[Lounge #404] »« Religion corrupts the search for truth

Actually, I hate the word ‘moron’ used as an insult, thank you very much

As pointed out by several in email, Daniel Fincke, whose last actual direct conversation with me consisted of a defense of his “Chris Christie is fat hur hur” jokes on Facebook some months ago, provides me with an opportunity to clarify something:

Also, I will note that where Chris Clarke completely unfairly attacked civility on the irrelevant grounds that you could order racist internment of people in a way that uses no abusive terms (as though just because bad things can be done civilly, routinized uncivil discourse is our only recourse to prevent that), he has not condemned Pharyngula’s routine use of the word “moron”, a word coined by racist eugenicists to justify equal atrocities against those deemed too intellectually inferior to have civil rights (even though he blogs at Pharyngula). There is an dehumanizing word that coined as part of a movement that did documentable damage to marginalized people and he is indifferent, apparently to the screams of those people while he paints me with no justification as a silencer of the oppressed simply because I advocate reason rather than bullying as the method of persuasion among professed critical thinkers and defenders of reason in the public square.

I’m ignoring the bulk of the paragraph: just shows the guy can’t read for comprehension when he’s upset. Which is an affliction a lot of us have. But he’s right about my not having offered my opinion on the use of the word “moron”.

And here it is: I don’t like it.

For my reasons, you can pretty much take this post and do the obvious find and replace.

I’ll confess I haven’t seen a whole lot of commenters in my threads using the M word, which may be because I don’t read every single comment. I also confess I slip up and use it myself on occasion, and “idiot” more often still.

Still, it’s about goals rather than perfection. I don’t like the word “moron” and wish we would all use something else non-ableist to express our disbelief at a person’s sheer wrongness. Suggestions for alternatives: doofus, fuckwad, jackanapes, buffoon, professional philosopher.

Can I go back to ignoring him now?

Comments

  1. The Mellow Monkey says

    I need to remove the words “moron” and “idiot” from my vocabulary as well. Because I was home-schooled, my only exposure to non-relative peers after a certain age was through my speech therapy sessions. It left me sensitive to the pain the word “retard” can cause, but other words didn’t leave quite that same impression and I still find myself using them.

  2. John Morales says

    Chris:

    I don’t like the word “moron” and wish we would all use something else non-ableist to express our disbelief at ta person’s sheer wrongness.

    You deny that there are adults with the mental development of a typical 8-12 year-old?

    Can I go back to ignoring him now?

    You’ve been ignoring him?

    I note that’s not a dehumanising word; rather, it is a belittling word.

  3. Ulysses says

    I’m trying to decide which logical fallacy Fincke used in that paragraph. It isn’t tu quoque because while Fincke denounces “moron” as uncivil and accuses the Pharyngula commentariat of using the word routinely, he doesn’t use that word or similar terms. Fincke might be begging the question, saying that civility is good because it’s good to be civil and therefore uncivil Pharyngula is bad. I think he’s actually using special pleading, claiming that civility is good in all situations and incivility is bad at all times, ignoring that there’s more to civility than not using foul or demeaning language.

  4. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    Guilty x 2.

    Suggestions for alternatives: doofus, fuckwad, jackanapes, buffoon, professional philosopher.

    *tee hee* I’m calling everyone a jackanapes professional philosopher from now on.

    P. S what the hell is a jackanapes . *googles furiously*

  5. John Morales says

    Ulysses, there’s no fallacy* — rather, an accusation of hypocrisy.

    * Overall; strictly speaking, he is indulging in the etymological fallacy in regards to the term ‘moron’.

  6. Eristae says

    To be honest, it was the whole “don’t use use ‘retarded’ as an insult” discussion that made me realize how many of our insults are actually references to things that aren’t actually bad.

    Bitch, cunt, bastard, moron, idiot, fool, airhead, son of a bitch, dick, asshole, jackass, dunce, buffoon (there’s nothing wrong with buffoons!), cocksucker, twat, the list goes on. It’s actually ridiculously hard to find insults that are in the vernacular and aren’t derived from something that really don’t work as insults if you just take the actual meaning behind them.

  7. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    I think he’s actually using special pleading, claiming that civility is good in all situations and incivility is bad at all times, ignoring that there’s more to civility than not using foul or demeaning language.

    Ding, Ding, Ding! AKA “I’m privileged, therefore this is all academic to me.”

  8. says

    John Morales – isn’t an accusation of hypocrisy still an informal fallacy, it that it attempts to refute an argument based on a personal characteristic of the arguer (that is, the fact that the arguer has presented the opposite argument, or done something to contradict it previously)?

  9. Eristae says

    Side note: I find Daniel Fincke’s writing to be incredibly difficult to read. I find my eyes just sliiiiiding along the sentences without actually registering the words. At the end of the paragraph, I have no idea what it’s about.

    It’s a very odd experience.

  10. great1american1satan says

    I don’t think you’d have too look far to find that fat jokes do far more harm to the health of individuals than pejoratives for low intelligence. The high mortality of people with eating disorders isn’t from starvation; it’s from fucking suicide. To me, anyone using a fat joke without knowing for damn sure no one in the room has an eating disorder (a pretty unlikely assurance these days) is guilty of saying “go kill yourself.”

  11. strange gods before me ॐ says

    Ulysses,

    I think he’s actually using special pleading, claiming that civility is good in all situations and incivility is bad at all times, ignoring that there’s more to civility than not using foul or demeaning language.

    There are some accurate criticisms of Dan, but this is not one. It is clearly false:

    I am calling for a genuinely civil environment where people are asked to stop using dog whistles and any other methods of goading and Othering of the marginalized when they try.

    It is all about treating other people with respect. Language choices, while important, are only a major issue in 3 of 13 points (though rightfully so in those 3 cases).

    Some of the points not about language:

    5. I commit that I will go out of my way, if necessary, to remember that members of traditionally marginalized groups and victims of abuse have experiences that I may not have and which I may have to strain to properly weigh and appreciate.

    8. I commit that I will always argue in good faith and never “troll” other people. I will respect both safe spaces and debate spaces and the distinctly valuable functions each can potentially serve. I will not disrupt the functioning of either kind of forum.

    10. I commit that I will hold my allies and myself to the highest standards of civil, good-willed, compassionate, and reason-based argumentation and ethical conduct, regardless of whether our enemies do the same, and regardless of the rectitude of our cause.

  12. says

    I’ve been guilty of incurring splash damage with poorly chosen words like this too, so I’m only to happy to apologise for doing so and make attempts in future not to persist in it.

    Eristae, of those words I quite like fool, seeing as it was a decent occupation to play one, so at least it doesn’t have a stigma attached to it like many medicalised terms do.

    As to this post? Yet again, it’s bizarre that Daniel has devoted so many words to this and still seems to miss the point of the earlier post Chris wrote, which economically showed that adding more and more words to his pledge did not make it better, or more complete. Painting it as an attack though, is simply inane.

  13. says

    We should certainly try to use non-ableist language – and heck, just focus on arguments, not just insults.

    But we have to realize that of the list of words, they will always have been used to hurt, if they have a negative connotation.

