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This is a letter by physicist Richard Feynman to his university's student newspaper. I am a non-native english speaker and I have trouble understanding in what spirit this letter was written them, is it just casual sarcasm, or condescension, or what?

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Don't feel bad, the style of that letter is inconsistent enough to confuse native speakers. –  Ben Voigt Jun 5 '11 at 2:08

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None of the above. Feynman (one of my heroes, by the way) was being ironic: telling the newspaper staff that they had violated all the rules of professional journalism by

  • being casual rather than stilted (using a candid photo instead of a stiff, posed shot; spelling "says" as "sez", which is bad English but accurate slang)
  • being considerate and humble (apologizing for taking up Feynman's time, rather than assuming that the interview was more important than anything else he might be doing)
  • being "clear, comprehensible, well-written and accurate" and not putting words in Feynman's mouth.

If you read Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman or What Do You Care What Other People Think? (both of which I highly recommend), you'll see that he had very little use for the self-importance of journalists, and much less patience for the innumerable interviews (especially after he won the Nobel Prize) in which he was constantly mis-quoted and his scientific work mis-explained.

Essentially, he was thanking the interviewer for not being "professional", because he was sick and tired of professional interviews.

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That would be sarcasm, then. The usual connotations of calling someone "careless" (twice) are not consistent with thanking someone. –  Ben Voigt Jun 5 '11 at 2:07
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@Ben Voigt - Yes, he was being sarcastic - but the target of his sarcasm was not the student newspaper, but the "professional" press. It's a very refined sort of sarcasm, and I took the OP's question to mean "Is this letter censuring or just being sarcastic" toward the people to whom it was addressed - i.e. the school paper. In that context the answer is clearly "No." Imagine a mother telling her child that he's clearly a failure, since he's missed every opportunity to do his filial duty and break her heart. Sarcastic, yes, but lovingly meant. –  MT_Head Jun 5 '11 at 2:15
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If "careless writing and careless proofreaders are all one can expect of the Tech" wasn't said in sarcasm (toward the addressee), then the letter would be critical of the paper's informal phrasing. –  Ben Voigt Jun 5 '11 at 2:19
    
@Ben Voigt - I think you have that backward: if "careless writing and careless proofreaders are all one can expect of the Tech" was said in sarcasm (toward the addressee), then the letter would be critical of the paper's informal phrasing. –  MT_Head Jun 5 '11 at 2:25
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@Ben Voigt - Every definition of "sarcasm" I can find carries with it the connotation of bitterness or insult. Feynman was not insulting the Cal Tech paper; he was (indirectly) insulting "professional" journalists. If you think he was being sarcastic toward the school paper, I suggest you reconsider "sarcasm". "Irony" would be a better fit, I think –  MT_Head Jun 5 '11 at 2:57

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