5’s of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus.

One of our authors, Scott Kaufman, has gone to the unusual length of recomposing comments so that they constitute a dialogue about cheese. (Apparently Adam pioneered this treatment, with some success.) But Mastercheese Theatre is labor intensive. I came up with something easier. I call it Babelfish gutting. You run the offending item through. That’s it. I did German, then Portuguese. The effects were delightful.

‘u miserables kleines Blatt.’ I don’t think this will stop being funny any time soon. Any English monolinguist who really wants to read can, um, just run it through the other way, I suppose. (Probably create a little mess, not much.)

But now I’ve got something better. I don’t have a fresh sample, sadly, but one particular fewmet (sp?) of trollspoor was excreted three times last night, and I just sighed and picked up after. And it suddenly occurs to me that, under three strikes you’re out, posting the same stupid thing three times is enough to get you sentenced to death in … the dialectric chair! (Fudd version.)

Oh Howbo mentioning Wusseww again . When he’s a bit unfocused ow tiwed of his witewawy induwgences (tho he knows as wittwe about Wondon as he does about Wusseww) ow of censowing, Howbo can be expected to bwing in Wusseww, ow at weast Wusseww-wite–I don’t wecaww any discussions of definite descwiptions ow the theowy of types hewe, evew. You’we the antithesis of Wusseww, Howbo. You shun awguments mowe ow wess, avoid wogicaw ow semantic anawysis and instead focus on the witewawy. Moweovew you’we petty contwow-fweak games and faux-mawxism awe awso opposed to Wussewwian ideas of wibewty. Wusseww had a pwonounced Jeffewsonian and Vowtaiwean aspect to his chawactew and wwiting as weww, a point which appawentwy you have nevew qwite gwasped.

Wussewwian theory.The only thing keeping it from perfect perfection is that he didn’t happen to write: ramified types.

Maybe you prefer Redneck anyway:

Oh Holbo menshunin’ Russell agin . When he’s a bit unfocused o’ tired of his literary induljunces (tho he knows as li’l about London as he does about Russell) o’ of censo’in’, Holbo kin be specked t’brin’ in Russell, o’ at least Russell-lite–ah doesn’t recall enny discusshuns of definite dexcripshuns o’ th’ theo’y of types hyar, evah. Yer th’ antifesis of Russell, Holbo. Yo’ shun argoomnts mo’e o’ less, avoid logical o’ semannic analysis an’ instead focus on th’ literary. Mo’eovah yer petty corntrol-freak games an’ faux-marxism is also opposed t’Russellian ideas of liberty. Russell had a pronounced Jeffersonian an’ Voltairean aspeck t’his chareecker an’ writin’ as fine, a point which apparently yo’ haf nevah quite grasped, cuss it all t’ tarnation.

Definite dexcripshuns. Corntrol-freak. It is too, too to laugh.

But the earthworms of perfect irony pickled in this aspic of utter justice derive from the fact that the quote from Russell’s The Philosophy of Leibniz that so enraged the troll was this:

What is first of all required in a commentator is to attempt a reconstruction of the system which Leibniz should have written – to discover what is the beginning, and what the end, of his chains of reasoning, to exhibit the interconnections of his various opinions, and to fill in from his other writings the bare outlines of such works as the Monadology, or the Discours de Metaphysique.

Ah, should have written.

Mutatis mutandis, what is first of all required of a moderator is a reconstruction of the comment the commenter should have written. Whether about cheese or in Portuguese. Do not think you have a troll on the loose. See in each of these a Swedish Chef yearning to breath free. (I do wish the dialectizer had a slack-jawed yokel setting. "Some folks won’t read a troll, but some folks’ll.")

Here’s the first proposition of Leibniz’ Monadology in Cockney: "The bloody Monad, of wich we shall ‘ere speak, right, is nuffink but a simple substance, right, wich enters into compounds. Cor blimey guv, would I lie to you? By ‘simple’ is meant ‘wivout parts.’ (Theod. 10.)" It’s not an improvement. You see. Just always try to improve, and you won’t need to use the dialectizer except on trolls.

