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The art of the passive-aggressive note

May 23rd, 2008 · 77 comments

Sure, it’d be easier and quicker to just clean it up. But the modern passive-aggressive (like Katey in Berkeley’s ex-roommate) can’t pass up the opportunity to make a point.


A common variation on the Van der Rohe approach, as documented below by Sam in Dallas, is the so-called “Reverse Magritte.”


Meanwhile, post-modern passive-aggressives (like this New York office-worker below) can’t resist throwing some irony into the mix, intentional or not.

WTF? "What the fuck?"

More recently, passive-aggressives have begun to show the influence of the burgeoning neo-pop movement. Our anonymous submitter in Houston, for example, designed the original stamp below for use in his work. “I am an engineer and we have to mark up technical drawings for manufacture,” he explains, in his artist’s statement. “It gets used at least twice a day.”


The bleeding-edge of passive-aggressive note-writing, however, lies on the west coast, where Rebecca in San Francisco says that in the past, “We’ve had an ongoing series of notes left in the office kitchen — usually of the ‘your mother doesn’t work here’ or ‘there is no such thing as the coffee fairy’ variety.” The Koons-inspired piece currently on display in the office breakroom, however, makes its point with no words at all.

the Jeff Koons approach

related: Why-fi

FILED UNDER: actions speak louder · art · Berkeley · cleaning · Houston · New York · Oakland · obnoxious definition · office · roommates · San Francisco · WTF?

77 responses so far ↓

  • #1   park rose bang

    Sow, that’s how it is.

    May 23, 2008 at 12:17 pm   rating: 5  small thumbs up

  • #2   claw71 bang

    Going to the extent of getting a WTF stamp is just too much. It’s funny but it’s a joke that wears out its welcome long before the first batch of ink runs out.

    I don’t bother with notes in the office. If there’s something in the sink that offends me I throw it away. No soaking allowed. I’ve had somebody watch me pitch their Tupperware and ask me what I thought I was doing. I told them I was doing my dishes and that their container was in my way.

    I also feel for people who live with roommates who never pick up after themsleves but notes are trifling. I’m the kind of guy who will throw your snotty tissue into your bowl of Sugar Smacks while you’re watching reruns of Scrubs.

    That’s because I’m what shrinks refer to as asshole aggressive.

    May 23, 2008 at 12:20 pm   rating: 22  small thumbs up

    • #2.1   Sheepish bang

      Damn Engineers!
      I am an admin assistant to a team of socially inept, high strung, cantankerous and self-absorbed Project Engineers.
      This guy thought that he would be ‘cool’ if he made up this stamp.
      He probably heard his kids say WTF and thought it would be okay to use it in the workplace.
      I truly doubt that he actually uses this stamp on anything but he has it proudly displayed on his desk.
      His coworkers (and I’m certain his assistant) all think that he’s a giant douche.

      May 23, 2008 at 12:40 pm   rating: 7  small thumbs up

    • #2.2   Engineer

      As long as he’s at a somewhat young firm he shouldn’t have any problems. Heck, where I work, all the older guys swear. The college kids are too insecure to do so, but we don’t really care.

      Any internet humour is a welcome distraction, so really, the stamp should say “WTF MATE?”

      That said, my code is full of stupid jokes, and my notes full of “WTF” arrows, “ghey” labels, and the like.

      We aren’t all that high-strung though. None of us.

      May 23, 2008 at 3:04 pm   rating: 4  small thumbs up

    • #2.3   nelleellen

      Claw 71-Didn’t I have you as a housemate once???

      May 24, 2008 at 5:37 pm   rating: 0  small thumbs up

    • #2.4   Mishee bang

      Claw’s only housemate is his pet python

      May 25, 2008 at 12:15 am   rating: 1  small thumbs up

  • #3   claw71 bang

    I’m also of the opinion that there is no such thing as a “cat accident”. Everything they do is part of the plan.

