Disclosure: I may earn affiliate revenue or commissions if you purchase products from links on my website. The prospect of compensation does not influence what I write about or how my posts are structured. The vast majority of articles on my website do not contain any affiliate links.

In absence of face-to-face interactions this year, I have spent a lot of time arguing with people on the internet. It’s a pastime. When I see a discussion that interests me, I jump into the fray. When I see an opinion that hasn’t been met with an opposing one, I foster discussion. Sometimes using my real name, other times not.

Many months ago, I was one of the first people to see a new for-sale-by-owner post in an automotive forum. Reading between the lines, it was clear that, using a long-winded story, the seller was obfuscating that he wasn’t actually the first owner of the car. Or the second. You get the picture. I asked him to clarify, which he gladly did. Other people on the car forum were not happy about my shining a light on this, and I faced a few insults.

Incredulous, I responded saying something along the lines of, “It was an important question that any prospective seller would ask. Not passing judgment on the circumstances of the sale. Happy to discuss more if we can keep it civil.” Again–paraphrasing. It wasn’t a post I needed to make but because I did want to maintain some reputation in this particular community, I wanted to defend myself. Mostly everyone was okay with this, except …

Some guy from Louisiana said “Them’s fighting words down here. [protracted insult]”

Holy shit, I thought. Some guy from Louisianna just used “them’s” unironically.

A few days later, I was viewing the thread again and thought hey, what was fighting words? If anything, I kind of backed off. But then I realized–I used the word “civil.” So, not only did he find this hyper-offensive, but it made him immediately draw a distinction between north and south. As in, the Civil War.

Shocked, my brain snapped back to an argument back when I was a freshman in college. I was caught off guard when a hallmate wanted to settle a disagreement while in the communal bathroom. It was fairly heated but I ended by saying “Hey man I wish this didn’t happen in the bathroom but I’m glad we could be somewhat civil.” And he went apeshit. I wasn’t even being sarcastic. He ended up becoming one of my good friends, and I always kind of wondered why when I thought the dispute was over, he flew off the handle.

All these years later, it dawned on me. He was from a low-income area of Florida. Ignorant people from the southern United States are predisposed to having visceral reactions to the term “civil.” Because it makes them think of the Civil War. This is because, in a lot of cases, they can’t muster a definition of what “civil” actually means. During interpersonal conflict, they can’t help but think of that conflict.

I have nothing else to say here aside from I’ll report back from the field when I get more data points. Really interested to hear what other people have to say about this and if I’m the only person to have experienced this.

The Civil Southerner Hypothesis