The “Justifications for Saying ‘Cunt'” bingo card

The comments in my previous post are getting a little mind numbing, so I thought I’d give you all something to make it more fun:

If you still don’t get why some of these squares are totally asinine, start reading the comments. I believe each has been thoroughly torn to pieces by now. I really have no interest in explaining basic concepts like “words have meaning.” I mean, is it even possible to explain that concept with words to a person who believes that? Do they consider phrases like “I don’t like you” and “I fucking hate your guts, shitface” to be equivalent and expect people to react equally unemotionally to either? Curious.

I do have to give a shout out to Penn Jillette’s wife, Emily, for helping me create half of the squares. She randomly started tweeting at me last night, apparently annoyed with my post about her husband. Amongst other gems (like her claiming to be a moral relativist because she follows Kant), was this exchange:

And then I stopped engaging with her, unable to take anymore examples of people who lack compassion and common decency. What a pair.

EDIT: Excellent idea from my friend Jesse – to make each square a link to an explanation as to why that statement is wrong. I don’t have the time to write up 25 summaries, but if people want to do it in the comments, I’ll be happy to link them up here.

EDIT 2: Matthew Smith briefly summarizes what’s wrong with every square here. Thanks, Matthew! His summaries more or less mirror what I was thinking.


  1. says

    You CAN say anything you want. It doesn’t mean you should. I’ll defend anyone’s legal right to say things like that, but I’ll still think they’re an ass for saying them.

  2. GaR says

    meh, being told I can’t use certain words and then having to read a comment thread like that? Fucking hell. It’s a bit tough to care about certain causes when they go on like this.

  3. Patrick says

    Hey, I’m famous! Yeah, this was a classic case of head-in-sand thinking; I gave up exactly when you did. It’s all posthoc “say anything to avoid admitting I was wrong.”. You can’t argue with someone who denies all terms and definitions.

  4. says

    Also, a bit saddened by her assumption that we’re stupid enough to get confused by a few redirects that conclude with “intention matters.” Even if we were to assume that to be 100% true – something no consequentialist would do – there’s not a whole lot of serious debate over the intention behind a statement like “remarkably stupid cunt.”

  5. says

    Did his own wife really just go to bat with “context and intent matter?” “What a remarkably stupid cunt” appears to be a textbook example of indefensible context and intent.

  6. Brownian says

    being told I can’t use certain words

    “The biggest issue in my life is not being able to use marginalising slurs with impunity.”

    The cry of the 0.01%er.

  7. Jeri says

    Jen McCreight casually tosses around the derogatory, sexually charged insult “teabaggers” with no regrets.

    But use a derogatory, sexually charged insult against someone Jen actually likes and Jen turns into just another garden variety hypocrite.

  8. Adam G says

    Oh great, it’s dumbass Jeri from over on the Komen thread. Come to spread your stupidity here too?

    Please do tell us how ‘teabagger’ is REMOTELY as inappropriate as the c-word.

  9. kerfluffle says

    My jaw dropped on the “sensitive” comment. Even though it’s probably valid. Her friends can only be those who would put up with such callous bullshit.

    PS to Emily: Members of the gay community who are paid to be around you because they work with you or your husband are not “friends” no matter how nice they are. Smiling at horrific bigotry to keep one’s job is far too common among disenfranchised people.

  10. Laura-Ray says

    That response was so ridiculous, it made me laugh. “…Besides, your friends are lame too!” Jolly good imagebof skepticism she’s presenting, acting like a petulent 5th grader.

  11. says



    Why England? Why not Australia or Scotland? or Ireland? Do you mean the United Kingdom?

    Can someone care to explain why England is on the list of unacceptable reasons to use the word cunt?

  12. says

    You complain that Jillette was mean to Christians — who are totally as oppressed in society as women are, I guess you think — and your post includes this:

    Give me the an agnostic/I don’t give a shit crowd; they are perspicaciously blasé .

    Some men need a physical reminder…What am I saying? All men need it

    Individualistically, god’s ‘plan’ puts me out of countenance, and I’ll skip the after-party, nisi for the bitch-slap I intend to gift him. Yes, god is male, only men are cruel by nature.

    You’re a whiny xtian with a fair bit of gender essentialism to work through. I don’t know why I should have any more sympathy for you than I do for Jillette.

  13. says

    I’m oddly glad I didn’t ban you for your garbage in the Komen thread, because I would have never gotten to laugh at this.

  14. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    Just for curiosity’s sake, Eric, what special exercises do you idiots do to keep in idiocy shape? Do you grimace in the mirror for ten minutes every morning or what?

  15. witless chum says

    Why don’t you prove you’re better than that terrible Jen McCreight person and say you don’t like Jillette’s sexism?

    If you want to convince people that a term affixed mostly to mock the antigay political ideas of a particular grouping of political conservatives by connecting them to a sorta gay sex act (which doesn’t make much sense that its coded as gay, as you only need one scrotum around for it) is equivalent to that particular sexist slur, I wish you good luck and FSMspeed.

  16. BentleyOwen says

    I see what you did there. These people are annoyed at the use of the word “cunt,” and you called two of them “cunts” (because they’re guys, and they’re all like “Hey, I’m a feminist too”- they might as well be female genitalia!)

    You win the argument, and the internet, and life.

  17. says

    Okay, so I guess I fall on that board as a female who isn’t particularly bothered by the word “cunt” so much as that in this case it betrayed a completely overwrought and ridiculous reaction to a column about Super Bowl ads, which itself strikes me as sexist (the reaction, not the column).

    I did, however, smile “CUNTO.” That’s excellent.

  18. Happiestsadist says

    Nobody ever said you can’t use whatever slurs you like, you just have to accept that in so doing, you will have to put up with other people using their free speech to tell you that you sound like a profoundly stupid shitbasket as a result. Why do you hate free speech, bb?

    I, for one, would prefer for those who think it’s so oppressive to be expected to not dehumanize others to wear t-shirts and/or forehead tattoos expressing this, so they can be avoided and dismissed as the shitbaskets they are.

  19. Brownian says

    I love that you were so pleased with yourself at your clever use of cunt that you forgot you had more to say.

  20. says

    Freedom of speech allows people freedom to be complete douchenozzles to one another. That does not mean freedom to speak without consequences — because there are always consequences. And if those consequences include being exposed as a douchenozzle, and people disliking you and disassociating from you as a result, then you just have to live with it — no amount of screaming “but but free speech!” will fix your tarnished image.

    Emily Jillette is evidently cut from exactly the same cloth as Penn. They are by all appearances made for one another, in that they both completely lack any sort of empathy, and if people are offended by words that are only ever used as slurs, then “it’s their problem”. Because, lacking empathy, they can’t see that their words actually have consequences, and not just consequences as relates to how people perceive you.

    Seriously, this stuff makes me sick to my stomach to have to deal with. Big props, Jen.

  21. says

    Added this to the main body of the post, but in case people are just reading the comments:

    Excellent idea from my friend Jesse – to make each square a link to an explanation as to why that statement is wrong. I don’t have the time to write up 25 summaries, but if people want to do it in the comments, I’ll be happy to link them up here.

  22. Happiestsadist says

    Your writing enjoys all the depth and clarity of a mud puddle, but you’re claiming that Christians are persecuted, and in fact this is as bad as sexism? Pull the other one, it’s got bells.

    You seem to have as much problems with gender as Jillette, and are as clueless.

  23. Rabidtreeweasel says

    Some have argued (lacking substantiation) that because the meaning and application of the word cunt in the UK is different from the US … we shouldn’t be offended by it, or something. Or that maybe Penn is British? Or that people who want to use the word with impunity should move to England? None of them ever bother to arrive at an actual point. The goal seems to be to derail the conversation.

  24. BentleyOwen says

    Free Speech:

    Disagreeing with someone else’s speech falls under the same heading. (There. That was easy.)

  25. Tom Singer says

    I’ll defend my square: pointing out hypocrisy in your use of male-derived terms as insults relative to your statement the gender-derived insults are inappropriate, and prompting further discussion of the implications of that, is not the same as justifying the use of the word in question, which I’m quite over saying.

    For what it’s worth, I do appreciate your consistency in consciously trying to eliminate insults derived from either gender. Although I personally have no problem with calling people dicks from time to time.

  26. says

    I expect Emily Jillette has a pre-set reaction to a phrase like, “ridiculous dumbshit.”

    Oh, and: “regardless of context or intention”? We read your husband’s post, Mrs. Jillette. We have the context and his intention is pretty obvious.

    Using sophisticated-sounding language like, “regardless of context or intention” doesn’t mean you’re saying anything that makes sense. It just means you enjoy the sound of your own voice.

  27. John Horstman says

    I completely agree that this is a bad argument, but the argument that context doesn’t matter at all, so a given word in any context is still harmful, is equally bad (in the other post Jen was talking about a specific context, but this one come dangerously close to making the opposite-and-equally-bad argument). Words don’t have intrinsic meanings/properties, they are ascribed meaning by the people on the basis of the context of their use (like everything). It’s impossible to come up with universal rules around language use; my only suggestion is, “Don’t be an asshole.” I really can’t be more specific than that unless I’m discussing a particular context (as for the context precipitating this post, Penn Jillette is and always has been an asshole more invested in his own privilege than anything else; I’ve NEVER understood why he was a skeptical icon for anyone not also invested in their own privilege more than anything else).

  28. John Horstman says

    Um, some of my friends who are gay men use ‘fag’ with reckless abandon, and others react very badly to it in any context. I don’t find it at all odd that she a) has actual friends who are actually gay who b) use the word ‘fag’ all the time and don’t find it to be at all marginalizing when it’s thrown at them. The problem with the argument is that this somehow means that it’s okay to use ‘fag’ in any/all contexts, which it is not. The anecdote doesn’t strike me as particularly suspect, it just in no way justifies the purported conclusion.

  29. rjohnston says

    I think about half of those squares can be refuted with a simple “words mean things.” When “cunt” is used to insult a woman it means “shut up you stupid fucking worthless piece of shit XX chromosome malcontent bitch. What man gave you permission to speak? Don’t make me hit you.” That’s all it means and everyone using it knows that’s what it means.

  30. John Horstman says

    “Cunt” is NOT only used as a slur; for example, the phrase, “Yes, fuck my cunt!” in the context of a loving (or at least mutually enjoyable) and consensual sexual encounter is not a slur. I know that one’s on the bingo card – it’s a legitimate point for why “cunt” can be used appropriately in SOME contexts; this does not mean that it is thus appropriate to use in ANY or ALL contexts. Essentialism drives me fucking crazy, especially linguistic essentialism, since it so obviously and demonstrably bullshit. Using bad (essentialist) arguments to reinforce a good point (there are many contexts in which ‘cunt’ is inappropriate, and Penn’s use is one of them) undermines the perceived legitimacy of the point. Please, for the love of Darwin, stop!

  31. AshPlant says

    I’m confused by the square I shall refer to as N4, aka “But saying it during sex is hot”. I assume it’s meant to continue ‘… therefore saying it at other times is okay’, for the full justification, rather than indicating that there’s a problem with actually saying it during sex, or as a direct referent to female sex organs?

    Or did I miss a trick, and it’s just such a poisoned word that you shouldn’t even call an actual cunt a cunt any more?

  32. John Horstman says

    Context context context: because of the extant gender politics in our culture, using male-based gendered epithets does not have the same discursive impact as using female-based gendered epithets. They are NOT the same thing, because only one of them takes place in the context of a cultural system that marginalized the gender that is the base of the epithet. That said, I try to avoid both, though if I have to go with one (usually because I’ve already used “asshole” a lot in a short period of time), I use male-gendered epithets (to describe both men and women and anyone who doesn’t ID as man or woman) because the general discursive impact isn’t as harmful.

    This is actually part of the problem with how our language works: the strongest term we have for calling something bad that doesn’t function by analogy to something considered bad by normative cultural standards is “bad”. “Asshole,” for example, is body-phobic/scat-phobic; in truth, our assholes are quite useful, as without them our intestines would back up with shit and rupture, and we would die painful deaths, but the cultural norm regarding assholes is that they’re dirty and therefore ‘bad’. The problem with respect to e.g. progressive activism and language is that it’s a lot simpler to make the argument that a term should never be used (even if it’s a flawed argument) than it is to argue that a particular usage in a particular context is problematic, and people are lazy. Still, linguistic essentialism drives me crazy because using bad arguments undermines the primary point, which is that there are contexts in which the use of certain language is unacceptable (this is why I can’t fucking stand GLAAD – they have, in all seriousness, gone after gay writers for using the term “homosexual”, which they have deemed to be universally offensive, as they are apparently officious essentialist assholes).

  33. says

    Some of these justifications are kind of weird (not that I’m doubting that they’re been used.)

    Using cunt in private conversation shouldn’t cause a problem, because if it’s actually private conversation, there was nobody around to overhear and be hurt by it. But if they’re being called out on saying the word cunt, then obviously they weren’t using it in private conversation and have no business saying that that’s an excuse.

    Same with “it’s hot in sex”. Seriously, that’s great if you and your partner(s) think it’s hot, but if someone calls you out on it, that’s another shit excuse that only makes sense if you just so happened to be fucking that person at the moment.

    All of that said, I do want to propose one instance in which it is acceptable to use it in conversation: Being Louis CK.

