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How to confuse an American: The politics of the c-word

In my last blog, I noted in passing that I am prone to using very offensive language, including the word ‘cunt.’ I think it was coincidence, but around the same time Ophelia blogged on that very topic, and inadvertently created a perfect case study of the phenomenon I was discussing.

As PZ noted in a follow-up called ‘How to drive a Brit crazy’, anyone objecting to the use of that word is likely to reap a torrent of comments saying “it’s a perfectly acceptable word; everyone says it in England.”

I’ll return to the question of whether ‘everyone says it in England’ in a minute, but first let me observe that what PZ describes is a classic example of the “you shouldn’t be offended by that” fallacy. Irrespective of how the word is used in other cultures, to many people – and especially to most Americans – ‘cunt’ is a deeply offensive, sexist and misogynistic word. In truth I use it very rarely on the internet / social media, because I know there will be people reading who will be upset by it and I have no wish to hurt them. I quite consciously modify my language out of respect for the sensibilities of some people who might read my words. That just seems like the decent thing to do.

Occasionally I will weigh up that risk of offence against whatever point I wish to express by using it, and jump in with both feet. If someone objects, I may or may not apologise or regret my choice of word, but never would I tell someone that s/he is wrong to be offended. That would be outrageously presumptuous. The “But in England…” defence is indeed a pile of cack.

That said, the debate raises (or more accurately, misses) a point about the c-word that I find fascinating. In my experience, whenever foreigners, and especially Americans, fail to grasp a nuance of British habits, it is because they are almost entirely oblivious to the function and history of our class system, which runs like deep scars into every aspect of our society, our politics and – above all – our culture. The c-word is a quite splendid example of this in action.

It is simply not true that everyone in England says “cunt” all the time. It is not commonly considered sexist or misogynistic (note, I’m not saying it isn’t – I’m saying that’s not how it is considered) however it is undoubtedly considered exceptionally vulgar. Vulgarity in British culture is inextricably wrapped up with the performativity of class status.

It is not a huge exaggeration to say the debate over the c-word began at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. For the next 400 years or so, English peasants spoke endless regional variations on middle English, (the language of Chaucer, most famously.) The ruling class (nobility) spoke Anglo-French. Over a couple of hundred years, roughly between the times of the Tudors and the Georgians, the English language began to standardise, and people learned to perform a place in the social hierarchy according to whether one’s vocabulary and vocal stylings leaned more to the Norman / Anglo-English or the older, more ‘vulgar’ Anglo-Saxon.

Before spelling was standardised, Chaucer had the freedom to improvise, and makes a rather clever visual pun by spelling the word cunt as ‘queynte’ – deliberately echoing the word ‘quaint’ meaning ‘a pleasing thing’ and he used it liberally and without any hint of embarrassment. By Shakespeare’s time, the bard was reduced to hinting at it like a naughty schoolboy – and he did, often.

However, there was no United Kingdom at the time of Chaucer or Shakespeare. The further you drifted from the Norman influence, the less the people’s language was polluted by the aristocratic gentility and Latin constructions of the Normans. We Scots had 0ur own languages (lowland Scots, a close relative of middle-English and Highland Gaelic – which we share with the Irish) the Welsh had theirs of course, and still do.

So long before the notion of sexism or misogyny had even been conceived, the word ‘cunt’ had become a battleground in a long-running and bitter culture war and those who were most keen on its erasure were the aristocrats, the theocrats, the patriarchs, and those irritating Puritans that we shunted off on the Mayflower and hoped to never hear from again. As Laurie Penny rightly points out here, excising ‘cunt’ from people’s language was in itself an exercise in controlling and shaming women’s bodies and sexuality. The modern British taboo against saying ‘cunt’ in the presence of a “lady” has much more to do with perpetuating the patriarchal Madonna-whore dichotomy than any kind of acknowledgement of sexism.

As late as 1790, the Scots’ national poet (and a personal political hero, incidentally) Robert Burns was not just toying with vulgarity, he was positively revelling in it. Sometimes it was jocular, 18th century vaudeville, like his poem superficially about a hat called ‘Cock up Your Beaver‘ at other times he didn’t even bother with the pretence. Burns, the son of a ploughman, had a strained relationship with the nobility in both Edinburgh and England whom he felt courted his talent while patronising him and mocking his origins. By writing such unapologetic vulgarity, Burns was very deliberately performing the role of the common man, for the common man – and woman.

Jump forward another couple of hundred years, and to one of my all time favourite films, Shaun of the Dead. Near to the beginning, Shaun (Simon Pegg) is in the pub, trying to explain to his pretentious, upwardly mobile friends that his best mate Ed is really a good guy. Ed cheerfully strolls up to the table and beams “Can I get any of you cunts a drink?”

Where I grew up in Eastern Scotland, the word cunt is used prolifically. I once heard two elderly women in Dundee talk about their grandchildren, including the memorable phrase “och, the pair wee cunt’s got the maist affy colic” (translation: “Oh, the poor little soul has the most terrible stomach pains.”). Such usage serves a social and political function. It states, very forcefully, that the speaker resides proudly among the vulgar, not the refined. It is used in full knowledge that it will cause upset and offence to those of a delicate disposition. It is a statement of political identity, and I have no doubt that largely explains why it is so much more prevalent in the further flung homelands of Scotland and Ireland – not to mention Australia – than it is in England. Even within England, it is used more commonly the further you get (both geographically and sociopolitically) from the ruling class and the bourgeoisie.

This is not a justification or a defence. I could be entirely correct about the above and it could remain true that when used as a slur, the word is deeply misogynistic, positioning women’s bodies and sexuality as something dirty and negative. It can also be true that words change, gather or lose layers of meaning over time. Even if it was once used without intrinsic misogyny does not mean it remains free of those semantics today.

So in that sense, I am not seeking to shift the debate as to the acceptability of the word in either direction. However I am convinced that there is a profound difference between British and American usage. In Britain the word is mostly used for the performative power of its vulgarity, and its misogyny is unnoticed and incidental. In the US, the word is mostly used for its performative misogyny and it is the vulgarity, in terms of social class, which goes unnoticed and incidental. 

There have long been – and continue to be – debates amongst British people as to the c-word’s function and acceptability. Even amongst women and within British feminism there is no kind of consensus on either side, and anyone who claims there is must be disingenuous or mistaken. I do not seek to persuade anyone that the word should be considered harmless or benign, but I would call on everyone to understand that to British people, the politics of cunt are perhaps much more profound, complex and encumbered with historical baggage than you could possibly imagine.

Comments

  1. Maria Hughes says

    Hi Ally

    Excellent analysis.

    I wonder if you’ve ever read “Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing”, by Melissa Mohr? She chose the title because in the countries she’s studied, the fashion seems to swing generally between blasphemy being unacceptable whilst bodily parts/functions (i.e. vulgarity) were fine, and vice versa, and I think she makes some similar points about the class system, from memory. Incidentally, she’s American!

  2. Maureen Brian says

    I like that, Ally. Thank you.

    Now get ready to explain “a pile of cack” to someone.

  3. Arren ›‹ neverbound says

    Actually, this American is less confused after reading your post. Thanks.

  4. Ally Fogg says

    Thanks both.

    I haven’t read the Mohr book, Maria, but remember reading reviews of it a year or two back and liking the sound of it. One for my wishlist.

    Maureen – to my shame, “cack” has Romantic origins – ‘caco’ in Latin. Probably got it from the fucking Normans. Should have stuck to my usual shit, shyte, shitten, much more wholesome and earthy.

  5. Darren Ball says

    Thanks Ally,

    My wife’s an American and she once said to me

    “when you talk about men’s issues you sound like a cunt. I’m saying that because I love you”.

    Of course the actual definition of a word has nothing whatsoever to do with its offensiveness:

    fuck vs bugger
    bastard vs git
    cunt vs twat or berk

    If the definition is irrelevant, then there is no logic to the word being misogynistic in and of itself. If the definition mattered, then prick or dick would be misandrist terms of equal severity.

    It is often argue that the worst insulting words are aimed at women with no male equivalent (bitch vs bastard, etc.). But why does bitch sound worse than bastard? Given that the literal definitions are irrelevant, it is probable that bitch sounds worse simply because we find insulting language directed at women more offensive than when it’s directed at men. Whatever words were chosen, they’d be considered more offensive (I opine).

    Best

  6. says

    Yup I wonder the extent to which many of the people who would regularly use the word associate it with female genitalia.
    Having lived around 30 years on each of the sides of the Atlantic in turn, I have seen the quite wide difference in how it’s perceived.
    I suspect that what might be happening to ‘cunt’ in the UK is regular semantic change: the sort of thing that changed ‘thrill’ from a hole (look at ‘nostrill’ as a linguistic fossil) to excigement (via a metaphorical piercing and in Jane Austin’s—IIRR— ‘thrilling pains’).
    I mean ‘Berk’ is already a pretty mild expression!

  7. Ally Fogg says

    Darren

    it is probable that bitch sounds worse simply because we find insulting language directed at women more offensive than when it’s directed at men. Whatever words were chosen, they’d be considered more offensive

    that’s a really interesting observation, and I think you may have a point.

  8. gshelley says

    Interesting, when I was at school in the late 80s-early 90s in northern England, it was commonly used by the boys, but virtually never heard from the girls. The word “twat” however, was pretty ubiquitous from both. Whether this is because “cunt” is considered stronger (which it certainly is, twat could even get on pre-watershed TV as the “twot” variant apparently used in southern England, whereas “cunt” if ever used on TV would elicit the “very strong language” warning, rather than just the “strong language” “fuck” brought on), or because twat was so common, the female genitalia meaning was secondary at best.

  9. Ally Fogg says

    Interesting, when I was at school in the late 80s-early 90s in northern England, it was commonly used by the boys, but virtually never heard from the girls. The word “twat” however, was pretty ubiquitous from both.

    Yes, I think that is true everywhere. The only women I’ve known who use the word regularly have either been from really, really tough families or have been very politically savvy anarcho-feminist types!

    Not sure if things have changed, but I remember a documentary about obscenity maybe 15 years ago, and someone from the BBC said they had a league table of serious swearing, and strict rules about what could be used at what times and in what contexts. Curiously, ‘cunt’ actually came second behind ‘motherfucker’ (or ‘the Oedipal pronoun’ as the man from the Beeb called it!)

  10. blue says

    This Australian is less confused after reading your post too.

    This, in particular ” In the US, the word is mostly used for its performative misogyny and it is the vulgarity, in terms of social class, which goes unnoticed and incidental. “. I’ve lived in the US for ten years, but they still puzzle me, and I do use my language and attitudes very deliberately to cut the pretentious and formal chaff from the relaxed and friendly wheat. But I thought PZ was being pathetically ridiculous. The appeal of cunt, dick, twat and wanker is their short sharp sound and relative offensiveness (or not). It never occured to me they have different meanings to them.

    Have you noticed Americans think “bloody” is a terrible swear word?

  11. says

    Man, that’s fascinating. Never thought the word had a history that went all the way back to Chaucer, or that it was such a strong marker of class. It reminds me a little bit of the politics of “nigger” in the U.S. PZ says we shouldn’t use the word “nigger” even if everyone down South does, but what of a black fellow using the term? Is it as bad if a member of an oppressed group tries to ‘reclaim’ that troublesome word? By the same token, is it more acceptable for members of an oppressed socioeconomic class to use even a misogynistic word like ‘cunt’ to express solidarity? I don’t know, and I certainly have no authority to tell anyone the answer to that, at least outside of my own blog. But it’s a good question to ponder…

  12. Ally Fogg says

    talking of Australians, back in the 80s there was a TV drama about the Bodyline scandal (a cricket thing, for the uninitiated). It was rubbish, but did include a marvellous moment when one of the posh England players complained because an Australian had called him “a lucky bastard.”

    The Australian captain turned to his team and said “Right. Which one of you bastards called this bastard a bastard?”

  13. Hunt says

    It’s just the same old story, different time and people. They want to control language use, regardless of context. Fifty years ago it was Rock ‘n Roll. I can understand the motivation, to stop use of ‘cunt’ as directed in a misogynistic fashion against women. But that’s a general point independent of language usage that can be handled by moderation against misogynistic posts in general.

    Bottom line: it’s just a damn word PZ, get over it.

  14. Ally Fogg says

    Bottom line: it’s just a damn word PZ>, get over it.

    Have to say I profoundly disagree with this.

    Language is a powerful weapon or tool in shaping society. I could probably argue with PZ all day as to the function and effect of that particular word, but the argument that it is ‘just a word’ is pretty facile IMO.

  15. Hunt says

    “Have you noticed Americans think “bloody” is a terrible swear word?”

    Any American using the word “bloody” outside an accident or murder scene is being a pretentious ass anyway.

    (As an American, I can say that.)

  16. says

    You post made me think about something. In my home city (Medellin, Colombia) we use the word ‘cunt’ (‘chimba’ in spanish-colombian). The word is very vulgar but it have a completely different meaning, if someone tells you “you are a cunt” (sos una chimba/eres una chimba) they are actually telling you “you are very, very cool/great”. (I still remember when my girlfriend lost her job some time ago, a friend of her told her: “You don’t have to worry about anything, you are a little cunt!”)

    So, my question would be… if the problem with the word ‘cunt’ is “positioning women’s bodies and sexuality as something dirty and negative”, then, would it be Ok to use “women’s bodies and sexuality” as something positive as happen to be in my culture?

  17. des says

    erratum II
    add a comma after middle-English, to remove the possibility that lowland Scots is a relative of Highland Gaelic.

    comme ça:

    We Scots had our own languages (lowland Scots, a close relative of middle-English, and Highland Gaelic – which we share with the Irish) the Welsh had theirs of course, and still do.

    ***

    Good piece of work. Aristos also use a lot of vulgar language too.

  18. Adiabat says

    Tolerance of swearing in general is a very British trait. When we’re about to eat I love the reaction when I ask my Polish friends ‘how’s your Pizta’, because they’re even funnier than Americans when it comes to their reaction to “naughty words”. Also when Americans come onto UK talk shows and revel in being allowed to say ‘Fuck’ on TV; it’s like the scene from Shawshank Redemption when Andy finally crawls out of the pipe.

  19. Ian Donaldson says

    I don’t know if people in the UK are aware, but Australia and the West Indies (or the Windies as they are affectionately known) have a cricketing rivalry second only to that between Australia and England. Anyway, a while back there was an advertisement for KFC screened that played on this by showing an Australian sharing a bucket of KFC with West Indies fans. The none-too-suble subtext being that even the greatest rivals can agree that KFC is awesome.

    Later, some American(s) got hold of it and pronounced it racist because “black people and fried chicken”, blithely ignoring the fact that (a) the people depicted were not African-American and (b) there’s no “fried chicken” stereotype in either Australia or the West Indies. The irony that in order to deem it racist, he needed to ignore the cultural context of the advertisement and impose is own seemed lost on him, and on those who agreed.

    I mention this because the feeling I get when reading PZ’s and Ophelia’s posts is much the same.

  20. Hunt says

    but the argument that it is ‘just a word’ is pretty facile IMO.

    It is just a damn word, Any word, or combination of words, can be made to hurt. I can think of a hundred ways to use language to more devastating effect than any single swear word. You’re giving it way too much credit.

  21. Hunt says

    I’ll return to the question of whether ‘everyone says it in England’ in a minute, but first let me observe that what PZ describes is a classic example of the “you shouldn’t be offended by that” fallacy.

    This doesn’t entirely cover it. If you read the comments on that post, what PZ also saying is “you should be offended by that,” which is the mirror fallacy, as at least one British commentator attempted to convey. I concede that PZ is half right, but also half wrong.

  22. gshelley says

    I think the other articles arguing against the word are coming from a huge sense of entitlement (American privilege perhaps) and the authors seem to think all they need to do is assert a word is offensive and misogynistic and that no one should use it and this ends all discussion and no other opinions can be valid or even welcome.

  23. carntion says

    Am I allowed to say that I think Adiabat is one of the finest cunts I’ve discussed gender issues with?

  24. says

    Spot on with the class-based definition, Ally.

    Also, the word used by working-class Britons for “a slim cylinder of shredded tobacco leaves rolled in thin paper, for the purpose of self-medication with nicotine” means something entirely different in the USA ….. whereas Eric Cartman’s favourite snack would have to be renamed for sale this side of the pond …..

  25. says

    Brilliant piece and much better explained than I managed in the comments thread, when I pointed out that I would be bringing the American feminists concerns to the working class women of my local East End boozer.

    I’d have thought given the abysmal showing so far, that feminists would want to win over these women before trying to police their language.

  26. jamessweet says

    heh, sort of funny, Ally’s post is pretty much saying the opposite of “it’s just a word”, so… if you are saying that, you aren’t agreeing with him.

    Anyway, thanks for the thoughtful post. As always, these things are complicated.

  27. James Willmott says

    “we find insulting language directed at women more offensive than when it’s directed at men.”

    Perhaps because men are, for many of them, used to flinging insults at each other part of male-male bonding?

  28. daveallen says

    Before spelling was standardised, Chaucer had the freedom to improvise, and makes a rather clever visual pun by spelling the word cunt as ‘queynte’ – deliberately echoing the word ‘quaint’ meaning ‘a pleasing thing’ and he used it liberally and without any hint of embarrassment. By Shakespeare’s time, the bard was reduced to hinting at it like a naughty schoolboy – and he did, often.

    Seems a bit of a stretch to me. Chaucer’s possibly euphemistic use is evidence of liberal use whilst Shakespeare’s is evidence of times changing?

    They worked in different forms for different sorts of audience didn’t they? Even today people are happier for books to explore notions of taboo in a way that raises complaint when attempted as drama. I very much doubt “Jerry Springer the Opera – the novel” would have caused such a stir.

    And wouldn’t Chaucer’s use of the word cut against your proles v aristos line? Surely Ed III would have been amongst the first to grok the work.

    The modern British taboo against saying ‘cunt’ in the presence of a “lady” has much more to do with perpetuating the patriarchal Madonna-whore dichotomy than any kind of acknowledgement of sexism.

    Is it all that modern?

    And given that the notion that diminishing someone to genitals has some impact (as a cross-cultural phenomena) can you really say that perpetuating archetypes and acknowledging sexism are mutually exclusive?

  29. Pitchguest says

    I don’t normally generalise, but in this case I will. This is an American issue. Plain and simple. The word ‘cunt’ (and ‘twat’) is used in several other English speaking countries, Australia, New Zealand, Great sodding Britain (which is an amalgamation), with no problems regarding their intent. It appears that only in the US does the word carry sexist or misogynist meaning, which is just…weird. An opinion which is held by mostly American feminists. They also have this insipid rationale as to why it’s sexist and misogynist, because you’re insulting someone by calling them a ‘cunt’ (and the word ‘cunt’ is slang for the female genitalia) therefore you think the female genitalia is insulting therefore misogynist. But when it comes to having the same reasoning to words like “dick”, “prick” or “cock”, they make excuses, they fumble, claim it doesn’t have the same “power”, etc, etc.

    It’s one of the most transparent attempts to claim victimhood in the absence of victimhood. If they are offended by the word, fine. So fucking what, right? But when they try to form this rhetoric that if you’re not offended as well you’re a misogynist, and if you keep using the word despite knowing that it causes offence you’re a misogynist, then they can go fuck themselves. I mean, if you have the assumption that the word is only used to disparage women and it turns out you were mistaken, why on Earth would you then keep believing that the word is only used to disparage women?

    It doesn’t make any sense. Are we supposed to stop using words we’re accustomed to because they have other meanings elsewhere?