  14. consciousness razor says

    There are some accurate criticisms of Dan, but this is not one.

    Wishful thinking is pretty much at the top of my list.

    He pledges not to do all of those bad things ‘civility’ is maligned for, while accomplishing the good? Alright. I didn’t follow every item in his laundry list of pros balanced carefully with cons; but I guess we could see if he can make most of it happen and do something constructive other than that, for some reasonable length of time. I wouldn’t put money on it. And I don’t know what he thinks it would show if he was successful, but I’m sure there’d be some point to it, so I guess congratulations would be in order. Then what?

  15. triamacleod says

    I have to admit I had no idea that the term had been used to mean anything other than ‘not smart’. I used to hear it on Looney Toons and to be honest I can’t really remember it getting much use in the community. I’m not sure if it is a good thing that the origins are unknown, as that means it lacks a lot of the bile to many people. Or a bad thing, as it means we can unknowingly use a word without understanding its full consequences.

    What was that tag line, “Knowing is half the battle”, “The more you know”?

  16. Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle says

    Exactly what I was thinking, CR. SGBM’s quotes show a real attempt at balancing real civility against the feigned civility we get to see so often. So, I’ll tentatively retract what I said earlier. I say tentatively because I have no real confidence that civility pledges are anything but pulling privilege rank, because as many have said here, how does one have a civil conversation with someone who calls into question your status as an autonomous human being?

    That said, his intentions seem good, putting it into practice would be the real test.

  17. triamacleod says

    @ John Morales

    And at one time geek referred to an act at a side show that bit the head off animals. The meanings of words change. If the present group of people using the word do not know that it once referred to a medical diagnosis from the early part of the last century, and have instead assigned it a different meaning then wouldn’t the current usage of the word change what it means?

    Geek, fly, ill, sick, swag, dope, hot. We constantly change the meanings of words. My comment regarded at what point does that change become ‘official’? When the vernacular use changes? When people forget its original definition?

  18. John Morales says

    [OT]

    triamacleod, indeed.

    (Did you not see my reference to the etymological fallacy, above? ;) )

    Note that regardless of what you comment was “about”, what I addressed is that which I quoted.

  19. consciousness razor says

    What the fuck?

    I think you mean to say, “My word, that does not seem very civil to me, but I’d appreciate the opportunity to discuss it further with you, so I can understand what is valid about your perspective.”

    But to be serious, this is the first I’ve heard of it. Honestly, that really seems out of character for him, so I’m kind of curious. Then again, the fact that it’s facebork makes me much less curious.

  20. docfreeride says

    I am very sad that Fincke’s apparent commitment to Not Getting It makes “professional philosopher” look like a tempting epithet.

    I guess that just means I’ll have to try harder to acquit myself better.

  21. John Morales says

    docfreeride:

    … Fincke’s apparent commitment to Not Getting It …

    Such privilege you have, to need no such commitment to achieve “Not Getting It”.

    I guess that just means I’ll have to try harder to acquit myself better.

    Take heart; it won’t take much to achieve that.

  22. No One says

    “Moron” is Greek for infant or baby. It’s still in use today. Way to Godwin a word Mr psychologists.

  23. consciousness razor says

    Thanks, John, but I’m still not finding it there. Is Clarke wrong that it wasn’t on facebook?

  24. says

    And “idiot” originally meant “layperson.”

    But the word moron’s power to insult comes directly from its obnoxious and now deprecated use to mean a certain class of disability, to wit, pace Morales,

    adults with the mental development of a typical 8-12 year-old

    There’s no real shift in meaning there to the current insulting sense.

  25. consciousness razor says

    Is Clarke wrong that it wasn’t on facebook?

    Heh. I meant to ask if he’s wrong that it was, or else if was he not wrong.

    (If you were more inclined to respond to what comments are “about,” I probably wouldn’t trouble myself with this.)

  26. says

    Is Clarke wrong that it wasn’t on facebook?

    I’m right here. You could ask me directly.

    On Facebook, Dan defended his fat jokes when I objected to his mocking Chris Christie’s weight. I forget whether this was in the week of the Republican National Convention or in the wake of Sandy, but it was mildly unpleasant and I stopped reading his posts afterward.

  27. John Morales says

    [meta]

    Chris Clarke,

    Morales, you’re being a jackanapes. Cut it out.

    Yes, and yes.

    (Your forbearance is appreciated no less than your authority is acknowledged)

  28. Wowbagger, Designated Snarker says

    Are we okay with lackwit?

    I don’t find much call for any references to a person’s intelligence, wisdom or capacity for rational thought when I’m dealing with the sort of people most likely to seek protection behind Fincke’s shield o’civility – they aren’t for the most part stupid; rather, they are profoundly dishonest, privileged, ignorant and (most of all) selfish and self-indulgent.

  29. says

    Are we okay with lackwit?

    There’s something about it that strikes me as more acceptable than the odious alternatives we’ve been discussing. Kind of a “fails to possess a desired trait” insult. Like “I found him non-sparkling.”

    However, deconstructors more skilled than I may have objections that will become obvious to me once explained the third time.

  30. says

    I’ve always been partial to ‘fool’. Etymology here. …from Latin follis “bellows, leather bag”…in Vulgar Latin used with a sense of “windbag, empty-headed person.” It’s had pretty much the same meaning since before Shakespeare. In my head, it means, not just — or even — a lack of intelligence, but a lack of using the intelligence one has.

  31. grayhame says

    I’m with Paul K, and I prefer to use “fool” and “foolish” when deriding or chastising others.

  32. glodson says

    Ah, goddamnit. I had to look up the word moron to see what the objection could be.

    Fuck. Looks like I need a new word to call people I find offensively stupid. Is fuckwit acceptable? How about brain-dead jackass? Republican?

    Okay, maybe that last one is nasty.

  33. bad Jim says

    “Stupid” and its synonyms have been considered unacceptable in other liberal venues for some time. “Moran” is still used as an in-joke (a reference to a famous photo of a pro-war demonstrator with a misspelled sign); I’m not sure how Larry Moran feels about that.

    It is frustrating to have to contend with the same tired nonsense over and over (any discussion involving climate change, for example) and tempting to belittle the lack of intelligence of someone who is manifestly unwilling or unable to learn. Upon encountering the apocalyptic ideation of authoritarian extremists, whose fantasies are comically divergent from reality (The U.N. is going to take away our guns, bibles and golf courses? Have you ever seen their troops in action?) it’s difficult not to leap to the conclusion that this is the result of mental illness.

    It isn’t stupidity and it isn’t insanity. It’s mostly laziness. Zombie ideas walk among us (Fix the debt! WMD! Abortion is murder! The homosexual agenda!). The people who espouse them certainly haven’t thought them through, and the sad fact is that there’s not much difference between the bitter uncle* copying the latest Fox news rant to everyone and the people writing columns in the national papers.

    * At one point that meme threatened to make “Uncle Jim” the generic label. Half the people I know call me Uncle Jim. Also noted for your consideration, half of my uncles were named “Dick”, which is unaccountably no longer popular.

  34. Eric O says

    I never really gave much thought to the origin of the word “moron”. Good to know. It’s never been a huge part of my vocabulary but I’ll refrain from using it.