    Granted he uses the same “Well I don’t use it offensively!” excuse, but there’s a certain beauty in his bit on the word ‘cunt’. Maybe that’s just me though.

    Also, Cunto is a fabulous word.

  34. heathenfrog says

    I read last night’s Emily Jillette twittastrophe in utter disbelief. She just strikes me as such a bully, as does her husband. Oh well, I’m just joining the choir here. “CUNTO” is fucking hilarious.

  35. Brad says

    It’s apparently a much less offensive term, commonly used [citation needed] on TV comedies and such.

  36. F says

    The former. It may have a valid use, therefore using it any way you want (i.e., derogatorily) is entirely appropriate. Which is asinine.

  37. Tom Singer says

    I think we’re on the same side here. I agree that there’s a whole culture around Penn’s word that is different from the culture around “dick”, for example. But when Jen attacked Penn by saying “Gender based insults like ‘cunt’ are unacceptable”, that sounded hypocritical.

    If she had added to her argument a discussion of that culture, and distinguished between female-derived and male-derived words on that basis, then that’s an argument I can accept as coherent, and probably even agree with. She did, in fact, do that in response to my comment on the last post, and I would hope that I’m not being lumped into that square.

    I’m so vain, I probably think that square is about me.

  38. says

    Oh, and something else I just thought of: The context and reasons you’re using the word cunt make a huge difference.

    Using it as an insult to a woman or man is wrong. Women for obvious reasons, men because it boils down to the idea that calling a man anything female is negative, and both because it’s a body part, and shouldn’t have a negative connotation.

    That said, using it in a positive context, in my opinion, is alright. As long as you aren’t using it to insult or demean, there shouldn’t be a problem.

    Which brings up something funny with the “ENGLAND” justification. As far as I know, the British version of cunt is used with a positive connotation. Therefor, using it as an insult and then screaming “ENGLAND!!!” doesn’t give you a justification, it makes you look like you don’t know what you’re talking about.

    Anyways, all of that said, even though I will defend that it’s alright to use if you are using it in a neutral or positive way, you still need to apologize if you offend someone. None of that justifying bullshit, or that “god you’re so oversensitive” nonsense.

  39. says

    Excellent idea from my friend Jesse – to make each square a link to an explanation as to why that statement is wrong. I don’t have the time to write up 25 summaries, but if people want to do it in the comments, I’ll be happy to link them up here

    Actually I would very much like to have that. Can I nudge you to do it? (Since I know you will do it better than anyone else, and it will then definitely all be what you agree with) Say, shoot for a hundred word limit on each and you can spin it out with one blogpost’s worth of work. You can make it a blog post in fact, put anchors at each new header, and hyperlink from the graph here to those anchors.

    I’m most interested in what you would say to U3. But I would even more like to point people here as the definitive “read this first” on the subject. (picture cliche screenshot of Bones from Star Trek) Damn it Jen! It’s your responsibility to womankind!

  40. says

    The square isn’t about you – you’re attempting to have intellectual discourse about the word. Everyone else isn’t.

    The last post was me, yet again, thinking that concepts of privilege and cultural significance are obvious to everyone. You think I would learn. When I said “like cunt,” I meant “like words that are specifically used derogatorily toward or about women.” Like pussy, twat, bitch, etc. But I can see how you had the other interpretation, it’s understandable.

  41. Adam G says

    What a beautiful illustration of N5.

    Thank you, moron, for your pointed contribution to the discussion.

  42. says

    If it’s what turns you and your partner(s) on it IS hot to say it during sex. However all that is a justification for however is to say it during sex to turn on your partner or yourself and not as an insult. Similarly if you use it as an anatomical term among people who are all okay with it, then it’s not a problem.

    It’s a lot like the word fag in that sense. If the people using it are doing it among people who are okay with it and not as an insult (for example some gay men I know). However as soon as you turn either word into an insult it has a connotation that is extremely hurtful and cruel and using it as such shows you to be either a homophobic/sexist asshole or a sadistic asshole (and not in the fun BDSM sense).

  43. Jeanette says

    The word bothers me less than the context in which it is often used. Like in this case- I can’t prove it, but I just have a strong feeling he wouldn’t have gone so off his rocker reacting negatively to a harmless joke article like that written by a man. His word choice just presents further evidence that he’s treating the woman who wrote the article with less consideration than he would have treated a man in the same situation, and it’s not an accident that he went with it instead of a more gender neutral term.

  44. Teh kiloGraeme says

    Like fuck it doesn’t. It’s the one word that is still properly taboo in almost every context (except sex). I’m not happy if someone’s using my country as an excuse for being a shitstain.

  45. says

    You can say “dick” on TV, but you can’t say “cunt”. So there goes that idiotic defense. Just like how you can say “cracker” and most white people would laugh it off, because we are usually privileged enough to not have been on the receiving end of racism and bigotry… but calling a black person a “nigger” is NOT okay. At all.

  46. says

    The fact that we gay men may happily call each other “fag”, doesn’t necessarily mean we want random straight people using that word on us. See black people and nigger, or any other example of a minority group reclaiming a slur. I happily refer to myself as a terrorist, but if a white person called me that I’d be furious.

  47. Matt Penfold says

    It doesn’t. There is a synonym, twat, which is still considered taboo in the US but is in widespread use in the UK where it is used as a more emphatic form of twit. Its use probably also derives from prat.

  48. Adjudicator says

    Really? Some retared celebrity used a word for your genitals as an insult, and you think this is a problem? Everyone here has such disgustingly unexamined privilege and arrogance. A problem is wondering if diarrhoea is going to kill your third child this year. A problem is going to bed without food so that your wife could have the only bite of bread that day.

    All of us here have such fucking piss-easy lives. You complain about fairness, but you’d better hope the world doesn’t start getting fucking fair (HT to PJ O’Rourke for the phrase). You have freedoms that 90% of the men, and 99% of the women in the world can’t fucking fathom. 3 billion people went to be hungry last night, and you think it matters if someone calls someone else a cunt on facebook. Shame on you. All of you.

    You sit in an ivory tower and harangue other lottery winners about intruding on your precious demesne, like some oligarch arguing over who has to shit in the silver toilet, instead of the gold one.

    Spend a fucking hour in Haiti, or Yemen, or China, or India, before you clutch your pearls about this trivial bullshit.

    All of you are fucking insulated, isolated, cowardly pissant spoiled children. If the world were fair, you’d fight to the death for a fucking yam, for a prayer that your children might eat today.

    Hang your worthless heads.

  49. says

    After reading that bizarre twitter exchange last night, I am so delighted {yet not surprised} to see your excellent post. Bingo! Sophisticated in every way.

  50. Matt Penfold says

    As I mentioned up thread, I think some people have got confused with the synonym “twat”. Twat is not normally considered taboo in the UK. Although it might not be something you say in front of your grandmother, it has pretty much lost its original meaning and become a more emphatic means of saying twit or prat.

  51. Janstince says

    John –

    I would argue that different words take different contexts into account, and that some words are inappropriate no matter who utters them.

    For instance, “fag” and “nigger” are two that straight or white folk, respectively, who consider themselves “urbane” have been itching to say forever, or at least since it has been recognized that anyone not belonging to the aforementioned groups saying it has been cast as a social pariah (I hate the religious connotation of that term, but I haven’t found a suitable replacement; outcast just doesn’t convey the depth of the reaction). Of course, the outliers say “but they call themselves that all the time.” They try to cast themselves as “cool, hip, non-mainstream, un-PC,” and whatever other buzzwords have lately entered their slowly-building world of vocabulary. The thing is, it’s still not cool. I don’t get to say the n-word, you don’t get to call me a spic and expect me to take it lightly (unless you, too, are a wetback). Yes, to a certain extent, it is an in-group thing based on racial identification. At the same time, it was a sign of repression that has been absorbed by the in-group, and the out-group was doing the oppressing. Since we’ve taken our own words and turned them around, we can rightly use them ourselves and still cast those of the out-group as haters if the use it because they haven’t ever had to endure being called it as a mark of shame.

    Oddly, when talking about people saying those words, it seems more acceptable for people to say that “saying fag is wrong” rather than “saying nigger is wrong.” Many people will instead say that “saying the n-word is wrong.” Whether this is a holdover due to the more religious nature of discriminating against gay people, the more effective and longer-lasting campaign against racism than against sexual orientation discrimination, or simply because “saying the f-word is wrong” implies the word “fuck” instead, I’m not sure. Sounds like an interesting sociology experiment. Or it’s just personal bias in what I’ve observed.

    As to “cunt,” I’ve yet to see it used in anything other than a derogatory form, even when referring to a vagina. Perhaps especially when referring to a vagina. As if the vagina itself is dirty and disgusting and should only be looked at, touched, or made use of in the instance of last resort. Which is funny, considering how most of those who use the term profess heterosexuality. But I digress.

    I would really like to see some linguists come up with variations of “asshole,” “dumbass,” and other gender-neutral expletives that convey the appropriate emotion in a non-discriminatory form, yet have the simple elegance of a four-letter/one-syllable word and the same attitude of putting down the recipient of a large, long rant composed mainly of swear words.

  52. Otto says

    I do quibble with the semantics of this, sort of on the side of “only children have ‘bad words.'” There are no words I won’t say if I’m talking about the word itself. In my opinion, if you’re discussing profanity/obscenity, using euphemisms like “the c-word” or “the n-word” gives that word too much power. Cheap metaphor: it’s like how saying “you-know-who” instead of “Voldemort” is irresponsible in that it inflates fear of him and therefore his power.

    So I do think there’s a difference between saying the word cunt to discuss the word itself, calling an individual or object a cunt, and calling a vagina a cunt, and I dislike the way that the bingo card seems to conflate all of them.

    . . . it did startle the shit out of me when I moved to Scotland and suddenly I had co-workers who’d greet me with a friendly, “Hey, ya coont.” (They were, in turn, taken aback by my habitual use of the words “gypped” and “spaz.”)

  53. Stacy says

    lol. Adjudicator, next time think of a troll that can be used more than once:

    Adjudicator, how dare you lecture us? You are a fucking insulated, isolated, cowardly pissant spoiled child. If the world were fair, you’d fight to the death for a fucking yam, for a prayer that your children might eat today.

    Hang your worthless head.


  54. Blitzgal says

    Ding ding ding!! Freedom of speech does not include freedom from criticism. Penn Jillette has the right to call someone a cunt. And we have an equal right to explain why he’s a giant fucking asshole for doing it. Free speech all around!

  55. says

    FYI In England Scotland Wales N Ireland etc etc the word cunt is never allowed on TV. Only time I know it has been is Stewart lee saying ‘cunt, that’s a bad word isn’t it? Coz that’s the c word.’ It is far worse than fuck or shit or whatever, but it isn’t a word really associated with women. I’d be more offended being called a ‘bitch’, or ‘ditsy’ or ‘blonde’ or ‘stupid woman’ than a cunt. It means vagina, and is used like twat or cock or dick. It is the worst of these, but among friends is endearing. I say cunt. I wouldn’t to people I didn’t know or didn’t want to insult.

  56. keshmeshi says

    Please be posting photos of your selfless work in third world countries and receipts from your donating 100 percent of your income to charity.

    Thank you kindly.

    P.S. Fuck you sideways for using the word “retarded” as a pejorative.

  57. Adam G says


    “Dear Muslima…”

    Guess what, fuckface? We know all of that. We understand that there is suffering other places in the world. Does that mean that we should not be able to discuss this topic?

    Honestly, you act like this line of reasoning has never been brought up before. If you’re new to the atheist blogosphere, I suggest looking up posts related to “Elevatorgate.”

  58. secha says

    I don’t think it was conflating the multiple contexts at all. Any attempt to claim that Jen was opposing all uses of the word cunt care pretty easily disproved by the very fact that the name of the bingo card is CUNTO. That’s pretty conclusive.

  59. Stacy says

    Context does matter, I think everyone here agrees. The squares on the card though are calling out people who try to conflate different contexts in order to defend its use as a slur: “It’s a perfectly good word for a female body part, therefore how dare you tell me not to call women cunts!”

    (Yeah, Scotland. Way back in the 1970s, I was initially startled to hear my boyfriend refer to other males–including friends–as cunts. I think that middle square should really be SCOTLAND.)

  60. Carlie says

    Also, asshole isn’t the same thing as ASD. Thanks for thowing a shot of neurotypicalism in there as well.

  61. Ash says

    You’re probably right. Where I live/work in the UK cunt is very definitely not OK – it’s probably considered the absolute taboo swear word. Twat however is used a lot, usually when someone (generally male) has done something stupid, and it never occurred to me to wonder where it came from before this.

  62. says

    “Words mean things” is just as vacuous a thing to point out as “I’m allowed to have an opinion” or “You just don’t like people who are different/disagree with you.”

    Yes, words have meanings. They also have different meanings at different times for different people (despite what you suggest), and people disagree on which meanings apply and when. That’s not because they deny that words mean things.

    Also, atheists don’t lack beliefs just because they don’t believe in God, and liberals don’t lack morals just because their morals are conservative. The world’s a complicated place.

