David Tennant is my favourite Doctor Who, but he is not ‘the best’ Doctor Who.

This may seem like a pretty frivolous thing to say, but I actually have a point to make about the way that we use language and why it matters.

If I say “David Tennant is my favourite Doctor Who” that is a statement that no-one can argue with. You could point out that Matt Smith is your favourite, and that is an equally valid and accurate statement, and I couldn’t argue with that either. Sure, we could debate the quality of the writing during the Matt Smith era or how cheesy David Tennant’s stories were at times, but that doesn’t change which one is our respective favourite. And, most importantly, we can still be friends!

However, if I said “David Tennant is THE BEST Doctor Who”… well, then we have a problem. Immediately, I am saying that my favourite is best and that yours is somehow worse. This immediately makes you defensive and increases the likelihood that any debate about their relative merits will devolve into an argument. You would probably try to argue that Matt Smith is best, and its an argument that – as well as being, ultimately, pointless – cannot actually be resolved, as neither of us is likely to convince the other to change their mind about who their favourite is.

Nerds are particularly guilty of this, but it is – I believe – a source of a lot of tension and anger in the world today, particularly online. (And, obviously, I’m not just talking about Doctor Who here!) If you say that one thing is good and something else is bad, then someone who likes the ‘bad’ thing is almost certainly going to take offence. There are so many things in life that this could apply to; from frivolous things like which music/TV/film/food/drink you enjoy or which team you support, even things like your political beliefs, all of which are down to personal taste and are not, in any real way, ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.

  • Its the difference between saying “I don’t find her attractive” and saying “she is ugly”.
  • Its the difference between saying “I don’t like that band” and saying “that band are sh*t”.
  • Its the difference between saying “I disagree” and saying “you are wrong”.

There are so many films, games and TV shows out there that I’ve not enjoyed or haven’t watched because they don’t appeal, but I don’t complain about it. I just don’t watch them. And I accept that other people like them even though I don’t. It’s not my fault, or anyone else’s for that matter, so why not just let people enjoy things and get on with your life? And, if you are sick of hearing a particular song on the radio and can’t seem to avoid it, maybe its time to stop listening to the radio and get a Spotify account instead! Sometimes your triggers are your problem, not everyone else’s!

Now, I’m aware that these are things that people often say in jest. How many times have we all wound our friends up by teasing them about their taste in music? But people seem particularly frivolous with these things, particularly online. Sure you’ll find people who agree with you and will share your sentiment (they are equally to blame for the problem) but there will always be people who disagree. There are those who say that being offended doesn’t matter as much as people seem to think it is and they should just move on, and they have a point, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to avoid antagonising people unnecessarily.

I’m not necessarily saying that you should stop it altogether, but maybe we should all consider the effect that our choice of words might have on others. Maybe its OK to tease your friends, if they know you’re joking and you are unlikely to get into a real argument. But when you’re online, Tweeting to strangers who might not get the joke, might not realise that it is a joke (because context is often difficult with written text) or if your words might get taken out of context, then perhaps you should be a little more careful with the language that you use.