    @glodson

    Is fuckwit acceptable?

    I really hope so. That’s my favourite insult at the moment.

  35. Mandrellian, Kicker of Biological Goals says

    Wowbagger @41:

    Thanks to The Simpsons (specifically Mr Burns’ cantankerous mother), “improvident lackwit” is one of my all-time favourite insults.

    My reading of “lackwit” is that it describes not someone who’s mentally challenged but someone who isn’t exercising (or who regularly doesn’t exercise at all) their “wits” or wisdom (this could equally apply to any epithet with a “wit” suffix). Ted Nugent? Ken Ham? Tony Abbott? Lackwits.

    For more pertinent example, you might wish to cite as a lackwit, say, a professional philosopher waxing fucking pompously unreadably fuckingly boring about civility not long after making fat jokes – or irrelevantly indicting Chris Clarke for not disavowing particular behaviours of his co-bloggist or commentators. Or for blogging at Patheos.

  36. gridironmonger says

    I would like to be as non-hurtful as possible (to bystanders) when I express my extreme disgust with statements and actions which deserve the deepest and most severe contempt. I would like to use any and all terms which are non-hurtful to people with disabilities or people who are otherwise marginalized.

    I would love there to be a list of acceptable terms which allows for the variety which tone, timbre, cadence, consonance, assonance, and alliteration may demand in the circumstance.

    I am absolutely willing to forego the word “moron,” or any other word; but at the same time, one needs to consider that barely anyone under the age of 40 has the tiniest awareness that “moron” has any kind of “official” definition or historical context. And if words mean what the common usage indicates that they mean, then does “moron” really mean anything related to ableism anymore?

  37. says

    Unfortunately most English words for someone’s “failure to engage their reasoning faculties” seem to derive from mental disabilities of one form or another.

    As Bad Jim noted above, it usually comes down to a failure to think (often through willful ignorance or obstinance), not an inability.

    The most accurate literal terms (eg. unreasonable, irrational) lack a certain… weight.

    I could do with some good, pithy words for when people will not think; or when they hold ideas so bizarre that the thought processes that took them there are unimaginable.

    Maybe an acronym will do.
    No Rational Thought Involved (NORTI)?
    Okay, I’ve got nothing.

    I mean, I can’t just call everyone an asshole…

  38. thecalmone says

    Dimwit? Damn fool?

    And from my native land: drongo and galah.

    My dad used to use galah a lot but it’s gone out of fashion, like drongo.

  39. Amphigorey says

    Wait wait wait. Dan Fincke is on a crusade against the perfectly cromulent word “stupid,” on the grounds that it is mean to people who aren’t very smart, but he defends fat jokes?

    Clearly his Ph.D is being put to excellent use.

  40. Mandrellian, Kicker of Biological Goals says

    Clearly his Ph.D is being put to excellent use.

    Ever read his blog? He does indeed like to “Pile high & Deep”.

  41. Matt Penfold says

    Side note: I find Daniel Fincke’s writing to be incredibly difficult to read. I find my eyes just sliiiiiding along the sentences without actually registering the words. At the end of the paragraph, I have no idea what it’s about.

    It’s a very odd experience

    You are not alone in that experience.

  42. says

    Ignoramus.

    It doesn’t refer to the gifts and curses of genes; it narrowly addresses the way certain people make an identity out of being stupid.

  43. mikeyb says

    I personally love the term – it perfectly describes the mentality of the right wingers and so many others who pretend to be intelligent who should know better. Yes I understand the point, but this is getting too politically correct for my taste.

    Anyway better talk to Jerry Coyne – it’s one of his favorites too.

  44. says

    Chris:

    I read your post, linked to in the OP, and I sympathize with your point about feeling guilt for being praised for your intelligence. Though I was not as accomplished at it as you, I felt the same way. And now I have a son who is far better at what we call intellect than I was, and I see the guilt in him, too. We’ve known he is very bright since he was very young, and have taught him that it is truly something he should not boast about, any more than his size or eye color, but he’s always seemed to understand it anyway. We do praise him for working at skills that do not come as easily, and he takes pride in those things he has to work at.

    When I was in elementary school, we had a neighbor about my age who had Down syndrome. He was teased and ridiculed horribly; beaten and mocked by older kids, and even by younger kids when he got older. I was beaten and teased myself, for lots of reasons, but one was that I was on the other end of the bell curve. But I had nothing like his experience, and he was one of the sweetest people I’ve known.

    I’ve worked with kids for decades now, and teaching them to treat others well is one of the main reasons I do it. Nothing ‘pushes my buttons’ quicker than seeing a child treated badly simply for being who they are.

  45. Matt Penfold says

    It really does defy belief that Fincke thinks that it is inappropriate for someone faced with being told they should not be considered fully human (because of race, sex, sexuality and so on) to reply with a succinct “Fuck off”. When confronted by bigots, sometimes that is best response.

    Were he to argue it would be inappropriate for “fuck off” to be the only response, he might have a point, but of course, that is not what he is arguing.

  46. strange gods before me ॐ says

    I’ve avoided the topic because I’m not strongly invested in the word, but my thoughts are like gridironmonger’s. If there weren’t still people alive from the time when this was a clinical term, I would not take the issue seriously at all. I am thinking about the possibility that someone who was clinically labeled a moron would read my words.

    Yes I understand the point, but this is getting too politically correct for my taste.

    That’s an inadequate objection, though. Like its newer incarnation SJW, all that PC refers to is “people who care about things I don’t care about.” It doesn’t tell us anything about whether you or they or neither are right. It’s putting your group identification ahead of the facts. So you don’t identify as someone who would care about something like this. So what? Maybe you should. Maybe they shouldn’t. But somebody’s actually wrong, and that’s what ought to matter, not whether the idea feels too far out of the mainstream for your comfort.

  47. says

    Ted Nugent? Ken Ham? Tony Abbott? Lackwits.

    I very much approve of this grouping-together of names, it seems entirely appropriate. The scary part is, one of them is going to be Australia’s next PM!

  48. says

    And from my native land: drongo and galah.
    My dad used to use galah a lot but it’s gone out of fashion, like drongo.

    There’s a reason for that. Unless you want to sound like Alf Stewart from Home & Away.
    (It is impossible to link to an example video, due to a flood of highly offensive bullshit overdubs)

    One locally-fashionable word I won’t be using is “smegmarmalade”… it grosses me out more than any potential effect on the recipient. Urgh.

  49. satanaugustine says

    I’ve known the former meanings (and I cannot overemphasize the former meanings enough) of the words idiot, imbecile, and moron since college (more than 23 years ago) . These words have not been used clinically for decades. I can think of no good reason to avoid them based on their long past usage (or any other reason for that matter). Their prior usage is an interesting historical footnote, but nothing more. There is no one now living who ever received the diagnosis of “moron.” It seems to me that one needs to go out of their way to be offended by the usage of any of these words. Therefore, I – obviously – disagree with both you, Chris, and Dan. These are, in my opinion, awesome words of insult in the 21st century. Imbecile is a particular favorite of mine. Compared to fuckwit, it sounds positively elegant (mind, I have no problem with what some might consider crude – I like the words fuck, shit, damn, hell, ass, etc.). I think one of the reasons I like it so much is that it is rarely used compared to idiot and moron.