  63. Steve Bowen says

    Context is important, and words do not always mean what you think they mean or even what the speaker intended them to mean even if they meant what they thought they said. Semantic arguments for or against; cunt, bitch, fag , nigger, wop, kike, wally, etc are probably flawed and futile. Righteous inignation over the application of these words to individuals is perfectly justified and should be condemned unequivocally, but I’m not convinced that language is really the battleground we should be fighting on. Penn of course is being a douche when he uses cunt in that context, and in that context it is sexist, as is my use of the insult “douche” (arguably, unless you can think of another derivation) but cunt, like bitch and prick and knob have deviated from their gender affiliations and in many contexts mean something else. The word “gay” is currently undergoing the same transformation and while it is obvious and reprehensible that its de novo translation as “pathetic” or “dissappointing” has homophobic roots, it does not necessarily have that intention in the throat of every teen that uses it. “Gay” once had no gender, “bitch” was on a par with doe or hen or vixen as a descriptive but not derogatory gender term. Language changes, and these days rapidly so it doesn’t seem productive to me to angst over particular words unless they are obviously and intentionally being used slanderously.

  64. Otto says

    It may be the title of the post/chart bothers me most. The title claims that the issue is “saying” cunt, rather than labeling someone/something a cunt. That’s why I indicated that my problem was largely a semantic one.

  65. eigenperson says

    It’s okay if you want to be perfectly fine with the word “cunt.” It’s only when you insist that since you (a woman) are perfectly fine with it, then EVERY woman has to be perfectly fine with it, that you get to fill in the square.

  66. Antonov An-225 says

    Thanks ever so much for telling us ladies not to worry our pretty little heads about this.

  67. says

    Instead of screaming at her for calling out sexism because it’s not a real problem, why not scream at Penn Jillette for losing his shit because a woman wrote a harmless humor piece about Super Bowl commercials? I mean, if you can’t complain because someone out there has it worse, clearly the first person on the list of people to bawl out isn’t someone who has a real problem, even if you deem it small, such as being called “cunt”. The first person to bawl out is someone who has no problem at all, in this case Penn Jillette. Man, talk about a crybaby. It’s not like someone made him read that article.

  68. TychaBrahe says

    Another example being “boy,” which if used to describe a young male under about seven, especially with the adjective “little” is pretty harmless. But it has been historically used as a derogatory term for African American men of any age to the point where when I worked with the public we were instructed to refer to all African Americans of the appropriate age as “young man.”

  69. Antonov An-225 says

    Oh shit, you’re right! In the thirty minutes or so I spent reading about and discussing this issue, I completely forgot to care about problems suffered by other women and marginalized groups in general!

  70. says

    Naah, it’s quite simple. The fact that “fag” means cigarette in some dialects does not make using it as an epithet for a gay man OK. “Bitch” has legitimate meaning in dog breeding circles, too, and a dyke is a water-retaining structure, and a spade is a shovel or a playing card, not a black person.

    Also, “I use it to my friends” is a dumb argument. I can call my friends whatever my friends and I agree is OK – and in Australian culture, that is frequently insults. But I don’t get to use that in general conversation.

    A point worth considering is just *why* it’s OK to call your friends fags, bitches or whatever – it’s actually a sign of intimacy. It says “We are such good mates that we can even insult each other without harm” … and that can only make sense if the terms ARE insults. I can call my best mate a gimp or a cripple, but I would never dream of using that to someone I wasn’t on intimate terms with.

  71. Antonov An-225 says

    Also, what are you doing screaming at us when you should be feeding and clothing the hungry?

  72. Lyra says

    I don’t understand why the context card is even coming up. Penn used “cunt” as a negative term at a person he was unhappy with in order to degrade Ms. West. Who cares if it would be okay for Penn to have called Ms. West a cunt in a playful manner if they had been drinking together as friends (or some such thing)? That’s not what he was doing.

    I mean, I can think BDSM between consenting adults if fine without having to say that spousal abuse is also fine. After all, they’re both hitting! They’re both causing pain! But they aren’t the same.

  73. DCLimey says

    Long time listener, first time caller.

    I completely agree with you on this, but technically, “ENGLAND” should be “ENGLAND/AUSTRALIA”.


  74. DCLimey says

    Actually, now that I think about it, it should probably be “UK/AUSTRALIA”. That would save a bit of room, too.

  75. says

    Congratulations on your easily-achieved square, then.

    Seriously, I don’t know what your point was, except that context is important. I’ll cop to that. But in the context used by Emily, it absolutely is an insult, and thus subject to every ounce of the slur meaning it’s gained through its frequent and liberal use as one.

  76. says

    I’d like to second Antonov An-225 in thanking you for mansplaining language to our teensy widdle ladybrains, which obviously are too emotional to understand when we are or aren’t being slurred. Whatever would we do without all-knowing dudes like you to tell us how to do feminism and not to “angst” over things that don’t bother your privileged self?

  77. says

    I’ll take a stab at all twenty-five:
    C1: (“Men are called it, too.”) Men are called “cunt”, or “pussy” to imply that they are acting too much like the speaker expects a woman to act, and that this is wrong, and specifically unmanly. A speaker using this sense of these words is attempting to shame a man not to act like a woman. This is inherently sexist, both in characterizing the criticized action as somehow specifically associated with women, and that the mere association with women makes the action negative. It’s an inherently sexist usage.
    C2: (“There is more important sexism to fight.”) The only reason for such a comment would be to imply “So you shouldn’t be wasting time writing about it.” Yet the respondent felt it important enough to reply, so the comment contradicts itself.
    C3: (“It’s not sexist if I didn’t intend it to be.”) The speaker or writer bears the responsibility of using language in such a way that the targeted listener acquires the intended meaning. If a listener provides indications that the meaning was misconstrued or misunderstood, it is the speaker’s responsibility to clarify the meaning. When an emotionally charged word like “cunt” is used, it is the speaker’s responsibility to know if the listener will receive the meaning as sexist, and if so, to either not use the word, or to apologize thereafter. To do otherwise is rude. In the cited case, Jillette is clearly intending to use an epithet designed to belittle a woman for being a woman. How can this not be intended as sexist? In any case, if it is not intended as sexist, it is Jillette’s responsibility clarify the intention. It certainly wasn’t funny.
    C4: (“But the real definition is female genitalia.”) Since in the context the word was being applied to a whole person, and not a body part, this is irrelevant. The word was being used in its pejorative sense, not its anatomical sense.
    C5: (“Yes, I do say fag / nigger / etc., too!”) If you use such terms to people or in reference to people with whom you are not on familiar terms you are committing a verbal assault. Just because you’re allowed to fuck someone who is willing to be fucked by you doesn’t mean it isn’t rape when you fuck someone who is not willing to be fucked by you.
    U1: (“It’s not sexist in private conversation.”) The cited case was not a private conversation. In a private conversation, the response to C5 applies.
    U2: (“I just like being vulgar.”) Then you should not object when people call you vulgar and declare they do not wish to associate with you.
    U3: (“Dick / Dickhead”) In some contexts slurs can be used to refer to people. It is more tolerable to use a slur to refer to a member of a person of privilege, than to someone who lacks privilege. (This is the essence of the Anatole France quote “The law, in its infinite majesty, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in streets, and to steal their bread.”) It may be proper to call Newt Gingrich a dick; it is not proper to call Callista Gingrich a cunt.
    U4: (“You’re overly sensitive.”) This is similar to C2. If it is being over-sensitive to criticize Jillette’s comment, why is it not also over-sensitive to criticize the critic. But if the slur was not intended to wound, what possible other function could it have?
    U5: (“I’m a woman and I think it’s fine.”) You weren’t the one being called a cunt. No one woman can speak for all of them.
    N1: (“It only affects the woman being called it.”) See my points about C1. The usage is inherently sexist, so its usage implies the inferiority and undesirability of being a woman, of womanhood itself. Any woman can be affected by this.
    N2: (“I like vaginas, so it’s a compliment.”) Were the cited case intended as a compliment, this could at least be considered relevant. Unconvincing, but relevant. It is unconvincing because it is idiosyncratic at best to use “cunt” as a compliment.
    N3: (“ENGLAND”) That “fag” can be used to mean a cigarette, or that “cunt” carries a different weight or connotation outside of the US has little relevance to how such words are properly construed within the US.
    N4: (“But saying it during sex is hot.”) See C5. Again, if someone has given you permission to do something it makes all the difference. Adults don’t normally need to be told this.
    N5: (“Oh yeah? Well YOU’RE a cunt!”) So devoid of rational content as to be nearly pointless to respond to. This actually goes further to prove Jen’s point about the kind of person you uses this word in this sense.
    T1: (“Only children have ‘bad words'”.) Parents teach children about proper and improper behavior, so that they can learn how to behave around strangers and new acquaintances. This argument makes as little sense as saying “Only children are required not to hit people.”
    T2: (“Culture doesn’t affect meaning.”) Culture’s affect on meaning is the very definition of language. All language is viewed through the prism of culture. The sentence “We’ll always have Paris” would not have the meaning it does without the movie Casablanca.
    T3: (“It has nothing to do with women having it.”) So it’s a coincidence that the same word is also used as a vulgar term for a woman’s most primary sexual characteristic?
    T4: (“Language can’t hurt you.”) Not physically, no. That’s why we have freedom of speech at all (except for the well-established cases of defamation of character, fraud, or copyright infringement, but these aren’t relevant to this discussion). But pejorative epithets do carry an emotional charge (that’s why they’re used). The person who uses such language and then says, “Oh? Why are you angry?” is being disingenuous.
    T5: (“It has no historical baggage.”) This is a false statement; “cunt” has been used as a pejorative since Elizabethan times. Even were it not, though, at question is the current usage, which carries considerable weight.
    O1: (“It’s not worse than word that isn't a slur.”) The conventional meaning is that it is a slur. Among a group of friends or a sub-population any word might acquire a non-conventional meaning, but in public discourse (as in the cited case) the conventional meaning governs. If you dispute that “cunt”‘s conventional meaning is a slur, then let me at least advise you not to call the female doctor who is about to remove your brain tumor a cunt.
    O2: (“Freedom of speech”) You may say things. The government of the United States or any individual state may not punish you for saying these things. (But this is actually a complicated legal issue, taking into account libel, slander, defamation, fraud, false reports, copyright infringement, “fighting words”, indecency, and obscenity as known exceptions in various cases. Essentially these boil down to drawing the line between “speech” and “action”, which is less clear-cut than one might hope.) In return people may reply to your things–these are called responses. Your speech may not result in criminal charges, but it can rightly bring about social consequences.
    O3: (“Words only have the power YOU give it!”) I will use my power to change that word “it” to “them”. Language itself only makes sense if it conveys meaning. One may not simply wish that others meant something less objectionable and have it be so.
    O4: (“I’m reclaiming it, and I’m male.”) One may not unilaterally re-purpose a word. If a word is not understood to mean what it means, than one is uttering gibberish.
    O5: (“YOU said ‘cunt’ while discussing it! Gotcha!”) The word itself, divorced from its usage in reference to a particular person, is not pejorative. It may be vulgar, but it is not a slur. In particular, referring to a word in order to be able to discuss its usage is a minimum requirement in order to discuss a word.

  78. Dan Smith says

    I agree but the slightly cringeworthy bingo card seems to be throwing context out of the window.

    Remember, context is not a myth.

  79. Adam G says

    Who asked you to contribute to this thread (or any other) at all, Cupcake?

    The stupid, it burns.

  80. says

    Wait… there are suffering people in the world? Holy shit, I had no idea! Well no more talking about anything else on the net anymore – not technology, not prejudice, not privilege, not how much I love Nutella. At least until nobody is suffering anywhere.


  81. Dylan says

    I’m British, and frankly am a bit confused by the whole thing here.

    To you lot, ‘cunt’ is a gender-based insult? Seriously?

    To prove it’s not to us, here’s a BBC programme (skip to 2:00)

    To us, ‘cunt’ is no more gender-based than ‘dick’ is. You can call anyone a cunt or a dick (the former is far more rude than the latter, however).

    If you lot use it as a gender-based insult (in the same way that ‘nigger’ is race-based), then you lot shouldn’t be using it. That means it’s quite alright for a Brit to call a Brit a cunt, but not to let that word go near Americans.

    But this does not excuse an American to American use of the word cunt. For example, take this picture of Justin Bieber:

    In England, that is a rude gesture, similar to the middle finger being raised alone.
    If Canadians don’t have this symbol, then it’s fine for Bieber to be using it. This does not excuse a Brit using it.

  82. eigenperson says

    It only ignores context if the person applying the bingo card ignores it, and anyone with a normally functioning frontal cortex understands that if you’re laughing about something with a good friend, almost anything can be playful and innocent.

    So yeah, maybe the bingo card should be accompanied by a warning: “Do not attempt to use this bingo card if you do not have a normal understanding of context.”

  83. Lindsay says

    Your analogy doesn’t work: a slur isn’t the same as saying “fuck you.” That’s the problem with c*nt, especially in this context–it’s a slur that’s damn sure being wielded as one.

  84. eigenperson says

    We’re well aware of this. This is why the center square is labeled “ENGLAND.”

    And yes, “cunt” is a gendered insult here. If you say it about a man it either means you are trying to emasculate and demean him by comparing him to a woman (HOW HORRIFYING TO EVER BE COMPARED TO A WOMAN, JEEZ), or that you are British.