More metaphysically, finding the cure for trolls (if it works, could I be in line for a Nobel Prize?) is one of those universe in a speck of dirt moments. Everything touches this one simple thing. As Montaigne writes: "there is nothing useless in nature, not even uselessness itself."

Speaking of which, there is only one family on the webnet that is always mad, bad, sad and dangeresque to know (as Byron’s detractors put it.) This week the email is very funny. You can always make something beautiful out of something low and common. In the future all .wav files will be famous for 2 minutes.

I was thinking of concluding with a ‘which animated gif are you?’ quiz, but I think I’ve made my point about self-knowledge and vanity, all is vanity. Speaking of which, doesn’t it seem like there should be some classification system for trolls. There are, as it were, the golems; that is, the ones who have had one word put in their heads, which they must obediently act upon. The Hydes that sometimes, oddly, are mild-mannered Jekylls. The sad Grokes, who seem to want some touch of warmth, but merely extinguish it upon contact. Go on, add your own observations.

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10.02.05 at 4:55 pm



Semanticleo 10.02.05 at 11:35 am


Check with BlameBush, that creative subterfuge that mimics ironic humor.

Actually, I’m trolling there and delight in turning the tables on the paragons of doublespeak.

The lurking commenters there exhibit the same sensitivities your own troll proudly displays.

Just a thought.


Adam Kotsko 10.02.05 at 11:47 am

Anthony Smith actually first dubbed him The Troll of Sorrow, when I passed off comment-editing duties to him during a period when (somewhat surprisingly) I didn’t feel I had the time to keep up with the rantings of a poly-IPed anti-Semetic Quinean homophobe.

You should probably expect that he’ll take his toys and go home, then in a few weeks, he’ll launch a full frontal assault once he senses you’ve left your guard down. I’ve started to look at him as more a boon to my traffic statistics than anything.

I do feel bad that I didn’t use a Comment Condom.


stormy 10.02.05 at 11:52 am

The inwit of all philological extirpations requires, nay, demands petrifactious deliberations culled deep from the hardened soil of thought. So said the humpish troll.


xian 10.02.05 at 12:05 pm

Would a slack-jawed yokel translater be much different from a redneck translator?

Oh, and for rhyming purposes (and to make it scan like the original), I’d make it:

Some folk won’t read a troll, but then again some folk’ll.


Kieran Healy 10.02.05 at 1:20 pm

And you bring your infected self over to _us_? Thanks a million, mate.


Scott Eric Kaufman 10.02.05 at 1:28 pm

Since I’ve already had to bork bork bork (yes, I know another, rather germane denotation’s floating around out there, hence the repetition) him twice since this post went up, and he seems to enjoy being bork bork borked…so I think we’ve little choice but to handle Herr Käsemeister some other, less preservative-of-his-original-statement way. I vote for more cheese, since at the very least that made him resort to veiled physical threats. (You know, he’s “no cheeselover but [is] doing some bench pressing.”)

I’ve a theory, and I think John Emerson can confirm this, that we’re on some level dealing with a very angry drunk. If you look at the pattern of his comments, they begin in the early to late afternoon (California time), and they’re often quasi-coherent (so much so I sometimes feel guilty for ignoring them). He becomes more aggressive, anti-semitic, and homophobic as the night progresses. I imagine him sitting there in stained pajamas, crying, the beer cans full of backwash piling higher and higher as he looks longingly at the weight-bench he now lacks the coordination to use…and decides to perform another feat of Quinnilingus before calling it a night. I’d say that he’s doing this for intellectual reasons, but it’s too pathological. I mean, sometimes I needle people, I admit, but I do so knowingly and (somewhat) respectfully.


Doug 10.02.05 at 1:55 pm

When disemvowelling is not enough, I think the estimable Nielsen Haydens remove selected consonants. The messages just get lossier and lossier.


