Volume 1, Issue 1 -- January/February 2000

The Verbal Self-Defense Newsletter is written and published every other month by Suzette Haden Elgin, Ph.D. (linguistics), from the Ozark Center for Language Studies. It is available by e-mail only, in plain text, and is free to members of the World Verbal Self-Defense League Network (annual dues, $5.00). For more information send an e-mail to

IN THIS ISSUE: Network Queries; Cyberspace; Quotes & Comments; Touch
Dominance; News


1. From Molly NiDana: "I have almost everything you have ever written on the Gentle Art system, and I have worked very hard at incorporating those principles into my behavior over a very long period of time. ... However, I have always had a very difficult time correctly identifying markers of progress. ... So while the long term goal of reducing verbal violence is important to me, I need to find ways to establish much smaller goals, and I need to know when those goals have been met."

I have two suggestions. *(A)* Practice the Gentle Art techniques in role-playing sessions with two other people. The roles are Speaker A, Speaker B, and Coach. Speakers A and B take turns playing through dialogues using the techniques--for example, Speaker A throws out a Verbal Attack Pattern [VAP] and Speaker B responds to the VAP. The Coach observes what happens and provides feedback at the end of each dialogue. Keep changing roles so that everyone has a chance to play them all. You do this to get a firm idea of where your strengths and weaknesses are so that you can set short term goals accurately. For example, you might find that you consistently stumble when you try to come up with Computer Mode responses to VAPs; that would let you set the goal of improving your skill with that mode; the Coach's feedback in later sessions would let you know whether you were meeting that goal. *(B)* Keep a verbal self-defense notebook that lets you establish baseline data and track your progress. You'll find detailed instructions for doing that in the book called *You Can't SAY That To Me!* (as well as some of the others). The basic strategy is this: Choose some hostile interaction pattern (like VAP sessions) and set up a record page for it; make a note each time you're involved in that type of interaction, for several weeks, to get an average figure; choose one or more Gentle Art techniques for dealing with that pattern and begin using them systematically; continue to keep track of how many times per week you're involved in such interactions; if things go properly, you'll see the totals falling. Whether you keep track of the interactions by just making a checkmark on your record page or by writing down all the details is up to you. In my experience, the more information you have, the more improvement you can expect (and the more quickly it will happen); but your decision will depend on how busy you are, your personal work style, and so on.

2. Several people recently have asked me to discuss what looks to them like a verbal attack that the attacker is turning against himself or herself -- as in "You mean you don't know how to [X]? Even *I* know how to do THAT!" It's hard to be precise about this behavior without hearing the actual speaker say the line. However, my opinion is that it represents one of two things. (A) It's a Placating pattern. The "Even *I*..." sequences when used this way are just like the Placater's standard inventory of lines.... "You know me, *I* don't care where we go!" and "What do *I* know?" and so on. It's a sort of "Go ahead, kick me, *I* don't care! No, wait -- I'll kick MYSELF so you won't have to BOTHer !" (B) It's a Blaming pattern, representing intense sarcasm. As in: "You mean you don't know how to play tennis? Even *I* [whom you would expect NOT to know how to play tennis, which just shows how stupid and pathetic YOU are!!] know how to play TENnis!" That is, the intonation and tone of voice is intended to carry the meaning I've summarized in square brackets. In either case, the attacker isn't turning the attack against himself or herself but against the targeted victim.

3. I've had a batch of queries recently that can all be summarized as "How do I force myself to use your verbal self-defense techniques?" (Usually because, they tell me, "Arguing is so much FUN!") The answer is that you can't force yourself to use the techniques; that's not possible. What you *can* do is decide, as a scientist would, that you'll *try* them a time or two to see what happens. When the result turns out to be more fun than fighting, the idea that you need to force yourself will disappear.


1. My strong recommendations for The Nonviolence Web, at Its links page ( links. htm) has 373 links divided into five categories: Magazines/Newsletters, Peace Organizations, International Organizations, Regional Peace Centers/Groups, and Other Lists/Web Hosts. As would be expected with so long a list on so large a topic, the 373 links vary widely -- from the most conservative to the most radical, and everything in between. This is an extremely useful site and one to bookmark.

2. Another excellent page of links is the Stephen Marsh page at links1.htm., divided into Recommended Peacemaking Sites, Other Sites (including a link to The Nonviolence Web), and a long list of listservs on mediation and conflict resolution.

3. Last time I visited the Nonviolence Web I found a set of materials about a program called *Healthy Relationships*, from the Men For Change organization. It's intended for 7th, 8th, and 9th graders and is described as "53 user-friendly activities" with all necessary materials for using them in sessions. The activities in Volume One (Dealing With Aggression) "help students to recognize the range of emotions that can lead to violent outbursts" and "teach the basic communication skills needed to choose healthy alternatives"; those in Volume Two (Gender Equality and Media Awareness) "examine the impact of gender stereotypes and the violent influence implicit in North American culture; those in Volume Three (Building Healthy Relationships) "demonstrate the link between sexist attitudes and violent behaviors and the key role this link plays in teen dating violence and domestic violence." The information is at; there's also a phone number (902-457-4351) and an e-mail address ( I haven't seen these materials, but the descriptions are impressive; if any of you have read them, or have worked with them, I'd be grateful for your input.