  85. says

    The meaning is the same, it’s just that in some parts of the UK since there are massive regional variations the word doesn’t have the same virulence of meaning that people in the USA give it. Where I lived people would happily call you “a lazy cunt” and what not. Think of it as “fanny”. (It means something completely different in british english than american. You wouldn’t use it around children in the UK.)

    Again it’s the same with fag. Can I bum a fag off you (Can I borrow a cigarette) is completely different connotations to it’s american variant.

  86. Philip Legge says

    Get it right Limey, it should be ENGLAND / SCOTLAND.

    Don’t know where you are in Australia, but “cunt” is a going nuclear option where I am.

  87. Eric RoM says

    Finally, someone else mentions that Asshole Penn Jillette (it’s a title, not a metaphor) comes across as a typical bully.

  88. Eric RoM says

    The irony icing on that cupcake is he misspelled it.

    But what with the shaking and the spittle flying all over the desk, it’s understandable.

  89. says

    Yes, that was to be expected. After all, Jen was his second target in that whole post-lift fiasco after Rebecca. And I see he is just running his mouth off all over Twitter again about this new incident and making absolutely no sense at all as he contorts his points furiously in typical psychopathic fashion.

  90. BJ Kramer says

    Some of us find ‘cunt’ so horrific that they think it should never be used by anyone in any context (let’s call those people “class 1”). Then there are the other people who use it on occasion and think it’s a no-big-deal term of meaningless vulgarity (“class 2”).

    I’m curious: those of you who fall into class 1, do you think the people in class 2 are
    A) lying — they really mean to use the word to put down the recipient by virtue of associating them with female genitalia, which is somehow presumably bad
    – or –
    B) ignorant — they don’t mean any gender-specific harm, but are wrong to be that callous and shouldn’t use the term regardless of what they think it means (or doesn’t mean); their intent is irrelevant
    – or –
    C) something else

    I’m asking this question out of honest inquiry. If you don’t like the question or have some other problem with me I respectfully request you refrain from replying to this post.

  91. Philip Legge says

    Dear Richard,

    someone’s provisionally had a go at all twenty-five upthread, but I’d disagree with some of the reasoning he used, or think some of his arguments are of the weak tea variety when a stronger case can be made. I doubt with the temperature in this thread that this is the ideal place to obtain all the counter-arguments in their best form, but the comment linked to above is a fair start.

  92. says

    Excellent job, matthewsmith! One small nitpick:

    T4: (“Language can’t hurt you.”) Not physically, no.

    But pejorative epithets do carry an emotional charge (that’s why they’re used). The person who uses such language and then says, “Oh? Why are you angry?” is being disingenuous.

    The problem with saying it like this is that dualistic thinking could slip in. We must be careful to observe that mental pain is real pain–that causing someone anguish through hateful words does do real short- and/or long-term damage to them–and that the one causing the mental pain could end up being legally punished for doing so. There are also wider possible physical ramifications of using slurs such as enabling others to dehumanize and attack the vilified person or enabling others to stand by and watch but do nothing as the vilified person is harmed in some way.

  93. crowepps says

    BJ Kramer – I fall into class 1. In my opinion, some of the people in class 2 use the word because:

    (A) – they can’t imagine that something they think is a fact of nature (femaleness = obscenity) that they can’t imagine why anyone would argue with their explicitly stating it;

    (B) – because they’re ignorant (you can generally distinguish those people by the fact who use lots and lots of other slurs and obscenities and are unemployed); AND

    (C) – because they feel so entitled to do and say whatever they want, that they bitterly resent any suggestion that they moderate their behavior merely because it revolts others.

    The habit of using this and similar words is to conversation what the habit of chewing food with ones mouth wide open is to sharing a meal. Not criminal in any way, but extremely unpleasant for ones companions.

  94. carlie says

    They are C. They don’t understand that yes, the word does mean female genitalia, and therefore being called it to mean a bad thing is calling female genitalia a bad thing. See, the thing is, it doesn’t really matter if you yourself don’t think of female genitals when you say cunt, and it doesn’t really matter if you think you’ve somehow reclaimed the word into meaning something different now. Because it does mean female genitals to the vast majority of people who will hear it, and you’re still using it as a slur and thereby using it the exact same way it always has been, not as something different.

    And on top of that, you are contributing to a culture in which women are devalued. Because an awful lot of people who hear you call someone a cunt DO think bitches ain’t shit, and will think that you’re on their side when they hear you say it, and it provides more cultural cover for them to act badly towards women. Sorry, it just is that way. Maybe in some alternate universe, cunt could have been a nice friendly term that is always as innocuous as calling someone your buddy. And in that same universe, a swastika is just an interesting ornamental shape. But we don’t live in that universe, and shitheads have ruined the word cunt for everybody the same way other shitheads ruined the swastika. And the best thing to do is just leave it alone for a few generations until it can lose its sting, if it ever can.

  95. Philip Legge says

    I’m in Class 1, but I don’t view the word as “horrific” so much as loaded: the word is so poisoned in popular usage that it can’t readily be used without somehow defusing the overall negative baggage (contra T2, T5). My northern neighbour Alethea (well, 700 km is close, here) has a N2-ish usage which goes some way to associating the word with positive attributes, e.g. “X can’t be a cunt, because they lack warmth and depth” which harks to bingo square C4, but in my view this doesn’t go far enough in erasing the negativity: it’s generally an irredeemable word, incapable of being used in public without someone misinterpreting it or taking offense. Unless you want to go nuclear on your opponent, use a different word.

    So, my opinions of people in Class 2 seem to fall between B and C:
    B, they are ignorant of the sexism argument against using the word, and may or may not be using as a gender-specific insult (I would expect C3, N3, or T3 bingo squares to come out in response);
    C, they’ve heard the argument(s), and either they don’t agree (and probably haven’t absorbed the lesson that sexism can be unconscious, or believe T5, T4, or O3) or they don’t care (they’re a bit of an arsehole, and maybe will defend U1, U2, C3, or C5).

  96. says

    You know, I’m technically class 2. It’s just my list of contexts where it’s acceptable is very, very small. Like, a close friend jokingly addressed me with “Hey, how’s it going, cunt?” because of this incident, and I laughed. Because it was a close friend obviously referencing this drama. If a random person tried to pull it off, not exactly funny.

  97. Ysidro says

    My wife just told me she “only uses it for people who really deserve it.”

    Does that count as “I’m a woman and I think it’s fine”?

  98. says

    Even in Scotland things change. When I worked in Aberdeen in the 90’s it was more typical to refer to friends as queers, as in you know your friend is queer because his dick tastes of shit. If you weren’t being insulted you didn’t have any friends, but the free parking probably should belong to Scotland all the same.

  99. says

    Well then I guess I was wrong about that. I think the idea just comes from us Americans hearing about it being more acceptable there compared to our view that it’s the worst word ever, and we assume that it’s perfectly fine there as a result. Thanks for correcting me on that though.

  100. Emily says

    So, you’re allowed to decide the circumstances under which the word is acceptable, when said to you…but I’m not?

    If someone overheard your friend call you and cunt, and then decided s/he was sexist, does that make that person so?

  101. Philip Legge says

    You do have a lot to catch up on. Take a look at the top-ranked “most active thread” on all of ScienceBlogs. Then, take in the previous versions of the same thread. (It will take you some time to read it, if you read everything.)

  102. ambulocetacean says

    In the UK (and Australia), “cunt” is an insult almost always aimed at men and rarely at women. Doesn’t mean it’s not misogynistic, of course.

  103. cmv says

    Context does matter, of course it matters. If it didn’t matter, Emily would have a valid point in stating that Jen used the term “fag” in talking about the term “fag”. We would be in the same situation as people are in (I think) Saudi, where you cannot say what blasphemy someone spoke, or you are yourself guilty of said blasphemy, so just believe me, he blasphemed!
    Where Emily falls down in this little exchange is where she says that she wouldn’t say it “TO him as in ‘you fag’, but that is not what this is about”. That is exactly what this is about. Calling someone an epithet to someone else is exactly the same as saying it directly to them.

  104. Ze Madmax says

    It doesn’t make that person sexist, but it provides the listener with evidence that the person may be sexist. Similarly, who said you were not allowed to decide whether someone saying cunt to you is being sexist? You are allowed to decide that.

    The big issue is that just because you don’t think it’s sexist when people say it TO YOU, it doesn’t mean it’s not sexist when people (e.g., Penn Jillette) says it to others who are not you.

    Fucking context, how does it work?

  105. says





    (Come on now, you know you lollsied! Welch’s Rape Juice? Come on. Genius!!!!)

    Every election is an act of violence (only if you vote republican!!!)

  106. says

    Yeah, Yeah, slurs are bad and nobody should call anyone names.

    But if you were honest and took social context into account, you’d realize that the difference between calling someone a ‘dick’ and calling someone a ‘cunt’ is about the same as the difference between calling someone a ‘yuppie’ and calling someone a ‘nigger’.

  107. Azkyroth says

    I would assume that the issue is that people go “What, we can’t EVER say ‘cunt’? But I like…” to try to derail discussions about its use as a misogynistic insult when aimed at a person. Sort of like what you’re doing here, only with less uncertainty about whether it’s intentional.

  108. Azkyroth says

    Oh for FUCK’S SAKE, “gender based” doesn’t mean it’s only used for members of one sex.

    How…how the fuck…could you possibly…


  109. Azkyroth says

    False dichotomy fail.

    I don’t find it bothersome when used for the body part or as part of private sex play among consenting adults.

  110. cmv says

    You are absolutely allowed to decide when it is acceptable when it is said to you, or more accurately when it is said in referring to you. Here, Penn used it in referring to someone other than you, so you are not allowed to deem it inoffensive.

  111. Emily says

    He did say it to me. I’m the person he said it to.

    And yet, no one seems remotely concerned with the context of the conversation in which he said it. He’s being accused of “lacking empathy” by people who “overheard” this comment in a conversation he was having with a specific individual.

    Penn is famous, so apparently he’s held to a different standard than other people’s personal friends who say intemperate things in personal conversations.

    This personal conversation was held loudly in public, and was overheard by all of you. But if anyone cared at all about context, someone would have asked me about it by now. Not one single person, outside of my personal friends, has done so.

  112. says

    Leave my neurology out of it. Ableism is just as unacceptable as misogyny (even if y’all allistic and/or ablebodied people don’t acknowledge it. Oppression is oppression).

  113. Emily says

    So you’re allowed to deem it offensive, though it was not said to you or about you.

    But I’m not allowed to deem it IN-offensive, though it was said to me, though not about me.

    Got it. Thanks.

  114. says

    It’s not about whether the word “cunt” is vulgar or polite; it’s about reducing women to their genitals when you want to insult somebody. It doesn’t matter what term you use for a woman’s genitals when you do so. Had Jillette called the writer a remarkably stupid vagina, we’d still be in this mess.

    I did read the comments and this has been said indirectly in lots of places, but I felt like saying it directly myself so there.

  115. Patrick says

    I realize that to you this is some devastating “gotcha” moment, but to me this is more like “no shit, Sherlock.”

    “If someone overheard your friend call you and cunt, and then decided s/he was sexist, does that make that person so?”

    Nope. However, if I heard two people loudly (digital equivalent: using Facebook) making fun of a third woman by calling her a “cunt,” I would consider that a sexist *action.* Using “cunt” to is a thing that sexists often do. Denying that words are offensive when you are called out while using a word to offend people is something that cowards/politicians/jerks do.

  116. BJ Kramer says


    I’m really amazed now. You just said it was funny when your friend used ‘cunt’ in private communication to you, yet you still fail to retract your article, or at least provide context for your audience when presented with evidence that Penn used it similarly, in a private message to someone who understood him, just as you understood your friend.

    This isn’t merely hypocrisy, it’s incoherent.

  117. says

    Are you that thick? One, my conversation was ACTUALLY private. As in, a private instant message. Emily and Penn’s conversation was on a facebook wall, which is effectively the internet equivalent of loudly shouting in a crowded coffee shop with the expectation that others will hear and join your conversation. It wasn’t private at all.

    Two, I’ve never said context doesn’t matter. Sarcastically calling your best friend a cunt with prior understanding that it’s a joke in private communication so it cannot possibly hurt anyone else is NOT the same as going on a fucking diatribe and demeaning some woman and others who are listening because she wrote an article that didn’t make you giggle.


  118. piero says

    Not being a native English speaker, I have some difficulty following this thread. I would very much appreciate it if someone could tell me the difference (in connotation) between:


    and between


    Also, is calling a woman a cunt on a par with calling a man a dick, or are there linguistic connotations I’m unaware of?

  119. piero says

    Some linguistic trivia for your enjoyment:

    Spaniards use the word “coño” (cunt) much as Americans use “Fuck!”. It is not an insult directed to anybody in particular, but a general profanity.

    In Chile, there is no equivalent to “cunt” as an insult, save in the expression “concha de tu madre” (your mother’s cunt), a shortened form of “may you go back to your mother’s cunt which you came out of”. Greeks have a rough equivalent: “gamo to mouni tis manas sou”, though the Greek version is slightly more aggressive, meaning “I fuck your mother’s cunt”. In Chile there are several vulgar terms to refer to the vagina, but they are not commonly used as insults. On the other hand, vulgar terms for “penis” (pico) and “testicles” (huevas) are indeed used as insults: “cabeza de pico” (dickhead), “huevón” (having large balls, meaning “idiot”).