  50. says

    and satanaugustine @64,

    It seems to me that one needs to go out of their way to be offended by the usage of any of these words.

    Your parroting every goddamn bigot’s excuse ever used for offensive language is duly noted. Now fuck off.

  51. Gnumann+,with no bloody irony at all (just a radfem with a shotgun) says

    Idiot has been used clincially?

    Personally I always put it on my approved list of insults because all well-defined meanings and the etymology points back to lack of use of ability, rather than lack of ability.

  52. satanaugustine says

    Ugh…I didn’t finish my post…

    Although I like using the words imbecile and idiot (moron doesn’t do much for me), I rarely actually use them and doubt that I’ve ever used them on Pharyngula. Still, I’ll be keeping them in my arsenal, so to speak.

    Most importantly of all: no one has mentioned ‘cretin.’ This word must continue to be used precisely because of it’s etymology. It was originally a French word for Christian meaning “Human, despite deformity.”

  53. Holms says

    Side note: I find Daniel Fincke’s writing to be incredibly difficult to read. I find my eyes just sliiiiiding along the sentences without actually registering the words. At the end of the paragraph, I have no idea what it’s about.

    It’s a very odd experience.

    A common symptom of writing that puts complex syntax, grammaer and fancy / technical terms ahead of having a clearly expressed point.

  54. strange gods before me ॐ says

    There is no one now living who ever received the diagnosis of “moron.”

    That is not true.

    I was just looking this up a couple weeks ago, and the term was only dropped in the 1960s, which means it was still being used clinically during that transition period.

    And it’s trivial to find it being used without comment in the 1950s.

    http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=idiot+imbecile+moron&as_ylo=1950&as_yhi=1960

    http://cr.middlebury.edu/amlit_civ/allen/2012%20backup/vsara/mental_deficiencies.pdf

  55. says

    Calling someone something that’s not literally true is an attempt to offend, and since it’s an untrue invidious comparison it always gains its strength by depending on the implicit put-down of being whatever it is you’re being compared to. A professional philosopher ought to be able to figure that out in an instant.

    So, if I call you a “lampshade” it’s only going to sting if two conditions obtain:
    1) you are not, actually, a lampshade
    2) being a lampshade is undesirable
    therefore I’ve insulted you by saying you’re a lampshade when you’re not and I’ve insulted lampshades by implication that being a lampshade is undesirable.

    My conclusion is that if you wish to avoid collateral damage you must use only statements that are descriptive and true, which rely on their truth to cause the hurt. In other words, you might call me “long-winded” or “hairy” or make fun of my preferences in clothes or food. I suspect that calling someone a “pizza-lover” might sting but it’s treading close to my mistaking that for an implication that maybe I could stand to not love pizza as well as I do.

    For someone who is trying to be an advocate for civility to use any insult at all is probably a strategic blunder.

  56. says

    Isn’t “fuck you” or “fuck off” also problematic? “Fuck you” can be easily interpreted as a threat of rape. “Fuck off” appears to be a suggestion that the target is (or should be) promiscuous or that the target’s sexuality is otherwise unhealthy. Because, otherwise, why would someone offer their target a suggestion – as an epithet – that they should go have sex?

  57. yubal says

    words.

    we are all restricted by the language available to us.

    if we use

    words.

    we suffer from language.

    language was always the hardest thing for me. all the languages I speak are hard. very hard and horribly inefficient.

    retarded. am i not. neither a moron, nor an idiot. called this i have been. many times.

    I remember my first steps. Practicing by myself so I can impress my parents when they come look for me.

    My parents never accepted that I could tell them precisely which day I came to the kitchen, handed my diapers to my mother and told her i am big enough to go where the tall people go. It was the day before they repaired the roof and when we had potatoes and spinach for lunch and mother wore a blue skirt with white flowers, auntie came visit in the afternoon and it was raining in the evening although the day was sunny before. I was about 20 month old.

    I taught myself reading when I was five. Just because my brother could and was teasing me that I couldn’t. When I was seven he forced me to do his homework.

    I remember the cloth every single child wore on the first day of my first grade and their names and what i had for breakfast that day.

    The first time I corrected one of my teachers was in 3rd grade. I got punished and never did it again till 10th grade.

    I remember every single day in prison, in the right order.

    If you meet me and we make small talk, you will run away in less than 2 minutes because I can not comprehend what you mean and talk back something totally different.

    Today I do science and am happy that I do not have to interact with people too often although I enjoy talking science and personal topics with my colleagues.

    (and yes, I DIDN’T GET THAT JOKE.)

    i don’t care anymore.

    just words.

    no meaning without context.

    call me moron, weirdo, sicko, I don’t care anymore. I know who I am. And you don’t. You probably see just a dysfunctional guy with mildly weird behavioral patterns. And again, I don’t care what you think of me.

  58. carlie says

    “Too politically correct”? Gosh, trying to hurt the fewest number of people possible is just so tiring, is it?

    I’ve been trying to use “willfully ignorant” in place of all the “stupid” synonyms. I like that it has more syllables but not too many, and points out that the person is being obtuse on purpose, which they usually are.

  59. Pyra says

    I was ensconced and privileged by my mother’s liberal friends, growing up. I did not know about the silly words I was using until recently. I always thought they were just “stubbornly persistent in ignoring facts and being harmful toward others.” Such as “crazy.” I am mentally ill. My mother was, too. You’d think I’d have been taught not to use “crazy,” but in my experience, it was not associated with “mentally ill.” When I came to the knowlege that, in some forums and spheres, it was associated with all who are mentally ill, I had to refrain from using it.

    I try to be more creative in my insults, but relearning and unlearning is not easy. Should I ever trip over my words here, be aware that I apologize in advance. It is my ignorance, and not my malicious attempt to marginalize my own people.

    I will studiously find another term that more accurately represents what I mean.

  60. thetalkingstove says

    I like ‘chump’ as an insult. Satisfying to say, and apparently it was originally a term for a block of wood, so I would think/hope that there’s no splash damage there. Although it does make it a bit of a silly insult – “Hey you! You’re wood!” – but still.

  61. mudpuddles says

    I largely (but not fully) agree with satanaugustine (#64) and others.

    I understand the difficulty with “moron” and I often thought of it as akin to calling someone a retard or mongoloid as an insult, and I would like to see the word fritter away into forgotten memory, coined as it was (albeit from an ancient and less ableist meaning) by a eugenicist for a dubious purpose. But “idiot” I have no problem with. Its been around for hundreds of years with essentially the same meaning as “dumbass”, and the fact that it was briefly co-opted from common discourse in the 20th Century by some scary people in their deeply flawed categorisation of the human beings they considered beneath them is simply not a valid reason to reject it. It has no valid clinical use today, and the popular usage of “idiot” has essentially reverted to its original meaning. I have been an idiot on several occasions in my life, but its not a permanent thing (though my partner might not agree, but hey…)

  62. says

    Hmm, I don’t know if I ever used moron.
    I use idiot.
    I’m not a native speaker so I don’t always get all the connotations and they vary from country to country (so lame in English and lahm in German are the same word, but lahm in German has lost it’s meaning of “people with injured legs” unless you read the bible. It apparently hasn’t gone that far in English.)
    The question isn’t where are word comes from, the question is how it is defined nowadays.
    If people don’t make the connection between “idiot” and “person with mental disability” but rather “willful ignorance and uncaring”, it has changed.