4. On page 233 of *Forbes ASAP* for 12/2/96 ("History's Greatest Brain Drain"), Brill Frezza asks us to imagine a place where "coercive force, whether exerted by outlaws or by the state in the name of protecting us from outlaws, was physically impossible" and where communities "could not appeal to a supreme authority prepared to use guns and clubs to enforce codes of conduct or rights of contract". He says we need to give this urgent thought, because "this hypothetical place is already under construction. We call it cyberspace..." I'm not sure his arguments convince me, but he points out a lot of interesting things (like the fact that in cyberspace you are always free to stop "listening," but there's no way to make somebody else shut up). If he's right in his claims, one thing immediately becomes obvious: In cyberspace, verbal violence would replace physical violence, making verbal self-defense skills indispensable.

5. Finally, here are two URLs from the 10/19/99 Scout Report that might be useful: Conflict Resolution Education: Four Approaches, at http://www.; Ten Web Sites for Exploring Conflict Resolution in the Classroom, at http://www. I haven't visited either site yet; input welcome.


1. As you know, my personal opinion about children who do school shootings has always been that their primary motivation is a desperate desire for the celebrity that they know will follow such action. They live in a society that worships the famous -- no matter what the fame is for; they know that if they shoot somebody they can count on having their picture on the cover of *Time,* seeing themselves on the national television news, and all the rest. In that context, I suggest taking a look at the 8/99 issue of *Brill's Content*, which has a set of excellent articles about the media's handling of the Littleton high school disaster.

2. "We all know children who don't fit in -- children who talk too loud, or stand too close, or laugh inappropriately -- the kids who are last to be chosen for the team. This compelling book [*Helping the Child Who Doesn't Fit In*, by Stephen Nowicki and Marshall P. Duke] argues that such children have 'dyssemia' -- they have difficulty using nonverbal communication... They don't comprehend the nonverbal signals that express emotional tone in a social relationship. When they make mistakes sending or interpreting nonverbal cues, they are viewed as 'weird,' 'dumb,' or 'out of it.' However, nonverbal communication skills can be taught..." This is critically important for youngsters, to be sure; and we all know adults that have exactly the same "don't fit in" characteristics. There's a lot of evidence that poor body language skills are one of the worst possible barriers to functioning successfully in this world, at any age. The quote is on page 25 of the current Creative Therapy Store catalogue (from Western Psychological Services), where it's offered for $19.90 plus 10% for shipping in the U.S. as Item #PU-1-2; the order phone is 800-648-8857. (Their website is I recommend this catalogue highly for anyone interested in verbal self-defense; ask WPS for a copy.

3. The 11-12/99 issue of *Psychology Today* had an article on pages 16-17 titled "The Art (and Science) of the Tease," by Hara Estroff Marano. On page 16, Marano claims that psychologist Dacher Keltner considers teasing "an indispensable social tool, vital to all healthy relationships" and quotes Keltner: "Teasing is a way, when done appropriately, for people to correct others' costly mistakes. It helps bring people closer." I couldn't disagree more, and I hope that Keltner has been misquoted; his research on this topic, Marano tells us, was recently published in the *Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.* I won't waste time saying any more about this article, which to my mind spends a lot of time making claims and then taking them back; take a look at it if you'd like to examine the argument it presents. I will say only that any form of "teasing" that can accurately be said to bring people closer together is no longer teasing but has become some other kind of language behavior. Teasing is cruel; without exception, it pollutes the language environment. Seeing it praised in *Psychology Today* is shocking.

4. For your Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis collection: "Subjects who viewed a film of an automobile accident and were later asked how fast the cars were going when they *smashed* into each other reported significantly higher speeds than those asked how fast the cars were going when they *hit* each other. In addition, when the subjects were later asked whether they had seen any broken glass (the film showed none), subjects [who were] asked the 'smashed' version of the question reported far more often that they had seen such glass than subjects asked the 'hit' version." (From "Linguistic issues in the law," by Peter M. Tiersma, pages 113-117 of *Language* for 3/93; on page 121. The research described was done by Elizabeth Loftus and John Palmer.)


[For new members: Everybody has one sensory system -- usually sight, hearing, or touch -- that works best for them. In the Gentle Art system, people whose preferred sensory system is touch are called "touch dominant"; the Gentle Art focus is specifically on the *language* behavior of TD people. In the U.S. today, sight and hearing are so highly valued over touch, and the prejudice *against* touch is so strong, that touch dominance becomes a handicap. The result is important in verbal self-defense because so many communication breakdowns turn out to involve language interactions between TD people and sight/hearing dominant people, with no one involved realizing the source of the difficulty. Because the problem gets almost no attention, I reserve regular space for material relating to touch and touch dominance.]