    I’d say that in Chile the main source of disparaging terms are testicles: form the vulgar term “huevas” (which in Spain means “roe”), we’ve derived “huevón” (which can mean either “idiot”, “bloke” or “hey, you”), “ahuevonado” (“clumsy”, “dull”), huevada (“thing”, “trifle”) and “mansas huevas” (“big balls”, meaning “clumsy jerk”).

    I you ever come to Chile, you might come across phrases such as “Mira el huevón pa’ huevón, huevón”, which translates roughly as “Hey, look at how clumsy/silly that dude is”.

  120. cmv says

    I’ve just rethought this. Emily, you are absolutely allowed to deem the term “cunt” inoffensive, whenever and wherever you hear it or read it. Others are equally free to deem it generally offensive, with some caveats.
    If you are unable to distinguish between Jen not taking offense at being called a cunt, in a joking manner, by a close friend, specifically in reference to this little episode, and you not taking offense to Penn referring to another person as a cunt, in semi-public conversation with you, because he felt her writing wasn’t funny enough, or made fun of some commercials he really enjoyed, or whatever, then… Peace. People are going to think less of him for his choice of epithets (and possibly for defending multi-million dollar companies from people who didn’t like their commercials) and less of you for defending him.
    Maybe you also can’t see the difference between a state senator referring to Jessica Alquist as an “evil little thing”, and me referring to JT Eberhard as an “evil little thing” either. Context matters.

  121. Philip Legge says


    you really might want to work out the implications for yourself. If sex is viewed as something of a taboo in society and some sexual behaviour likewise frowned upon in a prudish, negative way, and as a consequence slang words for the genitals pick up an insulting, dirty character than do the strictly anatomical names for them, then it follows that words like vagina and penis are hardly slurs at all most of the time, but words like cunt and dick usually end up bearing the worst, most negative associations.

    Consider also that despite the existence of misandry, the overall cultural bias is heavily against women, who have been the oppressed gender and held to be inferior by most of the dominant religions, and reinforced by the roles forced on women by many societies through most of history: denied the vote, power, leadership, and expected to be concerned only with domestic duties and mothering children. This bias against women plays out in the much greater venom associated with female gendered slurs, so that imputing a feminine attribute to a man (“you’re a pussy”) denigrates him, while a masculine attribute (“you’ve got balls”) is sometimes praiseworthy.

    Otherwise, you’ve just listed a whole lot of synonyms differing in venom and offensiveness, but usually the female-gendered epithets are the ones which are used as the more demeaning.

  122. cmv says

    I thnk the level of privacy only matters inasmuch as your friend would likely have been embarrassed to have been overheard, as it isn’t a word used in polite company. The key here, I think, is that it was being used, by your friend, ironically… Or as a meta-comment, but whatever. It was stripped of its usual meaning in the context of the exchange. Something which is patently not the case in Penn’s usage.
    Even if Penn had been speaking completely privately, and someone had leaked the conversation, it wouldn’t lessen the obnoxiousness of the comment. To argue that it was private and therefore ok is like arguing that talking about the “kikes at the office” is ok, as long as it is in private. Your voice of words used in private often better reflects your personality than those used in public. If I found out that someone I know used racial epithets in private, I would think less of him.
    Context is not a matter of the level of privacy, it is a matter of the meaning imparted in the word by its use.

  123. Jett Perrobone says

    As someone with Asperger’s syndrome, this is the first time I’ve heard someone call people like me “assholes”. “rather” can go stick a decaying porcupine up his or her “normal” arse.

  124. Chris Lawson says

    Rather, did it ever occur to you to (i) learn enough about ASD to make an informed comment, or (ii) consider that there are a lot of people with ASD on the internet who might feel slighted at being told that Penn Jillette’s behaviour is typical of them?

  125. Chris Lawson says

    Absolutely. Context is everything. If an academic talks about the etymology of the word “cunt” and how it has been used throughout history, the only people likely to take offence are incurable prudes. Using it as a personal attack is another thing altogether.

  126. says

    I am comfortable with my own feminist credentials thank you, and “mansplaining” (read: any contribution not 100% endorsing a particular feminist point of view at any given time, as though there wasn’t a heterodoxy of opinion regardless of the gender of the feminist doing the opining) is not what I was intending. I normally avoid these conversations for exactly this reason, so I won’t expand on my comment exept to say that we probably agree on the substantial issue of sexist language, but perhaps not on what to do about it.

  127. Chris Lawson says

    Uh, no. This is not “saying cunt” bingo, it’s “justifications for saying cunt” bingo. This is a game played when someone has been called out for using the word and wants to rationalise rather than apologise. If you say the word among friends who have all agreed that it is acceptable discourse among yourselves, then you will have no need to use any defensive justifications.

  128. says

    There is plenty of difference within British and American culture of English in a similar fashion. As I said earlier. Cunt is used as a charming insult. You refer to your friends as one. Hell I know parents who refer to their kids as one. As in “Oh Trevor? That daft cunt is in the shed.” Similarly in the USA, fag has really bad connotations. In the UK it’s the word for cigarette. In public schools a “fag” is the kid who helps out a prefect usually a junior who will take over the prefecture when the prefect graduates.

    It’s a genuine thing in public schools that are slowly changing the name because “people regularly complain” and it’s mainly due to the american usage of the word.

    And best of all is the word Fanny. In the UK it’s not used around children. It’s a synonym for vagina.

    Oh and balls in the UK is generally not used as a good thing (AKA while an american may say “Bullshit!” we may say “Bollocks!”) except in the usage of “It’s the Dog’s Bollocks” which means “it’s something good”.

  129. piero says

    Yes, I am fully aware of everything you said. My question was intended to refer to actual usage rather than sociological or anthropological explanations. But thanks anyway.

  130. piero says

    LOL! I’d never thought a parent could refer to his/her child as a “cunt”. Perhaps this is due to the fact that Spanish nouns must have a gender. In Chilean Spanish “vagina” and most of its vulgar synonyms are female; that would make it ungrammatical to refer to a male child as a “cunt”. I know, it is silly, but I didn’t make the rules; blame the Romans and their Latin.

    It’s interesting how “fag” can have such unrelated meanings across the pond.

    Would you say that in Britain terms for male genitalia are used as insults more often than terms for female genitalia, as is the case in Chile?

  131. Dan Smith says

    “when someone has been called out for using the word and wants to rationalise rather than apologise”

    Well here is the nub of the issue, the assumption is being made that if someone is offended and feels the need to “call someone out”, then the person dropping the cunt bomb has to apologise. When in fact there are numerous situations where just because someone has been offended they are not owed an apologise and actually its quite a complicated issue, but you’ve got your bingo card there so everything is really straightforward. Not.

  132. Dan Smith says

    This total refusal to accept that the meaning of words can change totally ruins your arguemnt and loses you credibility. When people say something is lame, they aren’t mocking people with a limp.

  133. Ariel says

    I would be interested in seeing a good answer to C2. After reading this thread, I didn’t find a good one. ( I found some bad ones, to be sure. ) In what follows I will try to: (1) formulate C2 as strongly as I can; (2) review the answers to C2 given here and explain why in my opinion they are bad.

    The formulation from the square is: There is more important sexism to fight.

    Extended and strengthened version of C2: after comparing various topics on ftb, one can see that it is the most trivial topics that generate most comments. Take this blog: creationism bill (41 comments); grants for breast cancer (170 comments); acupuncture (60 comments); creationist legislation in Indiana (37 comments). And so on. Compare it with threads about cunts: one has 503 comments, the second 205 comments and growing. What’s wrong with you, guys and girls?!? An outsider looking at ftb (it’s more general than just this blog, you know) can easily form an impression that feminism is mainly about cunts, silly looking bunnies with ribbons in their hair and remarks exchanged in elevators. Is that really your priority? Please tell me, are the feminists really that stupid?

    Ok, that’s the formulation. Nothing new, to be sure. Pretty typical. Now let’s see how you dealt with it. I will take the answers from this thread and from This page . I will not cite the sources each time; you can find them for yourself.

    Answer 1. The only reason for such a comment would be to imply “So you shouldn’t be wasting time writing about it.” Yet the respondent felt it important enough to reply, so the comment contradicts itself.

    Wrong. The respondent introduces a different topic. He is not engaged in the discussion about cunts; he finds people discussing cunts in 500 comments silly, and he expresses his puzzlement as to why they are doing this. It is this second topic which he finds interesting (important) enough. No contradiction here.

    Answer 2. Guess what, fuckface? (…) We understand that there is suffering in other places in the world. Does that mean that we should not be able to discuss this topic? And also: there are suffering people in the world? Holy shit, I had no idea! Well no more talking about anything else on the net anymore

    As I take it, C2 doesn’t amount to a prohibition of discussing trivial topics. It’s not about prohibitions at all. You can discuss whatever you want. An adherent of C2 states only that he finds your level of involvement disproportionate to the importance of the topic. He finds you creating an impression that this is what feminism is mainly about. With all your self-declared seriousness and rationality, he is surprised and amused that topics like that generate the hottest debates on ftb, and probably elsewhere. He would expect from the rational people to keep the degree of involvement proportional (to some degree) to the importance of the topic. Unless you are doing it for fun, of course – then you have an excuse indeed‼ Are you? :-)

    Answer 3. what are you doing screaming at us when you should be feeding and clothing the hungry?

    Oh, whatever. Maybe I am doing it for fun (with fun standing high in my value hierarchy)! But see also my comment to Answer 1.

    Answer 4. Arguing that Special Interest X should make way for Important Issue™ Y because “it’s so much more important”, especially when this is done in another person’s space, is disruptive. It is a very common trolling tactic

    Of course it’s disruptive! But nothing follows from that. To illustrate my point, consider a community of stamp collectors exchanging remarks about their hobby. Now a postcard collector – call her Julia – comes and says “oh, this is all so petty and trivial!” How should they react? Well, in a normal situation they are fully entitled to kick her out, no quarrel with that. But assume that the stamp collectors want to introduce (informal) regulations governing also Julia’s life. E.g. they want postcard collectors to become socially ostracized for not collecting stamps. And they say to Julia: “You are disruptive, you are a troll, go away, it’s stamps that we are interested in, don’t change the subject!” Well, my reaction to that would be: what an incredible bunch of holy cows they are! And what are your thoughts?

    Answer 5. People talk about subjects that interest them and that they are passionate about because these tend to be the areas in which they have the most experience. Choosing to concentrate on one thing does not mean that the person thinks that it is the most important subject, or that it’s the only subject that they ever focus on.

    Does it sound to you like the best answer of all listed here? We are all experts on cunts and elevators, but not on breast cancer or creationism, and that explains differences in our engagement? Fine. But you see, the problem is that feminists (as far as I know) do not want just to discuss; they want to change the world. So I heard at least. Feminism (as I gather) is not a self-contained hobby, like collecting stamps. It’s about influencing people. And an adherent of C2 can still say: “in my opinion this special area of expertise of yours is a trivial matter. I still don’t understand why it is worth spending so much effort for achieving such a petty aim. Your Answer 5 sounds to me like: we are not experts in biology, but we are experts on picking one’s nose, so we will try to stop people from picking their noses and discuss it in thousands of comments, because in other areas we don’t know shit from shinola. Yeah, you have a right to do that. And I have a right not to give a damn about it and laugh as crazy … that is, unless you can produce something better than Answer 5. Can you?”

    To sum it up: Please, don’t use these arguments in discussions. They are horrible. Don’t use them … unless you treat your feminism as a hobby and you are not planning to influence others with it. Otherwise be prepared to deal also with reactions of the sort “why do you want to influence my life with something so trivial and petty!” This is a fully legitimate question and in my opinion the only legitimate sort of an answer would be of the form: “No, you are wrong, this is not trivial and petty – for these and these reasons”. Then spell out these reasons. And that’s it.

  134. says

    So, you mean, if an English gentleman tells an English lady that he’d like her to suck his dick, she goes:
    “Dear sir, I would be verra obliged to heed your request, but I fail to understand what you mean by dick, since this is a gender-free word, and a very rude one, too, I must say”

    And if in turn said lady asks the gentleman to put his cock into her cunt, he’ll blush at the obscenity of the word but will be bewildered as to what she actually means by that, could it be an expensive handbag-brand?

  135. carlie says

    And it’s about promulgating a culture in which women are the instant go-to insult. Because, you know, bitches ain’t shit.

  136. carlie says

    I linked to a good essay at 42 by tigtog on the finally, a feminism 101 blog. It generalizes to “why focus on X when Y is so important”.

  137. says

    Hello-o, Emily, is there anybody in there?
    There’s a difference between said to you and said about a third person to you.
    Can you understand that?
    I define the terms by which people are allowed to adress me.
    That includes some of the nasty female words during sexy times with my husband, it includes diminutive forms of my names by my relatives, it includes other names by my friends.
    You are not allowed to do that. You are not allowed to define that it’s OK if my husband calls me a slut, even if he says it to you, even if you don’t find it offensive.
    Do you understand that?

  138. Ariel says

    carlie, I know. Answer 4 and Answer 5 from my post are taken from this essay. And yeah, I took it from your #42, thanks. Somewhere at the start I also gave a link. Sorry, I was too lazy to specify the source separately in each case.

  139. NancyNew says

    I thought the ENGLAND cite came from the “But in England, cunt doesn’t refer to ladyparts” argument.