  63. meursalt says

    I think (almost) everyone here is in agreement that we need epithets that insult a person’s failing to use whatever mental faculties they possess, rather than imply some unavoidable lack of such faculties. In other words, how do we, in a single word, condemn unthinking behaviour, inconsistent logic, and incoherent ideas? Or, in short, what’s a good synonym for “Republican” with fewer syllables?

    I developed a personal distaste for “retard” when I was about 9 or 10. The other kids would call each other retards as an insult, while the kids in the class with real mental disabilities were five feet away. Of course, the majority had no problem applying this label to those kids, too. This was clearly not cool. “Idiot” doesn’t seem quite as bad, but I’d sure hate to use the word, then turn around and see someone with Down’s Syndrome standing behind me. I’d feel pretty terrible, for obvious reasons. The potential hurtfulness to an undeserving bystander outweighs the term’s usefulness in conversation. So for years now I’ve tried to avoid such words, especially in public.

    But we still need words to condemn unthinking behaviour, or dysfunctional thought coming from mentally healthy and capable people. Chris suggested a few above, but none of them really feel right for my personal lexicon.

    How does everyone feel about “dumbass?” It’s never been a diagnosis and certainly wasn’t part of the Eugenics movement. To me, the implication is that one might as well be thinking with one’s ass. Of course, “dumb” has a historic meaning of “mute;” does this make “dumbass” unacceptably ableist?

    And I think “fuck you” as an implied rape threat needs further attention. Obviously, that’s not what people here mean when they say it. The phrase has, through common usage, developed a meaning of its own, apart from the literal meaning of the words. But the literal meaning is still undeniably there. At what point does offensive language change its meaning and become acceptable? Why is “fuck you” ok, but “moron” not, since the usage of “moron” has changed over time (or perhaps it hasn’t changed enough)? It’s not that I disagree with Chris et al on this point, but I’m having a hard time coming up with a coherent explanation for why one is OK and the other is not. It almost feels like we’re developing tribalistic shibboleths, where we can identify which particular factions of the skeptic and freethought movements a person belongs to by which insults they use without a second thought, and which ones they find profoundly offensive.

    I’m interested in hearing thoughts on this. And yes, “because fuck you, that’s why” is an acceptable response :).

  64. meursalt says

    @thetalkingstove:

    I like ‘chump’ as an insult.

    Ooh, that’s a good’un. I’ll have to start using it again. Makes me think of The Humper’s blue collar anthem, “(Working For) Chump Change,” a song which has gotten me through many a rough day.

  65. bad Jim says

    In my limited understanding of the applicable law, calling someone “shit for brains” wouldn’t be actionable, because it couldn’t be an creditable accusation.

    “Fuck you” isn’t an invitation to copulation, and more often than not it’s a capitulation, an acknowledgement that a battle’s not in the offing.

  66. says

    “Fuck you” isn’t an invitation to copulation

    I’m not sure. It’s perilously close to “I’m going to fuck you up” (threat of violence) or “I’ll fuck you” (threat of rape) Because it’s short, and has an explosive sound, it always sounded threatening to me. Perhaps that’s because when I was a kid “fuck you up” was a common playground threat.

    Another way of looking at “fuck” might be that its use is insensitive to those who have difficulty performing sexually, or who are asexual.

  67. mildlymagnificent says

    I like chump – because it has that background implication that someone’s let themselves be taken for a fool.
    I like fool and foolish, too.

    But as for moron, idiot, and the very specific diagnosis of cretin, (you still see cretin used in some incredibly recent papers on thyroid disease) I’m not happy about using them at the person you’re talking to. I’m a bit less worried about third person statements “She’s added yet another item to the pile of evidence she’s gathering to prove herself a complete idiot.” I’m sure some people find this as bad as “You’re an idiot” but it doesn’t jangle my nerves in the same way. I find you can use these notions quite well so long as you take the same approach as not calling someone a racist, but designating their words or ideas as racist. I’d have no problem at all with ‘cretinous idea’, ‘moronic statement’ or ‘idiotic comment’.

    My preferences ……. lackwit rather than dimwit or halfwit,
    addled rather than many other options – and I love the way it rolls off the tongue,
    silly is always handy to have because some statements and ideas deserve the entirely unsubtle implication of weak wits combining with oblivious immaturity.

  68. casus fortuitus says

    Huh, I was going to suggest “oaf” in my twee English way, but then I looked it up and learned that it’s no better than moron.

    I’m actually with carlie – “wilfully obtuse / ignorant” is pretty damning, and it’s directed at behaviours and attitudes, rather than immutable characteristics for which people can’t reasonably be held accountable.

  69. Holms says

    Isn’t “fuck you” or “fuck off” also problematic? “Fuck you” can be easily interpreted as a threat of rape. “Fuck off” appears to be a suggestion that the target is (or should be) promiscuous or that the target’s sexuality is otherwise unhealthy. Because, otherwise, why would someone offer their target a suggestion – as an epithet – that they should go have sex?

    Another way of looking at “fuck” might be that its use is insensitive to those who have difficulty performing sexually, or who are asexual.

    These strike me as massively overthinking things.

  70. Don Quijote says

    How about the term “thick” that I learned in England?

    I used to like the expressions, “he’s as thick as two (short) planks. And “thick as a brick.”

  71. mildlymagnificent says

    “he’s as thick as two (short) planks. And “thick as a brick.”

    Which soon gets us into ‘coupla sandwiches short of a picnic’ and ‘a few kangaroos short of a national park’ territory. All of these colloquialisms, along with ‘not the sharpest tool in the shed’ and its friends are all variations on the thick or stupid idea, so a lot of people wouldn’t like them even though I find them amusing most of the time.

  72. carlie says

    “Fuck you” and “Fuck off” both to me imply that the person might as well go off and pleasure themselves because they are contributing nothing of substance to the current conversation. (there being an implied “you” at the beginning of each because it is an imperative statement directed at that person, not possibly a self-reference as in “I will” do that to that person, so “You fuck you” and “you fuck off”)

  73. hexidecima says

    I generally do not use the word moron. I much prefer willfully ignorant, lazy, ill-educated, twits, etc.

    However, there is one quote that uses “morons” perfectly.

    “What did you expect? “Welcome, sonny”? “Make yourself at home”? “Marry my daughter”? You’ve got to remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know… morons.” – Jim, Blazing Saddles.

  74. atheist says

    The truth is that if you start poking about in etymology and history, just about every available insult has an origin that’s nasty and wrong. So I will endeavor to stop using “moron” but let’s leave it at that, please, for the love of dog!

  75. twosheds1 says

    I used to like the expressions, “he’s as thick as two (short) planks. And “thick as a brick.”