    Take for example the word ‘slut.’ In English, it’s a word largely used to disparage women who are sexually active. In Swedish, it’s a word largely used at the end of children’s picture books because it means ‘end.’ The word ‘con.’ In English, it’s an abbreviation for the word convention. In French, it means ‘cunt.’ Or how about the word ‘fanny’? ‘Fag’? When someone in the UK says, ‘I could really go for a fag right now’, is that offensive? And on the bigger question, if it is (if someone thinks it is), should we care?

  30. Pitchguest says

    To illustrate how words change meaning: the word ‘nigger’ didn’t originally mean ‘stupid black person’.

    It comes from the Latin, ‘niger’, and the Spanish/Portuguese ‘negro’, and most likely the pronunciation is derived from people being unable to pronounce the words correctly, and originally it was used to denote people of African descent or people with darker skin. But it had several meanings during its conception, one of them being a colloquial term then for “dude.” Over time it molded into a deragatory word. And the same thing with ‘cunt’, actually, although not to the same extent. Words change.

  31. Ally Fogg says

    daveallen

    The difference between Chaucer and Shakespeare is that the former did not even pretend to be using a euphemism, so the Wife of Bath says:

    What eyleth yow to grucche thus and grone?
    Is it for ye wolde have my queynte allone?

    (“what ails you, to grouch thus and groan? Is it because you want to have my cunt for yourself?”)

    Whereas Shakespeare wrote things like this:

    Do you think I meant country matters?

    (Hamlet to Ophelia)

    So while Chaucer deliberately chooses to spell the word in a quirky way to emphasise that he thinks cunts are nice things but still allows his characters to use the word shamelessly, Shakespeare has to pretend that he is saying something else. So there was a profound shift over the couple of centuries involved.

    Is it all that modern?

    Compared to the time of Chaucer!

    can you really say that perpetuating archetypes and acknowledging sexism are mutually exclusive?

    No, I’m quite explicitly saying that they can co-exist.

  32. gshelley says

    @30
    I think if someone is pointing out that many Americans consider the word deeply offensive and misogynistic, so out of respect, it is a good idea to consider moderating useage around them, there is nothing wrong with that. It’s when they state it is offensive regardless of context and social acceptance, and that anyone who disagrees is wrong, that they overstep.

  33. carntion says

    @ Adiabat

    Just when I thought you were a dour, joyless cunt, you surprise me by being a light-hearted, jovial cunt.

    It’s cunts like you that make this blog a pleasure to read.

  34. Pitchguest says

    @34

    If they come around to visit, sure. On the internet? Not a chance.

    If we’re expected to cater to every single contingence of people who might be offended, we might as well not write anything at all.

    It’s when they state it is offensive regardless of context and social acceptance, and that anyone who disagrees is wrong, that they overstep.

    Exactly.

  35. daveallen says

    No, I’m quite explicitly saying that they can co-exist.

    Ah, gotcha.

    Compared to the time of Chaucer!

    I really don’t think we can conclude that based on the Wife of Bath.

    Firstly – part of the whole reason for her enduring appeal as a character might be down to the fact that one of the earthier pilgrims is one of the women.

    Also, you would presumably acknowledge that your anecdote about the Dundee grannies does stand as evidence that – in general – the gender of those involved in the conversation often causes the participants to modify their use of cunt – maybe not so much as class, but noticeably enough.

    If so, you’re drawing a conclusion about the historic use on a paucity of evidence.

    So while Chaucer deliberately chooses to spell the word in a quirky way to emphasise that he thinks cunts are nice things but still allows his characters to use the word shamelessly, Shakespeare has to pretend that he is saying something else. So there was a profound shift over the couple of centuries involved.

    Again, you are drawing a conclusion on historical shifts based on two individuals, one of whom produced poetry to be mostly spoken or read, and the other who produced poetry to mostly form the basis of a dramatic performance.

    So the difference may well be nothing more than the expectations of the form, or even that Will was less earthy than Geoff as an individual.

    Also – and I realize it isn’t as straightforward as the Chaucer use – but the same quaint/cunt gag is found in the following poem by one of Shakespeare’s contemporaries:

    Thy beauty shall no more be found,
    Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
    My echoing song: then worms shall try
    That long preserved virginity,
    And your quaint honour turn to dust,
    And into ashes all my lust:
    The grave’s a fine and private place,
    But none, I think, do there embrace.

  36. Ally Fogg says

    We may have to agree to differ on a lot of this Dave, but:

    but the same quaint/cunt gag is found in the following poem by one of Shakespeare’s contemporaries:

    It’s not quite the same, because Marvell is using quaint as an adjective. I don’t doubt for a moment that he intended it as a dirty joke but it is distinctly euphemistic, in a way that Chaucer – using ‘queynte’ as a noun
    - is not.

  37. says

    Um… it’s the same in the U.S. P.Z. lives off of conflict and if he can’t have it he manufactures it. I’m 48, born and raised in the U.S., have lived here my entire life with the exception of 4 years spent in Canada. Specifically, I’m from New Jersey and have lived in the Hudson Valley, New York City, Philadelphia and Baltimore. Cunt is just terribly, terribly vulgar. As far as misogyny is concerned, I’ve personally always thought pussy and bitch were worse. When I see people allowing the word “bitch” on their blog and censoring “cunt” I feel that they have targeted the wrong word. Bitch is more often used to control women’s behavior. Slut and whore are also worse. I wouldn’t ever go on a “Slutwalk” because I’ve been called a slut in the context of sexual assault.

    As far as the class thing goes, it’s similar here, although, from my limited experience with an Englishmen, I’m under the impression it’s a bit more well defined over there. My mother comes from a working class family and my father comes from a bourgeois WASP family, and there was a definite difference in the two groups’ tendency towards vulgar language.

    There’s also a religious aspect to this. Neither of my parents came from an especially religious family. My brother-in-law, however, grew up in a devout, upper middle-class, WASP Methodist family where cursing had about the effect of dropping your pants and taking a shit on the floor would have had in mine. I find that some people who have grown up in a similarly prissy environment act like they need smelling salts when they hear foul language, and cunt is about as foul as it gets.

    My mother for many years had a boss who used to greet her with, “How’s it going, Cunt.” My mother didn’t do that herself, but she just shrugged. Oh, yeah, that was a female boss. It wasn’t misogynist, just crude.

    I recall a conversation with some women my freshman year in college about which vulgar word for female genitalia we preferred. I remember saying that I preferred “cunt.” I really, really hate the word pussy, but I’m aware that that’s a matter of personal taste. I don’t really like the fact that I see some people as thrusting their personal taste and prissiness on the rest of us. What do you call it in bed? (Not you personally; it’s a rhetorical question.) I ask men not to call it my pussy and vagina feels a little clinical. For me, in bed, it’s always been cock and cunt, or we don’t have to talk.

    I mean, I’m supposed spend a hundred dollars a month paying someone to yank my pubic hairs out by the root and that’s seen as normal, but saying “cunt” is obscene? Please, take me back to 1985.

    Furthermore, PZ had that stupid “Geraldo Logic” post proving nothing more that he doesn’t know how linguistics is done.

    Lastly, I’m offended and angry and all sorts of things that he seems to put himself in a position of deciding who is and is not a feminist. I’ve been a vocal feminist since I was about thirteen years old, putting myself in less than comfortable positions to promote some of my ideas since I was in high school. That he thinks that because my language is not refined enough for his taste and I don’t pass his notions of ideological purity just pisses me the fuck off.

    Anyway, I feel like I’m going out on a limb to say all of this. I don’t really give a damn about the word itself. I tone down my own language online because I’m aware of being around a diverse group of people who may have different standards and I’m not out to intentionally offend people for the sake of offending them, but it pisses me the fuck off that PZ presumes to speak for all Americans. He doesn’t and we’re not all confused.

  38. Gilju says

    Regarding the bastard/bitch insult comparison, I wonder if it’s not partly due to it being ‘worse’ not only to throw an insult at a woman than a man but also to be considered a ‘bad’ woman than a ‘bad’ man. As above, ‘which of you bastards called this bastard a bastard’ – assumes there’s nothing too inherently wrong with being a bastard, it’s a friendly thing to call someone. If male friends tell me to ‘stop being a dick’ then I accept it, as an almost gender neutral term, which could be affectionate, but relates specifically to my behaviour than my sex. If they told me to ‘stop being a bitch’ then it would feel harsher, directed more at my femaleness , because that’s often how it seems to be used (see the trolling of women on social media).

    As for the c–word, I’m British and so virtually relish the opportunity to use it in all it’s glorious vulgarity! And as something directed at both sexes, I don’t find it at all misogynist and have found it confusing in the past when other women have said they don’t like it – though obviously that’s fair enough.

  39. tigzy says

    I would say my major beef with PZ and Ophelia on the matter of ‘cunt’ is the rather rancid whiff of hypocrisy I get from them. Namely, that if the word is misogynistic in nature, then it must be because female identity is dependent on actually having a cunt.

    However, anyone who is sympathetic towards trans issues (as PZ Myers most certainly is, and I suspect the same of Ophelia Benson, too) would know that this is not the case, and that a female or male identity doesn’t simply boil down to one’s genital configuration. In which instance, one simply cannot claim that ‘cunt’ is a slur against women unless one is prepared to erase the experiences of many transwomen from the equation.

    In summary: we happy ‘cunt’-sayers were simply well ahead of the social justice curve. The good, hard consonants probably helped, though.

  40. Skepsheik says

    PZ says the following in your second link:

    “The message I get from the “England!” defense is that apparently, England is a bastion of barbarism and cluelessness.”

    The “England defense”, I think, is the claim that “cunt” is not generally used as a gendered swear word in England (or for that matter, Scotland, Wales, Ireland or Australia), and that the use of the word is not a good measure of the levels of misogyny (or barbarism!) of the population.

    PZ, like Ophelia, contends that the swear word “cunt” is just as much associated with a specific gender as the N-word is associated with race. Therefore people should regard the use of the swear word ‘cunt’ as akin to the use of the N-word as an insult.

    This seems far too simplistic to me.

    I agree with a lot of what you say here – the class issue is critical here and seems to be entirely dismissed by some of the loudest voices in this debate.

    I have a problem with is the idea that everyone must be offended by the term and that we should regard other peoples use of the insult as some kind of character flaw. I might not agree with Laurie Penny on many things but I regard it as ridiculous to accuse her of misogyny based on her use of the word ‘cunt’.
    As for the argument that it’s particularly misogynistic because the worst swear word is the word for a vagina, I think this is belied by the fact that ‘twat’ and ‘berk’ refer to the same anotomical part – and are much milder regarded swear words (and less offensive, in the UK, than ‘dick’, ‘cock’ or ‘prick’.)

    In my own case I don’t tend to use swear words of any kind very often, and for a US based site like Ophelias I have no problem in avoiding swear words that she finds offensive – that is only common courtesy.
    I do find it strange, however, that there seems to be a reluctance to entertain the idea that words evolve in different ways in different societies and that there exists a difference between the US and the old world in both the use and the commonly interpreted meaning of many words.
    I’ll stop now before I begin to come across like an utter fanny.

  41. alytron says

    The difference between make and female gendered slurs DOES have something to do with the power of the words, and *generally* they aren’t equal, in north America anyway.

    The biggest difference is that, while the words may be used to describe similar behaviour or characteristics, example say bitch and dick, the behaviour is more acceptable generally for men and less likely to be insulted, while women are branded bitches for the most minor things. I know far more women who are actively trying to not be “bitches” (labeled bitches for things like speaking up, standing up for themselves, aggressive business, etc) than men who are similarly affected. That doesn’t mean they aren’t out there, but its more acceptable behavior in men according to society, so it changes the dynamic.

    That said, I think context can be really important, and this is a great piece to share with people to help make that point in future :)

  42. Ally Fogg says

    Just a quick note to everyone… my fingers have hovered over the delete button with respect to a couple of recent posts.

    We FTB bloggers are perfectly at liberty to disagree with each other from time to time, and we do. That doesn’t give you all a green light to use this blog space to be personally abusive to or about other FTB bloggers.

    I’ve erred on the tolerant side with a couple of posts above, only on the basis that they were in the context of reasonably thoughtful comments, but please be aware that this thread has now sailed about as close to the wind as I’m prepared to permit.

    Thanks all.

  43. says

    I did not know that about “To His Coy Mistress” – which is one of my favorite poems of all time, which is odd, since its subject matter should (if I were being logical about it) annoy me. Well, its literal subject matter, that is, but since it’s the way he goes about it that I love, I suppose the literal subject matter is mostly beside the point. Anyway I’m happy to learn a new thing about it.

    I once explained to Dave Silverman over lunch that “cunt” is a term of endearment among men in Scotland. He was much amazed.

    I was going to mention “did you think I meant country matters?” but Ally got there first. (It was spelled cuntry at the time, if I remember correctly.)

  44. MadHatter says

    The difference between make and female gendered slurs DOES have something to do with the power of the words, and *generally* they aren’t equal, in north America anyway.

    This.

    As an American living overseas, I don’t think they are equal here either. One of the reasons gendered slurs relating to female genitalia have any sting is the long-held belief that women were not just lesser then men, but also at some level negative or disgusting. Were that not the case there would be absolutely no sting to calling a man a “pussy” or “bitch”. The implication is that you are female and femininity is a negative.

    Calling a man a “dick” doesn’t have the same sting because he’s already male and masculinity is the preferred positive trait. In popular culture and media you don’t regularly hear “dick” or “cock” used to attempt to denigrate women because in that case you may be insulting her, but you’re also telling her she’s got masculine traits and that’s still considered positive. The only real association with those words is that a person is being a jerk.

    I understand a bit better why the word “cunt” might have less sting here from the class perspective. That doesn’t divorce it from the longstanding use of female genitalia as a slur anymore than use of the word “nigger” is separate from it’s negative connotations just because it was a mispronunciation of a word that had no such meaning. There is no other reason to use genitalia as an insult except that at some level you believe that there’s something bad/disgusting about it. That’s why bodily functions are swear words (‘shit’, ‘crap’).

    While I’m more than happy to swear, and have actually expanded my swearing vocabulary since moving overseas, I cannot use either male or female genitalia as slurs or in everyday speech. I never could, and until the words lose their bite the way “bastard” has (because no one cares anymore who your father was) I don’t see how it can be any different. I do try not to react when people use it the way it’s been demonstrated, to just refer to people generally. But as an insult it’s in the same realm as pussy or bitch.

    As a total aside, I have never heard an American use “bloody” as anything other than an adjective. It’s certainly not a swear word where I grew up. “Bugger” is though, as I learned entirely accidentally and to much confusion as a teen.

  45. Darren Ball says

    47 alytron

    This argument is bound to be circular as it comes down to a debate about which is cause and which is effect.

    Is to be a bitch more insulting than to be a bastard because of some inherent characteristic of the word (bearing in mind that the literal meaning is irrelevant), and the insult is applied to women because it’s so bad? Or, is it considered worse only because it’s applied to women and decent people take more offence when women are insulted?

    Some no doubt will think that for a man to be a bastard in business is a good thing and for a woman to be a bitch in business is a bad thing. However, that’s only because such people are sexist in other ways. I believe they’re both equally bad, however, I still recoil at the term “bitch” and not at the word “bastard”. I doubt that I’m alone in this.

  46. Steersman says

    Interesting historical perspectives and details. However, I doubt that by itself is going to cut much ice with PZ Myers who argued, with some justification, that:

    Myers: The Argument from Regional Ubiquity simply doesn’t work — would we accept that Southerners get a free pass on calling people “nigger” because everyone down there is rednecked cracker, so it’s OK?

    In any case, as I think that is somewhat of a red-herring, I don’t see that your post addressed what I, and many others, see as the very problematic crux of his “argument”:

    Myers: It’s incredibly common to see people protest that [“cunt” is] a perfectly acceptable word; everyone says it in England; it doesn’t have any sexual connotations at all …. Right. Because the best way to hurt an individual’s feelings is to demean half the population of the planet.

    Ipse dixit – the pope, speaking from within the cloak of papal infallibility, has spoken; what bloody arrogance to insist that everyone has to view insults from that perspective – and with diddly squat in the way of evidence to justify the hypothesis.

    While it is perfectly understandable if not entirely commendable that people, maybe more so for women in general, are going to be sympathetic to other people who have had questionable or bogus or unfair insults directed at them and who they share an attribute in common with – the processes of empathy possibly undergirded by mirror neurons – it seems an egregious stretch to insist that that is necessarily true in every possible case. Both men and women – black, white, pink, green, yellow – can be “guilty” of various crimes; bad karma to insist that membership in a class is any type of get-out-of-jail-free card or precludes the use of epithets that reference common aspects or stereotypes – which frequently have no small amount of truth or applicability – to express individual or social disapprovals.

  47. Skepsheik says

    If we’re going to discuss the literary use of the word ‘cunt’ we shouldn’t forget the ‘Lady Chatterleys Lover’ case of 1960.
    The publishers of the book, Penguin, were charged with obscenity under the Obscene Publications Act, due to the inclusion of the word ‘cunt’ (and the word ‘fuck’) in the story.
    Of particular relevance to the question of class and misogyny, the trial is notorious for chief prosecutor Mervyn Griffith-Jones’ question of whether the book was something “you would wish your wife or servants to read”.

  48. Pitchguest says

    #49

    No, it was spelled “country”, but it was pronounced as “cuntry”, as per the old pronunciation. Maureen Brian posted a video with the subtle wordplay in Shakespeare’s play that loses much of its context in modern English pronunciation, but not in the old.

  49. thetalkingstove says

    Take for example the word ‘slut.’ In English, it’s a word largely used to disparage women who are sexually active. In Swedish, it’s a word largely used at the end of children’s picture books because it means ‘end.’ The word ‘con.’ In English, it’s an abbreviation for the word convention. In French, it means ‘cunt.’ Or how about the word ‘fanny’? ‘Fag’? When someone in the UK says, ‘I could really go for a fag right now’, is that offensive? And on the bigger question, if it is (if someone thinks it is), should we care?

    That doesn’t work at all as an argument.

    In both UK and US English, cunt refers to a woman’s genitals. It’s entirely different to the examples you give which are words that mean completely different things.

    The fact that in the UK (and other places), cunt can also mean ‘an unpleasant person’ or even be used as a term of endearment does not automatically strip away any problematic sexism in the way that ‘slut’ meaning ‘end’ would in Swedish.

  50. says

    Hmm. I’m not entirely sure it’s the Americans who are confused in these scenarios. The people objecting to the use of “cunt” as an insult aren’t talking about cheerfully vulgar grannies. Nobody thinks Ricky Gervais is offering to buy Hitler a pint. So when people step in to defend the uses of “cunt” in question by claiming the word is only an otherwise meaningless class or location signifier, they would appear to be missing the point by a mile or two.

    Ally, I don’t see that you’re making that claim here–in fact, you’re specifically declining to–but I also don’t see that those who say that the cultural identity issue is either false or irrelevant in the context being discussed are in any way wrong.

  51. Steersman says

    Stephanie:

    So you define a person entirely by their membership in various groups? No idiosyncratic or personal contributions to our characters? One might argue that that qualifies as some rather odious classism, sexism, and racism in itself.

    That someone insults an individual by referencing their genitalia or their skin colour and suggests that that is the sum total of their value is absolutely no justification for insisting that the “insulter” is saying the same thing about absolutely everyone else who might share those attributes.

  52. says

    Steersman, your logic is upside down, as usual. You’ve been letting slimers compliment you so long you’ve come to believe them. If someone’s skin color or genitalia alone is presumed to diminish their value, how is it not presumed to diminish the value of anyone else with the same skin color or genitalia? To put it in the concrete terms of the current discussion: If equating a person to a cunt is used to say that this person is bad, how is it not saying that cunts are bad?