    May 23, 2008 at 12:24 pm   rating: 35  small thumbs up

    • #3.1   secondsout bang

      Maybe the “cat accident” is referring to a Sopranos-style mob hit on the cat.

      “That cat pukes on the floor one more, and I can’t be responsible for what happens.”

      May 23, 2008 at 12:31 pm   rating: 1  small thumbs up

    • #3.2   RunBarbara bang

      Sometimes you have to make an example of someone. Sometimes its the cat.

      May 23, 2008 at 12:38 pm   rating: 10  small thumbs up

    • #3.3   lfroland bang

      “You are correct, human. There is no such thing as an ‘accident’ to a cat. We cats have a master plan which involves defecation in special places. This is special feces, for its smell wards off evil spirits. We would jolt you like the Scientologists but Zenu says we’d just hurt ourselves. So we defecate. All part of the master plan.”

      May 23, 2008 at 1:16 pm   rating: 3  small thumbs up

    • #3.4   lfroland bang

      Further to that, let’s be honest, does that LOOK like a “cat accident” to y’all? It looks rather smeared, which suggests the cat was letting loose and dragging it’s ass along the floor at the same time. Again, all part of the master plan.

      My cat occasionally hangs her ass outside of the litter box when she pees. “C’mon, you’re in the damn box, just a few more inches!” Nope. Again, there’s that master plan.

      At least there aren’t any evil spirits in the bathroom.

      May 23, 2008 at 1:23 pm   rating: 3  small thumbs up

    • #3.5   KittyKat

      Sorry, but I’m an expert in such things (really). That’s vomit, not shit. Cats vomit all the time.

      May 23, 2008 at 3:40 pm   rating: 4  small thumbs up

    • #3.6   claw71 bang

      So does that make them more or less evil?

      I’m thinking more because they do it on purpose. My cat will come inside after spending two hours lounging on the hood of my car only to puke in the middle of the carpet and shit on a Bounce sheet instead of her litter box four inches away.

      May 23, 2008 at 3:45 pm   rating: 0  small thumbs up

    • #3.7   KittyKat

      I really don’t think it’s deliberate – they don’t care enough about you to try to piss you off. I think cats just aren’t out to please anyone – they leave that for the dogs.

      May 23, 2008 at 4:39 pm   rating: 2  small thumbs up

  • #4   secondsout bang

    The last piece is something my mom would do. She actually has a plastic crab and whenever someone in my family is bitching too much, she leaves the crab on the offender’s pillow to make a point.

    May 23, 2008 at 12:29 pm   rating: 10  small thumbs up

    • #4.1   RunBarbara bang

      My mom just uses my handtowels and throws a handful of pubes in my shower.
      Wanna trade moms?

      May 23, 2008 at 1:02 pm   rating: 7  small thumbs up

    • #4.2   reverend dick

      Then your mom is my new team. She sounds a lot like my mom, except she doesn’t irritate me, because she is your mom, not mine.

      Team Your Mom!

      May 23, 2008 at 1:25 pm   rating: 3  small thumbs up

  • #5   secondsout bang

    “not a trash can”

    Correct you are. If you look carefully, that appears to be a used Kleenex, not a trash can.

    May 23, 2008 at 12:33 pm   rating: 13  small thumbs up

    • #5.1   Mishee bang

      Not only the used kleenex, but some douche left his passive aggressive note on the counter too! Didn’t we just say that the counter wasn’t a trash can? WTF?

      May 23, 2008 at 12:55 pm   rating: 15  small thumbs up

    • #5.2   KittyKat

      If you look carefully, there’s a bowl of rocks on the counter. I think THAT’s the trash can! Or maybe an ashtray?

      May 23, 2008 at 3:46 pm   rating: 1  small thumbs up

  • #6   RunBarbara bang

    Actually, I’ve decided to be on Team WTF Is In That Bowl?
    It looks like month-old beans or salsa or something gross and Mexican….like Danny Trejo.