    Jethro Tull fans might be offended.

  76. says

    While reading the post, and subsequently the comments, I just couldn’t “get it”. I didn’t see how words like “moron” and “idiot” could be harmful… until I read #72. Then a light bulb blinked on. I got it. Collateral damage should be avoided, and using insults that rely on the truth of their sting should be preferred. Thank you for that comment. :)

  77. janiceintoronto says

    I’ll take ‘fuckwad’ for $25.00

    And how about the ‘7 dirty words’ of George Carlin fame? Most of those could be used as insults. Let’s see, cocksucker, cunt, fuck, motherfucker, piss, shit, tits.

    So #’s 1,2, and 4 are clearly in a different category as #’s 3, 5, 6, or 7.
    Used properly, the latter 4 -could- be used as insults I suppose. though they would need some kind of modifiers. “Stupid fuck” or “stupid shit” works well, though piss is a bit of a problem in this regard. Now “tits”, ah, there’s a challenge indeed. “You stupid tits” doesn’t really convey that sense of insult, though I suppose “stupid tit” technically still fits.

    Oh, fuck me, I’m rambling. It wouldn’t be at all surprising that someone has already done their doctoral thesis on the subject..

    Anyone? We need professional help here.

  78. says

    Words do not have intrinsic meaning. They have the meaning we assign them, which varies with history, context, experience, and education. “Moron” is now Out, but “Republican” and “professional philosopher” is now In? Says who? Any of the “clever” phases are just euphemisms for the same old concepts, intended literally or not, depending on the context.

  79. gearloose says

    LDS adherents revere Moron I, the angel with the golden plates (possibly also Moron II with the silver plates, etc.).

  80. thumper1990 says

    Aw man, I like moron :( I never knew it meant a mental age of 8 – 12. I never liked retard, since it clearly referrs to people with cognitive or learning difficulties, but I like moron. That’s gonna be a hard habit to break :(

    That said, I also agree with culch at #98 to a point. No one of my generation would associate that word with learning difficulties or reduced mental age. It’s a throwaway insult akin to “idiot” which, regardless of it’s original meaning, today means anything from “someone who can’t understand X concept” to “someone advancing a poorly thought through argument”, dependant on context. Language is dynamic, the original meaning of words can often become irrlevant in colloquial useage.

    Carry on like this and we’ll have no insults left :) it’s PC gone mad!

  81. carlie says

    Language is dynamic, the original meaning of words can often become irrlevant in colloquial useage.

    Sure, they can be, but when the current meaning is directly related to the original meaning, you don’t get to claim that it means something different now. When you use moron or retard to say someone is mentally deficient, that’s using it in pretty much the exact same way the words were originally meant to be used.

  82. UnknownEric is just a spudboy, looking for a quantum tomato. says

    I like carlie’s suggestion of “willfully ignorant.” I’m going to start incorporating that into my vocabulary.

  83. says

    Jethro Tull fans might be offended.

    Nah, we are pretty laid back folks. Although this line may be cogent to this entire debate

    So you ride yourselves over the fields and you make all your animal deals and your wise men don’t know how it feels to be thick as a brick.

    The album has many angles to it and Ian Anderson would be the first person to tell you to be wary of taking the any of it seriously. But I like the general imprecation to avoid presumption.

  84. moarscienceplz says

    When you use moron or retard to say someone is mentally deficient,

    For the record, I have never used the word ‘moron’ to refer to a person who is developmentally challenged. I didn’t even know the word was once used as a medically descriptive term until just a few years ago. My understanding of the meaning of the word is a person with normal cognitive development who nevertheless has failed to adequately cogitate the issue under discussion. I don’t use ‘retard’ because I have heard it used to denigrate developmentally challenged people.

    Carlie, if you know for a fact that ‘moron’ is being used today to cause pain to developmentally challenged people, I will cease to use it, but I still reserve the right to insult people who fail to properly use the brains Darwin gave ‘em.

  85. coyotenose says

    I’m sure that Fincke patrols his commenters vigilantly and has at them every time they use a word like, for example, “scumbag”. It’s slang for a used condom, and therefore misandryst because it implies that male ejaculate is a terrible thing.

    Or possibly he hasn’t, because the argument is ridiculous when taken to even a level below that. I’d call it moronic, but it strikes me as more self-serving.

  86. Matt Penfold says

    I’m sure that Fincke patrols his commenters vigilantly and has at them every time they use a word like, for example, “scumbag”.

    It seems he does not pay as much attention to the comments on his blog as he might. He has said he was caught unawares by the ‘pitters using his blog to spread untruths about Ophelia Benson and others. He has not, so far as I am aware, offered any explanation as to why he was quite so unimaginative and failed to anticipate the bloody obvious.

  87. fastlane says

    I think I’ll start using ‘professional philosopher’ as an insult. :)

    It works along the same lines as ‘sophisticated theologian’. Perfectly cromulent, and accurate.

  88. Esteleth, Ficus Putsch Knits says

    If “moron” had fallen out of clinical use prior to, say, 1900 (meaning that there would be a low likelihood of anyone who had been so diagnosed still being alive), I’d be persuadable that the harm in using it had lessened. But that is not the case – the use only was dropped in the 1960s.

    As for “cretin,” I’m going to point out that “cretinism” is still used today. It refers to congenital hypothyroidism.

  89. The Mellow Monkey says

    moarscienceplz

    …if you know for a fact that ‘moron’ is being used today to cause pain to developmentally challenged people, I will cease to use it…

    Aside from its medical history (and sgbm pointed out that there are people living today who had moron or idiot as diagnoses), it’s still being used to hurt and insult people with intellectual disabilities. Any insult against someone’s intelligence is going to be used against people with intellectual disabilities as well.

    Is this the line to draw in the sand? I’m not sure, but I’m comfortable trying to remove “moron” and “idiot” from my vocabulary. They obscure what the real issue is (ignorance, laziness, wishful thinking, etc) and have the potential of causing splash damage.

  90. meursalt says

    @carlie #91:

    (there being an implied “you” at the beginning of each because it is an imperative statement directed at that person, not possibly a self-reference as in “I will” do that to that person, so “You fuck you” and “you fuck off”)

    You know, it’s occurred to me before that these phrases are imperatives. It’s pretty obvious with “fuck off.” I think it’s a little less obvious with “fuck you,” but I still think you’re correct. I just wasn’t sure if most people using the phrase meant it as an imperative. There are other phrases which could be implied at the beginning, depending on context, which are far less innocuous. But at this point I’m probably firmly within overthinking territory. Explanation accepted, thanks for spelling it out!

    @thumper101

    I believe it’s Moroni, not Moron I, or even Moron II.

    I was under the impression that Moroni was the son of another angel named Moron, although I’m having trouble finding a citation from Mormon writings. I have found some post hoc etymological analyses by non-Mormons that say this is implied by the name “Moroni.” The meme is out there, whether or not Smith intended it, which probably was the source of gearloose’s confusion.

  91. UnknownEric is just a spudboy, looking for a quantum tomato. says

    So I’ll just say Dan Fincke is a complete numpty.

    The numpty dance is your chance to do the nump.