  140. says

    If you want to talk about words, their cultural heritage and cultural impact, then you’d better fucking read up on linguistics, and it looks to me like nobody here has done that. You can’t just stick your fingers in your ears and say, “if you don’t understand why ‘cunt’ is bad, well then FUCK YOU.”

    I don’t even care who is right and who is wrong now, this whole thing has been conducted childishly and without any skeptical inquiry whatsoever. There has been no attempt at rationalisation – only pushing of misogynist and feminist dogma from both sides.

    Get to a fucking English class.

  141. says

    Callum, my dear, there actually are people here versed in linguistics.
    They know what connotations and denotations are, what DeSaussure said, what the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is and why it has nothing to do with outer space.
    They know what an idiolect is and most of them even know enough sociology, psychology and political science to make a valid argument.
    Just because you don’t understand doesn’t mean that we don’t understand either.

    And you’re filling people’s bingo-cards left, right and centre.
    Also, most people here have grown out of the nanny age long ago, so don’t be surprised when your attempts at playing one on the internet aren’t taken too kindly.

  142. Emily says

    Clearly, context matters to no one here.
    The longer that goes on, the more obvious that becomes.

    No one cares about the conversation that was being had, or the history of the communication style between us. That’s apparently considered irrelevant.

    If you had a history of fighting over taste with a friend, vocally, in strong language, with laughs involved, and you and that friend were on the bus, and the friend got frustrated and said “oh my god I can’t fucking believe you are sticking up for Courtney Love AGAIN! She’s such a fucking talentless cunt!” then apparently that friend has been instantly transformed into a sexist.

    Even if that friend did not behave in a sexist way in any other circumstances.

    If context mattered, someone somewhere would have inquired as to that context before judging. No one has.

  143. BJ Kramer says

    You make two points, which you apparently think are so thoroughly obvious I’m “thick” for not understanding them.

    1) Your conversation was “actually” private, whereas Penn’s was on someone’s Facebook wall.
    – This explicitly creates two classes who read the word ‘cunt’. One class is someone in the conversation who understands, and you’re now ceding that such people are not a problem, because it wasn’t a problem for you, and you understand. The other class is the public who witnesses a private conversation who might find offense — but then you repeat your private conversation here in public, showing you’re not worried about offending the public. It is precisely the same.

    2) You agree that context is relevant, but your context and Penn’s were supposedly obviously differnet
    – You think it’s fantastically obvious that your friends’ use of the word is fine because you both know it’s a joke, whereas someone else’s use of the term is obviously bad because…well, here you just repeat Penn’s context, call it ‘demeaning’ to ‘others’ (who?) and a ‘fucking diatribe’, and you seem to argue that you can use the word when it makes you giggle, but he can’t use it when he’s annoyed something didn’t make him giggle.

    I understand that people will self-impose different standards of vulgarity, and if you find the aforementioned distinctions sufficient to create your rules, so be it. But you haven’t come close to establishing a coherent standard of ‘cunt’ usage that makes me ‘thick’ for not seeing.

  144. Emily says

    Why yes, I do. So if you’re fucking your husband and he starts talking about what a hot little cunt your neighbor is…he’s sexist now.


  145. says

    Yes, seems like you’re making progress.
    Because my neighbour (and now I smile, he’s a 250lbs construction worker) did not give him permission.
    And if he used such words to describe and insult other people it would make me seriously wonder about his general opinion of women as people.
    And it would be even worse if he used such language where anybody can hear them.
    I cannot give him permission to use language that is generally derogatory about anybody else just because he’s talking to me. If he called our daughter’s black friend a nigger he’d be racist. If she would like her husband to call her that in 20 years time, that’s her business.

  146. Emily says

    Another note to all: supposedly this issue is about sensitivity. Empathy. Decency. Respecting people. Not degrading or violating other people.

    I’ve now made it incredibly clear, repeatedly, that I feel personally disrespected and violated by the fact that something was ripped, out of context, from a conversation on my Facebook wall, and discussed across the internet by people who don’t know me, or my friend.

    Knowing this, I feel like anyone with an ounce of empathy and decency would have stopped the conversation by now.

    Lindy was there, the comment was about her, she was in the conversation. She’s allowed to isolate the comment and discuss it, because she’s able to provide context if she chooses. Her opinion, even if contrary to mine, will always be valid.

    But the fact that hundreds of you feel totally free to judge my friend for something he said to me, in the context of as long history, without caring how it landed in my ears and how I took it, is about as insensitive as I can imagine.

    So in the name of feminism – an ideology I’ve cherished deeply and fought for, for likely longer than many of you have been breathing – you’ve all now managed to make a specific, individual woman feel marginalized and minimized and co-opted and silenced.

    I sincerely hope none of you have a problem with that, as it seems now certain that this conversation will continue anyway.

    Is the future of feminism is that we trample the feelings of one real woman to protect the feelings of a theoretical other, then I can only hope that we come up with a new word for the things I do believe in, and have my whole life.

  147. Emily says

    And yet somehow, this has all become YOUR business? You get to decide that Penn’s language was offensive, though it was not spoken to you or about you?

    And it’s OK to condescend to me?

    If I say I feel degraded by the sarcasm inherent in the comment “Yes, seems like you’re making progress”…does that matter to you at all?

    Or are you allowed to use derogatory language because…why?
    Because you’re on the internet, and don’t know me?

  148. Azkyroth says

    Thinking on it, I would rephrase C to “willfully misunderstands what is meant by ‘gender-based'” except I’m not sure there’s room.

  149. says

    If you think “sarcasm directed at you” is equivalent to “sexist slur about someone else directed at you”, I’m afraid you’re probably too close to the issue to get the “big picture” arguments being made here.

    Considering your paean downthread that confuses a Facebook wall with a private messaging system, I can see why.

  150. says

    Shorter Emily: “By discussing a public posting on a public forum and its implications about the use of a sexist slur as an in-joke, you are all minimizing and silencing me for defending my friend’s right to use those sexist slurs as in-jokes where everyone on the bloody internet can see them.”

  151. says

    (Meanwhile, back in reality, nobody’s saying people aren’t allowed to use the words, they’re just saying that those words carry meaning and consequence far beyond their intent, especially when they’re put somewhere that someone outside the intended target can see it.)

  152. says

    I use condescending language to you, specifically.
    I’m not implying that this has anything to do with your sex/gender or that being a woman and having a vagina is bad, which is what the conversation is about.
    I’m writing condescendingly because you make absolutely stupid arguments, like the fact that it was said to you made it all OK because people are allowed to decide what is OK for them, completely ignoring the fact that it was not said about you, and that it was not said in private.
    Penn used a loaded derogatory term that is meant to demean all women for being women with historical baggage on the most public space of the whole world which is facebook (well, actually, it’s very private, it all belongs to facebook).
    That’s why it has become my business, and Jen’s and that of a whole lot of other people wo care.
    No other person is degraded by me being nasty to you. Had your friend complained about Lindy West being an unfunny asshole we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
    That’s also why you don’t get to play the victim card: you’re being attacked and criticised, condescended and made fun off for the shit you said, not for having a vagina, two X chromosomes or being simply a woman.
    No other women were harmed in the process of writing this comment.

  153. Laurence says

    I don’t understand why it is so hard for people to not use gender-related insults. It doesn’t seem that hard for people to not use race-related insults.

  154. Carlie says

    Another note to all: supposedly this issue is about sensitivity. Empathy. Decency. Respecting people. Not degrading or violating other people.

    Not really, at least not to me. I don’t care as much about the effects on the individual people who those statements are directly made to (e.g. you) as much as I am about their overall effect on society in general and how that means women in general are viewed and treated. I honestly don’t care what your reaction was to your friend calling you that. I care that him doing so in a public forum adds to the entirety of women being called cunts in our culture, to it looking ok to do so because people do it, that it normalizes calling people cunts to insult them and by doing so devalues women in society.

  155. witless chum says

    The context seems really damn obvious to me, B.J.

    Jillette calls women cunts when he’s ranting about how he doesn’t like an article.

    Jenn’s friend calls women cunts when they’re her or his friend and they write a post about the word cunt on their blog. If only we could distinguish between these situations somehow! Does anyone have an context microscope?

    And I can’t believe someone typed this with a straight face:

    I’m sure people will get right on coming up with a coherent standard of cunt usage for you.

    More seriously, that’s just not how it works. People usually don’t know in advance whether they’ll be offended by something. They are offended and, in this case, blog about it. Then, we the assembled argue over whether that’s reasonable or not. There’s no authority to appeal to, or a set of rules to apply. There’s just the court of comment thread opinion.

    I often see these type of comments in response to conversations about someone being offended by something, seemingly asking for a rule book on what can be said that won’t offend someone. It just doesn’t work like that. You have to intuit how what you say is going to be perceived as part of communication. If people find something you say offensive you can apologize or not as you think reasonable.

  156. says

    Oh yes, well done, you can point to labels and you can condemn people now that you have your bingo cards to tick off, but whether you know nothing or everything about latinate terms is irrelevant to the discussion. What matters is an actual understanding of linguistics and the application of that understanding. So far, regardless of how many people have sat mindlessly in a linguistics class, nobody has demonstrated that it has served them at all well.

  157. says

    Even shorter Jason: “it doesn’t matter if you intend to use a word in a context inoffensive to the intended listeners, because if someone overhears or over-sees it, they are permitted to grab the wrong end of the stick without asking for clarification, indulge in vicarious offence, and then accuse you of bigotry that has never even crossed your mind.”

    I actually think you’re right to an extent, but so are many others and we are just going round and round in circles.

  158. says

    It’s difficult when you want to use swear words, because most of them are derived from sex and sexuality. There derivation, however, does not always correspond with their intended use.

  159. says

    Not in every language, but yes, owing primarily to the idea that sex and other biological functions are inherently dirty, many swear words have to do with those biological functions. French swears are more often associated with Catholic trappings, e.g. the host, the chalice, the tabernacle, etc.

    Swear words often contain more than just their implications that sex itself is dirty — they often also contain the idea that anyone or anything associated with that specific swear is dirty. “Cunt” and other swear words about women’s genitalia have the side effect of making women feel bad for being women, because women are often called that in a diminutive manner. “Dick” and other insults predicated on a man’s genitalia does not contain the same side effect for men, in much the same way that calling a white man “cracker” is not equivalent to calling a black man “nigger”.

    So ultimately, Penn used a gender-based swear often used to denigrate women in toto, against a woman in specific, in an “in-joke” manner, where the whole world could see it and it added to the cosmic background radiation that permeates women’s lives where having woman’s genitalia is somehow bad. Context is fine when dealing with whether or not one specific person or incident is explicitly sexist, but it does not help the fact that the term is implicitly sexist and forms a substratum in every woman’s life where every instance is a Schrodinger’s Cat, and there are people who are explicitly sexist, and they have tons of cover to say “but I’m not sexist, I’m just using it like everyone else is”.

  160. says

    Here’s an actual explanation for you (based on British use, so don’t have a go at me, you tetchy Americans).

    Cunt: offensive term traditionally meaning “vagina”. Often called the most offensive swear word there is. Often used between friends ironically, can mean “stupid”, “idiot”, or can be used against someone you’re angry with for being mean. Not exclusive to women.

    Twat: similar to “cunt”, but less offensive. This raises an interesting question actually – are people as bothered when people use the word “twat”? It has exactly the same meaning, but I imagine people would care less… It seems that it’s not what “cunt” means that is the problem, but that it carries much more weight as a swear word.

    Pussy: also means “vagina”, but when used as an insult (it’s not really a swear word), it is used to emasculate a man for being weak or feeble.

    Vagina: the clinical term for female genitals.

    Dick: offensive word meaning “penis”, also “dickhead”. Used in the same way to mean “stupid” or “idiot”, or against someone who has angered you. Dick is, of course, also short for “Richard”.

    Prick: much milder form of “dick”. Not really a swear word.

    Penis: clinical term for male genitals.

    Calling a person a cunt is much worse than calling someone a dick, and, in general, swear words associated with women are considered more offensive (this is NO LONGER because of sexism – it’s just ingrained in the way we are brought up to consider certain words offensive. We simply learn that “cunt” is really bad; it’s not the association that makes it bad). Both “cunt” and “dick” (bearing in mind the British English caveat) is used against both genders with equal offence.

  161. witless chum says

    It all boils down to reasonableness.

    There’s a context that explains the use of any word. Satire, irony, scholarly study, quotes etc. It certainly has happened that people have misunderstood the sense in which someone was using a word and gotten offended.

    But no one here, not even Jillette’s wife, has explain what that context might be in this case. It just seems like a bunch of obfuscation. It’s reasonable to hope that people will read something in the most charitable way possible. But there’s limits to charity. It’s unreasonable to expect people to bend themselves into knots and squint just right at twilight on the longest day of the year to see something in just quite the right way.

    But I’ll play along. It seems like the most charitable way to read this is, Penn Jillette sometimes uses sexist insults, but people who know him think he doesn’t really mean them. Which means it’s still pretty reasonable for people to say “fuck him for using sexist insults.”

  162. says

    I’m no exception. I don’t pretend to know enough about this to give a definitive answer to the question. I think someone more qualified than me should consider it. The problem here is that while debate is good, nobody is acknowledging that they lack expertise, and everyone is giving their opinion like it’s an undeniable fact.