    May 23, 2008 at 12:40 pm   rating: 4  small thumbs up

    • #6.1   unholyghost2003 bang

      I can say with some authority, because I have that same bowl (but in orange not that weird dusky rose color) and it has looked that EXACT same way; the bowl contains leftover Hormel Chili that was left in the fridge uncovered for 1 month.

      May 23, 2008 at 2:00 pm   rating: 1  small thumbs up

    • #6.2   Joe

      As I type this, the secretaries are performing the monthly ritual we call “refrigerator clean-out.” Any unclaimed items get tossed.

      Team Hire Someone Else to Clean Up After You!

      (a.k.a. Team Pay Attention in School So You Don’t End Up With a Crappy (literally) Job!)

      May 23, 2008 at 2:57 pm   rating: 1  small thumbs up

    • #6.3   bellabeastie

      The “secretaries” ??

      WTF — did you just arrive from Planet 60′s ??

      I hope the Stewardesses gave you a blankie.

      May 25, 2008 at 7:30 am   rating: 5  small thumbs up

    • #6.4   bellabeastie

      Dear Joe:

      I regret to inform you that we will no longer be employed by you.

      I know you hired us because we probably didn’t pay attention in school – however, we are sick and tired of cleaning up after you.

      And since no one has claimed you this month, as part of the refridgerator clean-out – well, you get tossed. Good luck, and hope you find yourself a new Crappy Job.


      The Secretaries

      May 25, 2008 at 8:27 am   rating: 6  small thumbs up

  • #7   Sarah bang

    “Cat accident”? Since they’re abbreviating, why not just merge it to “catcident”?

    May 23, 2008 at 1:00 pm   rating: 1  small thumbs up

  • #8   GhostWriter bang

    All right players; the answer is, “This phrase has become a viral meme online, and is often used when discovering a mess in the wrong place.” The question is, as always, “What The Fuck??” Let’s see how everyone did.

    “Carla, you’re the current champion with $12,600. Your question was…. ‘Cat Accident, and some sort of logo‘ I’m sorry, that’s incorrect. You wagered… $2599, which drops you to $10,001.”

    Victor, you’ve got $87oo. What was your question? “Not A Trash Can” That’s also incorrect. You bet $4000, dropping you to $4700.

    GhostWriter, you’ve got a chance to win it all with the correct question. You said, “W T F? (what the fuck)?” and that is correct! You wagered all of your $5100, which gives you $10200, and you are today’s big winner!


    May 23, 2008 at 1:08 pm   rating: 6  small thumbs up

    • #8.1   Sheepish bang

      Ghost Writer… is there ever a ‘right place’ for a mess?

      May 23, 2008 at 1:17 pm   rating: 1  small thumbs up

    • #8.2   RunBarbara bang

      mud wrestling.

      May 26, 2008 at 10:23 am   rating: 1  small thumbs up

  • #9   Quite Contrary

    WTF is only effective when written with sharpies.

    May 23, 2008 at 1:14 pm   rating: 2  small thumbs up

    • #9.1   lfroland bang

      It’s effectiveness also increases with liberal use of extra question and exclamation marks, as demonstrated below:




      See? Easy. I’m surprised we haven’t seen MORE of this.

      May 23, 2008 at 1:19 pm   rating: 2  small thumbs up

    • #9.2   NoPunIntended bang

      Or if immediately followed by something mean and hateful.

      WTF! She’s fucking FAT!

      May 23, 2008 at 3:47 pm   rating: 5  small thumbs up

  • #10   daniel bang

    I can see the person at their office desk, angrily carving the pigs out of blocks of wood..

    May 23, 2008 at 1:31 pm   rating: 12  small thumbs up

    • #10.1   Arthur and Amy bang

      They should have been painted. Lazy.

      May 23, 2008 at 1:33 pm   rating: 3  small thumbs up

    • #10.2   Quite Contrary

      They should have been painted. WTF?