    Take your time, but don’t bother trying to distract from the question instead of answering it. I’ll just point and laugh.

  53. Pitchguest says

    It is absolutely the Americans who are confused – and most of all, offended – in this scenario. Absolutely no question about it. You can say the word almost anywhere else in the English speaking portion of the world and there would be no fuzz as to what they mean, if they meant it as a gendered slur to disparage all women or as a general insult. The fact that it is still being rationalised as being offensive based on those terms alone by (mostly) American feminists despite given information to the contrary, makes me think they either want the word to disappear from other people’s vernacular as well or they’re hellbent to feel victimised. If there are any other options I’ve neglected to consider, feel free to let me know.

    #55 The point was to question the validity of not using certain words because someone else might be offended.

    If we disregard the words that have different meanings bilingually and just focus on the English words, ‘fanny’ and ‘fag’ both have and can have entirely different meanings in the UK and US respectively. If they should meet up and the person from the UK says “fag” when they mean “cigarette” and the person from the US should take offense to that and say, “that is offensive” – even though the use of “fag” as cigarette might be commonly used where they’re from – what is the person from the UK supposed to say, and more importantly who is interpreting the word to mean what in this scenario?

  54. Ally Fogg says

    Stephanie (56)

    Yes, as you note, I was explicitly declining to weigh in on the debate as to the harmfulness (or otherwise) of the word. What I was doing was (to borrow a wanky phrase from academia) seeking to problematize the debate – ie point out that the semantics & politics of the debate might be more complex than most people are crediting.

    Since you bring it up, I think the problem with the Gervais tweet was that it boiled down to a pretty crap and asinine point.

    His tweet would have been much more challenging (and funny, I’d suggest) if he had said something like:

    “If Hitler were around today he could tweet “I don’t like Jews and I’m going to murder every one of the cunts” and some people would criticise him for using the c-word”

  55. tigzy says

    @58 Stephanie Zvan

    By such reasoning, surely ‘asshole’ must be the most offensive insult of all, given the sheer number of people who share this frequently denigrated physical characteristic.

    Also, Steersman doesn’t get that many compliments over at the Pit. Not that Steersman cares in any case, as he’s kind of like an alien robot. Fertile ground for a good SF story there I reckon Steph – one apt to the present discussion: would an extraterrestrial civilisation consider the insult ‘Steersman’ as a slur against all artificial xenomorphic lifeforms? You should consider writing about it.

  56. johngreg says

    Ally said (my emphasis):

    Where I grew up in Eastern Scotland, the word cunt is used prolifically. I once heard two elderly women in Dundee talk about their grandchildren, including the memorable phrase “och, the pair wee cunt’s got the maist affy colic” (translation: “Oh, the poor little soul has the most terrible stomach pains.”). Such usage serves a social and political function. It states, very forcefully, that the speaker resides proudly among the vulgar, not the refined. It is used in full knowledge that it will cause upset and offence to those of a delicate disposition. It is a statement of political identity, and I have no doubt that largely explains why it is so much more prevalent in the further flung homelands of Scotland and Ireland – not to mention Australia – than it is in England. Even within England, it is used more commonly the further you get (both geographically and sociopolitically) from the ruling class and the bourgeoisie.

    Bafflegab; sophisticated, well structured, but nonetheless, bafflegab and socio-political Women’s Studies-style nonsense.

    Really, that is one of the most blatant uses of sophistry and assigning of conscious intent and intellectual understanding (never mind specious background and assumed then/now etymology) where it simply does not even slightly exist!

    Such diction might have, as it etymological roots, in the far flung and mostly forgotten past, some of what you claim it holds, but to state that the users, even tacitly and unconsciously, have some grasp of such far-reaching, deep political purpose or root, is just bloody ludicrous.

    I could be entirely correct about the above and it could remain true that when used as a slur, the word is deeply misogynistic, positioning women’s bodies and sexuality as something dirty and negative.

    You remain deeply politically buried and biased in your amazing misunderstanding of etymology, and the non-political uses of language — never mind utterly avoiding discussion of intent. Of course, the primary problem is that one cannot go into depth on rhetoric, diction, linguisitcs, and so on in such an enviroment as a socio-politically biased blog. But, well, there you go. Tomato; tomatoe.

    … the politics of cunt are perhaps much more profound, complex and encumbered with historical baggage than you could possibly imagine.

    Which is, to a very large degree, what the Pit has been trying to explain to the raging cunt-is-an-evil-word brigade for years.

  57. Pitchguest says

    #60

    I might be having problems penetrating the language barrier, but isn’t that basically saying the same thing?

    While it’s not giving the same message, “Hitler is a cunt for killing people” as opposed to Hitler saying Jews are cunts and he’s going to murder them, both hinge on the word ‘cunt’ being more offensive than the killing. Which seems to be what Gervais wanted to get across. And I’m fairly certain that people would object to him using the word anyway, regardless of who said it (hypothetically or not) and he still deemed it acceptable to use it even as a joke. So he would still be in the same situation and then what’s he gonna do? Prostrate himself, apologize profusely and cater to the sensibilities of one large portion of the world, or proclaim that he doesn’t care just because someone is offended which is basically what he’s doing now?

  58. Steersman says

    Stephanie:

    Zvan: Steersman, your logic is upside down, as usual.

    Seems rather arrogant to think that – why not your logic being upside down? Particularly as you have diddly squat in the way of evidence – apart from your “feelings” – to support your position. And particularly as a great many women think that someone calling some other woman a cunt doesn’t mean that the same thing is being said about them. And Ally recently called, more or less, John Greg a prick – with some justification; I rather doubt many men got their knickers in a twist by inferring that Ally was saying the same thing about them. Possibly due to some genetically based “sexual dimorphism” ….

    In any case, I rather doubt you would recognize logic if you fell over it; you might want to consider that the postmodernism that seems to “inform” your “feminism” has a few warts if not some serious pathologies associated with it. Apropos of which, Richard Dawkins’ (“the horror!”) review of Fashionable Nonsense and a salient quote about the “feminist” “philosopher” [ha!] Luce Irigaray:

    Hayles: The privileging of solid over fluid mechanics, and indeed the inability of science to deal with turbulent flow at all, [Irigaray] attributes to the association of fluidity with femininity. Whereas men have sex organs that protrude and become rigid, women have openings that leak menstrual blood and vaginal fluids… From this perspective it is no wonder that science has not been able to arrive at a successful model for turbulence. The problem of turbulent flow cannot be solved because the conceptions of fluids (and of women) have been formulated so as necessarily to leave unarticulated remainders.

    Should be ridden out of academia on a rail.

    Zvan: You’ve been letting slymers compliment you so long ….

    The “slymers”? The “slymers”? Talk about “four legs good; two legs bad”; if you had any comprehension about logic you would realize that categorical statements tend to be rather “problematic”, not least because they tend to be easily refuted, and that they tend to be the bailiwick of demagogues.

    If equating a person to a cunt is used to say that this person is bad, how is it not saying that cunts are bad?

    It is reducing one person to their genitalia, not all persons; if you want to be defined entirely by one small part of your person then be my guest – but don’t expect everyone else to be so clueless or narrow-minded.

  59. johngreg says

    Without addressing the depth of the varieties of intent, content, circumstance, and so on, you are giving a word political, social, and cultural content far, far beyond what is possible. Real Room 101 stuff, that is.

    You might as well say the word, fuhrer, of and by itself, is anti-semitic; pow-wow racist; volkswagon culturist, and so on and so forth.

    Ludicrous, especially coming from somone so seemingly intelligent.

  60. says

    As Ally pointed out the use of the word is a major class distinguisher in the UK, and because I understand that I expect that its use in Australia is a distinguisher between them and the old colonial overlords.

    What I’m hearing from Americans is some heavy American middle class cultural imperialism.

    So why if in the UK and other English speaking countries across the world, the working class use the word as a *fuck you* to our old masters, would we care two fucks what Americans think?

    I’m taking I think it was option 3 from Ally’s list of responses to “that offends me”

    I don’t fucking care.

  61. johngreg says

    Ophelia Benson said (http://freethoughtblogs.com/hetpat/2014/05/12/how-to-confuse-an-american-the-politics-of-the-c-word/#comment-77621):

    I did not know that about “To His Coy Mistress” – which is one of my favorite poems of all time, which is odd, since its subject matter should (if I were being logical about it) annoy me. Well, its literal subject matter, that is, but since it’s the way he goes about it that I love, I suppose the literal subject matter is mostly beside the point. Anyway I’m happy to learn a new thing about it.

    I once explained to Dave Silverman over lunch that “cunt” is a term of endearment among men in Scotland. He was much amazed.

    I was going to mention “did you think I meant country matters?” but Ally got there first. (It was spelled cuntry at the time, if I remember correctly.)

    Somone must have sneaked some acid (LSD-stylee) into my breakfast cereal. I cannot believe I am reading what I am reading.

    Cripes. Whenever anyone from the Pit says anything at all like any of that to you Ophelia, you delete and ban us with extreme prejudice immediately.

  62. Skepsheik says

    #63 Pitchguest
    It’s not the same thing – Ally’s joke is better as it has Hitler himself using the swear word against a group of people he clearly hates.
    It also has an element of ‘it’s funny coz it’s true’ about it in that there are bound to be people who pick up on the use of the word cunt as the worst thing about Hitler’s statement (which, remember, is about him wanting to murder all the jews!)
    Ricky Gervais joke was simply him calling Hitler a cunt and saying that some people would find that problematic. If you take into consideration that many Americans do find the word cunt to be a pejorative term for women then it is obvious that many of these would find Gervais use of it problematic – even if directed against Hitler.

  63. Pitchguest says

    If equating a person to a cunt is used to say that this person is bad, how is it not saying that cunts are bad?

    Yes, I’ll assume you’ve never once called someone an ‘asshole’, then. Or a ‘dick.’ Because I’m pretty sure that having an asshole is not a bad thing, or a dick for that matter. But I’m repeating myself and I’m probably repeating what other people have said as well.

  64. daveallen says

    We may have to agree to differ on a lot of this Dave

    Well if the only consensus is that there’s unlikely to be consensus I concur.

    And I agree that the queynte essay you link to does outline a more general trend.

    I do think that trend is likely epiphenomenal, and that you overgeneralize (fine, it’s a blog post rather than a thorough study).

  65. gjenganger says

    Brilliant example (thanks Ally)

    Surely it is just a matter of who owns the turf and what the owners agree on? It is true that “you should not speak of the rope in the hanged man’s house“, but how many can claim that their house is the entire world?

    On a UK medium with a UK audience ‘cunt’ is just vulgar, and the bloody Americans have no business to come and tell the Brits what they are not supposed to say.
    On a US medium with a US audience ‘cunt’ is a misogynist insult (apparently) and the bloody Brits have no business to come and tell the Americans what they are not supposed to be offended by.
    If both nationalities share the forum they would have to agree on the ground rules – likely they would choose to ban ‘cunt’ as the least problematic option, but some mutual tolerance would help matters along.

    It is kind of interesting to see how far we can extend that one:
    - Should Danish papers adjust their cartoons to the sensitivities of people in Riyadh?
    - Should Arab papers adjust their comments on the Israelis to the sensitivities of the Jews (or of the progressive west)?
    - Is it up to black Americans to decide whether Australians can appear on local TV in blackface?

  66. Pitchguest says

    #68

    It also has an element of ‘it’s funny coz it’s true’ about it in that there are bound to be people who pick up on the use of the word cunt as the worst thing about Hitler’s statement (which, remember, is about him wanting to murder all the jews!)

    Well, that’s the thing right there, isn’t it? Whether the joke had been better this way, he might still have had to defend himself from people who objected to the word. And let’s be fair, the original joke was him calling Hitler a cunt for killing innocent people. You can argue about if it’s ‘punching up’ or ‘punching down’, but I imagine that if he’d made the most ‘punching up’ joke possible there would still be some in the stalls shouting because at some point he’d used the word ‘cunt.’ If they won’t be satisfied no matter what, at what point do you stop compromising?

  67. Lucy says

    Darren

    “It is often argue that the worst insulting words are aimed at women with no male equivalent (bitch vs bastard, etc.). But why does bitch sound worse than bastard? Given that the literal definitions are irrelevant, it is probable that bitch sounds worse simply because we find insulting language directed at women more offensive than when it’s directed at men. Whatever words were chosen, they’d be considered more offensive (I opine).”

    The offence in the word, “bastard” is directed at the target’s mother, who is by implication a “whore”. Most insults directed at men either impugn their female relatives, or their manliness.

    By constrast insults directed at women, children, homosexuals just impugn them directly. And in the case of women, it’s almost universally sexual – either their sexual availability, unavailability or attractiveness to men.

    The reasons are fairly obvious: insults only hurt if they are backed by the threat of social disapproval of the insulted characteristic. They only have real bite if the social disapproval threatens to take an ostracising or violent turn.

    Being called a slut matters because being a slut opens you up to male violence, or certainly did in days gone by when you could be punished by the mob or the state for it. Being called a fag likewise. Being called a bit of a dick wouldn’t, it might get you laughed at.

    The dearth or really good, biting, insults for straight, white men becomes less of a mystery.

  68. Lucy says

    Pitch guest

    “Yes, I’ll assume you’ve never once called someone an ‘asshole’, then. Or a ‘dick.’ Because I’m pretty sure that having an asshole is not a bad thing, or a dick for that matter. But I’m repeating myself and I’m probably repeating what other people have said as well.”

    Being a dick means either:
    A) you’re a bit silly like the flaccid version
    B) you’re aggressive like the erect version

    Not bad to have, but bad to be.

    Anuses are not generally regarded as good things to be. Good things to have though.

    Cunts on the other hand, probably a good thing to be or to have.

  69. says

    I will say in this regard that American cultural imperialism grates on my nerves (and I say this as an American). Americans feel that they have some sacred right to not be offended and that everyone should cater to their sensibilities. From the PZ article you referenced I would even disagree with him as regards the word nigger. I think it’s power, as a word, comes from its ability to shock. PZ would call for the neutering of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn in pursuit of his offense-free America (in spite of the fact that Twain’s use of the name Nigger Jim was a challenge being thrown *at* the racialist use of the term). It’s use in the Mel Brooks comedy. Blazing Saddles, also highlights the sheer absurdity of racialism. And it does so because as a word it maintains its power to shock.

    Interestingly this is why I rarely use the word cunt, in the broader British/colonial culture the vulgarity has lost its shock value due to overuse. I write primarily for American readers and there are times when I need the shock value of the word. Just not many. There aren’t many shock value words left, the overuse of shit and fuck have made them about as shocking as a peanut butter & jelly sandwich. Honestly, given the way Americans freak out over kids’ diets, the PB&J may be more shocking these days.

  70. Skepsheik says

    #73 Lucy
    In my experience there are plenty of insults that are directed at men rather than women.
    The guy can be a prick, a cock, a knobend, dickhead, a bell-end, a weiner, a pecker, a tool, a dick (by itself, or in combination – pencil dick, needle dick) or simply a penis.
    Do you notice something in common here?
    There are also insults that are based on masturbation – tosser, wanker, jerk.
    I’d wager that it is far more common for these types of insults to be used against men than any other type (with, perhaps, the exception of ‘asshole’)

  71. Lucy says

    The trouble with most of these insults is that they were invented by men, and in our society and language, until recent years at least, by the white, able-bodied, sane, straight, well off ones who were in charge of codifying the language. They had the religious and secular pulpits and captured their work in the dictionaries.

    Consequently, the ones for one another are fairly benign.
    The ones for homosexuals are nasty.
    The ones for women are nastier still.
    The ones for the disabled nastier still.
    The ones for white men of other nationalities are nasty.
    The ones for non-white men and women of other races are nastier still.

    The lower down the food chain you go, the further away you are from being a white, straight, well off male, the worse they get. And the worse the consequences for being that thing gets.

    Traditionally, the worst ones for white, able-bodied, sane, straight men of good paternal provenance merely imply that the man isn’t a truly white, able-bodies, sane, straight, white male of good paternal provenance.

  72. Ally Fogg says

    johngreg

    Such diction might have, as it etymological roots, in the far flung and mostly forgotten past, some of what you claim it holds, but to state that the users, even tacitly and unconsciously, have some grasp of such far-reaching, deep political purpose or root, is just bloody ludicrous.

    People don’t actually need to have a grasp of the sociopolitical function of their language and deeds for such a function to exist. That’s a fairly fundamental principle of pretty much all social science and the transmission of ideas, whether you are talking hegemony, propaganda theory, social identity construction or whatever else.

    But as it happens, I’m pretty sure you’re wrong. If you went on to a housing scheme in Dundee and asked a bunch of folk questions like these:

    What kind of people use the word ‘cunt’ a lot?
    What do you imagine other people think when they here you use the word?
    What is the difference between people who do or do not use the word a lot?

    …then you’d find out that people had a pretty nuanced understanding of exactly what it says about them and why they do it.

  73. daveallen says

    The trouble with most of these insults is that they were invented by men…

    Which ones were invented by women?

  74. Lucy says

    Skepsheik

    “In my experience there are plenty of insults that are directed at men rather than women.
    The guy can be a prick, a cock, a knobend, dickhead, a bell-end, a weiner, a pecker, a tool, a dick (by itself, or in combination – pencil dick, needle dick) or simply a penis.”

    They’re all incredibly benign though and more celebratory of the male member than anything else. None of them make the adrenaline empty in to your system like being called a “dumb bitch” or a “slag/whore/slut”, “paki/n*gger/c**n/y*d/ch*nk/sl*pe”, “fag” do.

    * Asterisks there to protect against prosecution.

  75. Pitchguest says

    #74

    I don’t really understand what you’re getting at, really.

    “Don’t be a dick” is an insult same as “don’t be a cunt” is an insult, it presumably then would have the same negative connotation, namely: if equating a person to a dick is used to say that this person is bad, how is it not saying that dicks are bad?

    If we’re going to talk in the literal sense, you cannot be either of these things. You cannot be either a dick, cunt or anus, but dicks, cunts and anuses are generally considered to be good things. Why, then, are they occasionally all of them used as insults to denigrate? I don’t know. But if anyone is of the opinion that calling someone a ‘cunt’ means they also think cunts are bad every time, should probably never call someone an ‘asshole’ either.

  76. Lucy says

    Daveallen

    “Which ones were invented by women?”

    Recent ones that have gained traction via the women’s media, usually acronyms for fashion tribes.

  77. Lucy says

    #81

    “I don’t really understand what you’re getting at, really.”

    I wasn’t getting at anything really, I was just being silly.

    “Don’t be a dick” is an insult same as “don’t be a cunt” is an insult, it presumably then would have the same negative connotation, namely: if equating a person to a dick is used to say that this person is bad, how is it not saying that dicks are bad?”

    Well it’s different in that both were probably invented by men to call other men and men have a different relationship with their penises and with women’s vaginas.

    Men use these insults in quite a benign way because they believe a penis is benign. They use the vagina insults in a more malign, appropriating way.

    “If we’re going to talk in the literal sense, you cannot be either of these things. You cannot be either a dick, cunt or anus, but dicks, cunts and anuses are generally considered to be good things. Why, then, are they occasionally all of them used as insults to denigrate? I don’t know. But if anyone is of the opinion that calling someone a ‘cunt’ means they also think cunts are bad every time, should probably never call someone an ‘asshole’ either.”

    But an anus is universal to all people and universally “malign” things, it’s a neutral insult. A vagina isn’t universal, only women have them, and women I expect generally think of them as benign things so it’s not a neutral insult.

  78. tigzy says

    Lucy @80

    ‘They’re all incredibly benign though and more celebratory of the male member than anything else.’

    So associating the male genitals with stupidity, unpleasantness, witlessness and clumsiness is celebratory. R-i-i-ight.