Adam Kotsko 10.02.05 at 2:15 pm

My classic Troll of Sorrow moment came when, in the middle of a thread that ultimately grew to 300 comments, I asked him what kind of music he liked and what novels he liked. We had a pretty decent conversation about that. Then he called me a child molestor or something, because I am attending a seminary (get it?). That’s kind of his last-resort insult, but I think he basically saves it for me (and sometimes for Anthony as well).


Kieran Healy 10.02.05 at 2:21 pm

Now that I think of it, I was slightly acquainted with a guy in graduate school who fits the description of ToS pretty well — though then again, I’d say this is probably true of anyone who’s ever been to grad school.


Adam Kotsko 10.02.05 at 2:25 pm

Kieran, I know this is going to sound a little too convenient, but I believe I initially caught the Troll from Crooked Timber. I distinctly remember because the first name under which I encountered him was “troll du jour,” who seemed to be a fairly frequent commenter at CT at the time.

I am always pleased when CT commenters start commenting on my site, taking it as a sign that I am moving into the very heart and soul of the blogging world, but the initial joy wore off pretty quickly in this case when we moved from a discussion of logical positivism to his suspicions that I was homosexual (which he thought would be a bad thing to be).

Maybe now that this is coming full circle, he’ll disappear in a cloud of smoke.


Jodi 10.02.05 at 4:56 pm

This is a great post. Completely satisfying. Much more satisfying than, say, an anti-slapp motion which is designed to prevent nuisance defamation suits by making the plaintiff in the defamation suit pay for the defendant’s legal fees.


pdf23ds 10.02.05 at 5:26 pm

I think what could be another really interesting way to change up comments to make them less coherent but still representative of the original is to run words > 5 letters through a thesaurus, replacing them with a random synonym. If that doesn’t distort enough, one could pick a synonym of the synonym. I bet there’s some free thesaurus data somewhere that could be used as the basis of a little perl script.


yabonn 10.02.05 at 5:34 pm

Is there already a prize somewhere in the blogosphere for the best sentence that looks like these random-generated spam while making sense after all? (at making light maybe?)

There should be, and i may have a winner :

Speaking of which, there is only one family on the webnet that is always mad, bad, sad and dangeresque to know (as Byron’s detractors put it.) This week the email is very funny. You can always make something beautiful out of something low and common. In the future all .wav files will be famous for 2 minutes.


sd 10.02.05 at 5:58 pm is one particularly funny way to translate troll talk.


novalis 10.02.05 at 6:17 pm

pdf23ds, I did this some years ago using Wordnet. It was intended to be a surrealism generator, but ended up sounding more stilted than surreal:

One external admonisher said, “It’s arduous to get quarrel once I see bodies wish this.”

Sadly, I’ve lost the code, or I would help John out here.


Matt 10.02.05 at 8:17 pm

Thing is of course that everyone subscribed to the entry gets to see both versions, so you are being judged on your performance as interpreter. Based on the evidence thus far, I would have to say it’s clear that Long Sunday has provided the most amusing Troll of Sorrow reformations yet, hands down. I mean in all modesty, we don’t need no stinkin’ code to provide us with our sense of ireny or dry humour. This personal touch is what makes The Weblog’s reformations so truly brutally poignant as well.


Adam Kotsko 10.02.05 at 8:24 pm

Matt, I take that as a challenge.

We’re working on a way to get rid of this guy once and for all. This guy is totally Trollo Sacer.


lemuel pitkin 10.02.05 at 9:06 pm

I’m not really getting this.

Well, I get that John Holbo is very clever. Is there a point beyond that?


jholbo 10.02.05 at 10:10 pm

Think of it this way, Lemuel. I’m trying to invent the genre of Montaignean -solipsistic public service announcement. (By the by, A Cool Million is one of my favorites.)


lemuel pitkin 10.02.05 at 10:51 pm

Here I am trying to mean and in response you’re a total sweetie. What, you missed the announcement, this is the Internet, dude.