      May 23, 2008 at 1:46 pm   rating: 2  small thumbs up

  • #11   Arthur and Amy bang

    Well, ok. Maybe unpainted has more style.

    May 23, 2008 at 1:51 pm   rating: 0  small thumbs up

  • #12   Cricket

    I LOVE how the office worker wrote “what the fuck” directly under the “WTF” as if THEY just invented the abbreviation.

    my response to any “WTF” note with it spelled out on the bottom would be another note that said “EM” a.k.a. “EAT ME”

    May 23, 2008 at 1:52 pm   rating: 5  small thumbs up

    • #12.1   claw71 bang

      I had a boss who would parenthetically define obvious abbreviations in emails. I thought it was patronizing so I’d edit the emails before I saved them and/or responded. So it looked like he defined ASAP as Almost Stopped Ass Picking or PDQ as Prefer Dominant Queens.

      I’d also make up acronyms and use them around the office so he would ask me what they meant. He thought AIP (After I Poop) was pretty funny but He really didn’t like BAWL (Boss Asshole Working Late).

      May 23, 2008 at 2:55 pm   rating: 9  small thumbs up

    • #12.2   amy d bang

      Claw, I do something similar. When someone chairs a meeting and uses acronyms that I am unfamiliar with, I make up their meaning myself. Once, the “big boss” kept referring to a MFP.

      I had to stop myself from giggling because I imagined him saying This is our mother fucking protocol!

      May 23, 2008 at 4:10 pm   rating: 7  small thumbs up

    • #12.3   KittyKat

      Claw, you’re a peach. I wish you worked for me! :)

      May 23, 2008 at 4:44 pm   rating: 0  small thumbs up

  • #13   GhostWriter bang

    The swine sculpture looks incomplete. I would add a morning’s-worth of bacon and sausage to the trough, and title it, “This Buffet Costs an Arm and a Leg.”

    May 23, 2008 at 2:42 pm   rating: 7  small thumbs up

    • #13.1   claw71 bang

      Swine? I thought that was a wood carving of Ned Beatty and the Olsen twins.

      God, I hate those fat bitches.

      May 23, 2008 at 2:46 pm   rating: 2  small thumbs up

  • #14   NoPunIntended bang

    Is it just me or is the PAN “Not a trashcan” more of a piece of trash than the original offending Kleenex?

    I mean seriously, now who’s going to clean that shit up as well?

    May 23, 2008 at 3:51 pm   rating: 1  small thumbs up

  • #15   amy d bang

    Right next to the cat accident note, I would put another sticky note that said

    Note from an asshole –>

    on it.

    May 23, 2008 at 4:16 pm   rating: 16  small thumbs up

    • #15.1   summer

      The cat puking on the floor was his own PA behavior, somebody probably closed the lid to the toilet.

      May 23, 2008 at 7:04 pm   rating: 0  small thumbs up

    • #15.2   lfroland bang

      Go Team “Fight PAN’s with PANS”!

      Giggle :)

      May 24, 2008 at 12:43 pm   rating: 0  small thumbs up

    • #15.3   pixie bang

      My cat would throw up if I didn’t buy him the expensive cat food. Cats are more PA than people.

      May 25, 2008 at 11:10 am   rating: 0  small thumbs up

  • #16   lizzie

    We have a BULLSHIT stamp at my office. My brother had it made for me after listening to me bitch about work. It gets passed around from desk to desk, but never gets used for anything but levity. I like the WTF stamp. If its owner’s heart is in the right place.

    May 23, 2008 at 5:37 pm   rating: 2  small thumbs up

  • #17   Lurker

    My favorite WTF story:

    I got a letter back from the post office marked UTF, for “unable to forward.” But, the clerk who wrote it had messy handwriting, and at first I thought the post office was givin’ me some ‘tude.

    May 23, 2008 at 5:38 pm   rating: 3  small thumbs up

    • #17.1   summer

      I got one like that yesturday.

