Creative Destruction

June 4, 2006

Conscientous Insulting?

Filed under: Debate — Tuomas @ 7:15 pm

One area where I must honestly applaud lefties is questioning the usage of terms like "fag", "pussy", "retard" or "fatass" as insults, due to the fact that used as insults, they are homophobic, misogynist, ableist, and fat-phobic (respectively). There seems to be wonderment among some people what one can use as an insult, if anything (there is considerable value to that position).

I don't think it's rocket science. Follow these two steps:

1: Ask yourself if the insult works by suggesting the insulted person is part of some group of people

if no, it's probably ok, if yes,go to step…

2: Ask yourself if this group of people is morally deserving of scorn and to be considered less than average.

if you answered no to this, then it is most likely a morally questionable insult. If you answered yes, then you'd better explain why these people deserve scorn.

The problem is, the insults that are particularly effective seem to use number 1, and most of them fail on point 2. Political insults are probably ok, as whether they are insults depends on where you stand on the political aisle.

Update: This post got some discussion going in the livejournals, and seeing some over-the-top reactions I just thought that it is relevant to add that this post is NOT about supporting censorship (speaking as Denmark-supporting free-speech loving Finn…). Just because some postmodern types use "respect" as an excuse to censor people and ban speech, doesn't mean that everyone has to play by their stereotype and, in their minds, validate the need for censorship. Nor is it really about the "offensiveness" of words themselves (gay, retard etc.) but about the tendency to use these words as supposedly ultimate insults towards people who are not gay or retarded. That said, I wouldn't ban their use in any case, as that "cure" is worse than the "disease".

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11 Comments »

  1. Is “pussy” misogynistic? I always thought it was derived from pussycat.

    Comment by Brandon Berg — June 4, 2006 @ 7:48 pm | Reply

  2. Whatever its derivation, “pussy” is often intended in a misogynist way.

    Which is irritating, because we need a good insult that means “contempitibly spineless and weak”. We could say “Republican Congress” but that’s too cumbersome.

    Comment by Robert — June 4, 2006 @ 8:04 pm | Reply

  3. And cock is just the male counterpart of hen. Thus, if I were to call someone a cocksucker, I would be merely commenting on that guy’s bad eating habits when eating that particular animal. 🙂

    That is the original meaning, but usually when word “pussy” is used these days, it refers to female genitalia.

    Comment by Tuomas — June 4, 2006 @ 8:06 pm | Reply

  4. And cock is just the male counterpart of hen. Thus, if I were to call someone a cocksucker, I would be merely commenting on that guy’s bad eating habits when eating that particular animal.

    Then shouldn’t cock/dick/prick also be included in the list?

    I think we have reached a point of hyper-sensitivity when fatass is considered an “fat-phobic” remark. We certainly strive to resist the urge to insult others, but this list seems like an attempt to equate these words with the n-word.

    Comment by toysoldier — June 4, 2006 @ 10:14 pm | Reply

  5. The hell with it. I’ll just keep using “asshole” and the rest of the world can go hang.

    Comment by Off Colfax — June 5, 2006 @ 12:44 am | Reply

  6. toysoldier:

    Then shouldn’t cock/dick/prick also be included in the list?

    This post is not trying to be a complete list of all insults. It is not trying to be a list at all, I merely presented some common insults as examples. If some insults were left out it is probably because I didn't want to get a huge post. Of course cock/prick/dick can be included, as they insult all men by turning a reference to their genitalia into insult (both "pussy" and "prick" are a bit bad examples for the formula I presented, as they require a stretch).

    I think we have reached a point of hyper-sensitivity when fatass is considered an “fat-phobic” remark.

    Is the word "fatass" used in some productive way? "You're just being hypersensitive" is the classic non-apology and an attempt to blame the insulted person of the insult.

    Oh, and I'm not fat, in fact, I'm below average weight for my height.

    We certainly strive to resist the urge to insult others, but this list seems like an attempt to equate these words with the n-word.

    Weird, since I didn't write anything about the n-word. Sounds like a strawman. The n-word didn't even occur to me when writing this, as one generally does not insult non-black people by calling them with it (unlike, say, "fag").

    This is not a list, nor an attempt to distinguish which particular insults are worst, it is merely a thinking tool.

    edited for clarity.

    Comment by Tuomas — June 5, 2006 @ 1:59 am | Reply

  7. Political insults are probably ok, as whether they are insults depends on where you stand on the political aisle.

    Rather than hunting for socially-acceptable insulting terms, why not abandon insults altogether? When crowds would exhort Harry Truman to “Give’m hell!,” Truman would respond that he merely tells the truth and the people he’s talking about think it’s hell. I favor this approach.

    I strive to say what I mean – to let my ideas, rather than the stigma of my words, lead people to draw the appropriate inferences. I try to pick words to provide the maximum information with the minimum stigma, and to reject words that convey no meaning, only stigma (e.g., “asshole”).

    To be sure, I don’t always achieve this goal. But when I don’t, please call me a hypocrite, not an asshole. At least then I’ll know what’cher bitchin’ about.

    Comment by nobody.really — June 5, 2006 @ 10:16 am | Reply

  8. N.R, how about hypocritical asshole? =P

    You see, that’s the great thing about using the definition-neutral, high-stigma vulgar words. You can always add in a modifier to be more specific when it is required.

    Anyways, I used to drive a taxi. And believe you me, you tend to use the meaningless high-stigma (And above all, short and to the point.) words a lot more than a philosophical discourse on the poor behaviors of your fellow man. As Amp illustrated here, simply using the word “asshole” when someone cuts you off in traffic is sometimes more important than using “woman driver”. That way, you’re not making an assumption based on unobservable information, but instead solely on demonstrated behavior.

    So stop being such a Republican Congress already. Use the tried-and-true vulgar slang and you can only go wrong if your grandmother hears you. ‘Cause they don’t always make the flavored soaps, you know.

    Comment by Off Colfax — June 5, 2006 @ 10:53 am | Reply

  9. Which is irritating, because we need a good insult that means “contempitibly spineless and weak”. We could say “Republican Congress” but that’s too cumbersome.

    Good one, Robert! Especially from a conservative. The best insults always come from within the group, whatever the group may be.

    My suggestion for an insult is “santorum”. It has two unpleasant meanings, neither of which insults anyone on the basis of their gender, race, sexuality, body habitus, etc.

    Comment by Dianne — June 5, 2006 @ 11:28 am | Reply

  10. We have done a good job of standing up for ourselves when ‘left-handed compliment’ is used in a negative way.

    Comment by Patrice — June 6, 2006 @ 4:55 pm | Reply

  11. nobody.really:
    I admit there is value to your approach of striving to not insult anyone. This isn’t about celebrating insults over non-insults, this is about avoiding collateral damage to people who haven’t done anything to the insulter.

    Essentially this is a proposition of “if you must, then…”

    (oh, and it is apparent, to myself too, that I am far from perfect in these regards myself).

    Comment by Tuomas — June 7, 2006 @ 3:12 pm | Reply


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