  79. tigzy says

    Lucy @81

    ‘Men use these insults in quite a benign way because they believe a penis is benign. They use the vagina insults in a more malign, appropriating way.’

    No – not all the time. As me and many non-USians have expended many efforts to try and point out, ‘cunt’ is oft used as a friendly (‘Awright Dave, you old cunt!’) or neutral (‘Yeah, that cunt over the road there’) term. And not only by men, either.

    It should also be noted that one of the mildest insults in the books – certainly far milder than dick or knob – is ‘berk’, which is synonymous with cunt (rhyming slang – ‘Berkeley Hunt’) and is considered so benign, it can be used in pre-watershed British TV programmes.

    The main problem with ‘cunt’ is that it has hard consonants lend very well to expressions of spite, anger and violence – and this is what gives it it’s ‘offence value’. Not misogyny (though I accept that the word can be – and often is – used in misogynistic contexts). Otherwise, words such as ‘twat’ and ‘berk’ would carry equal ‘offense value’. And they don’t.

  80. says

    *points and laughs at Steersman for avoiding answering the question by merely restating his disputed premise after paragraphs of empty posturing*

    Ally, I have no objections at all to people bringing an understanding of class into the mix when discussing these issues. I’d like to see more. In fact, I’d love it if people (not you) who fetishize civility understood that they’re using a particularly classed version of civility to stand in for the concept as a whole. Problematize away. I just think that mirroring PZ’s title structure gave a slightly false impression of the dynamics involved, as tempting as I’m sure it was.

    I agree that Gervais would have come across as less self-aggrandizing using that construction, but I’m not sure the challenge is much stronger. Both statements rely on false choices to work. It’s as easy to say, “Yep. I agree with you that Hitler’s a dangerous bigot, but how does comparing him to female genitalia do anything useful here? Could you not already?” as it is to say, “Welp. Hitler, you’re a dangerous bigot. Even if I’m not personally endangered by your plan to kill Jewish people, you’re telling me life with you as a leader wouldn’t be roses for women either.” and vice versa.

  81. Pitchguest says

    The trouble with most of these insults is that they were invented by men, and in our society and language, until recent years at least, by the white, able-bodied, sane, straight, well off ones who were in charge of codifying the language. They had the religious and secular pulpits and captured their work in the dictionaries.

    Allow me a SJW-ism. Translation: Men are the cause of all the world’s ills, including bad words like ‘cunt.’

    A kind suggestion if you will: drop the buzzwords (who talks like that? “white, able-bodied, sane, straight, well off ones?”), the dogma, the narrative that you’ve clearly already convinced yourself is true, and start having an actual conversation, with actual real words.

    Consequently, the ones for one another are fairly benign.
    The ones for homosexuals are nasty.
    The ones for women are nastier still.
    The ones for the disabled nastier still.
    The ones for white men of other nationalities are nasty.
    The ones for non-white men and women of other races are nastier still.

    The lower down the food chain you go, the further away you are from being a white, straight, well off male, the worse they get. And the worse the consequences for being that thing gets.

    Fun fact: there has never been provided any evidence to support the validity of intersectionality. Or the whole of feminist theory for that matter. Not a single peer-reviewed study has been published on the subject of patriarchy, rape culture or intersectionality.

    Traditionally, the worst ones for white, able-bodied, sane, straight men of good paternal provenance merely imply that the man isn’t a truly white, able-bodies, sane, straight, white male of good paternal provenance.

    Of course they are.

  82. johngreg says

    Ally said (http://freethoughtblogs.com/hetpat/2014/05/12/how-to-confuse-an-american-the-politics-of-the-c-word/#comment-77806):

    People don’t actually need to have a grasp of the sociopolitical function of their language and deeds for such a function to exist.

    In an academic sense, I agree wholeheartedly and without reservation. However, in the real meat world of day to day usage, such academic distinctions are, in my opinion, irrelevant and, more importantly, purposeless.

    That’s a fairly fundamental principle of pretty much all social science and the transmission of ideas, whether you are talking hegemony, propaganda theory, social identity construction or whatever else.

    Yes, I agree with that. But I think my real meat world statement still stands.

    Note: For the sake of maintaining clarity in answering your following points, I am going to rearrange the order a wee bit … it will make more sense that way (I think).

    But as it happens, I’m pretty sure you’re wrong. If you went on to a housing scheme in Dundee and asked a bunch of folk questions like [the following], you’d find out that people had a pretty nuanced understanding of exactly what it says about them and why they do it:

    What kind of people use the word ‘cunt’ a lot?

    They might have a somewhat nuanced understanding, but I doubt it would be deep or comprehensive, and I particularity doubt there would be any awareness whatsoever about the historical precedence/provenance.

    What do you imagine other people think when they here you use the word?

    I think that question would be far, far too open-ended and ambiguous for even us academicians, so to speak, to answer meaningfully.

    What is the difference between people who do or do not use the word a lot?

    I think that question would also be far, far too open-ended and ambiguous for even us academicians to answer meaningfully. Or, to be more specific, I suspect that that question would resolve in so many variegated, and irrelevant (to our immediate discussion) answers as to be mooot.

  83. daveallen says

    Not a single peer-reviewed study has been published on the subject of patriarchy, rape culture or intersectionality.

    Searching OU database for psychology papers on “patriarchy” gets fifteen pages of results.

  84. Skepsheik says

    #90
    So technically Pitchguest was correct – no “single” study has been published ;)
    On a serious note, I think it’s a mistake to use the ‘peer reviewed study’ argument for sociological concepts. It’s a useful argument for scientific facts and theories but not for many other fields of study (for example there are peer reviewed studies on art, music, history, politics, etc that are far more speculative in matters of personal interpretation than any scientific peer reviewed paper.)
    Besides, “patriarchy” is a well known concept in anthropology, so you are bound to get peer reviewed studies – even scientific studies – of this subject in anthropological journals (although the way they define patriarchy may be different from certain feminist interpretations of “The Patriarchy”.)

  85. Pitchguest says

    #81

    I wasn’t getting at anything really, I was just being silly.

    Obviously. Silly me.

    Well it’s different in that both were probably invented by men to call other men and men have a different relationship with their penises and with women’s vaginas.

    Let me get this straight: calling someone a “dick” as an insult to imply dicks are bad is not the same thing as calling someone a “cunt” to imply cunts are bad because they probably were invented by men* to call other men? … Telling someone to “not be a dick” is not the same as telling someone to “not be a cunt” because dicks are good and cunts are bad?

    No, wait. Dicks are bad, and cunts are also bad, but men have a different relationship with their penises and therefore dicks are good and that’s why we tell them not to be dicks! Wait, what?

    *a feminist blaming men for something, how strange. (Equally strange is blaming them for maybe making up words later maybe used to disparage women. Even you have to admit that is some pedigree of far-reaching you’re pulling there.)

    Men use these insults in quite a benign way because they believe a penis is benign. They use the vagina insults in a more malign, appropriating way.

    “They believe a penis is benign.” There’s a sentence you don’t read every day.

    But an anus is universal to all people and universally “malign” things, it’s a neutral insult. A vagina isn’t universal, only women have them, and women I expect generally think of them as benign things so it’s not a neutral insult.

    I believe transgender people would take umbrage to that.

    Or if we’re to go with Hornbeck’s principle (of HJ Hornbeck fame), there is no such thing as a gendered slur because sex is a social construct.

  86. Lucy says

    Tigzy

    “So associating the male genitals with stupidity, unpleasantness, witlessness and clumsiness is celebratory. R-i-i-ight.”

    No, but associating the male member with absolutely every masculine characteristic good and bad is, let’s say – a tad single minded. Calling everything after your penis suggests a somewhat elevated opinion of it.

    Penises do look silly, witless and clumsy when they’re flaccid. Men are just having a laugh about it.
    And another man’s erect penis is something that men find scary and unpleasant (to the straight men making up the insults at least) and their own does have dark thoughts which men are faintly in awe of.

  87. Lucy says

    Pitchguest

    “A kind suggestion if you will: drop the buzzwords (who talks like that? “white, able-bodied, sane, straight, well off ones?”), the dogma, the narrative that you’ve clearly already convinced yourself is true, and start having an actual conversation, with actual real words.”

    I don’t talk like that in my everyday life. But round these parts you have to be specific or you find yourself having conversations all night.

    What is the insult for a white, able-bodied, sane, straight, well off, man? The one that really gets him where it hurts. There isn’t one.

  88. johngreg says

    Lucy , you are simply not making any sense at all.

    Also, your argument that all the feminine-based, so to speak, bad words are invented by men to insult/denigrate/dismiss women ’cause women parts = bad, and all the masculine-based, so to speak, bad words are invented by men to make men feel good because men parts = good, is just too stupid to tread water with.

  89. Lucy says

    “The main problem with ‘cunt’ is that it has hard consonants lend very well to expressions of spite, anger and violence – and this is what gives it it’s ‘offence value’. ”

    That’s true too. The word can be used in all kinds of ways. Personally I quite like it, especially when women use it. I don’t much mind when men use it to one another. I don’t much mind if it’s considered the most powerful insult. I mind a bit more when men use it to women. But what offends me most about it is men saying it’s no different to men calling men dicks cos that’s brainless.

  90. Lucy says

    Johngreg

    “Lucy , you are simply not making any sense at all.”

    To you.

    What isn’t making sense?

    “Also, your argument that all the feminine-based, so to speak, bad words are invented by men to insult/denigrate/dismiss women ’cause women parts = bad, and all the masculine-based, so to speak, bad words are invented by men to make men feel good because men parts = good, is just too stupid to tread water with.”

    Thanks

  91. Pitchguest says

    #90

    The feminist theory version of ‘patriarchy’, not the patrilineal patriarchy. The one that contends (among other things) that men exist only to oppress and subjugate women. The feminist theory version of patriarchy is nigh impossible to get to grips with, because it seems to differ person to person and change conveniently when circumstances call for it. I’ve received a definition of the patriarchy, then the next day received a markedly different one that is completely unlike the other. It’s like being a spectator for Occupy Wall Street. Although all of them have one common denominator (or should that be “demoninator?”): men. Namely, men are bad and do bad things.

    I haven’t seen a single scientific paper on it. Yes, I’ve looked. I’ve looked extensively. I don’t consider blogs or newspaper articles to be sufficient. It has to be, we’ve looked through this and that, done this and that, done it multiple times with the same (or close to the same) outcome and this is what we found. It’s not enough to say, “this is a construct of the patriarchy” and leave it there. I was taught to think critically and that is what I’m going to do.

  92. Skepsheik says

    #93
    The male insult list that consists of alternative words for penis, is not of words that describe good and bad masculine characteristics, it is an insult list after all.
    It should be assumed that the words are to be taken in an insulting and therefore negative way.
    What words for the male member are associated with positive masculine characteristics?
    I’m having trouble thinking of any.
    Here’s the list again:
    a prick, a cock, a knobend, dickhead, a bell-end, a weiner, a pecker, a tool, a dick (by itself, or in combination – pencil dick, needle dick) or simply a penis.

  93. Ally Fogg says

    johngreg

    Not sure how well you know Dundonians, I may be doing you an injustice, but I’m pretty sure you’d get more sense out of those questions than you’re crediting.

    Resisting the temptation to type in Dundonian, people would say things like:

    “Posh folks won’t use words like that, it’s only the likes of us.”

    “They just think we’re scum when they hear us talk, but I don’t care, the feeling’s mutual”

    “English people don’t talk like us, do they?”

    etc etc etc.

    So the individuals talk as they do because that’s how they were raised, that’s how their families and friends talk etc, but all those people go to make up a micro-culture and that micro-culture is not just a random coincidence, it has evolved out of marginalisation, conflict, opposition, rebellion etc.

    There’s actually quite a lot of truth in the Rab C. Nesbitt persona – not the lifestyle, which is an ugly caricature, but the philosophy of being ‘scum and proud of it.”

  94. bugmaster says

    @Lucy #80:
    The fact that you think that insults such as “dickhead” are benign and “celebratory of the male member” doesn’t tell us a lot about social theory, but it does tell us quite a bit about you.

  95. Lucy says

    Pitchguest

    “No, wait. Dicks are bad, and cunts are also bad, but men have a different relationship with their penises and therefore dicks are good and that’s why we tell them not to be dicks! Wait, what?”

    Oh gawd, this is going to take ages.

    Do you accept that a white man calling a black man a “n*gger” (a derogatory derivative in the language of slave owners of negro meaning black in the language of the conquistadors), is different to a black person doing it?

    Do you accept that a man calling another man a name a man has invented for a man’s genitalia is different to a man calling another man a name a man has invented for a female’s genitalia (when women were the legal property of men)?

    Do you accept the basic concept that words are different in different contexts, depending on who made them up, how they use them, against whom, for what ends? In other words, do you accept the basic concept of language having meaning?

  96. Lucy says

    Bugmaster

    “The fact that you think that insults such as “dickhead” are benign and “celebratory of the male member” doesn’t tell us a lot about social theory, but it does tell us quite a bit about you.”e

    Well what happens to a man as a result of being called a dickhead? Does he get branded or put in the stocks or enslaved? Does he get treated differently by the law? Does he find himself the target of hate crime? Does he get blamed for the increased sexual violence or serial killings that may come his way? No. That kind of thing used to and still can happen if you get called a whore or a f*g or a n*gger. That’s what I mean by benign.

    And as I’ve already explained, but I suspect I’m not going to have to repeat until Ally writes a new blog, because you’re all nothing if not persistent, I meant, “celebratory” as in “idolising/going on about/obsessed by/using all the time in weird inappropriate irrelevant ways/never shutting up about/calling everyone’s attention to”.

  97. Lucy says

    The way to know who’s at the top of the social hierarchy is to find the people there are no effective insults for.

  98. Pitchguest says

    #94

    If you don’t do it in your everyday life, then don’t do it here! Just have a fucking conversation!

    That’s true too. The word can be used in all kinds of ways. Personally I quite like it, especially when women use it. I don’t much mind when men use it to one another. I don’t much mind if it’s considered the most powerful insult. I mind a bit more when men use it to women.[1] But what offends me most about it is men saying it’s no different to men calling men dicks cos that’s brainless.[2]

    First of all, 1) double standard, and 2) it’s no different if the criteria for calling people cunts is implying cunts are bad, therefore calling someone a dick would imply dicks are bad. But why you don’t think a man calling another man a “dick” is not the same thing as a man calling another a man a “cunt” is beyond me, especially if they both (as an insult) carry the meaning of someone doing something undesirable. Also, to turn it on its axis, the word “dick” is not generally used in other English speaking parts of the world as a term of endearment, but the word “cunt” can be. How do you explain that?

  99. says

    To Pitchguest and a note on gendered slurs in general. Also, please note that I’m speaking from US context, here.

    “Asshole” is not a gendered slur. At best it’s a plantist slur, because the overwhelmingly vast majority of the animal kingdom (perhaps the entirety) has some form of asshole, while plants, for the most part, don’t. But I’m not too worried about hurting the feelings of plants.

    Think about all of our gendered slurs: cunt, bitch, dick, prick, pussy, etc. Break them all down, and you find that they’re referring to the same thing when used as slurs: shitty behavior on the part of a person. “Asshole” refers to the same.

    As such, for me, “asshole” is a good enough replacement that I’ve managed to excise all gendered slurs (both the male and female ones) from my everyday insult vocabulary. Which means that, yes, I have called women assholes, just like I’ve called men assholes.

    On another note, I’ve noticed discussion on the word “bastard” here. I always assumed a bastard was a child without a father. I didn’t realize it was gender-specific?

  100. johngreg says

    Well, Ally, I don’t know Dundonians, so yes I must accept that what you say may very well be true.

    And to that I can only add that it would be nice if some of the more highly educated denizens of the blogosphere could show even half so much self awareness as your Dundonians, it would be a far better world.

    Resisting the temptation to type in Dundonian …

    Ach I wish you wouldn’t. I love reading accents and dialects — like Irvine Welsh! What fun.

    Language is the food of communication, in all its lovely, ugly, ups and downs and in and outs. If we followed the dictates and demands of the people who spend so much time striving, literaly striving to be offended by language, and working so hard to turn language into plain vanilla robot speak, the world would truly be a duller, uglier place — safe maybe, for puppies and shrinking violets, but about as exciting (and useful) as room-temperature runny tapioca pudding.

    Oh joy.

  101. tigzy says

    Lucy @93

    ‘No, but associating the male member with absolutely every masculine characteristic good and bad is, let’s say – a tad single minded. Calling everything after your penis suggests a somewhat elevated opinion of it.’

    But again, ‘cunt’ has been used as term of friendship, as I pointed out earlier. So there’s certainly cases where, culturally speaking, this feminine characteristic has a positive association. And frankly, I’ve yet to hear how calling someone a ‘prick, knob, bellend’ etc. has much in the way of positive connotations (though they, like cunt, twat & berk, can be used as mild insults in friendly contexts). In my experience, the only masculine genitally-related terms which clearly vaunt masculine qualities are ‘bollocks’ and ‘balls’, usually in association with feats of bravery. However, they too are also widely used in contexts that denote nonsense, stupidity or ineptitude, such as:

    ‘That’s a load of balls/bollocks!’
    ‘You’ve gone and ballsed/bolloxed it up, Dave!’
    ‘I’ve never read such a load of old bollocks in my life.’
    ‘Fucking bollock-brain!’

    (Interestingly, in the UK, ‘twat’ can also mean ‘to beat someone up’ – as in ‘I’m gonna twat that fucker if he doesn’t shut up!’ Curious, that this very feminine definition should be associated with the largely male pastime of fighting. If nothing else, it shows that terms/contexts can be a hell of a lot more nuanced than some would suggest.)

    As for ‘calling everything after your penis’ – yeah, well, if by ‘everything’ you mean stuff mostly associated with stupidity, clumsiness and ineptitude, then your argument holds.

    @96

    From what I can see, the only difference (genders aside) between calling someone a ‘cunt’ and a ‘dick’ is the greater force lent to ‘cunt’ by those harsher consonants – which give it much more of a propensity to be spat out in moments of anger or pain.

  102. Lucy says

    Pitchguest

    “If you don’t do it in your everyday life, then don’t do it here! Just have a fucking conversation!”

    Don’t just leave me hanging with that minor amount of instruction, finish the job: how should I describe white, male, able-bodied, straight, well heeled people in normal conversation?

    “First of all, 1) double standard”

    Why?

    No, single standard. Single standard of not using names you’ve invented to describe people to their genitalia when they had no right of reply because they are legally banned from speaking in public, from publishing and are your legal property. Especially not derogatory ones. But any ones as a rule. And especially when they don’t like it. That goes for women too, the day they invent words for men and men have no right of reply.

    “It’s no different if the criteria for calling people cunts is implying cunts are bad, therefore calling someone a dick would imply dicks are bad. ”

    Why?

    Men inventing words for men’s genitalia isn’t the same as men inventing words for women’s genitalia. Just because one has bad connotations, it doesn’t follow that the other does. Especially when, at the time the words were invented, women were men’s legal property and the church was pumping out toxic propaganda about women’s genitalia. This is simple stuff you know.

    —-

    “But why you don’t think a man calling another man a “dick” is not the same thing as a man calling another a man a “cunt” is beyond me”

    Okay so I think we’ve identified the problem here.

    “especially if they both (as an insult) carry the meaning of someone doing something undesirable. Also, to turn it on its axis, the word “dick” is not generally used in other English speaking parts of the world as a term of endearment, but the word “cunt” can be. How do you explain that?”

    Because dick is an American word and Americans don’t use insults as terms of endearment, that’s a British phenomenon. All the British words for penis are used that way.