      May 23, 2008 at 7:05 pm   rating: 0  small thumbs up

  • #18   aaa

    WTF? is right. What the hell is that diarrhea-looking shit in that bowl?

    May 23, 2008 at 6:19 pm   rating: 0  small thumbs up

  • #19   Zsa

    I have lots and lots of co-workers that would not get the pigs and make some innane comment about “folk art.”
    Maybe if you wrote in sharpie on the sides of the pigs? “your Momma” and “office worker 1″ / “ofice worker 2″ might be subtle enough for them. Oh and pink peni for the little piggies. “WTF?” in the manger might be the piece d’resistance. Totally a “WWJD” moment.

    May 23, 2008 at 6:48 pm   rating: 1  small thumbs up

  • #20   TuesdayPillow

    WTF? Your momma doesn’t work here. This bowl of month-old chili is a cat accident, not a trash can – you DOUCHE.

    May 24, 2008 at 1:07 am   rating: 0  small thumbs up

  • #21   zombieBlanco bang

    With a sigh, Emalia sank down into her sudsy warm bubble-bath. Day after day of the same mind-numbing work and what did she have to show for it? A pile of teeth buried in the yard and a back that was sore and aching from lugging around all that change. It was okay when it was just pennies, but now the kids expected a quarter or three, and it was just too much for her to keep up with.

    As she slipped further into the bath, she contemplated what kind of career change she could hope to make in the slowing economy. Both Santa and the Easter Bunny had hiring freezes in place and everyone knew that the Halloween and Valentine’s Day gigs were just temp work without any benefits.

    In the wink of an eye it came to her! Why, with just a small investment in easily portable stationary items she could become the PassiveAggressiveNote Fairy! Armed only with post-its, sharpies of various colors and her rapier wit she could wreak vengeance on vomiting cats, litterbugs, lunch thieves, bad tippers, uppity baristas, inconsiderate cell-phone users, nonpaying tenants, cheap parkers, ethnic food preparers, microwave time leavers, and people who shit anywhere except the toilet. In fact, she could be wherever justice need be done.

    May 24, 2008 at 2:47 am   rating: 9  small thumbs up

    • #21.1   bellabeastie

      If Only pigs could Fly… with the PAN Note Fairy on her back. Squeaky young’uns catching up the rear with the gear.

      Gotta know the demographics are great! This is a full-time gig with the right attitude.

      Vengeance — Is Yours.

      May 24, 2008 at 11:11 pm   rating: 0  small thumbs up

  • #22   Brian

    Personally, I liked the pig carvings. 10+ for creative expression. However, I’m guessing that they were the least effective of the PANs here. Do you really think someone who can’t take a few extra steps to the trash can is going to think about it enough to get it?

    May 24, 2008 at 9:36 am   rating: 1  small thumbs up

    • #22.1   lfroland bang

      I feel it was more for the person’s own amusement- I can’t see the co-workers getting it at all, and possibly even leaving a PAN like this:

      “WTF? Leve yor stupid pig carvins somewer else elderly peple childrin handicaped + construcshun werkers eat here!”

      May 24, 2008 at 12:49 pm   rating: 2  small thumbs up

    • #22.2   Wade bang

      Now, if they had molded the pigs out of the viscous remains in the bowl….

      May 24, 2008 at 4:46 pm   rating: 2  small thumbs up

  • #23   Cricket

    I would’ve waited till after I’d eaten, then glued that nasty ass chili bowl to the TABLE…more effective.

    but then again, these lazy assholes would leave it for the cleaning people to take care of and THAT is BULLSHIT.

    which is WHY I will NEVER work in an office.

    May 24, 2008 at 1:47 pm   rating: 0  small thumbs up

  • #24   Carlos the Dwarf bang

    Only a fool would start a passive aggressive war with a creature that wouldn’t hesitate to throw up on your floor.

    May 24, 2008 at 7:39 pm   rating: 4  small thumbs up

  • #25   Laura

    Wandered in today. No great comment, just a hello.