    Everyone is speaking with rage instead of inquisitiveness. How about “hold on a minute.. how about this? Or this? No? Maybe I’m wrong.” Rather than “FUCKING THIS AND THIS, SHUT THE FUCK UP YOU MISOGYNIST CUNT!”

  163. says

    This is the first reasonable comment I’ve read so far. The problem with context is that although words have generally accepted definitions, they have different nuances in everyone’s ears. So even if Penn were to explain his use, it doesn’t mean he would be able to explain it well, or that we would be able to understand it.

    Given what I know of Penn though, it wouldn’t surprise me if your characterisation is right, in which case I think he should be held accountable for using gratuitously sexist slurs. The problem here is that many people are totally disregarding that and are having an unfettered tirade against the word “cunt” because, no matter what your intention is, if it isn’t whispered so no one else can hear, you’re damaging women everywhere.

    I mean, back to the British/American use divide – are British speakers supposed to censor their use of the word “cunt” from now on, even where it’s intended publicly for British meaning, in case some Americans hear it and are offended in the wrong manner?

  164. Fubar says

    What’s wrong with the word “Fag” I go out and have a fag whenever I can it only harms myself, now if your going “twos up” on a fag and they have bummed the fag, then that’s a bit disgusting I suppose.

    Btw I’m British, an fag is slang for ciggerette, I suppose context does matter a little no?

  165. says

    I mean, back to the British/American use divide – are British speakers supposed to censor their use of the word “cunt” from now on, even where it’s intended publicly for British meaning, in case some Americans hear it and are offended in the wrong manner?

    First of all, the “British usage” has been thoroughly debunked.
    Also the word might carry a different weight, it doesn’t carry a different meaning.
    Secondly, if you understand that patriarchy and misogyny exist and that language is a tool to perpetuate or battle it, why would you object to altering your language in order to fight the things you hate and promote the things you support?
    If you have a problem with that, it shows that at least you don’t care and at worst want to promote misogyny.

  166. says

    I’m not familiar enough with American use to really consider this properly, but let’s just accept for a minute that “cunt” is undeniably sexist, and “dick” is nowhere near as offensive.

    Now, when you consider children growing up and the swear words they are exposed to, they will come to know that “cunt” is worse than “dick”, and they will know what the words refer to (as well as their colloquial meanings), but as parents impart less and less sexism onto their children, the kids won’t associate the words with the degradation of women.

    Now, as those kids grow up and have kids themselves, even though the gender-based nature of the words doesn’t cross their minds when they use it, they will still impart to their kids the idea that “cunt” is worse than “dick” because the subconscious impact is so strong, and their kids will grow up using the words just the same.

    It’s inescapable that fossilised in these words is the sexism intrinsic to them when they were created, but that sexism erodes while the words remain. The choices, then, seem to me as follows:

    1) Keep using the words, acknowledging their history but not claiming that they remain sexist unless the context indicates as such.
    2) Avoid all use of such words because they are intrinsically sexist and this cannot be changed.
    3) Invent a new system of swear words that are not at all gender-based, and bring up children hearing only those words.

    3 is surely impossible, if only because the kids are going to hear “cunt” and “dick” elsewhere at some point, and 2 is disproportionate to the problem. If there are other options besides 1, please correct me, but I figure that the best thing to do is accept that, sometimes, “cunt” means “horrible person”, not “shitty woman reduced to her genitals”, and we have to move on from connotations that are increasingly less in use.

  167. Dan Smith says

    “Context is fine when dealing with whether or not one specific person or incident is explicitly sexist, but it does not help the fact that the term is implicitly sexist”

    Again, you can’t ignore the fact the meanings of words change. If you call something lame you aren’t mocking someone with a limp.

  168. Carlie says

    but I figure that the best thing to do is accept that, sometimes, “cunt” means “horrible person”, not “shitty woman reduced to her genitals”,

    But WHY does it mean horrible person? You can’t escape that the whole reason it’s used to mean horrible is that the connotation is that women are horrible. The only way to break that connection would be for the word to mean something other than a bad thing.

  169. says

    From one of your other posts that I can’t reply to:

    “Also the word might carry a different weight, it doesn’t carry a different meaning.”

    Weight is part of meaning, and yes of course it can have a different meaning to different people. The meaning of a word is shaped by our experience with it; it’s not the same for everyone.

    “Secondly, if you understand that patriarchy and misogyny exist and that language is a tool to perpetuate or battle it, why would you object to altering your language in order to fight the things you hate and promote the things you support?”

    This is right, but it has limitations. For example, when people use “he” as a neutral pronoun, that’s wrong and can be easily changed. When people use “policemen” to refer to all police, that’s wrong and can be easily changed.

    Swear words are a LOT different. The problem with swear words is that most of their impact is developed while you’re young and don’t even know what sexism is. Of course you can stop using them, but you can also reshape their meaning so that you don’t lose the currency they have.

  170. Lyra says

    I continue to be confused by this conversation. As far as I can tell, it is going something like this:

    Jen: Some guy hit some woman because she said something he didn’t like, and that’s wrong! It’s never okay to hit someone.

    Internet Commenter: Well, what if the woman was a masochist who liked being hit and asked to be hit for her own enjoyment?

    Jen: Well, that would be okay. Clearly there are some cases where it would be okay, the the one you mentioned, along with situations like self-defense.

    Internet Commenter: SEE! You do admit that it can be okay to hit someone. Why do you get to be the sole arbiter of when it is okay to hit someone when you can’t even form a consistent standard?

    Jen: Well, those are two entirely different situations–

    Internet Commenter: No! You just said it’s NEVER okay to hit someone, and now you’re admitting that statement is wrong. If you can decide it’s okay to hit someone in self-defense, I can decide it’s okay to hit someone because I didn’t like what they said, and you can’t nay say me!

    Jen: . . .

  171. BJ Kramer says


    Despite calling me ‘thick’, you still seem to be willing to engage in a constructive dialog, something I’ve found impossible with most of your comment-writers. I’m still willing to be enlightened as the circumstances under which you feel it is acceptable to use ‘cunt’.

    As previously discussed, you think there are limited acceptable contexts. However, you feel Penn’s use was not OK, and you seem to think it should be obvious why. It was not to me. We know it’s not because the woman he wrote it to would possibly take offence; she told you herself it was obvious she would not. We know it’s not because you think the word is verboten and may never be used. So perhaps it’s one of these other reasons:

    – It’s OK when a woman uses it, not OK for a man
    – It’s OK when a known-good-person uses it, not OK for a known-sexist
    – It’s OK when used as a joke, not OK when used as an insult

    Honestly, I can’t think of any other distinctions between your friend’s usage and Penn’s. The first two distinctions are plausible, but I’ll give you the benefit of doubt that these are not your rationales. Which leaves me to believe your criteria is based on the fact Penn used it as part of an insult, whereas your friend used it jocularly.

    If this is the case, please let me know, because then we will have a perfectly coherent and simple rule of usage that you follow and I do not. As reasonable adults, we can disagree.

  172. says

    @Carlie, yes, it came to mean horrible because of its definition with regards to female genitals. However, its ability to simply mean “horrible person” does not require the association with women, so you’re forcing a connection that doesn’t have to be there.

    Take the word “hysterical”. The root of that word is neuroticism unique to women because of their womb, hence the same root as “hysterectomy”. When we talk about something funny as “hysterical”, or somebody intensely emotional as “hysterical”, are we ever thinking that we’re associating it with the supposedly over-active nature of female emotion? Of course not, because connections and meanings are broken and changed all the time, and in some people’s minds (and I’m not saying this is true of Penn, I don’t know), “cunt” really does just mean “horrible person” and has nothing to do with women. Many people don’t even consider the connection to the vagina unless they’re pushed to give a dictionary definition.

  173. says

    What, wait, you claim to know anything about linguistics?
    Heed DeSaussure’s rule: you can’t change the meaning of words. By you I mean you individually. Society as a community that agrees on the meaning of words can change it over time (remember when gay meant joyfull?).
    Words don’t mean different things for different people. They can have different connotations or strength, but the meaning is set within a consensus.
    And no, I don’t buy your argument that swearwords and slurs are so much different than anything else. They are even more flexible since people seem to be so fond of them and invent new ones all the time.
    And no, you can’t just cut “cunt” into two words where one of them means female genitalia and the other one is a slur that has totally nothing to do with women. Just like you can’t go on using “gay” meaning something bad, stupid or generally negative and claim it has totally nothing to do with homosexual people.
    Those things can happen over long times, like with idiot or moron, but much hurt was caused in the meantime, and unless you don’t care about that, you should take the short-cut and just stop using them.

  174. says

    Why is this so difficult for people to understand?

    If you are able to figure out when “nigger”, “fag”, “chink”, “wop” (oh, this list could really go on) aren’t acceptable, you should be able to figure out when “cunt” isn’t acceptable.

  175. secha says

    I do in fact know of at least one site that suggests against using the term ‘lame’ because of it’s ableist connotations.

    So I know there are people who would disagree with your example holding ‘lame’ up as something totally free from it’s former associations.

  176. says

    Uh, no. Words have commonly agreed-upon meanings. If they didn’t, communication would be severely hindered. The range of meanings and nuances for words are limited by the strictures of communication in a way that people’s opinions are not.

  177. says

    (read: any contribution not 100% endorsing a particular feminist point of view at any given time, as though there wasn’t a heterodoxy of opinion regardless of the gender of the feminist doing the opining)

    Men don’t get to tell women how to do feminism, no matter the “heterodoxy of opinion” on any particular issue. If you had any so-called “feminist cred,” you’d get that.

  178. says

    Are you for real? If I took a shot every time someone on FTB decided that some jerkface being written about had an ASD, I’d have died of alcohol poisoning within its first month of existence.

  179. says

    When in fact there are numerous situations where just because someone has been offended they are not owed an apologise and actually its quite a complicated issue, but you’ve got your bingo card there so everything is really straightforward.

    Um, yes, I wouldn’t apologize to privileged persons for being “offended” by the existence or behavior of oppressed persons. Women aren’t privileged, however.

  180. witless chum says

    BJ, as far as what I’ve seen:
    Penn used the word as an insult toward Lindy West, who he was mad at for writing what he considered a failed humor piece about Super Bowl commercials.

    Jen’s Friend used the word to joke with his or her friend who’d just written one or two widely-commented upon blog posts on the word.

    Those seem like very different situations to me.

  181. Kate says

    Completely agree with Jen here, and all the other commenters especially the gentleman who explained the whole game board. But the thing that really sticks in my craw about Jilette’s comment was that he had never seen the ads, all of which were embedded into the original article!! How lazy can you get, I mean really! Talk about putting no effort into getting all the facts, you know something skeptics tend to do. The whole thing is shameful.

  182. says

    “Words don’t mean different things for different people. They can have different connotations or strength, but the meaning is set within a consensus.”

    We’re using different definitions of ‘meaning’. Connotation IS part of meaning. I’m not saying individuals can change the DEFINITION of a word, but individual variation in connotation can be very wide and is extremely important to this discussion.

    “And no, I don’t buy your argument that swearwords and slurs are so much different than anything else. They are even more flexible since people seem to be so fond of them and invent new ones all the time.”

    This is just silly. If someone were to make up a word and tell me it’s a swear word, it simply wouldn’t work. You have to be brought up in an environment where the word is given a taboo status. Even forgetting the made up part, this is why “merde” does not retain the punch of “shit” for someone who comes to French late in life. Swear words are not flexible.

    “And no, you can’t just cut “cunt” into two words where one of them means female genitalia and the other one is a slur that has totally nothing to do with women. Just like you can’t go on using “gay” meaning something bad, stupid or generally negative and claim it has totally nothing to do with homosexual people.”

    Actually, yes you can. Which is precisely why, being gay, I take no offence whatsoever when my younger sister uses “gay” as a pejorative term. Why? Because I make the intellectual effort of recognising that she doesn’t mean to associate homosexuality with badness. Someone before her did, and she’s inherited the term without realising that some people take unnecessary offence. I tell her, “Hey look, that’s a bit dodgy”, but I don’t hold it against her and call her a homophobe.

  183. says

    Wait, you mean like douchecanou, or Warmduscher, creotard, IDiot (only works in writing) ?
    You know, words people made up and that became popular.

    BTW, you’re contradicting yourself
    First you claim that you need to learn swearwords early and they are almost impossible to change, and then you claim that you don’t take offense at gay because it has changed (which I don’t buy either).
    Sorry, you can’t have your cake and eat it.

  184. says

    “Wait, you mean like douchecanou, or Warmduscher, creotard, IDiot (only works in writing) ?
    You know, words people made up and that became popular.”

    Yeah, those are popular made up words. Are they insults? Yes. Are they SWEAR WORDS? No. None of those will ever have the same unconscious impact that “shit” and “fuck” and “cunt” all have, because that requires a particular childhood environment. No matter how much you come up with a word and tell someone it’s an expletive, the unconscious sensation will never be the same as saying an actual swear word.

    “BTW, you’re contradicting yourself
    First you claim that you need to learn swearwords early and they are almost impossible to change, and then you claim that you don’t take offense at gay because it has changed (which I don’t buy either).”

    When did I say that swear words are almost impossible to change? The whole point of my argument is that meanings change. The WORDS don’t change; you can’t replace one swear word with another for the same reasons as above, but of course the meanings change.