  103. Lucy says

    Natehevens

    “Think about all of our gendered slurs: cunt, bitch, dick, prick, pussy, etc. Break them all down, and you find that they’re referring to the same thing when used as slurs: shitty behavior on the part of a person. “Asshole” refers to the same.”

    Cunt: aggressive, nasty, violent, evil person
    Dick: annoying, unselfaware person
    Prick: unfair person
    Pussy: unmasculine, therefore useless, person
    Asshole: annoying person

  104. Lucy says

    “On another note, I’ve noticed discussion on the word “bastard” here. I always assumed a bastard was a child without a father. I didn’t realize it was gender-specific?”

    It only mattered for male children because they were the ones who inherited the fathers name, property and status. If a boy could be proved a bastard, then he could lose his inheritance. A girl didn’t gave any to lose.

    Like I say, the insults that matter are the ones that have practical consequences attached.

  105. Ariel says

    A fascinating* essay. A lot of things to learn, particularly for someone (like me) whose native language is not English!

    *Hmm, I find this word strangely appropriate. See here.

    A sample from the comment section (various authors):

    it is probable that bitch sounds worse simply because we find insulting language directed at women more offensive than when it’s directed at men. Whatever words were chosen, they’d be considered more offensive

    Calling a man a “dick” doesn’t have the same sting because he’s already male and masculinity is the preferred positive trait.

    men have a different relationship with their penises and with women’s vaginas.
    Men use these insults in quite a benign way because they believe a penis is benign. They use the vagina insults in a more malign, appropriating way.

    You try to find an explanation of differences in the “sting” of gendered insults directed to men and women. But before producing any explanation, it would be good to know how widespread such differences are. Are they parochial to English? Or is it a more general phenomenon? (It would be rather unreasonable to give a too deep meaning to a phenomenon observed just in English!)

    I’m really not sure about it and some comparisons would be useful. In my own language (Polish) the words we have for “cunt” and “dick” are equally bad – I would be really hard pressed to declare one of them worse. Quite unlike in English, from what you say. It seems to me (but I may be wrong here) that analogous Russian words are also on a par.

    Do you think that the disparity is so general as to require a deep explanation?

  106. Skepsheik says

    “110 Lucy
    It is pretty simple to add extra gendered insults to that list:
    Cunt: aggressive, nasty, violent, evil person
    Dick: annoying, unselfaware person
    Prick: unfair person
    Pussy: unmasculine, therefore useless, person
    Asshole: annoying person
    Twat: stupid person
    Berk: silly person.

    But now we have a list in which the two mildest and least offensive insults are derived from words for female genitalia.

    By the way, ‘dick’ (when used as a word for penis) is not originally an American word.
    Unless, of course, you are confusing it with Moby Dick – the great white dudebro whale.

  107. Lucy says

    “By the way, ‘dick’ (when used as a word for penis) is not originally an American word.”

    I say it is. Prove me wrong.
    And even if it originates in some corner of a foreign field, it’s America that popularised its usage and that’s why socially awkward British men don’t greet each other with it, but with “you knobhead’ instead.

  108. tigzy says

    Lucy @114

    ‘dick
    “fellow, lad, man,” 1553, rhyming nickname for Rick, short for Richard, one of the commonest Eng. names, it has long been a synonym for “fellow,” and so most of the slang senses are probably very old, but naturally hard to find in the surviving records. The meaning “penis” is attested from 1891 in British army slang. Meaning “detective” is recorded from 1908, perhaps as a shortened variant of detective.’

    Source: Dictionary.com

  109. Lucy says

    Skepsheik

    Twat means foolish, ignorant person; “Bit of a twat” means silly person.
    Berk means half of a watered-down cunt, so most of its power has been jettisoned along the way.

  110. bugmaster says

    @Lucy #103, #104:

    Well what happens to a man as a result of being called a dickhead? Does he get branded or put in the stocks or enslaved? Does he get treated differently by the law? …

    Are you saying women are being “put in stocks and enslaved” as the result of being called “cunts” in modern United States ? If so, I’d like to see some proof. If not, then you need a better argument. In fact, I believe that the reverse is true: a woman who is called a “cunt” can make a credible legal case against the man who insulted her; and, of course, calling someone a “nigger” is pretty much automatically actionable in most places.

    I meant, “celebratory” as in “idolising/going on about/obsessed by/using all the time in weird inappropriate irrelevant ways/never shutting up about/calling everyone’s attention to”.

    That’s not what the word actually means. In order to forestall any future debates about definitions, I propose the following: every time you use a word in a way that is different from its common definition, surround it in [a href] tags linking to the definition you prefer.

    For example, if I was talking about engineering, I would say, “in this design, the DAC is slaved to the CPU”, and it would be immediately obvious that I am talking about circuits and not social injustices.

  111. Lucy says

    Tigzy

    “‘dick
    “fellow, lad, man,” 1553, rhyming nickname for Rick, short for Richard, one of the commonest Eng. names, it has long been a synonym for “fellow,” and so most of the slang senses are probably very old, but naturally hard to find in the surviving records. The meaning “penis” is attested from 1891 in British army slang. Meaning “detective” is recorded from 1908, perhaps as a shortened variant of detective.”

    That’s not “used as a word for penis”.

  112. bugmaster says

    @Lucy #104:

    The way to know who’s at the top of the social hierarchy is to find the people there are no effective insults for.

    Such people do not exist, as it is trivially easy to insult anyone in a variety of ways. For example:

    “Donald Trump is an arrogant asshole”

  113. Skepsheik says

    #114
    From the online entymology dictionary (dick -tionary?) the use of dick as a word for penis appears to come from British army slang.

    “dick (n.)
    “fellow, lad, man,” 1550s, rhyming nickname for Rick, short for Richard, one of the commonest English names, it has long been a synonym for “fellow,” and so most of the slang senses are probably very old, but naturally hard to find in the surviving records. The meaning “penis” is attested from 1891 in Farmer’s slang dictionary (possibly British army slang). Meaning “detective” is recorded from 1908, perhaps as a shortened variant of detective.”

    “And even if it originates in some corner of a foreign field, it’s America that popularised its usage and that’s why socially awkward British men don’t greet each other with it, but with “you knobhead’ instead.”

    Where did this idea of your come from, of socially awkward British men using ‘knobhead’ as a greeting?

    My take on the issue of people using insult words as friendly greetings is that it is a kind of ingroup behavior amongst people who frequently use swear words. Ally’s example of working class people fits with my experience. They are certainly NOT socially awkward and not even necessarily men – women can use these words in a similar way.

  114. says

    Lucy:

    Cunt: aggressive, nasty, violent, evil person
    Dick: annoying, unselfaware person
    Prick: unfair person
    Pussy: unmasculine, therefore useless, person
    Asshole: annoying person

    I quite literally associate all of that (except for “pussy”… I should not have included that, although it’s also a problematic slur) with “asshole”.

    An asshole, to me, is an annoying, aggressive, violent, nasty, unselfaware, unfair person. I’ll use two examples from my job at Burger King (I’m an assistant manager at a Burger King here in south Florida.., and it is a terrible job), both from last night. During the overnight shift, one guy threatened to shoot one of my co-workers for absolutely no reason whatsoever… literally, she was sweet to him the entire fucking time. Even while he cussed her out, calling her the n-word amongst other slurs, in Spanish and she repeated it all back to him in English, she was sweet and kind and trying her damndest to uphold the “customer is always right” bullshit. Yes, she did call the cops. I’ve no idea if they caught him or not. He was so obviously drunk, though…

    Earlier that evening, during the dinner shift, a woman ordered one meal at the drive-thru menu, and then changed her mind and ordered something entirely different at the drive-thru window because on her way from the menu to the window she found a coupon, causing the person cashing out the orders to go over their void limit for the day. Now the woman was indeed very apologetic about it all, but still demanded the new meal with the coupon.

    Both of them, to me, were supreme assholes. The man was much worse, to be fair, but I still refer to both of them as assholes, because their behavior in both cases (violent and aggressive in one case, annoying and frustrating in the other) typify was I identify as “assholish behavior”. Again, very different scales, yes, but still assholish behavior.

    (On an unrelated and off-topic note: the customer is NEVER right. Ever. I hold deep in my heart a supreme hatred for whoever came up with that “the customer is always right” bullshit, because they were so wrong it’s not even funny.)

    As to the word “bastard”… thank you for that. It was something I did not know. I’ll edit my vocabulary accordingly.

  115. tigzy says

    Lucy @118

    Er…wut?

    ‘The meaning “penis” is attested from 1891 in British army slang.’

    This comes from the section ‘Word Origin & History’ – look up ‘dick’ at dictionary.com, and you’ll find it.

  116. Lucy says

    Bugmaster

    “Are you saying women are being “put in stocks and enslaved” as the result of being called “cunts” in modern United States ?”

    No. That’s why I said, “That kind of thing used to and still can happen if you get called a whore or a f*g or a n*gger. “.

    —–

    ‘”I meant, “celebratory” as in “idolising/going on about/obsessed by/using all the time in weird inappropriate irrelevant ways/never shutting up about/calling everyone’s attention to”.”

    That’s not what the word actually means. In order to forestall any future debates about definitions, I propose the following: every time you use a word in a way that is different from its common definition, surround it in [a href] tags linking to the definition you prefer.”‘

    Well you know, I was trying to please Pitch-don’t use all them thar fancy shmanzy words, just walk like normal folks-guest.

    What word would you suggest that encapsulates the male’s Chalk Man size involvement with his penis so that he names everything after it? I thought celebratory was pretty apt. But if you have a better engineering suggestion, I’m all ears. Not literally.

  117. Lucy says

    Shepsheik

    “Where did this idea of your come from, of socially awkward British men using ‘knobhead’ as a greeting?”

    Via the medium of sight.

  118. Graham Shevlin says

    The original discussion over at Pharyngula was highly frustrating. As a Brit who lived in the UK for 42 years and now resides in the USA. I can see both sides of the argument, but the mentality of most of the people in the Pharyngula thread lurched into lynch-mob territory on several occasions. I think a later commenter put it most neatly when he said that many people were busy Yanksplaining without paying any attention to other points of view.
    I had an introduction to this in 1994 when I tried (and failed) to explain that, in the environment in which I grew up in the 1960s in England, the word “nigger” lacks any racial resonance. There were other words that racists would use at the time, “nigger” was not one of them. The people I was explaining this to did not believe me. They still didn’t believe me when a work colleague of mine from the UK backed me up. I came to realize that there are a lot of people who suffer from the fallacious belief that if another nation speaks the same language, that idioms, vernacular and other subtleties of communication and expression must operate the same way. No, they don’t. Think “pissed”. It has two completely different idiomatic meanings in English English and American English.
    Oscar Wilde did indeed get it right when he declared that America and England are two countries divided by a common language.

  119. Lucy says

    Bugmaster

    “Such people do not exist, as it is trivially easy to insult anyone in a variety of ways. For example:

    “Donald Trump is an arrogant asshole”’

    No, of course you can insult a person who IS a white, straight, etc man. I’m asking you to name me a derogatory word that MEANS white, straight, etc male.

  120. tigzy says

    Lucy @124

    Well, there’s the problem. You should have been using the medium of hearing. As well as using the medium of sight to read the etymology of ‘dick’ I so kindly posted here. :-D

    Apologies. Just a little levity to keep things cordial.

  121. Skepsheik says

    “126
    “No, of course you can insult a person who IS a white, straight, etc man. I’m asking you to name me a derogatory word that MEANS white, straight, etc male.”

    That one’s easy: dudebro

    As for your proof (via the medium of your sight!) that socially awkward British men greet each other by calling each other knobhead, I won’t deny that this has never happened but I suspect it’s pretty rare.
    I’ve never seen socially awkward people greeting each other using insults – it’s always been confident sweary types who do this.

  122. Lucy says

    When arguing online, a woman, a black person, a trans person a gay person is likely to be faced with a barrage of demeaning terminology for what they are, usually coming from the straight, white, Internet man. Terminology that the mob can get behind because it has a long and powerful provenance in mob violence.
    However, how does that woman, black person, gay person, trans person respond? They soon realise that their verbal arsenal is depleted and weak. The words that do exist are poor things, they don’t hit their marks, they don’t rouse the crowd. They are literally lost for words. And that’s extremely revealing.

    What for instance is the word for the revenge porn peddler? There are plenty for his victim. The spectator was reduced to trying out, “cad”.

  123. Lucy says

    “Dudebro”

    A) That’s American
    B) I’ve never heard of it
    C) It probably applies to a less powerful subculture of white, etc males.
    D) It’s not effective, who cares about being called a Dudebro? Nothing happens as a result.

  124. tigzy says

    Lucy @130

    ‘It’s not effective, who cares about being called a Dudebro? Nothing happens as a result.’

    Just as nothing happens as a result of being called a cunt, prick etc. – certainly nothing as regards some sort of societal consequence, in any case. True, you might find yourself getting embroiled in an argument or fight – but that could also happen with a universal insult, such as ‘fucker’ or ‘asshole’.

    In any case, if you’ve never heard of ‘dudebro’, then how can you be so sure nothing will happen as a result of being called it?

  125. says

    Nice one Ally. Fascinating history and puts a new lens over the whole conversation.

    As an Australian (of both Scots and Norman descent) I grew up in farm country with ‘cunt’ being part of the arsenal (it was “the one you never call girls or say anywhere near your mum”), as well as a term of affection, come high school in the early 90s (you were a “mad/sick cunt” if you partied hard or were a good skater). Though without the sharply defined cultural/class divides of the Old Country, usage here is still far more similar to that of the UK than the US – we’re still part of the Commonwealth and we were still a loose affiliation of British colonies until 1901, so that’s unsurprising. It’s still a vulgar word here (the boss of them all, in fact) and one for the kids to avoid around the silverbacks at all costs, but it doesn’t carry precisely the same sting as it does in the US – something I only relatively recently discovered.

    Anyway, my point (which I made over at PZ’s) was that once the extra layer of misogyny and venom became apparent, efforts were made to stop using the word altogether. It’s not one you want to spit out at an inopportune moment, especially when your three-year-old daughter will parrot every new word she hears (especially the words she hears dad say in traffic – anyone who’s ever driven in Adelaide will know what I’m on about).

    If you know there are people in your vicinity/audience who’ll find a word – any word – offensive, it’s hardly an imposition to express yourself differently or, as Ally said in the OP, use it with full knowledge of its potential impact and let the chips fall, etc.

  126. jedibear says

    Thanks for this, Ally Fogg. This touches on some points I was considering making with so much more insight than I had.

    That said, never think that Americans have wholly escaped the scars of British class constructions on our language. We have the same hierarchy of vulgarity, and our own class structure echoes that of home islands. We just sometimes pretend it isn’t important.

    “Cunt” becomes problematic when it’s used either to insult a man by comparing him to a woman or to insult a woman for being a woman. These usages exist on both sides of the pond. What’s not shared is the more complimentary use, to identify the speaker as a member of the vulgar class and to express affinity for those so addressed. We have the same habit, but “cunt” isn’t one of the words we use.

    (I should note that my American culture is largely specific to the Pacific Northwest. I can’t really speak for other regions.)

  127. jedibear says

    There are, as it happens, derogatory terms for white people, straight people, and men.

    White people get callled crackes, honkeys.
    Straight people sometimes get called breeders.
    Men get called any of several words referring to male genitalia. And yes, “dickhead” is absolutely gendered in usage. For that matter, “bastard” mostly is too, though there’s no reason it should be.

    You can argue (and I would agree) that these have less weight than the derogatory terms used to insult women and minorities, and further that it’s telling that gendered slurs for women have more weight when wielded against men than gendered insults for men do, but there’s no value in ignoring these words. They do exist.

  128. Sans-sanity says

    Oh, also ‘nob’ http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/nob

    And I’ve only ever heard ‘ponce’ used for insulting that variety of person, http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/ponce

    ‘Toffee nosed’ may or may not be the root insult behind toff, so that’s kind of a double count.

    I don’t know how widely the ‘Silver spoon brigade’ gets used, but I hear it occasionally where I live.

    ‘Posh’ is often used pejoratively; I think I hear ‘Posh git’ more than I hear it in any other context.

    ‘Blue blood’ is rarely complimentary.

    Then there’s yuppie, snob and ‘boat shoe’ to stretch things a bit.

    If you think there are no words for insulting rich white men, you need to go listen to people talking about politicians and lawyers… Oh, I thought of two more: ‘Politician’, ‘Lawyer’.

  129. says

    I had an introduction to this in 1994 when I tried (and failed) to explain that, in the environment in which I grew up in the 1960s in England, the word “nigger” lacks any racial resonance. There were other words that racists would use at the time, “nigger” was not one of them. The people I was explaining this to did not believe me. They still didn’t believe me when a work colleague of mine from the UK backed me up. I came to realize that there are a lot of people who suffer from the fallacious belief that if another nation speaks the same language, that idioms, vernacular and other subtleties of communication and expression must operate the same way. No, they don’t. Think “pissed”. It has two completely different idiomatic meanings in English English and American English.

    Oscar Wilde did indeed get it right when he declared that America and England are two countries divided by a common language.

    I was always fond of the Saki version, “I love Americans, except when they try to speak French. How fortunate that they never try to speak English.”

  130. Sans-sanity says

    My favourite incidence of cultural disonnect regarding slurs.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YtxB0Kh0BCY

    Bert Newton (Australian celebrity presenter) referring Muhammad Ali as “Boy” to his face (“I like the boy” being a catch phrase of Bert’s at the time) .

    From Wikipedia:
    “At the 1979 Logies awards Newton said to Muhammad Ali “I like the boy”, not knowing that “boy” could be taken as a racial slur. Ali responded “Did he call me Roy?” and members of the audience, including Don Lane, shouted to Newton to say “Yes, Roy”. Newton looked puzzled and later explained to the media that he did not realise that “boy” was used as a racial slur. Ali at least realised Newton’s use was unintended and they kissed and made up.”

  131. Ian says

    Lucy @ 126

    No, of course you can insult a person who IS a white, straight, etc man. I’m asking you to name me a derogatory word that MEANS white, straight, etc male.

    Oh, that one’s easy! “Privileged.”

  132. Thil says

    @Ally Fogg @100

    I remember I once saw an interview with Gregor Fisher where he said that when he first read the script he went to the director and said that he wasn’t entirely comfortable portraying Glaswegians in this way. In response they basically told him to just do what he’s told if we wanted to keep the part and get paid

  133. kevin norman says

    Thanks goodness the up tight Americans have no idea how we use the word TWAT and twatting about and twattery.. !

  134. gjenganger says

    @Johngreg 62
    The past does matter – to the extent that people remember it, of course. And the things Ally is talking about are still in people’s mind. Examples:
    - In the west it is almost impossible to insult Jews as a group, because any proper insult – or even stereotype – calls up the spectre of the Holocaust and Hitler’s propagandists.
    - Slavery is living memory in the US and that is called up with anything with the slightest whiff of relevance. We did have lots of slaves in Europe once, but 1) they were white prisoners of war, and 2) it was umpteen centuries ago. The institution was no nicer here, but it simply is not relevant in a modern context – for us.

  135. gjenganger says

    @Lucy, Skepsheik
    I think Lucy’s search for absolute underlying causes is misguided, but she does have a point. Insults directed at women are different, and often worse, to similar insults directed at men. It is less obvious whether the insults serve to put women in their place, or the place of women made the insults worse over time.

    My favourite linguist Deborah Tannen made a similar point for endearments:

    Woman: [Steps out of the way, so that Man can get to the water cooler first]
    Man: “Thanks, honey.”
    Woman: “Do not call me honey!”
    Man: “But,… but,… I bet your boyfriend calls you that and you love it!”

