I’m Coming Over To Slap Your Face

What is the etymology of “slap in the face”? Is it from the courtly convention of one gentleman challenging another gentleman to a duel? A rapiers at dawn sort of thing, perhaps. Pistols at twenty paces. The word “slap” itself meant “insult” as far back as the eighteenth century. “Unexpected” turns up in some definitions. It’s a sharp blow, an emphatic censure, administered with the flat of a hand or other broad object.

Apparently, General Motors slaps people in the face all the time. Toy manufacturers, companies who employ Spanish speaking laborers, and those who outsource white collar jobs to India are all inveterate face slapping fools.

By those standards the MMO industry is an amateur provider of pink cheeks. But it doesn’t matter, because everyone is using the damn phrase incorrectly.

This morning I was reading a blog on the Washington Post’s site, where someone said “The vote is a slap in the face.” (If you don’t want to read the story, the short version is that Ireland just voted down something that would have affected the entire EU, and the writer went on to note that it was voted down in large part because no one can understand the damn thing.)

Now, that’s a slap in the face! It’s a wake up call, a sharp blow, an emphatic censure. It’s a rejection, it’s one civilized person saying to another, “No, sir, you cannot act this way!” A true slap in the face is humiliating to the recipient, who must either defend his honor or admit that his behavior was unacceptable.

To be fair, not all slaps are meant to censure. Slapping can be curative, say, in the context of snapping an incoherent nutcase out of his hysteria. For instance, in my dreams, I drive over to people’s homes and actually slap their faces when they post about slapping.

It annoys me so much that, instead of noble definitions, we’re reduced to thinking slaps just drive one more nail into the coffin before the slapped person takes his entire guild to Diablo/Shadowbane/Horizons/Darkfall.

Oh, PLEASE. For there to be a slap, there must be intent. The slapper has to be emotionally involved with sending a message to the person at the other end of the glove. Neither of these conditions are ever involved with game balance.

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14 Comments

  1. goemagog said,

    June 14, 2008 at 3:34 am

    it’s interesting how you compare european pseudopopulism with mmorpg’s. it’s like a slap in the face =-]

    Goe, still around for some reason.

  2. Sjofn said,

    June 14, 2008 at 10:00 am

    That’s my guild’s name in WoW. 😉

  3. Michael Campbell said,

    June 14, 2008 at 1:13 pm

    As an EQ vet from when you were a guide, this post is a slap in the face.

    sorry, it had to be said. keep up the good work; I always look forward to eating bees.

  4. Joe Ludwig said,

    June 14, 2008 at 4:27 pm

    Slapping can be curative, say, in the context of snapping an incoherent nutcase out of his hysteria.

    Maybe we should respond to “this is a slap in the face to…” style hysteria with an actual slap in the face. It probably won’t help, but it would be fun!

    I wonder what the historical context is for “I’m leaving and taking my entire 50 person guild with me.”

  5. DragonPup said,

    June 15, 2008 at 3:04 am

    We should put the nails in the coffin of this ‘slap in the face’ and come up with some other overly dramatic way to express our (ir)rational opinions. 😉

  6. goemagog said,

    June 15, 2008 at 3:11 am

    “I wonder what the historical context is for “I’m leaving and taking my entire 50 person guild with me.””

    Pick a migration, any migration.

    Goe, cause context is as context does.

  7. Frank said,

    June 15, 2008 at 3:35 am

    It’s like a “slap in the face” has to be one of the Internet forum whore’s greatest analogies. I always think – “well gee, you must actually be slapped in the face on a semi-regular basis to post that”. Or did they slap their own face, really hard, then think to themselves, “yeah, getting my class nerfed feels exactly like that, time to post”.

    People need to stop using these kinds of analogies to provide their argument with a “zing”. If people really want to zing a developer, they’d bring up design flaws and do their homework before providing measured feedback they can actually use.

    But that would involve effort and I suppose is much more boring than typing out a quick one-liner meant to elicit 20 other posts after it basically saying “oh snappppp”.

  8. TPRJones said,

    June 16, 2008 at 6:25 am

    “Oh, PLEASE. For there to be a slap, there must be intent. The slapper has to be emotionally involved with sending a message to the person at the other end of the glove. Neither of these conditions are ever involved with game balance.”

    Even worse than malicious intent would be the idea that the company was not offending them personally and instead it was merely a byproduct of some other process, such as balancing. The players most likely to use this phrase in such cases could never live with the thought the they are not the most imporatant customer the company has, that they are just one more person without whom the company would continue to exist. Far better for their fragile egos to believe that the intent to offend them personally was there.

  9. macster said,

    June 16, 2008 at 4:46 pm

    “Sjofn said,
    June 14, 2008 at 10:00 am

    That’s my guild’s name in WoW.”

    OMG it’s a slap invasion!

  10. Lore said,

    June 16, 2008 at 7:00 pm

    Man, what if they WERE using the phrase correctly?

    “This nerf is a slap in the face! I’ve finally realized that it’s not my class, it’s me. Even though my class was more powerful than it should have been, I was having trouble competing. I’ve begun researching my class online and I’m learning how to play it properly.”

    Ahh, if only.

  11. Calaruis said,

    June 17, 2008 at 11:06 pm

    Even Massively thinks this is a slap in the face:

    http://www.massively.com/2008/06/17/idiom-abuse-is-a-slap-in-the-face-of-grammar/

  12. June 18, 2008 at 2:05 am

    I think the proper response should be,

    “Sorry, it was supposed to be a slap on the ass. I guess we got your face and your ass confused.”

    Perhaps there’s a reason I should stick to design and programming instead of community management.

  13. Rachmeg said,

    June 18, 2008 at 3:42 am

    “A true slap in the face is humiliating to the recipient, who must either defend his honor or admit that his behavior was unacceptable.”

    Or in the case of the Internet they could just disappear and ignore the insult as if it never happened. Without resolution or explanation, whole websites could be left to wither and die…

    Rach, still with the same gaming additions, but the software they pay me for is a lot more dangerous.

  14. Ruby said,

    June 22, 2008 at 10:50 pm

    I think you are limiting the English language here Sanya. You should know, more than most, that English evolves continuously and you should not always take things semantically-especially on the internet.

    A language’s ins and outs are determined by its users, not by the dictionary or etymology behind it. You may not have any junk in your trunk at home, but maybe that’s not what the fellow who said that to you meant. To diss “Its like a slap in the face” in this sense is to diss everything that is misused in the same manner, which is pointless.

    I don’t think people try and communicate intent, but they do feel insulted by the lack of foresight, judgement, testing that is involved with many of the “slap in the face” balance decisions. Then again, everyone is slapped in the face by balance anyway, so the wheel of subjectivity keeps spinning.


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