Tech Life A judgement of authenticity

How to Be a Douche

Douche is trending.

I’m going to start by saying this is a dangerous article to write because an article that attempts to define the characteristics of douchery is, well, kind’a douchey. However, usage of the word douche has been on the rise in current culture and I believe I know why, so I’m going to risk it.

In the preface to Being Geek, I briefly explained the definitions of geek, nerd, and dork. While my research found no meaningful distinction between nerd and geek, the term dork was interesting — while being a geek about a topic (say a music geek) means that you are self-declaring that you deeply appreciate a thing, dork is used by geeks to position their geekery above another geek’s field. For example, I’m a computer geek, but those movie geeks are dorks.


It’d be easy to simply map douche to dork and say that douchery was in the eye of the beholder, but I think there is something bigger going on with douche. The label of douche, while slightly hilarious, is also slightly serious.

The Douche Spectrum

To begin to understand the deviousness of the term douche, we need to explore its basic usage. There are three douche use cases:

Self-declaring as a douche — “I can’t figure out how to write this bio without sounding like a douche.” A mostly harmless usage.

Labeling as douche in person — “Your unearned high self-esteem… is kind’a douchey.” Again, a face-to-face douche label is, in my opinion, just good constructive criticism.

Lastly, labeling as douche in absentia — “I’m tired of his transparent self-serving bullshit. He’s a douche”. In an Internet full of individuals screaming for attention, this label is the kiss of death. Here’s why:

The Sell

If you’re taking the time to create and post content on the Internet, you are in the sales business. You’re interested in someone buying the content; otherwise you’d be quietly taping that content to the wall of your office.

Rands, I want no money. There is nothing to buy.

Doesn’t matter. Just because you’re not charging for it, doesn’t mean you’re not selling it. Yes, there’s a wide spectrum to selling varying from “I’m selling you on this idea” to “Please buy this poster regarding how to pet a cat“, but the act of sharing something with the Planet Earth has a very different motivation than sharing with yourself, and it’s within this act that the dangerous label of douche is hiding.

A Douche Criteria

The label of douche is the end result of a confluence of terribly subjective and contextual cues. As I’m reading your writing or watching your presentation, I mentally measure the following:

Are you for sale? Is it clear that your opinion is being motivated purely by money? Can I literally see the monetary strings dragging you hither and fro? Can I hear your thoughts above what is clearly your business plan? Am I hearing what you’re selling before what you think? Are you never missing an opportunity to self-promote?

Is fame your goal or a consequence? Is your content deliberately inflammatory because you like to see shit burn? Are you enthusiastic with purpose or just annoyingly enthusiastic? Are you just trying to get attention? Wait, are you telling me you’re famous? Really?

Are you human? Are you letting a bit of yourself into your ideas? Can I see you thinking? Do you have moments of humility? Empathy? Where do you end and your ideas begin? Are you just a mouthpiece? Can I discern your motivation?

Is there substance to your style? Did you earn your arrogance? Are you adding something substantive to the planet or are you just noisy? Are you pitching refinement as a mask for aggressively bad taste? Do I have a sense of your experience? Are you beating me over the head with it?

Are you aware that anyone else is here? Are you giving me room to think? Do you speak without understanding consequence? Are you aware of the world around you? Are you transparently self-serving?

Are you a douche?

The Douche Threshold

What matters to you is different than what matters to me. I have a douche hot button — blatant self promotion — but you couldn’t care less. Still, when you label someone a douche, I giggle bit and then I wonder, “What do you actually mean?”

In this age of the empowered individual voice, we are flooded with opinions in blogs, tweets, and likes. As a means of managing this flood, we need a mental model to partition these unincorporated individuals — we need a new vocabulary regarding who is worth listening to and not — I believe that is why the term douche is trending.

The extreme subjectivity of the Douche Criteria can get you in a lot of trouble. If I had to boil all of the criteria down, I’d say the lazy version of the Douche Criteria is, “Do I like you?” Human beings are most comfortable when surrounded with those who look and sound alike — who share the same values. Outsiders are viewed first by their differences rather than their potential. Yeah, it sucks.

My optimistic hope is the Internet hides the individual differences that don’t matter while providing a stage for ideas. This is why the term of douche is not a goofy label that says, “You’re different”, it’s a personal and essential judgement of authenticity.

(This post would not exist without the fine suggestions of the very-non-douchey folks who follow me on Twitter.)

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18 Responses

  1. Kathy Sierra 14 years ago

    This post just made my morning : )

    I am grateful that you posted to the world rather than, say, taping the content to your wall. Adding “Douche Spectrum” to my lexicon now…

  2. I think you’ve covered some interesting angles on the “douche” phenomenon. The only thing I’d add is that it’s fun to say. I think this has fanned the flames of its popularity.