    ‘Honey’ is patronising, because it pretends an inappropriate intimacy, and it is worse because it is a word that can only be used to women. But if the persons had been Man1 and Man2, there would be plenty of words to use. “Thanks, mate”, or “buddy”, or “mac” would work fine, but they are specific for men. In fact there is hard to find a word in the English language that a man could use to a woman to achieve the same effect.

  136. gjenganger says

    @Lucy, Skepsheik 2
    The reason that you do not find many insults specific for white able-bodied hetero males, is that an insult has to position the target as an outsider. Otherwise it does not work properly. A despised outsider is preferable, but ‘ginger’, ‘four-eyed’, or ‘frog-eating’ might do at a pinch. Even ‘fat’ or ‘black’ may be no more than a convenient peg to hang the phrase on, in many cases. Insults specifically against white males (‘honky’, ‘toff’, ‘dudebro’), only work because they are used by non-white (etc.) groups.

    If our white male able-bodied heteros have fewer insults against them than others it is, yes, partly because men have historically dominated over women, but it is also (pace, Lucy), because the hetero and able-bodied are so overwhelmingly in the majority that the majority language pretty much has to reflect it.

  137. Skep tickle says

    Lucy @129

    So you see coming up with exceptionally demeaning terms that hit the mark and rouse the mob as the way to win arguments on the internet? Good luck with that, outside of space(s) in which you (the generic “you”) are the moderator or are protected by the moderator.

    Whitney Phillips, from her PhD research on troll culture, made some IMO interesting observations on the kind of behavior you state is “likely” to be experienced by everyone other than straight cis white men, “usually” from straight cis white men, including that those personal characteristics are assumed to match that behavior but don’t necessarily do so. I’ve put 2 url’s [refs 1, 2] below pointing to some of her comments, but will quote only minimally for sake of length:

    …what trolls do is engage in behaviors that are gendered male, raced as white, and marked by privilege. This demographic might not be literal, but it is symbolic ….

    Women are certainly not immune from treating other women, and men, in similar ways.

    You closed with:

    What for instance is the word for the revenge porn peddler? There are plenty for his victim. The spectator was reduced to trying out, “cad”.

    Why the drive to find a “worse” word for the person? Describing the behavior may not feel as satisfying but it’s more to the point. And turning it around to “cad-shame” the guy (as the Spectator writer suggested) just seems like an-eye-for-an-eye, or actually more like an eyelash for an eye. IMO the satisfaction comes in siccing the law on them [ref 3] (where there are applicable laws, and given time, and knowing the outcome isn’t guaranteed; yes, that all lacks the immediacy of using a cutting word).

    Refs (Steers-style):
    1. _http://ethnographymatters.net/2013/01/08/ethnography-and-the-troll-space-workarounds-discipline-jumping-and-ethical-pitfalls-1-of-3/

    2. _http://www.hastac.org/blogs/whitneyphillips/2011/09/16/interview-real-life-troll

    3. _http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hunter_Moore (indicted on 15 felony counts in US)

  138. gjenganger says

    @NateHevens 121
    I admire your zeal, but why choose”asshole”.to replace all known insults?

    What is wrong with “doubleplusungood”?

  139. Sans-sanity says

    @Skeptic tickle; Anywho, a “revenge porn peddler” can easily be referred to as a ‘Scumbag’ (used condom), or ‘Scrote’ (scrotum) right of the top of my head. Whoever couldn’t come up with better that ‘Cad’ for a man of despicably poor behaviour either could not have been trying very hard or had a sadly limited vocabulary.

    Heck, even ‘Love rat’ exists to stigmatise this exact behaviour it terms non-vulgar enough to go on the front of the tabloids.

  140. Skepsheik says

    #146
    It seems strange to me that this whole debate about words and their meanings is happening in the absense of much historical linguistic context – particularly in terms of which type of words are used as insult words.
    For example, it seems clear that English is not the only language that uses body parts as insults. Organs of excretion (vagina, penis, anus) are used as generic insults in many languages – presumably because they are associated with smelly or ‘dirty’ bodily processes.
    Even more common is the use of words for faeces as an insult (shit, turd, piece of crap etc.)
    We might ask which of the following hypotheses fits the evidence better:
    A. Because of sexism, an insult that uses the word for a womans genitals is going to be viewed as the worst possible insult by the population at large.
    or
    B. There is little or no connection between sexism and which one of the various insults will be viewed as the worst by the population at large – it is all contingent on historical accidents.
    I think you can easily make the second argument, particularly when you view society as consisting of more than one language.
    For example, one of the worst current swear words in Swedish is Jävla – a derivative of djävla, maining damned (djävulen means the devil.) But Sweden is a rather godless society. Whey should being damned or enamored of the devil be such a curse for atheists, other than historical contingency?
    Swear words are not meant as literal descriptors. They are placeholders for a general idea of disrespect and disgust. If someone calls me a dick he is not telling me I am a literal penis, or that I remind him of penises because they think that both I and penises are bad.
    He is simply telling me that he has no respect for me.
    Likewise with calling me a shit.
    Or a turd.
    Or an arsehole.
    Or a twat.

    Now I don’t doubt that there are some men who are indeed misogynists and who refer to all women as cunts. But in the same way there are racists who refer to people of another race as shit or shits.
    But the word ‘shit’ as an insult is not historically associated as a term for all people of a certain race – even though the racist might use it that way now.
    Was the word ‘cunt’ used a general term for all women in the past?
    I’m generally interested in the answer to that question because if it WERE the case (in the same way that ‘nigger’ was used by the population at large as a word for black people) then the argument to avoid it’s use as an insult now would be much stronger.

  141. daveallen says

    Resisting the temptation to type in Dundonian, people would say things like:

    “Posh folks won’t use words like that, it’s only the likes of us.”

    “They just think we’re scum when they hear us talk, but I don’t care, the feeling’s mutual”

    “English people don’t talk like us, do they?”

    How would Brian Blessed go down?

    Or John Lydon or Mark E Smith?

  142. daveallen says

    Or a prolific user of the word cunt who was southern and middle class (I think), like Luke Haines or Martin Freeman?

  143. Lucy says

    Gjenganger

    “Positioned as an outsider”

    Outsider, or weaker in some way. Usually due to their relative position in the social hierarchy.

    “If our white male able-bodied heteros have fewer insults against them than others it is, yes, partly because men have historically dominated over women, but it is also (pace, Lucy), because the hetero and able-bodied are so overwhelmingly in the majority that the majority language pretty much has to reflect it.”

    White, heterosexual, able-bodied, sane men are not in the majority in this world or even in this country. White, possibly bisexual able-bodied, dubiously sane women are the majority in the country. Non-white people are the majority in the world. It’s not majority that counts, it’s power, which brings with it power over the communication channels and language.

  144. Lucy says

    One should remember that while “cunt” was being invented and gaining traction in our language, the church Patriarchs were publishing things like this to a wide, receptive audience.

    “The curse God pronounced on your sex still weighs on the world. …Do you not realize that Eve is you? The curse God pronounced on your sex weighs still on the world. Guilty, you must bear its hardships. You are the devil’s gateway, you desecrated that fatal tree, you first betrayed the law of God, you who softened up with your cajoling words the man against whom the devil could not prevail by force. The image of God, the man Adam, you broke him, it was child’s play to you. You deserved death, and it was the son of God who had to die! ” (Tertullian)

    “the consciousness of their own nature must evoke feelings of shame”(St. Clement of Alexandria)

    “Remember that God took the rib out of Adam’s body, not a part of his soul, to make her. She was not made in the image of God, like man.” (St Ambrose)

    “Thus it must be bad to touch a woman. If indulgences is nonetheless granted to the marital act, this is only to avoid something worse. But what value can be recognized in a good that is allowed only with a view of preventing something worse?” (St Jerome)

    “Woman is the root of all evil” (St Jerome)

    “It does not profit a man to marry. For what is a woman but an enemy of friendship, an inescapable punishment, a necessary evil, a natural temptation, a domestic danger, delectable mischief, a fault in nature, painted with beautiful colors?”

    “the male sex enjoyed the higher honor. Man was first formed; and elsewhere he shows their superiority…. He wishes the man to have the preeminence in every way.” Of women he said that “The woman taught once, and ruined all. On this account therefore he saith, let her not teach. But what is it to other women, that she suffered this? It certainly concerns them; for the sex is weak and fickle, and he is speaking of the sex collectively.” (1 Timothy, Homily 9). (St John Chrysostom)

    “Woman is less qualified [than man] for moral behavior. For the woman contains more liquid than man, and it is a property of liquid to take things up easily and to hold unto them poorly. Liquids are easily moved, hence women are inconstant and curious. When a woman has relations with a man, she would like, as much as possible, to be lying with another man at the same time. Woman knows nothing about fidelity. Believe me, if you give her your trust, you will be disappointed. Trust an experience teacher. For this reason prudent men share their plans and actions least of all with their wives. Woman is a misbegotten man and has a faulty and defective nature in comparison to his. Therefore she is unsure in herself. What she cannot get, she seeks to obtain through lying and diabolical deceptions. And so, to put it briefly, one must be on one’s guard with every woman, as if she were a poisonous snake and the horned devil. If I could say what I know about women, the world would be astonished … Woman is strictly speaking not cleverer but slyer (more cunning) than man. Cleverness sounds like something good, slyness sounds like something evil. Thus in evil and perverse doings woman is cleverer, that is, slyer, than man. Her feelings drive woman toward every evil, just as reason impels man toward all good.” (St. Albertus Magnus)

    Against a backdrop of this:

    “If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.”

    “The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. ”

    “Let the women learn in silence and in all subjection”.

  145. Lucy says

    Thil

    “Honky” – any kind of white male; not a straight, high status, able-bodied, sane, one.

    “limey” – any Briton; not a white, male, straight, high status, able-bodied, sane one.

    “white trash” – a low status white person; not a high status, able-bodied, sane, male one.

    “Red neck” – as above.

    There is no word.

  146. gjenganger says

    @Lucy 153
    I stand by’ outsider’. For a good insult you want to exclude the target from the in-group, not just say that “we are the same, but I happen to be a bit stronger than you”.

    “It is not majority that counts, it is power”? Perfectly true. But the common case (not to speak of the morally acceptable one) is that social norms are set to fit the majority. ‘The greatest good for the greatest number’ or something. And in the UK, the majority is white, the majority is hetero, the majority is able-bodied (if not necessary all three at once). Gender is about 50:50, so neither group can justify domination on the base of numbers – which is why I specifically mentioned that if language favours males it is because of historical male power.

    It does not matter who is in a majority in the entire world. The norms of each society are and should be set by it’s members, and culturally the population of the world does not form a single society with shared rules. The majority of creatures on earth are insects, and the majority of intelligent beings in the universe may well be lizards (what was the population of Betelguese, again?). None of that matters for how people in the UK choose to define their politeness rules.

  147. Lucy says

    Skep tickle

    “So you see coming up with exceptionally demeaning terms that hit the mark and rouse the mob as the way to win arguments on the internet? Good luck with that, outside of space(s) in which you (the generic “you”) are the moderator or are protected by the moderator.”

    No of course not. I didn’t say that anyway.

    But it is very frustrating not to have an equal and opposite explosive missile to hurl back in their direction when you are being hit by theirs. Rather just a paltry arsenal of fruit.

  148. Hunt says

    “It does not profit a man to marry. For what is a woman but an enemy of friendship, an inescapable punishment, a necessary evil, a natural temptation, a domestic danger, delectable mischief, a fault in nature, painted with beautiful colors?”

    I didn’t realize Paul Elam was around back then too! :-)

  149. says

    Dave @151

    If you really want to know how Brian blessed goes down I suggest you ask for a demonstration.

    That said, are you just going to throw in names you think are not working class who have been know to use the word? that could become a little long winded.

    Being working class Welsh cunt wasnt a word that was used much, twat and wanker were probably the worst you would hear regularly. However, the Welsh working class tend to see ourselves as a little more refined than the vulgar English (Presbyterianism I expect). My first real experience of it being used in general conversation was when I moved to Salford in the early ’90s.

    So you see, the use of the word isnt *just* a badge of class but it also has geographic significance.

  150. Lucy says

    Hunt

    And the trouble is most of the fruit are distinctly wiffy. With most of the you find yourself actually insulting OTHER people they are related to, seem like, are friends with or supporters of.

  151. says

    Lucy @153, I dont usually bother to read your posts but its been a quiet day for me. So hey, for the shits ‘n’ giggles…

    You realize that

    “One should remember that while “cunt” was being invented and gaining traction in our language, the church Patriarchs were publishing things like this to a wide, receptive audience”

    encompassed almost 1000 years?

    Its kinda like saying

    “when Marx and Engles wrote the communist manifesto, the people of London were saying For him was lever han at his beddes hed A twenty bokes, clothed in black or red, Of Aristotle, and his philosophie,Than robes riche, or fidel, or sautrie. But all be that he was a philosophre, Yet hadde he but litel gold in cofre”

  152. Lucy says

    Quite deliberate Danny, whoever you are.

    The word has its origins in proto Germanic languages, gained traction in middle English and became a taboo word in the 17th century.

  153. gshelley says

    A couple of further points
    There is something of a hierarchy of these words, both in terms of how “sweary” it is, and how much of an insult, and the two don’t necessarily agree. For female terms, cunt is almost always regarded as the strongest, much more than twat or pussy, though if any of the three is misogynistic, I’d argue it is pussy. There are many more terms based on male anatomy, but most are fairly mild. Unlike cunt and twat however, I don’t know that any of them are ever used affectionately, and prick is always used as a strong insult (unlike dick, which is pretty mild). Then again, there may be social cultures or regions where that is not the case.

    As for the idea that you use a word as an insult, you must find that thing disgusting, try telling that to the millions of teenage boys who will call someone a wanker as an insult, yet in other contexts happily admit to being one, or the millions of people who will say someone is talking bollocks, without having any sort of negative opinion on testicles.

  154. Lucy says

    Pitchguest

    “Fun fact: there has never been provided any evidence to support the validity of intersectionality. Or the whole of feminist theory for that matter. Not a single peer-reviewed study has been published on the subject of patriarchy, rape culture or intersectionality.”

    Squaw.

  155. Lucy says

    Gjenganger

    “But the common case (not to speak of the morally acceptable one) is that social norms are set to fit the majority.”

    The whole basis of the class struggle is that societal norms are set to fit the few.

  156. daveallen says

    If you really want to know how Brian blessed goes down I suggest you ask for a demonstration.

    I suspect it would be too exciting for me.

    That said, are you just going to throw in names you think are not working class who have been know to use the word? that could become a little long winded.

    As far as I am aware three of the people I mentioned are working class.

    Being working class Welsh cunt wasnt a word that was used much, twat and wanker were probably the worst you would hear regularly. However, the Welsh working class tend to see ourselves as a little more refined than the vulgar English (Presbyterianism I expect). My first real experience of it being used in general conversation was when I moved to Salford in the early ’90s.

    So you see, the use of the word isnt *just* a badge of class but it also has geographic significance.

    Right, and as a kid in Carrickfergus I’d say more or less the same thing – a Presbyterian tradition fed into a sort of genteel working class attitude. My grandfather – a pattern maker by trade – wouldn’t stand to hear “damn it”, let alone “cunt”, and most people on the estate did likewise.

    Now, that’s mostly gone these days. A liberal attitude to the word pervades in adult spaces.

    And, like yourself, I heard the word more in England – Hull and Slough in particular.

    Ally seems to me to be illustrating something that’s more of a community ID, I’d say, as necessarily a class one – though I know they feed into one another.

    And, as a thought experiment based on what I gather from things like “the english don’t do that” I’m passingly curious as to what the reaction would be to the fact that – obviously – many of them do – even ones who didn’t have working class backgrounds.

    And I fully expect his answer to be “oh of course they bloody know that!”

    But still, his line of argument so far leaves me curious as to what sort of changes in reaction to the word might result from visiting english and/or middle class users.

  157. Darren Ball says

    Hi Lucy

    The offence in the word “bastard” is not directed at the target’s mother when, in the context of the sentence, the meaning of the word has nothing to do with the target’s lineage. If it is clear that the word is being used to describe a very nasty individual, the literal definition is meaningless and the mother’s character is perfectly intact.

    I do not see how insulting a man for not measuring up to traditional masculine expectations (wimp, coward, spineless, etc) is any different for insulting a women for not measuring up to traditional feminine expectations (as you put it, around her level of sexual attractiveness and so on). You’re not a “real” man vs you’re unfeminine are exactly comparable.

    If, as you say, “insults only hurt if they are backed by the threat of social disapproval of the insulted characteristic.”, then attacks on a man’s masculinity are likely to hurt just as much as attacks on a woman’s femininity.

    You mention “Being called a slut matters because being a slut opens you up to male violence, or certainly did in days gone by when you could be punished by the mob or the state for it.”

    I think the emphasis here is mostly on “…certainly did in days gone by…”

    For millennia some men have hated other men with passion and rage. Do you think men have resisted finding the most hurtful insults to throw at each other? Of course not – the words we have to insult men are the worst that men could think of. If they lack shock value it’s because we don’t really get that shocked when men are insulted. If insults directed at women sound more shocking, it may not be because the words are inherently worse, but because polite society recoils at seeing women so harshly insulted (the appalling abuse of women, such as Prof. Mary Beard, notwithstanding. But that’s a behaviour problem of a minority of men, not mainstream society.

    Best

  158. gjenganger says

    @Lucy 155

    not a white, male, straight, high status, able-bodied, sane one.

    These epithets work to exclude – “one of them, and therefore not one of us”. In order to use a word with that meaning, you would have to identify as part of a single solidaric group that equally encompassed all women, all non-white people, all disabled, all poor, and all GLBTQ. You would need to be very heavily politicised to see such extremely diverse people as a group with a single identity and a single enemy. You and your political friends are the only people who might qualify, so if you want a term like that, you would have to invent and popularize it yourself.

  159. Lucy says

    “The offence in the word “bastard” is not directed at the target’s mother when, in the context of the sentence, the meaning of the word has nothing to do with the target’s lineage. If it is clear that the word is being used to describe a very nasty individual, the literal definition is meaningless and the mother’s character is perfectly intact.”

    This use of the word to mean a nasty character is quite recent. As any aficionado of period drama knows, it was to impugn the man’s character by way of impugning his social status by way of impugning his patriarchal provenance by way of impugning his mother by way of impugning her sexual habits.

    —-

    “I do not see how insulting a man for not measuring up to traditional masculine expectations (wimp, coward, spineless, etc) is any different for insulting a women for not measuring up to traditional feminine expectations (as you put it, around her level of sexual attractiveness and so on). You’re not a “real” man vs you’re unfeminine are exactly comparable.”

    The difference is the measurement anchor point. Men are judged for not measuring up to traditional masculine characteristics, in relation to the expectations set by – other men. Women are judged for not measuring up to traditional feminine characteristics, in relation to the expectations set by – men. Powerful men valued valour on the military field in their knights and serfs because it served a political purpose – namely keeping the powerful men in place – so obviously those who didn’t perform would receive social stigma. Powerful men valued sexual availability and sexual loyalty in their bedrooms in their wives and concubines because it served their purpose – namely keeping powerful men in sex – so obviously those who didn’t performing would receive social stigma or worse.

    —-

    “If, as you say, “insults only hurt if they are backed by the threat of social disapproval of the insulted characteristic.”, then attacks on a man’s masculinity are likely to hurt just as much as attacks on a woman’s femininity.”

    Cowards are only shot during war time. Sluts are attacked, verbally and physically, all year round.

    —-

    “You mention “Being called a slut matters because being a slut opens you up to male violence, or certainly did in days gone by when you could be punished by the mob or the state for it.