(OK, in penance I’ll read the next 10 posts on Valve.)


ben wolfson 10.03.05 at 12:08 am

What about taking an Oulipian approach? Translate all nouns (too labor-intensive; all words of a certain length) with the word which comes seventh afterwards in the dictionary? This could be automated if you had an alphabetized list of dictionary words, like, say, this one.


chris y 10.03.05 at 4:31 am

The inwit of all philological extirpations

The Eskimo responsible for totally stamping out the study of language?


John Emerson 10.03.05 at 6:47 am

I can’t believe that “perezoso” at Alphonse Von Worden is the same guy, even though our guy uses the same handle sometimes. AVW’s perezoso doesn’t show any resemblance to the ToS.


nnyhav 10.03.05 at 8:59 am

If you over-exorcise your vowels, you could get consonated (or Welsh). But FUDD (among our primary weapons are fear, uncertainty, doubt and the dialectrical methodology … waitasec, this overlaps The Wife of Bwian) seems little better. Perhaps Zippy insertion, already conveniently packaged as a fortune file, would serve as the ultimate ironizer. Now I’m having INSIPID THOUGHTS about the beautiful, round wives of HOLLYWOOD MOVIE MOGULS encased in PLEXIGLASS CARS and being approached by SMALL BOYS selling FRUIT … Then again, in this case it may be too difficult to differentiate from the original content.


CKR 10.03.05 at 11:53 am

I guess that I’d just delete, delete, delete a troll on my blog.

A discussion board I’ve been a moderator on for a few years, supposedly including discussion from all political views, is in the process of being ruined by wingnut trolls who sidetrack every thread. For a variety of reasons that I disagree with, the moderators have decided on a minimal-moderating policy which has led to this.

Seems to me that what trolls want is a) attention and b) to waste your time.

Anything but deleting plays into both.

Or, as other commenters have said, I may be missing something.


Matt 10.03.05 at 12:05 pm


No thanks. Like I said, we’ve already won.

Seriously, (seriously…) perhaps there are a number of potentially serious discussions to be had about (in and beyond their undeniable trollo sacericity) the social construction and mitigation of “trolls” in a medium such as the internet. Which is to say, as wise or prudent as it may be to “bin” certain people as, say, redundant and bad faith dullards, egomaniacal whiny bitch friskers, or even alcoholics and occasional psychotics, and to therefore practice selective abstinence or better yet discreet acts of superseding brilliance, compassion and patience (after which of course it is necessary to promptly hang up). But as a wise man once said, unconditional hospitality either means hospitality on the part of The Weblog toward the Troll of Sorrow or it means nothing at all.

I mean after all, as hard as it’s citizens might try to recreate them, the internet remains an ungated community. At the further risk of making a mountain out of a crevice, perhaps neither should we be entirely immune to the humor value of such stark juxtapositions (say, the banal taunts of the lonely obsessive wretch vs. those who would eventually concoct elaborate fun at his expense, i.e. re-directed malice, and regardless of their attempts to mask a fundamental annoyance (perhaps justified) or hatred (hardly justified) by portending to be lighthearted. Not to get all moralistic (someone will undoubtedly scoff), but in the final analysis which figure is really the more pathetic?

However, this is a controversial view and I now put my tin hat firmly in place.

Most importantly, this all reminds me of a story by Mark Greif in the latest n+1 (by far more fitting and nuanced than the Elmore Fudd analogy I was briefly contemplating sticking into The Valve just now).


Adam Kotsko 10.03.05 at 12:11 pm


Simply outline the rules of unconditional hospitality (i.e., “allow the Troll of Sorrow to comment at The Weblog”), and I will gladly follow them to the letter.


Matt 10.03.05 at 12:42 pm

For my reply, see The Weblog, where this discussion continues.


Matt 10.04.05 at 12:34 am

“Seriously continues,” I should have said, whilst nodding piously my beard against my silver shiny jacket.

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