Which One Is Passive-Aggressive?

I honestly find the suggested column to be a lot more annoying.

“In case it’s helpful” is condescending.

“I know you are busy” does sound very passive aggressive. “Of course you are too busy to pay attention to an insignificant little person like me. . .” Oh, get off it already and say what you want.

“How about we try doing…” is the way I speak to my five-year-old.

Does anybody here prefer the right-hand column? Is it a gender thing? Is the “good” column supposed to sound more “feminine”?

13 thoughts on “Which One Is Passive-Aggressive?

  1. I use 3/4 of the formulations on the left in formal workplace/business correspondence. But I’ve never encountered the “bumping…” one. So to me the register difference is formal/effective/slightly distant vs. more informal/circumlocutious/personal, definitely not passive-aggressive vs. neutral.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The “bumping” comes to me constantly, from advertisers and also political campaigns looking for my signature. Some consultant obviously thinks it’s cute and eye-catching, but it’s not something a person from an actual workplace or an actual friend would use. I delete messages that start like that without reading them.


      1. I’m pretty sure it originated with forums. “Bumping” a forum thread by posting any reply brings it to the top of the list of threads. Doesn’t work nearly as well in an email.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. “honestly find the suggested column to be a lot more annoying”

    The correct answer is that neither column is inherently more passive-aggressive than the other. That type of emotional label is entirely context dependent.

    Who’s writing to who? About what? What is the previous relationship (if any) between the two people? All that and a lot more has to go examined before making flip judgements about whether an expression is ‘passive-aggressive’ or not.

    On the one hand “In case it’s helpful…” or “How about we trying doing…” from a supervisor to a presumably competent subordinate would sound condescending and insulting to me. To other people… who knows?

    On the other hand, “per my last email” or “bumping this to the top of your inbox” used in an informal context like discussing plans to go out and have beer after work could be an indicator of greater informality and solidarity.

    Language and communication exists on different levels (semantic, affective, pragmatic etc) and trying to work out algorithms to diagnose messages out of context is never a good idea.

    That’s not even getting into first vs second language communication (since native and non-native speakers tend to process language in very different ways…).

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The one who is passive aggressive is the person who produced the picture. Before seeing the picture I was a fully grown adult who knew how to write basic emails. After seeing the picture I am a fully grown adult who knows how to write basic emails who wants to find that busybody and tell them to get lost.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s hilarious. The left column phrases are all blunt and to the point, which in the US is read as aggressive. The right column is saccharine passive-aggressive bullshit that is basically required behavior for women.
    My inclination is to be blunt because life’s too short to couch every damn thing, but people think I am mad. So I temper and soften.

    With people who are in my inner circle (like my grad students), I tell them explicitly they should assume I am not mad. That my emails are brief and to the point and should not be infused with emotional content. If I write “Redo Fig. 1 and run these simulations again,” I don’t mean anything other than these things need to be done; I am not angry, I am not upset, it’s just information.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. “blunt and to the point, which in the US is read as aggressive.”

      There are a few things going on including a general rule of American politeness about not causing offense or imposing. This gets related to the question ask/hint strategies

      ask: ask for things directly and understand that the answer might well be ‘no’.

      hint: hint at what you want (to spare the person being asked the ordeal of having to say ‘no’ which is impolite in many cultures.

      Most cultures have a clear preference for one or the other. Poland, where I live, is absolutely an ‘ask’ country. Most Asian countries follow ‘hint’ strategies.

      In America there’s no clear culture-wide preference (you seem to be an ‘ask’ person, I’m more of a ‘hint’ person) and this leads to lots of conflicts and misunderstandings between people who mistake politeness conventions for morals.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I like the first two on the left and the second two on the right.

    #1 right wordy and mealy-mouthed
    #2 right condescending and disgusting
    #3 left both invasive and condescending, and it’s advertising language not workplace language — the language of junk mail
    #4 left “going forward” pretends it means “let’s save time by not discussing the past / blaming each other for the problems of the past but really means “we are not going to change any policies or procedures in a meaningful way, and we are not going to seriously critique any current structures, but we are going to agree on something to do next that I have already decided upon. F*** that overused phrase.


  6. P.S. I just received an email that made me mad for rudeness. I have written the email I would have preferred to get, or would have written had I been the writer. Which one is aggressive, or passive agressive?


    Dr. XX:
    XX is applying for a teaching position here. Please call me at your earliest convenience.

    Rude. Brusque salutation, no closing, and the assumption that I can drop everything and call this person.


    Dear Professor …,

    X is a candidate for a teaching position here. I would like to schedule a time to talk on the phone sometime next week. If you are available, could you suggest some times convenient to you?

    Yours sincerely,


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dunno, To me, the principal’s email reads perfectly fine. Like it came from someone with whom you interact regularly, so there aren’t too many pleasantries. He asks that you please call when you can. Doesn’t sound (to me, at least) that he’s asking you to drop everything.

      Your first two are fine, but I do not see myself pretty much ever writing that third sentence of yours. I’d write it as something like “Please let me know when you might be available. I am available in slot slot slot. Thanks, Principal”

      I only write “Sincerely” in the most formal emails or in letters of recommendation/reference. I find it too stuffy.

      For closing, I go with (in decreasing order of casualness): Cheers, Thanks/Many thanks, Best/Best wishes, Best regards, Regards, Sincerely.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s that it was framed as an order. There was more to it, also: I might send a letter but only if it addressed what the student’s “passion” was and what it was like to supervise them as an employees.


  7. I think “going forward” is a pompous and pretentious alternative for “in future”. It has the subtext “look, I’m fluent in the latest bizspeak, aren’t I clever and trendy?”


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