    I think the emphasis here is mostly on “…certainly did in days gone by…”

    Slane Girl.
    Slut Walks.

    —–

    “For millennia some men have hated other men with passion and rage. Do you think men have resisted finding the most hurtful insults to throw at each other? Of course not – the words we have to insult men are the worst that men could think of. If they lack shock value it’s because we don’t really get that shocked when men are insulted. If insults directed at women sound more shocking, it may not be because the words are inherently worse, but because polite society recoils at seeing women so harshly insulted (the appalling abuse of women, such as Prof. Mary Beard, notwithstanding. But that’s a behaviour problem of a minority of men, not mainstream society.”

    Which words trigger a fight or flight response in you when you see them in print?

    —-

    “Best”

    You’ve changed your tune.

  160. says

    I didnt realise Brian blessed was from the working classes, the boy done well.

    I have misunderstood your position, sorry.

    Saying that, if you have noticed that the use of the word can be more prevalent in different working class communities, where is your disagreement with Ally that the word is a community ID?

    If your point is that middle class people are starting to use the word, and it is therefore loosing its value as a working class signifier. Then they should fucking stop, it just makes them look like tourists or even cunts.

  161. Lucy says

    “So the use of cunt became taboo 700 years after your final quote and you see a correlation?”

    Yes. Because this was the end of the age of the church fathers and when Middle English became modern English. How much history do you want me to teach you, Darren? Because I have to go to Tesco.

  162. gjenganger says

    @Lucy 166

    The whole basis of the class struggle is that societal norms are set to fit the few.

    That was surely true of the actual class struggle back in the 1800′s, where you needed property to vote (also in the UK, right?), the House of Lords was a real power, and unfettered capitalism raged. It may well apply to some things today, though that would have to be argued case by case.

    But in the present discussion:
    - The straight and the able- bodied are large majorities in the world.
    - Social norms tend to fit the straight and the able-bodied.
    How can you conclude that these particular norms are “set to fit the few”? Do you have some very convoluted theory to explain why everything is the opposite of what it looks? Or do you believe in the primacy of theory over reality?

  163. daveallen says

    Saying that, if you have noticed that the use of the word can be more prevalent in different working class communities, where is your disagreement with Ally that the word is a community ID?

    I doubt there is any, I’m just curious.

    If your point is that middle class people are starting to use the word, and it is therefore loosing its value as a working class signifier. Then they should fucking stop, it just makes them look like tourists or even cunts.

    I think the “working class signifier” thing is overcooked and even if it wasn’t I’d want to know why someone who works some soul-sucking office job can’t blow off steam in the way they see fit, nor anyone else for that matter.

  164. Darren Ball says

    Hi Lucy

    It doesn’t matter how recently the definition of a word changed: if it’s clear that bastard means nasty individual, in the context, then that’s what it means. We’re not living in a period drama.

    I do not agree that expectations of men and women are set by men. They are set by societal norms, which (nowadays at least), are set by men and women. Again, talk of knights and serfs? Have you fallen through a wormhole in time and space?

    “Sluts are attacked verbally and physically all year round”

    If you’re saying that insults lead to violence, then I would remind you that the group most at risk of street violence are men, especially young men. I’ve been violently attacked four times in the last 12 years, and I’m a middle aged man.

    I don’t understand your penultimate point.

    I don’t think I’ve changed my tune. Why do you say that?

    Best

  165. Ally Fogg says

    @daveallen

    The attitude towards the English in many parts of Scotland – especially the more marginalised and socially excluded, is kind of confused sort of doublethink.

    On the one hand, people watch Eastenders, Coronation Street, films with Danny Dyer in them etc etc. We are aware that many people in England are poor, working class etc.

    On the other hand, there’s an archetype of The English which is rich, posh, white and invariably homosexual. When someone says something like “The English wulnae like it” they don’t actually mean any real English individual,, it is that representational archetype they are talking about.

  166. carntion says

    @ Ally Fogg

    #177

    True, but Northern England is generally excluded from this.

  167. Thil says

    @Ally Fogg @100

    I’m tempted to say that you can’t really complain about people making offensive sitcoms about you if you take a ” ‘scum and proud of it.” stance

  168. bugmaster says

    @Lucy #123:

    What word would you suggest that encapsulates the male’s Chalk Man size involvement with his penis so that he names everything after it?

    As I said, I think you should use the word “celebratory”, surrounded by [a href] tags that link it to your preferred definition. Also, regarding the sentence above, it would be helpful to clarify what you mean. I got the “Chalk Man” reference, but I’m not sure what your point is. If you want to say, “all men are obsessed with their penises to the point of being unable to think of anything else”, then come out and say so, don’t hide behind obscure metaphors. If you do, I promise to make the best possible effort I can to avert my gaze from my magnificent penis for five minutes in order to engage you in discussion; but I can’t have any discussion with you when your central thesis is deliberately obfuscated.

  169. Jacob Schmidt says

    “Honky”

    “limey”

    “white trash”

    “Red neck”

    I find it interesting (and otherwise noteworthy) that nearly every insult for “white people” or “white men” is specific to some group of white people/men. “Dudebro” means “misogynistic man”; “redneck” and “white trash” mean “poor, classless white person”; “limey” is specifically an insult for british people; “honky” and “cracker” are barely used, if at all, and it’s silly to pretend they are, or that they belong in a discussion about the sociology of group based insults other than to note their existence and lack of use.

    There, to my knowledge, doesn’t exist a commonly used insult that insults white men qua white men, either definitionally or in practice.

    I admire your zeal, but why choose”asshole”.to replace all known insults?

    What is wrong with “doubleplusungood”?

    I will admit I have a some affinity to explicit language.

  170. bugmaster says

    @Jacob Schmidt #181:

    There, to my knowledge, doesn’t exist a commonly used insult that insults white men qua white men, either definitionally or in practice.

    I’m pretty sure that non-white people use words like “cracker” and “whitey” as an insult, but, being off-white myself, I cannot say so definitively — but I am not convinced that it’s “silly” to pretend that these words are used, as you claim. As far as I understand, there are words such as “gaijin” that describe predominantly white foreigners in other countries, but, again, I cannot say so definitively.

    LGBT people sometimes use “breeder” as an insult for any straight person (an even wider category than merely “straight white males”).

    In addition, feminists came up with their own insults relatively recently, such as the aforementioned “dudebro”, “MRA”, and “privileged”. While you are correct in saying that “dudebro” literally means “misogynistic man”, keep in mind that it’s an insult, and, as such, is not meant to be 100% literally accurate. When you call someone “a fucking motherfucker”, you are not literally claiming that this person is engaging in incest. Instead, you are implying that this person is as evil as someone who engages in incest. The same applies to many other insults.

  171. Jacob Schmidt says

    I’m pretty sure that non-white people use words like “cracker” and “whitey” as an insult, but, being off-white myself, I cannot say so definitively — but I am not convinced that it’s “silly” to pretend that these words are used, as you claim.

    I described their use as “barely used” and “not common.” That it happens isn’t really important; how often it happens is.

    As far as I understand, there are words such as “gaijin” that describe predominantly white foreigners in other countries, but, again, I cannot say so definitively.

    Yes. I should append to post 181 that I was speaking about western cultures. Other cultures, especially where white people are a minority, are a whole different ball park.

    In addition, feminists came up with their own insults relatively recently, such as the aforementioned “dudebro”, “MRA”[1], and “privileged”[2].

    1) MRAs are a specific group, not an insult to white men qua white men. I’m assuming you’re referring to feminists labelling those with whom they disagree as MRAs, as often the label MRA is self chosen.

    2) That’s not even an insult.

    While you are correct in saying that “dudebro” literally means “misogynistic man”,[1] keep in mind that it’s an insult, and, as such, is not meant to be 100% literally accurate. When you call someone “a fucking motherfucker”, you are not literally claiming that this person is engaging in incest. Instead, you are implying that this person is as evil as someone who engages in incest. The same applies to many other insults.[2]

    1) Just to nitpick: dudebro literally means “hyper-masculine misogynistic man.” In practice, however, the “hyper-masculine” part is usually left out, and the word is used against those who are perceived as men and misogynistic.

    2) So what? Definitionally, dudebro is not an insult to white men qua white men. In practice, dudebro is not an insult to white men qua white men. It doesn’t matter if you want to argue that use is figurative rather than literal.

  172. bugmaster says

    I described their use as “barely used” and “not common.”

    “Not common” among which demographic ? White people probably aren’t using such insults very often…

    1) MRAs are a specific group, not an insult to white men qua white men. I’m assuming you’re referring to feminists labelling those with whom they disagree as MRAs…

    I believe they have effectively turned words such as “MRA”, “privileged”, and “misogynist” into general-purpose insults that can be used against any man, just as the word “motherfucker” can. Naturally, one would not expect many men themselves to use these words as insults, just as one would not expect white people to use the word “cracker”.

    Just to nitpick: dudebro literally means “hyper-masculine misogynistic man.”

    I have never heard this word applied to anyone who wasn’t also white, young, and reasonably affluent. Thus, I disagree with your last point, as well.

  173. gjenganger says

    @Jacob, Lucy

    So, you are looking for a white, male equivalent of ‘nigger’? An insult that is specific for white men as a group (not just whites, not just men, not just a subgroup) and that is in mainstream use in the culture of white-dominated half-male western countries? Nothing like that could possibly exist. In fact, while there are several insults that are specific for women, I cannot think of anything that works like you suggest for white women, or for women as a group either. If you just want to point out that western countries are indeed white-dominated I will not disagree – but as a citizen of overwhelmingly white Europe I find it hard to se what else they could be.

    All language is group-specific (it is the language community that defines words and usage), so it is a matter of what the dominant groups in western countries use. And group insults have the necessary function of distinguishing a particular group of people as outsiders, ‘different from us’. ‘White’ does not serve as a grouping characteristic if the ‘we’ is white (much like ‘two-legged’ in fact). ‘White men’ may well be seen as different from ‘black men’, but in a white-identified culture, they are not seen as ‘white men’, but just as ‘men’. So only a culture that identifies as non-white or non-male could have specific insults for ‘white men’.

    As for Lucy’s ‘white male straight able-bodied’, that would require a culture that saw itself as simultaneously coloured, LGBTQ, female, and disabled, or that at least saw each of these axes as an essential division of humanity, like we see gender. I find that hard to even imagine, except in the context of a revolution where the white males are collectively reviled as the oppressors, and everybody else joins in the victory.

  174. Dumbass says

    Damn, I wish I’d discovered this thread sooner instead of making myself persona non grata on the PZ Myers thread. Everything I was trying to express in my crabbed way is expressed so much more eloquently here. I’d be interested to see how some of you got on over there. My position is essentially that ‘c*nt’ may be all sorts of bad things, but sexist it isn’t (in British English).

  175. Jacob Schmidt says

    So, you are looking for a white, male equivalent of ‘nigger’? An insult that is specific for white men as a group (not just whites, not just men, not just a subgroup) and that is in mainstream use in the culture of white-dominated half-male western countries? Nothing like that could possibly exist.

    No. I’d be happy for a male approximation* or a white approximation. Just whites, or just men, would be fine. Sorry for being unclear. “Cracker,” “whitey,” and “honkey” all fit the bill definitionally (i.e. as derogatory terms for “white people”), but their actual use pales in comparison, both historically and contemporaneously, to “nigger,” (or pretty much any other slur).

    *I think an equivalent to “nigger” just isn’t going to happen.

    All language is group-specific (it is the language community that defines words and usage), so it is a matter of what the dominant groups in western countries use.

    I don’t disagree. I will note, however, that there are insults for white people (the physical majority) but not for men (approximately only half the population, often just under). Who sits as part of the majority is not the whole story here.

    I believe they have effectively turned words such as “MRA”, “privileged”, and “misogynist” into general-purpose insults that can be used against any man, just as the word “motherfucker” can. Naturally, one would not expect many men themselves to use these words as insults, just as one would not expect white people to use the word “cracker”.

    Even if they were insults (and seriously, “privileged” isn’t) they are still based on specific behaviours; they are not insults to men qua men, or white people qua white people. Yelling “you motherfucker” (or “you bitch” or “you nigger”) to someone who cuts you off makes sense. Yelling “you misogynist” doesn’t.

    Also, I have no problem calling men (or women, for that matter) “privileged” or “misogynistic”; MRA refers to a specific group of self identified people, so that one I usually don’t bother to use.

    I have never heard this word applied to anyone who wasn’t also white, young, and reasonably affluent. Thus, I disagree with your last point, as well.

    Given that “dudebro” is frequently used online, I’m wondering how you judge the age, skin colour, and affluence of someone through the internet.

  176. gjenganger says

    @Jacob 187

    No. I’d be happy for a male approximation* or a white approximation. Just whites, or just men, would be fine. Sorry for being unclear. “Cracker,” “whitey,” and “honkey” all fit the bill definitionally (i.e. as derogatory terms for “white people”), but their actual use pales in comparison

    That does make sense. I would say that ‘nigger’ got a lot of airplay because it was the word for blacks in a black-and-white, slave-and-master society, and later because post-slavery society was white-dominated. For the other words you would have to be looking in black culture, and as blacks were much less dominant it is not surprising that their group language was heard less.

    I don’t disagree. I will note, however, that there are insults for white people (the physical majority) but not for men (approximately only half the population, often just under). Who sits as part of the majority is not the whole story here.

    I suspect the point is the peculiar nature of the gender divide. Men and women do have different cultures, according to Deborah Tannen (up to a point, of course), but unlike other different cultures I can think of, men and women live together intimately and tend to want and need each other. Actually, do you have any good examples of insults that refer to women, all women, as a group? Most of those I can think of refer to specific aspects and not to the gender as a whole: ‘bitches’ – mean and nasty women; ‘gash’ – women as an impersonal source of sex; ‘sluts’ – dirty and promiscuous women, … A sentence like ‘Blacks are just niggers’ is pretty much a tautology – you can reject it but you cannot argue against it – whereas ‘Women are just bitches’ is falsifiable. An answer like ‘And what about your mother?’ might often work.

  177. says

    Gjenganger, 188

    Actually, do you have any good examples of insults that refer to women, all women, as a group?

    At least in German I can. Th word “Weib” is considered derogatory and has the meaning “woman”. I think the word wench is similar in english, but to my knowledge is often considered more archaic.

  178. says

    Schmidt

    Given that “dudebro” is frequently used online, I’m wondering how you judge the age, skin colour, and affluence of someone through the internet.

    Skin color is probably difficult, but age can often be gauged from the behavior of users.
    In any case the original arguments can be amended by using the subset of people where age, affluence and skin color are known.

  179. Jacob Schmidt says

    I would say that ‘nigger’ got a lot of airplay because it was the word for blacks in a black-and-white, slave-and-master society, and later because post-slavery society was white-dominated. For the other words you would have to be looking in black culture, and as blacks were much less dominant it is not surprising that their group language was heard less.

    Indeed. “Nigger” was also used as a derogatory term for any racial minority e.g. “irish nigger” for irish immigrants; “bush nigger” for native americans; etc.

    Actually, do you have any good examples of insults that refer to women, all women, as a group? Most of those I can think of refer to specific aspects and not to the gender as a whole: ‘bitches’ – mean and nasty women; ‘gash’ – women as an impersonal source of sex; ‘sluts’ – dirty and promiscuous women, …

    Not in english. I will note, however, that “bitch,” “whore,” and “slut,” (at least in my experience) are often used regardless of context (more so “bitch” than the rest). Make of that what you will.

  180. HeatherG says

    Comment 51 has a perfect example of regional disparity that muddies the waters in a way the OP addresses, I think. “Bastard” or “bitch.”

    In Australia, as an example, being called a “bastard” is often a sign of affection. The male version of “bitch” is more likely to be “arsehole/arse”, not “bastard”.*

    The perfect example of how this can cross-offend, culturally, is best summed up in the Australian miniseries “Bodyline.” (Brits will appreciate this example better than Americans, as it was a series based in the cricket test series of the Don Bradman era; specifically, the 1932-3 Ashes). Scene: one of the Australian cricketers calls one of the English players a “bastard” while on the field. After the match, the English captain (Douglas Jardine, played by Agent Smith/Elrond in their younger years) goes to the Australian captain to make a complaint, because to the English at the time, being called a “bastard” was pretty base (pun intended; I am so sorry).

    The Australian captain turns to the other players in the room, and asks, dryly, “All right! Which one of you bastards called this bastard a bastard?”

    This one sentence perfectly summed up the relationship, politically and sportingly (it’s a word, now) between the English and the Australians of the era–also, the differences, culturally.

    I’m with others, here, who say that one culture does not get to “edjumacate” another on the uses of words. When in Rome, and all that. I would not go into the USA and use the n-word, but I would also not expect anyone from the US to lecture a Brit on the use of the c-word. We choose, far too often, to be unnecessarily offended. Respecting history is fine, respecting others is gold, but words only have power if we let them.

    * (I find the use of “bitches” as a casual/neutral way of speaking of a group of women much more offensive than the context I’m speaking of, as a side note. My older kids will get away with saying fuck sooner than using the casual form of “bitch” as a synonym for “woman” or “girl”. I get irritated with fuck used as an adjective. It’s verb. It’s lost its power in my house as a result, and my 5 teenaged sons rarely use it as a result).

  181. Darren Ball says

    @192 HeatherG

    I agree with everything you say. Use of the word “bitch” is more sensitive to context than any other word I can think of.

    “She’s my bitch” is extremely misogynist. It;s much worse in every respect than cunt. I would put it on a par with “nigger”. However, “she’s a real bitch in business” provided it directed at a genuinely ruthless businesswoman, is fine I opine.

    Best

  182. gjenganger says

    @Sheaf 189
    True, but is “Weib” not more disrespectful, rather than actively insulting, by itself?

    When Wolf Biermann was expelled from DDR he commented “Die haben mir auch meine Weiber nachgeschickt.”, which would be somewhere between “They also sent my women with me” in normal English and “They sent my bitches with me too” in hiphop-English. Wench is indeed too archaic and saucy to serve. From my admittedly limited German, I think that “ Komm hier, Weib! and “Verdammte Weib!” would translate as “Come here, woman!”” and “Fucking bitch!”, respectively.

    Do people think this word is strong enough to serve as a counterexample?

  183. gjenganger says

    @Ally
    From the Solange thread it looks like you are very patient, very reasonable, but still human.

    Beats the alternative.

  184. gjenganger says

    @Gjenganer 194
    Bother. That should have been “Verdammtes Weib!“. Weib is not female but neuter – which may be an aggravating factor.

  185. carnation says

    Regarding “bastard” – are there others who shudder when it’s used in its origunal meaning in Game of Thrones?

  186. says

    Gjenganger, 194

    Assuming you meant to say “Komm her, Weib” and “Verdammtes Weib”, both would carry a negative connotation towards the woman spoken to. The Bierman sentence would be closer to the bitches translations than to the woman translation, but not quite as bad.

  187. gjenganger says

    @198 Sheaf
    I did mean that. Ta’.
    Teach me to stick to languages I know.

  188. says

    Damn, I wish I’d discovered this thread sooner instead of making myself persona non grata on the PZ Myers thread. Everything I was trying to express in my crabbed way is expressed so much more eloquently here.

    And another Slymepitter finds a place.

    My position is essentially that ‘c*nt’ may be all sorts of bad things, but sexist it isn’t (in British English).

    Your position has been debunked, in MANY different times and places, and now you’ve settled here, like trash collecting in a corner, after being blown out of all the higher places.

  189. Darren Ball says

    @200 Ragin Bee,

    Please direct me to even ONE place where this statement has been debunked

    “My position is essentially that ‘c*nt’ may be all sorts of bad things, but sexist it isn’t (in British English).”