    Not to mention the imagery conjured by those old Summer’s Eve ads.

    It’s also a bit of onomatopoeia.

    Douche, or “Dooosh” is the metaphysical sound an annoying person makes in conversation. It’s the sound I hear in my head when Glenn Beck speaks for example.

    I also am curious how the word douche and it’s rise to popularity maps to the same for other popular or similar labels used in the past, like “square” or “roustabout” or “pain in the ass” or “wonk” or “diva” or “dilettante”.

  3. Douche is becoming overused, but it seems to fill an odd gap in our lexicon. Have you ever tried explaining the word to somebody who has never heard it?

    To me, a douche is defined by these characteristics:




    Lack of humility

    In many cases, the term “tool” also applies to these people.

  4. After looking up Douche in Wikipedia one might come to the conclusion that the reason the term is trending is because vaginal hygiene is en vogue.

    Either that or Merlin Mann has a much larger fanbase than I thought.

  5. English Dork 14 years ago

    You said ‘could care less’ when you meant ‘couldn’t’. Douche.

  6. > In many cases, the term “tool” also applies to these people.

    there’s another word that needs a good essay to define.

  7. But what about Barats and Bereta’s attempt to make judging who’s a douche objective?


  8. Good Doug 14 years ago

    My entirely subjective opinion is that a douche is self aware to the fault of not being aware of others.

    Which I guess is just a short way of saying what you just said.

  9. If there’s one thing universal about douches, it’s their unapologetic obliviousness.

  10. As you probably know, this term (or what used to be the more common pejorative, ‘douchebag’), has some misogynist undertones too. Which helps explain its popularity in the tech world.

  11. I find that douche is quite close to tool. I think is pertinent to point out that both douche and tool have derivations of toolbag and douchebag.

  12. >> In many cases, the term “tool” also applies to these people.

    > there’s another word that needs a good essay to define.

    That’s easy: A “Tool” is an inanimate object that is only useful if manipulated by someone.

  13. I find that I’m super worried about coming across as a douche when I take time out from the content my readers normally come for to sharing news of successes and opportunities. Hopefully my self douche-o-meter goes off early enough to keep from bothering other folks.

  14. Pretentiousness is to douchebag as flour is to bread.

  15. Francisco Passos 14 years ago

    Your Google Trends search showed french-speaking countries on the top and that is not a coincidence.

    Douche in french means “shower” as in “I’m going to take a shower” -> “je vais prendre une douche”.

    So there goes most of France and Canada ๐Ÿ™‚

    Still had fun reading!

  16. Carolina 14 years ago

    I have been reading some of your tweets and like them very much. I agree and disagree with some of them. 

    In the Sell part, when you said people is in internet to sale something, I couldn’t agree more. Some people wants to sell their business or ideas in order to make money, but others (like me) are interested on sharing just some part of their daily life with other people, who wants to do the same and maybe with time (and why not) build a friendship. So you got me thinking and I can see this second way is also another type of selling something, but a human part. Everyday one wakes up a brush hair & teeth, puts some clothes on and goes outside to face life and to sell one’s appearance to a specific group of people (lawyers, designers, engineers, etc, etc, etc). And I guess in Internet we are doing the same, but in a cyber way.

    I’m sorry, but I don’t agree with constructive criticism. Maybe it is just that we have a different approaching and understanding of this concept. 

    I don’t know if people is in Internet screaming for attention, but so far I have found two type of person in the social network (Twitter: my only public on-line account): scammer or someone who wants to be social.

    When I get to know other person/Tweeter I just read their tweets to find similarities and differences, but most than anything to know if they can express their ideas with respect to others. For example I’m Catholic and one of my friends in Twitter (and in person as well) is atheist, he makes jokes about God or suggesting He doesn’t exist, but I never get offended by that, because I accept the fact that he thinks different than me and different no necessarily means bad. I think that is the reason of our solid friendship, because we accept our opinions, even though they are very different.

    Thanks for such interesting article and now following you.

  17. BaronHaynes 13 years ago

    This is quite late, but to me douche implies lack of both self-awareness and self-reflection. “Why am I so intent on insulting this TV show at every available opportunity?” “Why do I have such a strong blanket opinion of political label A?” “Why am I acting like this to someone I barely know?” None of these are questions a douche asks himself.

    This lack of curiosity indicates a lack of critical thinking ability and consideration that’s almost certain to adversely affect other facets of one’s personality. A douche is someone who sets off an alarm bell, “this is a person that will be prone to thoughtlessness.” A douche doesn’t comprehend why they’re a douche, and won’t spend much time trying.

    I’d say this is probably the reason no one self-applies the term. An asshole often knows he’s an asshole, but no one will own up to being a douche, because that’s someone who no one wants to be around.