  92. erikthebassist says

    Viscerally I want to be able to point out the stupidity of certain people, but assuming that every one that disagrees with me is intellectually inferior is a mistake.

    Clearly there are stupid people in the world but arguments stand or fall on their own and pointing to intellectual capacity of the person making them is almost always a logical fallacy of one sort or another and not useful in any debate.

    However, at the end of the day, there are people who just insist on making it as painfully obvious as possible that they aren’t interested in, or are not capable of engaging in an intelligent conversation. In such cases I usually just refer to them as “lab partner”.

    In the interest of full disclosure, my favorite denigration of my interlocutor’s cognitive prowess is stolen from David Spade’s character on Just Shoot Me.

    I also like the term “dumber than a bag of hammers”.

  93. What a Maroon, el papa ateo says

    what’s a good synonym for “Republican” with fewer syllables?

    GOPper.

    As for all-purpose insults, how about “pissant”?

  94. ChasCPeterson says

    Ha! Just noticed Moron is mentioned in the Book of Ether. I love it.
    (It’s kind of a shame ol’ Joe never got around to making up translating the Book of Mescaline.)

  95. What a Maroon, el papa ateo says

    I also like the term “dumber than a bag of hammers”.

    “Dumb” still carries the connotation of “not able to speak” (as in “deaf and dumb” or “struck dumb”). It’s especially insulting to Deaf people when used to insult a person’s intelligence.

  96. What a Maroon, el papa ateo says

    *actually, not a connotation; it’s the original meaning of “dumb”, and it’s still used that way.

  97. carlie says

    Any insult against someone’s intelligence is going to be used against people with intellectual disabilities as well.

    Is this the line to draw in the sand? I’m not sure, but I’m comfortable trying to remove “moron” and “idiot” from my vocabulary. They obscure what the real issue is (ignorance, laziness, wishful thinking, etc) and have the potential of causing splash damage.

    Exactly my thinking as well. When I insult someone’s arguments and beliefs and opinions, I most assuredly do NOT want to insinuate that they do not have the brainpower to understand what I’m talking about. I’m pretty sure they are refusing to look at evidence that doesn’t already agree with them, and that has nothing to do with their amount of brainpower, but what they do with it. I should be insulting their thought processes, not their thought capacity.

  98. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    What a Maroon@120,

    Although the professional term (used by speech therapists etc.) is now “mute”, presumably because it hasn’t acquired the connotation of stupidity.

  99. Mak, acolyte to Farore says

    @84:

    Another way of looking at “fuck” might be that its use is insensitive to those who have difficulty performing sexually, or who are asexual.

    No, it’s fine.

    Acknowledging that people fuck is not insensitive, because people do fuck. The insensitivity is when people assume that ALL people fuck and that not fucking is a dysfunction.

  100. says

    I’m fine with “fuck off” or “fuck you” but get increasingly uncomfortable when violent addenda are included (e.g. “sideways” “with an implement/object” “until such and such happens” “to such and such a degree”)–then it strays into rape imagery territory.

    I’ve never used retard/ed, and I don’t think I’ve used moron either. Idiot is something I’m more likely to call myself than someone else. I like the sound of “lackwit”– to me it sounds Elizabethan (oh yes–from Antonio’s opening speech in MoV–he calls himself a “want wit”–nice). And every time Rob Ford opens his mouth or appears in public I must label him a buffoon.

    What I really need is an alternative to “crazy”–I’m always thinking that people are nutcases, nutbars, crazy etc. — but I don’t mean mentally ill.

  101. What a Maroon, el papa ateo says

    Nick Gotts @122,

    Indeed. I’d say that nearly any use of “dumb” is insulting, with the possible exception of “struck dumb”; to me that doesn’t carry the connotation of “stupid”.

  102. Esteleth, Ficus Putsch Knits says

    “Struck dumb” also carries the a literal connotation: the person in question is, in response to [whatever] is temporarily incapable of speech.

    Like others have said, I’m fine with [person not using intelligence/ability they have to proper effect]. I am not fine with [person doesn’t have intelligence/ability others do]. For the very simple reason that a person who is acting like a blithering fool could act rationally if they wanted to. But a person who is dumb because of a physical impairment cannot just will themselves to talk.

  103. erikthebassist says

    What a Maroon@120,

    Not sure why I wrtoe “dumber than” to begin with when the phrase I was searching for and failing to remeber is more accurately “as smart as a bag of hammers.”

    Neatly avoids your objection I think.

  104. erikthebassist says

    For the very simple reason that a person who is acting like a blithering fool could act rationally if they wanted to. But a person who is dumb because of a physical impairment cannot just will themselves to talk.

    It’s a fine line but I think you’ve pointed directly to it. The problem is that it’s sometimes very difficult to keep that line in sight when in the midst of a heated discussion.

  105. What a Maroon, el papa ateo says

    “Struck dumb” also carries the a literal connotation: the person in question is, in response to [whatever] is temporarily incapable of speech.

    Right. It’s a temporary state brought on by astonishment, and (to my ears, at least) doesn’t say anything about intelligence. Which is why (again, to my ears) it sounds ok, though I’d be interested in hearing other opinions.

  106. meursalt says

    @ChasCPeterson:

    Ha! Just noticed Moron is mentioned in the Book of Ether. I love it.
    (It’s kind of a shame ol’ Joe never got around to making up translating the Book of Mescaline.)

    I tried to remedy that about twelve years ago. Didn’t get real far with that project. The blue ink I was using for the manuscript sure was pretty, though. True story.

  107. unclefrogy says

    i have another reaction to insults. While words like moron are insulting and may be beyond and like using the words “nigger or nigra” to refer to black people they also reflect back on those who use them.
    The thing I dislike about all of these insults including the more acceptable ones like asshole, fuckhead and the like is they often signify an end to any real discussion. The unstated part contains an I give up you and this conversation ain’t worth it often followed closely by uncontrolled anger.
    The easy insults are also just lazy and boring. They disengage form thought and the target and tend toward just dominance it is the Ape reaction of pounding the chest and beating the surrounding brush to make a big show.
    the attraction to them is they are quick and easy. So come on get creative invent whole sentences of twisty language don’t settle for being a monkey in a cage slinging shit around try to emulate Cyrano or Gore Vidal a little and “sting like a bee”( Cassius Marcellus)

    uncle frogy

  108. says

    I think, about Fincke and his fellow civility bloviators, I shall paraphrase Churchill:

    “Never, in the field of human discourse, have so many said so much about so little.”

  109. coyotenose says

    “Dumber than a box of hair” is a personal favorite, from a movie. It has to be delivered in the right tone though.

  110. unclefrogy says

    I posted a comment a little while ago the did not see it so I tried to re-post it and was told it was a duplicate still I can’t see it so I will try to say what I meant to say again only differently.
    I find insults generally short easy and boring. They tend to end conversation and if continued just become a personal fight.
    Gone is wit, invention the creative turn of phrase that is both an insulting and funny. Why settle for half a dozen letters when you can use a few choice words which the target will have to stop and think while any audience is laughing

    uncle frogy

  111. yazikus says

    There are some great ideas on this thread. I’m inclined to try and rid my vocabulary of these types of words. The difficult ones for me, like Ibis3 @124, are crazy, batty, nuts, etc. Wild works okay in the positive use of crazy, but the negative one is much trickier.