    I’m yet to see even one convincing argument.

  190. Maureen Brian says

    So, guys, when did the word cunt lose its original meaning? Evidence and a date, please.

  191. gjenganger says

    @Maureen 203

    Do get serious. Girl.

    The word cunt refers to the same piece of female anatomy as it has done for centuries. As for the emotional charge, it varies across time and place. I have no idea what that was 500 years ago – and neither have you. The discussion here shows pretty clearly that in contemporary US it is mainly a severe sexist insult, and in contemporary UK it is mainly serves as conspicuous vulgarity. Check with a non-aligned linguist if you do not believe the native speakers on the discussion.

    Now I do realize you are an atheist, but you really should try to moderate your discussion style. Ask Ally if you believe it to be impossible. Or failing that, did you ever stop beating your boyfriend?

  192. Maureen Brian says

    Nice notion, gjenganger, but it doesn’t stand up to the test of actual experience. I’ve been called “cunt” in anger and found the 15-year-old-who said it unable to explain what it meant, come up with a synonym, even to come up with another insult – just stumbling and blushing and desperate to get away. He knew fine well what it meant and why it was rude.

    There’s a way to test whether the word has magically lost all the implication it has potentially had – not always has now – since its first use. Say it to the next female CofE priest you meet. Say it to one of your grandmothers. Go on!

    When I meet this completely detached from reality linguist of yours I’ll ask him how a word now entirely devoid of meaning manages still to be a gross insult. Should be interesting.

    Signed: Girl, aged 71, always lived in the UK and currently in Yorkshire. Arsehole!

  193. johngreg says

    Maureen Brian said:

    So, guys, when did the word cunt lose its original meaning?

    Hey, gal, who said it did?

    … here’s a way to test whether the word has magically lost all the implication it has potentially had….

    What makes you think it has magically lost all the implication it has potentially had?

    … a word now entirely devoid of meaning manages still to be a gross insult.

    What makes you think it is devoid of meaning?

  194. Cuntpuffin says

    Excellent OP, but it’s paranoid to believe that ‘cunt’ is sexist. Genital-related insults, of which there are many for both genders, are gender-specific because the two genders have different genitals, and not because one gender is considered inferior to the other.

  195. gjenganger says

    @Maureen 203, 205.

    OK. If you actually live in the UK you have some authority. You could (and still can) have said what this particular word means according to you, and why Ally got it wrong. I might even have learned something. Instead you chose to make a textbook manipulative ‘argument’. Let me count the ways:

    - “So, guys,“. With the implication that, being men, we are all biased, incapable of understanding, or both. My ‘girl’ has a similar effect (if admittedly a bit more offensive). You did not like that way of arguing, did you?

    - You do not say either what the word means, or what you think we are claiming about it – just that your way is right and ours is nonsense. I assumed you (and your definitions) were American, because that is what the debate has been about, in the main. Say what meaning you mean, and say why you think it is the original one, and you would avoid this kind of misunderstanding.

    - You presuppose what you mean, instead of saying it. Standard trick, that. Anybody who disagrees with you now has to 1) analyse your text to find out what information you are actually introducing, and 2) be rude and unconstructive by disregarding the purpose of your statement and take issue with your usage instead. As I am doing now. Saying “The word ‘cunt’ has always meant such-and-such’ would put your claim forward, for people to agree or disagree. “When did the word lose its original meaning…” , like “When did you stop beating your wife” is trying to pull a fast one.

    - “Evidence and date, please”. You know perfectly well that this ‘request’ is impossible. So, not only do you take for granted that you and only you are right, you claim to win by default unless your opponents climb an impossible hurdle.

    That is four things wrong so far – not bad for a one-line post.

    - Nobody is saying that the word ‘cunt’ is nice to use, nor that it is meaningless, just that it is not horribly sexist in the way the Americans claim. There are lots of words that are bad without being particularly sexist (‘cretin’, ‘piece of shit’, ‘scumbag’, …). If you want to disagree it helps to acknowledge what your opponents are actually saying. Of course if your only purpose is to prove that your opponents are idiots, it is useful to pretend that they are saying something spectacularly idiotic.

    So, if you want to actually discuss the topic, stop playing word games and talk as if you were putting an actual argument to somebody half-way sensible. Which we are not, of course, but it really helps the discussion if you pretend. I actually prefer that kind of argument, when I can get it. If you just want to show your arrogance and contempt for people who disagree with you, by all means go ahead, but then you really should not get offended when people answer back.

  196. Maureen Brian says

    I don’t think it has lost all gender-related implications. For some reason, though, gjenganger does.

    In the interests of clarity here is what I do think. The word cunt is frequently used with intimates, either in its directly sexual sense or as an indication that “you and I trust each other enough not to take offence.” As an extension of that second usage, it can be used to prove worthiness for full membership of a group, often a group of men but not always, as Ally shows. This is also understood as possibly a rite of passage into full membership – ask any passing anthropologist – or as a code for identifying other members – ditto. In all those cases you can be pretty certain you know how the listener will react.

    When it is said in anger to someone who is not an intimate then the speaker does not know how the listener will react. One of two things may be going on here. Either it is being used for its shock value – in which case it retains some shadow of its original meaning or it would have no power to shock. Or on the other hand, where it is used to silence, humiliate or demean – and that use is still happening – then it regains the full impact of the only etymological meaning it has ever had. In this last case it is sexist.

    The speaker and the listener will have a fair idea which of these many possibilities is happening. The observer may not. It’s a word I use myself and, like all words, each use happens in a social, personal and linguistic context. Not in theory and not in a vacuum.

    Clear?

  197. gjenganger says

    @Maureen 209.
    Without withdrawing my posts, I wish you had tried that end of the stick first.

    I pretty much agree with your account, and, yes, “ mainly serves as conspicuous vulgarity” was an exaggeration. I was trying to sum up the difference between US and UK usage in a single sentence, and I got it wrong.

    Two points remain:
    - It is not clear to me why using ‘cunt’ as an insult is necessarily to ‘silence, humiliate and demean’, nor why that is necessarily sexist. I do not deny that it can work that way, but surely all heavy insults have similar functions – and similar effect?
    - The original point, as I understood it was the word ‘cunt’ was supposed to be always sexist, and that any angry use of it should be banned like the word ‘nigger’ has been. That is the point I and others are arguing against, since I believe, like you, that “each use happens in a social, personal and linguistic context

  198. Maureen Brian says

    gjenganger,

    I am glad we are beginning to understand each other. Good.

    Somebody back there called me “girl.” Yes, it was you. What is that if not an attempt to assign to me a lower status, to place me several steps down on the ladder of human wonderfulness? I don’t have to accept that designation, in the circumstances ridiculous, but one to which “guys” is quite a reasonable response. Also, it doesn’t carry half as much cultural baggage.

    I have never argued that cunt should be banned, or nigger for that matter. To ask and to persuade people to be aware of the potential power of words with a history is not censorship.

  199. Darren Ball says

    @Maureen 203

    The literal definition of cunt remains as original, but the word is now used to mean other things too, such as a very nasty person.

    Berk also literally means cunt, which literally means vagina but berk is never used to mean vagina. Berk means someone who has done something silly, like forgotten to pick up some milk on the way home.

    This demonstrates two important points: 1) the literal meaning of a cuss word is completely irrelevant. 2) There’s no particular contempt or disgust about the female genitalia – just because cunt is one of the most offensive cuss words, berk is one of the most inoffensive, even charming.

  200. Darren Ball says

    @209 Maurine Brian

    “I don’t think it has lost all gender-related implications. For some reason, though, gjenganger does.”

    Maybe because, when used as an insult (in the UK at least), it can be applied to either male or female to mean a very nasty person. That seems entirely gender-neutral.

  201. Maureen Brian says

    Darren Ball,

    Start with a fact, that cunt does not equal vagina. Given what several other people have said quite clearly, you go down hill from there.

  202. Darren Ball says

    @214 Maureen Brian

    That’s it – that’s the best you’ve got?

    If you have no argument, it’s best to not bother posting at all.

  203. Cuntpuffin says

    @Darren 213

    To be fair to the paranoids, I think they believe ‘cunt’ is sexist not because only women are called ‘cunts’ but because only women have cunts. Of course, to suggest that this makes ‘cunt’ sexist is to stretch a definition to breaking point. I wonder if ‘bugger’ is also sexist. Maybe even ‘fuck’.

  204. Darren Ball says

    @216 cuntpuffin

    Only women have twats and berks too. Also, only men have pricks and dicks. I know their argument, but it makes no sense whatsoever.

    Best

  205. gjenganger says

    @Maureen 211

    Yes we are getting closer to understanding each other. Feels much nicer.

    Somebody back there called me “girl.” Yes, it was you. What is that if not an attempt to assign to me a lower status, to place me several steps down on the ladder of human wonderfulness? I don’t have to accept that designation, in the circumstances ridiculous, but one to which “guys” is quite a reasonable response. Also, it doesn’t carry half as much cultural baggage.

    As a matter of checkable fact, you did call us all ‘guys’ first. The ‘girl’ was the response, in part to show you what you were doing (it is not my usual style). And yes, I do (and already did) admit that it is worse. And yes, it is an insult, with the purpose of ‘assigning you to a lower status’, as you say. I tend to see it as one insult among many, though, so if people will insult each other it is not particularly worse than anything else.

    But the way it looks, we mostly agree but we are still capable of getting into furious quarrels about what we suspect the other one thinks (I certainly am). So, should we call it a day for now and hope we can make a more positive start next time we meet?

    Respectfully,

    Gjenganger.

  206. Cuntpuffin says

    @Darren 213

    Based on the other discussions I’ve seen, I think they’re well aware of other terms such as the ones you mention but see something significant in the fact that ‘cunt’ is the most taboo of them all. This is of course more of that paranoia. It’s based not on any evidence but on the fact that it neatly fits a theory that already has them firmly in its grip.

  207. johngreg says

    But, gjenganger, if you are a girl, it’s OK to call another girl a girl. Right? Skepchicks do it all the time. So….

    Also, I would like to note that I cannot recall ever seeing the most raging of the ragey anti cunt-as-a-word ragers, i.e., Benson, Zvan, Myers, et al. rage against other women who regularily and comfortabley use the word. It might have happened, but I cannot seem to recall it. Neither do they rage at one of their seal-of-approval comdians, Tim Minchin, for using the word with frequency.

    I wonder why that is? Identifarianism? Identitarianism? Hmmm?

  208. says

    Thought I’d check on the comments … And I’m still amazed at how motivated the pitters are to defend this hypothetical “not misogynist” use of the word cunt. Especially given it cannot and does not ever apply to them. Half are Americans, other half were told quite clearly the misogynist connotations, that the women it was being aimed at found it demeaning. Their response of course was to call them all “dumb cunts” … Hey ho, I guess they may fool some people into thinking they have a point, while totally missing what they actually need to defend.

    ….because I know there will be people reading who will be upset by it and I have no wish to hurt them. I quite consciously modify my language out of respect for the sensibilities of some people who might read my words. That just seems like the decent thing to do.

    Indeed, you’d have to be an asshole to think what I just described was in any way justified. An asshole … Soo, John Greg … Why does Ophelia et al “allow” some uses of cunt?
    http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/2012/11/how-to-tell-the-diff-er-ence/

    Although I barely know why I bother as it may as well be written in Aramaic for all the likelihood you’ll be able to understand the diff-er-ence. (For barely interested observers, John is a pitter and has had this simple concept explained about a million times to him. But for some reason the concept of using the word to defuse it’s power or normalise it in a non-misogynistic way is not something he can comprehend. Probably motivated reasoning from hanging out at a misogynist forum where it is established dogma that all the FTBloggers hate rude werdz like this and faint at the sound or sight of them. This fantasy is, I assume, much more pleasing than reality)

  209. johngreg says

    Why does Ophelia et al “allow” some uses of cunt?

    Depends on what day it is?

  210. Cuntpuffin says

    @oolon 223

    If you want to be fair about this (which I assume you do), you might want to check whether the ‘pitters’ are defending its use in the US or in the UK. In the UK it’s very rarely aimed at women.

  211. Cuntpuffin says

    If certain pitters were any more obtuse they’d be straight lines.

    Oh Hank, you are a one.

  212. gjenganger says

    @Oolon 224.

    I am all for that. In fact I have started a one-man campaign to reclaim ‘misogynist’. It keeps coming up whenever people discuss gender politics, and arguing over the word kind of distracts from the topic at hand. So, instead of being profoundly offended and arguing interminably whether it is fair to call me a misogynist or not, I shrug and say “Yeah, I am the kind of person you lot calls misogynist. Not really so bad, is it? Now, as we were saying,…”

    The thing is, you must either treat it as a horrible, unforgivable offense – across the board – or as something that is fairly OK to say – across the board. You cannot have it both ways, smiling at your friends when they use it, and demonising your enemies when they do.

    There is a lot of work to be done. ‘Bigot’ and ‘heteronormative’ need reclaiming as well. As for ‘racist’, well, that is a difficult case.

  213. says

    As far as I can tell, the problem is that a number of American dudebros have started to call American feminists cunts. When pulled up on it they have taken to using the English defense of “its not misogynistic in Britain”.

    The American feminists, rather that take the time and trouble of explaining to the dudebros that Americans using the English defense actually look a bit stupid, or having tried that have been ignored, have decided to stamp their feet and demand that the rest of the world does what they say because…

  214. Minnow says

    “The Australian captain turned to his team and said “Right. Which one of you bastards called this bastard a bastard?””

    Ironically in the context, I believe that in the original of this story the salient word was ‘cunt’ and not ‘bastard’. It had to be cleaned up a little for the TV.

    It’s quite interesting to see how other language equivalents of ‘cunt’ get used too, if we are wondering whether there is something intrinsically misogynist about it. In Spanish, for example, it is just a fairly strong strengthener and can’t be used as an epithet. You will hear perfectly respectable elderly ladies saying things like ‘Oh dear, I’ve lost my cunting car keys again’, for example.

  215. Minnow says

    “In the UK it’s very rarely aimed at women.”

    This is true although I think it may be changing. As I grew up I would have said that ‘cunt’ could only have been aimed at a man, it simply sounded odd being applied to a woman. A strange consequence of this is that I think, in the UK, ‘cunt’ has some overtones of masculinity, so that it doesn’t just mean a nasty person but a nasty person in a particularly masculine way. There are overtones of strength or toughness or machismo, but in a negative way. You could argue that ‘cunt’ is gendered male in UK English. I wonder if this is why it is becoming less taboo to use it at women as they adopt more traditionally male roles in society.

  216. Cuntpuffin says

    Or because women are learning to behave like arseholes in traditionally male ways.

  217. Steersman says

    Oolon (#223):

    Thought I’d check on the comments … And I’m still amazed at how motivated the pitters are to defend this hypothetical “not misogynist” use of the word cunt.

    Maybe due to the fact that this OP of Ally’s is more or less in response to PZ Myer’s previous post [How to drive a Brit crazy]? The one wherein he asserts “Right. Because the best way to hurt an individual’s feelings is to demean half the population of the planet [by calling them a cunt]”? Maybe you could let us all know where and when PZ was granted the right to speak for some three and a half billion people – perchance a UN resolution that I missed?

    Especially given it cannot and does not ever apply to [Pitters]. Half are Americans, other half were told quite clearly the misogynist connotations, that the women it was being aimed at found it demeaning.

    Last dictionary I looked at [Oxford English] merely says “an unpleasant or stupid person” which I expect even you could see that it might apply generically …. But even those dictionaries which suggest a more frequent applicability to the fairer (?) sex could still apply as a significant percentage of Pitters seem to self-identify as female.

    As for “demeaning”, of course it’s demeaning: that is its purpose and function; it is reducing an individual to a body part – implying that they are no better than the most odious or problematic aspects of it. Where you and Zvan and other proponents of the “Myers dogma” go off the rails is in thinking – I use the term loosely – that the person doing the insulting thinks that, in particular, every woman is no more than that body part. Maybe some people do so, but it seems an egregiously bad bit of logic to infer that every one who uses the insult thinks that way.

    Now, I will concede or at least suggest, as I have in the Pit, that if that insult is used quite “frequently” in some environments then either there are an awful lot of “obnoxious” women there – the fairly common definition of the word – or that the people using the insult have an a rather low or even sexist threshold for “obnoxious”, or that there is a rather high incidence of general sexism bordering on some highly problematic levels of misogyny.

    In any case, y’all might want to consider analyzing things on a case-by-case basis rather than relying on “four legs good; two legs bad”. Or maybe it’s “two legs good; three legs bad” ….

  218. Steersman says

    Stephanie Zvan (#86):

    *points and laughs at Steersman for avoiding answering the question by merely restating his disputed premise after paragraphs of empty posturing*

    “Posturing” maybe, but considering the book Fashionable Nonsense, its authors, and that it was reviewed by Richard Dawkins, I would say there is some substance and weight behind their criticisms of some of the more “virulent” strains of “feminism”. Which seems to be the basis for your own highly questionable premise and that of PZ Myers.

    In any case, I thought that by rephrasing my argument you might actually be willing to consider that your own position is also predicated on an assumption, on a premise, on an axiom – more like an article faith than not – which not everybody has to accept or be guided by. At least until the revolution comes when you can force them into re-education camps if not put them up against the wall.

    However, you might have a bit of a point, or I can at least sort of see where you’re coming from and where I think that you, and many others, go off the rails. You said:

    If equating a person to a cunt is used to say that this person is bad, how is it not saying that cunts are bad?

    For one thing, and in passing to take another stab at answering your question, while this is an imperfect analogy for all of your statement, one might suggest that the last part is more or less analogous to insisting that guns are categorically “bad” because someone – most often male (98% of the time; it’s “more of a guy thing”) – went beserk and gunned down a bunch of school kids. Similarily with our genitalia, our “privates”: some aspects or features are good, others bad, and still others merely problematic depending very much on context. Unless you think they’re always an unalloyed joy for everyone in all situations.

    Consequently, one might call some person a cunt and allude to or imply that the more “obnoxious” elements are suggestive or indicative of that specific person’s behaviour or actions. Without that at all in any way suggesting that all those who possess that physiology are similarly obnoxious, or that it per se can’t be “juicy, funky, flexible, and creative”. Rather like calling someone an asshole or a dick, neither of which is inherently or intrinsically misanthropic or misandric in spite of the construction of your question apparently justifying both.

    While I will concede that there are some nuances or connotations to such words that contribute some problematic ambiguity, a particular interpretation really seems to depend a lot on context and personal biases. To deny that really seems rather self-serving at best.

  219. Jester says

    To be brief, there are regional localisms in the way words are used and pronounced in most counties. As Mr. Churchchill observed, two counties seperated by a common language. Words have different meanings in different places, simple as that. This certainly is true between the U.S. and England, but also true between the different regions and places within the U.S. And the use and meaning of words DO CHANGE OVER TIME, especially when adopted and misused by different (immigrant, cultural, and ethnic) groups living in close physical context.

    And getting your cultural and linguistic knowledge of a place from TV, movies, and the Internet is just a mistake. I find the observations and theories many of you have about the “N-word” in the U.S., especially in the South to be laughable at least if not insulting and horribly stereotypical. Whatever you have learned from movies, it makes as much sense as what Americans learn about (modern) England watching Downton Abbey or Dr. Who.

    If you travel between places, it is up to you to learn the correct local usage of a word: I learned this the first time I traveled to England 30+ years ago when the airline magazine stressed that we Americans shouldn’t use the word “fanny” (a harmless word small children would use to describe their bottom) as in “fanny pack” to refer to what I believe Brits would call a “bum bag”.

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