1. My thanks to Hal Davis for sending me to an online copy of a piece by Sharon Nash titled "Extrasensory Computing" that originally appeared on page 30 of the 4/20/99 *PC Magazine*. Nash describes a device called the Talking Tactile Tablet" that uses "tactile diagrams"; more information is available at And she reports on a Purdue University website offering "an electronic library with more than 2,500 tactile diagrams covering college-level course material.... Capsule paper lets users create tactile graphics from Adobe Acrobat documents by using laser printers and a heating unit." Information at http://www.purdue. edu/odos/TAEVIS/index.htm. (The Nash article is at http:// )

2. I've just seen an announcement of an online version of *Body & Society,* a journal that "concerns itself with debates in feminism, technology, ecology, postmodernism, medicine, ethics and consumerism which take the body as the central analytic issue in the questioning of established paradigms." It was "launched to cater for the upsurge of interest in the social and cultural analysis of the human body that has taken place in recent years." The address given to subscribe is; no information about price appeared in the notice.

3. Hal Davis also sent me to, where there's a copy of an article titled "Sight-to-Touch Translator: The tactile principle of Braille printing would be adapted to avoidance of obstacles," originally published on page 56 of the 3/98 *Nasa Tech Briefs.* It says that the device (called ST3) "would include a state-of-the-art active-pixel sensor (APS) as its image detector. The output of the APS would be digitized and fed to a minicomputer... The outline data would command the generation of a tactile dot representation of the outline of the object onto a rectangular electromechanical tactile-display device..." It could also "generate standard tactile dot patterns, analogous to Braille characters." The ST3 is wearable and "might serve as an electronic alternative to a guide dog under some circumstances." The piece is not a great read, but the concept is terrific. More information, it says, is online free at http://www.nasatech. com, under "Electronic Systems."

4. Here are two items for your touch language collection. (A) The first is from "You've Got Smell!," by Charles Platt, on page 258 of the 11/99 *Wired*; the person quoted is Joel Lloyd Bellenson. "We've lost touch, as a species, with the sense of smell. Like, our noses are not on the ground anymore, because we don't have to hunt for food." [Note: He goes on to claim that his company, DigiScents, is "giving back to humanity our ability to communicate using scent!" Let us all sincerely and devoutly hope that nothing -- including the DigiScents gizmo -- will ever make it necessary to worry about *smell* dominance in human beings, or to concern ourself withsmell language.] (B) The other, sent by the Kinast-Porters, is on page 1520 of the 5/20/98 *JAMA*; it's titled "Holding the Heart," and is written by surgeon Daniel J. Waters. This piece is a marvel, and worth reading in full. Here's a snip: "Open the cover that is the sternum. Turn back the frontis- piece of the pericardium. ...Run a gloved finger over the surface, like over the lines of a page. With your palm make a gentle cradle for this weighty volume. Here is the leathery scar of an old infarction. There, the hydraulic thrill from a regurgitant valve. ..." He goes on and on like that, making very sure we'll all fully grasp the point he's making; he ends with the claim that nobody but surgeons (not even cardiologists) can understand heart disease, presumably because only the surgeon has access to the touch data.

5. The 8/7/99 *New Scientist,* had a piece on page 12 written by Duncan Graham-Rowe and titled "Ace invention: The latest flight jacket gives pilots a real feel for flying." All about a "tactile flight jacket" designed to keep pilots from becoming disoriented. It says: "Lined with pressure actuators, the jacket alerts the pilot when the plane ceases to be level by prodding part of his or her torso, depending on the direction of the plane. ... Part of the advantage of using tactile stimuli is that the human body needs no time to process touch; you instantly know where you are being touched." My thanks to Frances Green for the copy.


1. My new book (*The Language Imperative*) is out from Perseus now; it takes up many of the topics I cover in the newsletters, in far more detail than I have space for ordinarily. It has very little about verbal self-defense proper, but discusses many closely-related issues -- especially the linguistic relativity hypothesis. Also now available, the second edition of *Success with the Gentle Art,* titled *The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense at Work.* I updated the book from beginning to end, especially with regard to metaphors and electronic communication, and added a complete new chapter on staying out of court. Any comments/criticisms you may have will be very welcome. Finally, the expanded and updated edition of *Language in Emergency Medicine: A Verbal Self-Defense Handbook is now on e-display at LanguageInEmergencyMedicine.html. Xlibris did an excellent job of producing the book; I'm pleased with the results. However -- for all of you now considering a choice of on-demand publishers -- I'm less pleased with the service.

2. I've been getting a lot of requests for another intensive Gentle Art session for trainers. I haven't decided whether to do that yet; the marketing takes so much time, and I have a book tour this spring. In any case, if one is scheduled it will be announced on our verbal self-defense site: (Note: There's a link on the site where you can ask to be notified if anything new is posted, so you don't have to keep checking back.)

Happy New Year to you one and all.... ### copyright © 2000 Suzette Haden Elgin

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