  112. Uncle Ebeneezer says

    How about “obtuse?” It suggests that the person has the capacity to understand but is not using their faculties efficiently, and allows for the possibility that they are purposefully doing such. Just don’t use it in Shawshank!

  113. Irony says

    I think moron is fine, but there needs to be a distinction between people who lack intelligence through no fault of their own, and those who intentionally shun it. Maybe always using a qualifier, like “deliberate moron” or “intentional idiot”.

  114. thephilosophicalprimate says

    Anyone who would use “professional philosopher” as a label of insult is churlish beef-witted barnacle! A mammering idle-headed whey-face! A frothing toad-spotted apple-john! Et cetera.

  115. jnorris says

    Related topic: I do not like using the word Clown as an insult. I believe clowns are extraordinarily talented entertainers. The people we try to insult by calling them clowns are best addressed by calling them poopyheads.

  116. Uncle Ebeneezer says

    @Irony- exactly. Most of the time I feel the urge to call someone “moron” it’s because they are being disingenuous and refusing to acknowledge dots that I just painstakingly connected. Not because they lack mental capacity to do so.

  117. says

    Professional philosopher? Fuckwad!

    Okay, okay, clearly there’s too much collateral damage done by using that phrase.

    How about “debt collection agent”?

  118. Esteleth, Ficus Putsch Knits says

    Why don’t we call bad people “coyotes”? :D

    *ducks and hides from Chris*

  119. fwtbc says

    I mostly use “dipshit” these days. It’s a bit like coke and goes well with almost everything.

    Ignoramus is good, too.

  120. satanaugustine says

    strange gods @71: Thanks for that update. I didn’t realize that ‘moron’ was used clinically as recently as the 50s and 60s. Yikes! I thought that moron, along with idiot and imbecile, died out in the 1920s at the latest.

    The following is not just addressed to ‘strange gods’…perhaps it should be directed, at least in part, at Chris:

    My college degree is in social work. I learned all about social work ethics. One portion of my schooling involved working with the mentally retarded (terminology soon to fall out of favor clinically and to be replaced “intellectually disabled”). Never did I or any of my fellow classmates ever refer to any of them as idiots, morons, or imbeciles. I doubt anyone even considered using those terms (I know I didn’t) and not just because we knew where they originated, but because we treated people with respect, as individuals, regardless of whatever their specific diagnosis was (which we weren’t privy to anyhow). I later worked in for a Mental Health agency for 18 years, and while I worked with the mentally ill (mostly people with schizophrenia so severe that they were unable to live on their own without considerable assistance, assistance I provided), some of these mentally ill clients had a dual diagnosis: mental illness + (generally) mild mental retardation. I never referred to them as idiots, imbeciles, or morons, not only because one doesn’t call the disabled names, but because it never even occurred to me. And while these terms may have been used diagnostically up until the 60s, none of these dual diagnosed clients ever mentioned being referred to as a moron, etc., not even one woman who had been institutionalized since she was 8 old (she died in 1999 at 70 years old). And for some inexplicable reason I was a favorite of this, and another client with a similar dual diagnosis, for all the years that I knew them. Perhaps it was because I treated them as adults and individuals while other staff members treated them like children. Perhaps it was because I showed a degree of patience with them that no one else could (I was often told this by coworkers – and even by complete strangers when I was with them in public). And the death of the woman who had been institutionalized since she was 8 years old still makes me cry (right now, in fact) so perhaps, Chris, you can understand why I take such offense to your ignorant accusations of bigotry toward me. The affection these women had for me was mutual and I know with absolute certainty that I treated them better then most of the other people they encountered in their extraordinarily painful lives (because they told me so!). It’s very unskeptical of you, Chris, to deduce (if that word can even be accurately used given the bizarre conclusion you leapt to) from one sentence I wrote: “It seems to me that one needs to go out of their way to be offended by the usage of any of these words.” that I’m a “goddamn bigot” with regards to the intellectually disabled. Or to use your exact words:

    Your parroting every goddamn bigot’s excuse ever used for offensive language is duly noted. Now fuck off.

    I wasn’t parroting anyone. Those were my own goddamn, motherfucking words! Your knee-jerk reaction to them is about you, not me. You conveniently (for you) threw me into the bigot category based on your own ignorance and/or personal background. You have decided for yourself that the words in question are offensive, but despite your hubris you are not the arbiter of offensive words for all. As I said, nothing in all my years of experience in social work – in college or professionally – has led me to the conclusion that the non-intellectually disabled have a good reason to be especially offended (as opposed to generally offended as we all feel when we’re called names) by being called an imbecile (or that the truly intellectually disabled would know the historic usage of the word). On top of that, I very rarely – if ever! – call someone an imbecile personally. I’m far more likely to use it in reference to a third party, i.e., “imbecilic tea party fucks.”

    Maybe these nuances matter not at all to you, but they sure as fuck matter to me. It’s highly unlikely that you have even half of the experience I do working, and having established meaningful, respectful relationships with, the mentally disabled (of whatever variety of disability). Your accusations of bigotry are ridiculously misplaced in this case.

  121. Owlglass says

    Good points. The widespread use of “moron” with its background in eugenics, and the desire to be more considerate with words was at odds before. It’s good that its being “officially” noted. However, the issue seems to be with abusive swearing in general, words intended to upset someone else and not with particular words. Each language has different letter combinations that create a similar effect, and the word is ultimately arbitrary, leading to the problem of the “euphemism threadmill”. Each time a new word is established to describe some unfavorable trait, even if intended to sound most nicely, will become the next insult.

  122. pregnantskeptic says

    To those of you worried about “fuck you,” you may not need to be. Most of swearing used to be a lot closer to to actually taking the lord’s name in vain than we think of it today, e.g., “zwounds” (god’s wounds), or else it involved cursing or damning someone. An argument has been made that as Western society grew increasingly secular (as compared to the middle ages), religious swearing lost a lot of its oomph, and so was replaced with sexual epithets (which still referenced taboos that were plenty active). Thus “fuck you” probably evolved less as a rape threat and more as a derivative of the now comparatively tame “damn you.”

    Be that as it may, if I heard from rape survivors that they find the phrase problematic, I’d be inclined to avoid it anyway. Words don’t stay shrink-wrapped in dictionary mint condition, and I’d rather skip hurting someone than have the privilege to use a word or phrase, even if its etymology makes it seem safe.

  123. says

    I find myself annoyed that ‘idiot’ was coopted by the medical field; the ultimate root means ‘selfish jerk who puts their own concerns ahead of needed civic business,’ and i really want a pithy and insulting way of conveying that concept. It really is the perfect description of a lot of the shitheads who come through here: “I want guns because Me me Me, the hell with all the people getting shot.” “I want to use bigoted language because it doesn’t hurt me, screw the splash damage.” “I want taxes to be lowere on the rich, becuaes i’m going to be rich and I want to keep all the money; who givea ashit about infrastructure” Etc, etc, etc.