    May 25, 2008 at 1:57 pm   rating: 1  small thumbs up

    • #25.1   Crash bang

      Hi ! :D

      May 25, 2008 at 2:03 pm   rating: 1  small thumbs up

  • #26   Jahzzie

    Cats invented Passive Agressive, “I don’tlike the flavor of your plants, Im going to puke in your shoes to show my displeasure. ” The only time they do care is whenthe food bowl is empty.

    May 25, 2008 at 6:46 pm   rating: 0  small thumbs up

    • #26.1   pixie bang

      Or when they decide you need to show your appreciation by rubbing behind their ears.

      May 25, 2008 at 7:36 pm   rating: 0  small thumbs up

  • #27   Charlotte

    The best part is that the reverse-Magritte is responsible for leaving an even greater amount of litter than the original offender. Passive-aggressiveness + unintentional irony = delicious.

    I’ll cop to intentionally ignoring late night feline regurgitations, though it’s less of a passive-aggressive stance than it is a “fuck it, someone else will take care of it in the morning” brand of laziness.

    May 26, 2008 at 3:58 am   rating: 0  small thumbs up

  • #28   Froggy

    ARGH! My ex-roommate left a nearly identical cat note (I believe hers said “cat puke”).

    I honestly thought my head was going to explode.

    Especially since, you know, I’d just done her dishes.


    May 26, 2008 at 11:05 am   rating: 0  small thumbs up

  • #29   bellabeastie

    Huh? I think it’s something about an interesting psychologist who has cancer…or men can have various … (you know).. or a brilliant large opening.

    Who’s building a har (?) oven or forest den for the storks. Wow.

    May 27, 2008 at 11:08 am   rating: 0  small thumbs up

  • #30   bellabeastie

    Parlor for Sin? I like it.

    Sign me up for a lifetime membership, please.

    May 27, 2008 at 11:21 am   rating: 0  small thumbs up

  • #31   Persephone

    The cat thing reminds me of a friend of mine who when very pregnant and sick and coming home from a stressful day of work, was greeted by her psycho husband telling her that the dog had had an accident and he had “saved” half of it for her to clean up.

    May 27, 2008 at 12:30 pm   rating: 1  small thumbs up

    • #31.1   bellabeastie

      I hope she put it in his food.

      Disguised as meatloaf. Fucker.

      May 27, 2008 at 12:49 pm   rating: 0  small thumbs up

    • #31.2   marcopuffin bang

      or at least decapitated him

      May 27, 2008 at 6:22 pm   rating: 0  small thumbs up

  • #32   don oliver

    Caught your picture in BizWeek and couldn’t resist checking out your blog. My only comment is that I’m right in my contention that there are too many people in this world with not enough to keep them busy with worthwhile pursuits.

    May 27, 2008 at 10:23 pm   rating: 0  small thumbs up

    • #32.1   claw71 bang

      Jeez, Don, do you ever worry about falling off that high horse of yours or do you figure that big head will break the fall?

      May 27, 2008 at 10:33 pm   rating: 2  small thumbs up

    • #32.2   Queen of Hearts

      says off with his head!

      Is he insulting passive-aggressive note leavers, the readers of this site, or Kerry herself?

      May 27, 2008 at 10:48 pm   rating: 0  small thumbs up

    • #32.3   Canthz_B bang

      Was taking the time to pan PAN deemed a worthwhile pursuit, or was it just something to do while on asshole break?

      May 27, 2008 at 11:15 pm   rating: 0  small thumbs up

    • #32.4   Crash bang

      I think don was having one of those ‘not enough to keep himself busy with a worthwhile pursuit’ moments that he was talking about… :roll:

      May 27, 2008 at 11:29 pm   rating: 0  small thumbs up

  • #33   Russ

    Gross. Really disgusting.

    Jun 7, 2008 at 3:21 am   rating: 0  small thumbs up


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