    Anyway, you’re obviously not interested in having a proper discussion if you’re going to resort to calling me a liar. I’ve got not motive for lying; what I said was true.

  185. keshmeshi says

    If the “Emily” commenting here is Jillette’s wife (and what are the odds he knows two Emilys who have lots of free time to defend him online?), the “context” is that Jillette’s statements were posted to someone else’s wall on Facebook, making it part of a “private” conversation.

    If you go by what Emily Jillette has written on Twitter, the context of “cunt” in Penn Jillette’s statement is that Lindy West is a dumb cunt and deserves to be called such.

  186. stevebowen says

    Who’s telling you how to do feminism? I’m happy to agree that women are in charge of their own equality agenda but you do not speak for all women or all feminists, unless I missed the election result.
    Look! If you think my opinion on language and the relevance therof to the equality issue is crap that’s fine, but don’t presume that just because my (privileged, white, male, heterosexual, middle class and sadly middle aged) opinion differs from yours it is invalid or necessarily wrong. At no point did you bother to address the comment you just assumed I was being patronising, when nothing could be further from the truth. It’s an opinion is all, either address it or ignore it but “mansplaining” cracks are cheap, intellectually lazy and take the debate nowhere useful.

  187. says

    U3: (“Dick / Dickhead”) In some contexts slurs can be used to refer to people. It is more tolerable to use a slur to refer to a member of a person of privilege, than to someone who lacks privilege. (This is the essence of the Anatole France quote “The law, in its infinite majesty, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in streets, and to steal their bread.”) It may be proper to call Newt Gingrich a dick; it is not proper to call Callista Gingrich a cunt.

    That makes sense. It would explain why I consider “cunt” to be a much stronger word than “dick” (or its equivalent, in degree not meaning: “bitch”). I regard them otherwise as identical in meaning, which is why Penn’s remark doesn’t have merit, because he would not call someone a “dick” for telling a bad joke. “Dick” is an aspersion against character, and is considered appropriate when the target is in fact being a dick.

    I regard cunt in the same way. But you would have to be one evil fucking bitch (like, literally destroying peoples lives) to ever inspire me to call you a cunt. And in that extremely rare scenario, I would defend it as entirely appropriate. But only then. My wife has a more relaxed attitude; she will call any vicious, willfully insensitive woman a cunt (and a woman who is persistently that way she anoints as “cuntress”). But that might just be the “blacks can use nigger” effect. The context being, it has a different meaning coming from a person in the position of lesser privilege.

    Although the analogy to nigger breaks down at a key point: nigger, when used as a pejorative, is not an aspersion on character but only an aspersion on race and therefore intrinsically racist, in a way cunt is not intrinsically sexist (any more than “dick” is an aspersion on being male). And of course, when nigger is used non-pejoratively (as in “Nigger, please!”), we’re in a context not relevant here (just as when cunt is used non-pejoratively, which is not the subject at present).

  188. piero says

    Thanks a lot! It is becoming clearer to me now.
    I might be wrong (actually, it is very likely), but It seems to me that “cunt” is considered practically taboo for onomatopoeic reasons: it sounds “cutting”, “blunt” and aggressive.

  189. Philip Legge says

    The England argument is the “it’s not a gendered slur because it’s applied to men and women” argument; and in the case of twat, the argument has the additional defence that the word has become so innocuous that there’s no possible denigrating association with women despite it manifestly referring to their genitalia. (Denial is not a river in Egypt.)

  190. Richard says

    I don’t think there is much difference between calling a man a dick and calling a woman a cunt. Both are despicable.

  191. Lins says

    I like to say “the f-word is wrong, and I don’t mean ‘fuck’.” Gets around the issue nicely.

  192. Emily says

    “If the “Emily” commenting here is Jillette’s wife (and what are the odds he knows two Emilys who have lots of free time to defend him online?), the “context” is that Jillette’s statements were posted to someone else’s wall on Facebook, making it part of a “private” conversation.”

    I’m not Penn’s wife. I’m an old friend. Her last name is Jilette, mine is Simon.

    We do both exist, and I for one will MAKE time for this conversation if it will help highlight the fact that it shouldn’t be happening in the first place.

  193. Emily says

    Actually, I’ve attempted to explain the exact context of the conversation at least 6 or 7 times so far.

    But I suppose this is further evidence that those statements aren’t being read.

  194. says

    Oh, trust me, I’m reading them. There’s just no point to respond any further when we’ve already responded to them, and you just keep repeating the same old points over and over.

  195. Alex says

    Seems pretty spot-on, except I’m not sure I really buy U3. It’s hardly in the interest of building an egalitarian society to start cherry-picking a list of acceptable insults or targets. Privilege notwithstanding, insults are still insulting. I endeavor not to act ‘like a dick,’ that is to say I try not to act in a similar way to a stereotypical male who could be considered deserving of the epithet. The comparison to rich people having the right to sleep under bridges just doesn’t really equate here. Insults thrown in earnest are hurtful no matter how much more privileged I might be than a woman.

    That said, I’m not really saying that “cunt” is an acceptable insult to throw around. Just that “dick” isn’t really acceptable either. I guess it’s more than possible that no one is actually saying that it is, but I wrote this extremely long post, and it seems a shame to waste it. So there’s my two cents, fwiw.

  196. debbaasseerr says

    Hey, English people, maybe you just think “cunt” is okay because misogyny is still so enormous as to be invisible to you. How about that – America is ahead of England on this one tiny point here.

  197. Eliott says

    Well, congratulations. You have managed to take what could have been a really important conversation and marginalized it with your childish fit of pique by creating a game. Not the respondents, not your friend Jessie. You. And you did it because you couldn’t have your own way. You are upset with Penn because he did the same thing you did but in your opinion you were less offensive calling someone a dickbag. Really? You are a hypocrite. Plain and simple and hide that under the guise of feminism and skepticism. I live with a feminist and atheist so I know the difference and you ain’t her. It’s ok for you to use the word dick or dickbag and others to categorize folks with whom you seem to vehemently disagree and you have that right but where did you get this right of entitlement you so readily accuse men of in determining what words are so offensive not to be used in any circumstance. Probably the same place Penn got his.

  198. Confused says

    No, because we get the idea that “bitch” is a gendered insult, and one that has no male equivalent. If you call a man a bitch, even in the UK, you are implicitly calling him a woman. The same is just not true of cunt. I think calling someone a fanny or a pussy would probably be emasculating, but for some reason calling them a cunt is not.

    That’s not to say it’s not highly offensive in the UK – it is. But “cuntishness”, if you like, is just not a gendered concept here.

  199. Fiona says

    This was discussed at my knitting group just last week. I’m Scottish, and I have more of a problem with the word ‘bitch’ than I do with ‘cunt’, although I can certainly see how the latter is also a slur. ‘Bitch’, however, carries so many more connotations over here than ‘cunt’ does, even if it is still considered a lesser swear word. Where ‘cunt’ is a very strong insult, it’s also largely divorced from its original meaning here, but ‘bitch’ implies spiteful women, pettiness, female superficiality. ‘Bitching’ implies women moaning and complaining as always (one of my least favourite stereotypes).

  200. Just a man says

    Jen, Emily smashed you in debate by using logic and reason and you came back here to disparage her and Penn in public. That’s what happened here. Grow up.

  201. witless chum says

    C’mon Jenn, grow up. Start posting whiny assertions of victory at the end of threads, like a grown up. Do victory laps on behalf of others’ alleged smashing in debates, like a grownup. Use words like “logic” and “reason” while you do it.

    And how about a link Emily’s logic and reason? Because all we got in her comments here was mumbling about how she was upset an allegedly private conversation was being discussed widely (fair enough that she feels that way, but not a persuasive argument to people who are Not Emily) and the apparent argument that if she wasn’t offended, no one else could be. An endless series of assertions that Not Her Nigel and evasions about context, but no explanations of what the context was, was all we got to read.

    One of the many, many nice things about my wife is that she’ll tell me when I’m being a shithead. Others are apparently not so lucky.

  202. says

    You can use all the logic and reason you want and you’ll get a wrong answer if you ignore data you don’t like. In this particular case, big-L Libertarians like Penn have a tendency to deny power imbalances in society, and Penn’s ego, like many big-L Libertarians, will not let him admit he’s wrong. This Emily person is not helping his cause.

    tl;dr: check your premises before you wreck the premises.

  203. GordonWillis says

    ENGLAND means lie back, spread your legs, and think of the future of the great and glorious British Empire. Any excuse for an honest, simple fuck.

  204. GordonWillis says

    (“There is more important sexism to fight.”) The only reason for such a comment would be to imply “So you shouldn’t be wasting time writing about it.” Yet the respondent felt it important enough to reply, so the comment contradicts itself.
    Your C2 misses the point. Saying “there is more important sexism to fight” is a way of belittling the opposition: the point is, that any sexism has to be fought, because sexism at every level is a tyranny. It is not that the respondent was wasting time, or that the remark is a contradiction, but rather there is a recognition that there is a serious issue involved that cannot be ignored. The reply is a defence of sexism at a perceived “low” level while claiming that other forms of sexism are more important. This is an egregious error, because to allow licence to the perceived “less important” forms of sexism is to make excuses for sexism per se, and this is the intent of the remark. Unless sexism is fought at every level, it might as well remain unfought.

  205. GordonWillis says

    C4 The word was being used in its pejorative sense, not its anatomical sense.
    The pejorative sense of the word derives from its anatomical sense, with the associated sense that bearers of cunts, i.e. women, are inferior and only good for fucking. Actually, the idea is that cunts are desirable things (as long as their bearers are brainless and susceptible to male charm), but obviously no right-thinking male would want to be associated with one except as an external object of personal satisfaction, so it can work as an affectionate insult between males: calling a man “a cunt” is to say “he’s a cunt fucker”.

  206. Just a man says

    “And how about a link Emily’s logic and reason? Because all we got in her comments here was mumbling about how she was upset an allegedly private conversation was being discussed widely (fair enough that she feels that way, but not a persuasive argument to people who are Not Emily) and the apparent argument that if she wasn’t offended, no one else could be.”

    Did you see the twitter exchange? Jen gave up because she couldn’t prove Emily wrong (because there was nothing to prove wrong).

    I’ll submit to you this, maybe SHE’S offended that people are calling her husband an awful bigot. And, unlike the hypothetical, nonexistent person who’s offended by Penn’s usage of the word “cunt”, there are clear victims and bullies here.

  207. Just a man says

    GodronWillis, are you people really so humorless that you have to dissect the meaning of a cuss word? There’s no tyranny or oppression here: he just called Lindy West unfunny, which, to be fair, may be a really bad opinion. I don’t know, since I’m not really sure who Lindy West is.

  208. Just a man says

    So it’s a political thing, you don’t like libertarians because they’re all bigots. Gotcha.

  209. Just a man says

    Why does it matter if it’s a gendered insult? It’s still just an insult. It’s mean, but it’s not an act of aggression against Women Everywhere.

  210. witless chum says

    I did see the Twitter exchange, it’s as obtuse as Emily’s comments she posted here. My read is that Jen stopped engaging because you can’t reason someone out of a position they didn’t reason themselves into.

    How are these women who are offended by the use of cunt as an insult hypothetical or nonexistant? They’re all over the damn internet, apparently. Say you don’t care if they’re offended, whatever, but I’m pretty sure they exist. Lindy West, the writer Penn thinks is a cunt because she made fun of Super Bowl ads in an unpleasing manner, cared enough to post a mocking response on her Twitter, which started the whole thing.

  211. Confused says

    No, I (we?) don’t like *this* libertarian because he has a proven history of putting evidence and logic second to political ideology. Show me a libertarian who makes a clear effort to subject their own views to scrutiny and refrains from using pretty extreme and intentionally debasing ad hominem attacks to discredit people they disagree with, and I’ll show you a libertarian I don’t have a problem with.

  212. says

    I don’t like Libertarians because they have a habit of going around with their heads shoved up their asses, resisting any attempt at cranial extraction. I don’t like bigots because they’re bigots. The fact that this bigot happens to be a libertarian, or vice-versa, just happens to be what’s going on here.

  213. GordonWillis says

    Well, first, even under my new pseudonym of Godron I am not people, only me, and I speak my own thoughts. And second, the meaning of a cuss word may well have to be dissected, if there is a need to undermine the attitude that finds it “humorous”. And in any case I was talking about C2, not anything else.

  214. says

    You know, when Ward Sutton does it as “Kelly” for the Onion, he’s funny. You know why? Because he knows it’s bullshit and he’s making fun of it. You, however, fail on all possible levels.

  215. Azkyroth says

    Well, see, the “male” part is actually true.

    And not even the slightest hint of shame or an apology. I’m amazed. You’re almost as despicable as TAA is.

  216. Just a man says

    Sorry, wrong poster.

    My reply to you: Penn isn’t a bigot. Are you seriously claiming that Penn Jillette hates women? Where is the evidence for that?

  217. Just a man says

    I don’t not care that some hypothetical individuals are offended by Penn’s private facebook comments; I just think it’s offensive to call him a hateful bigot because of it. I don’t think any of you really believe Penn hates women, because that’s ridiculous.

  218. Just a man says

    How about you be more open-minded. Penn isn’t an evil bigot because he doesn’t get as offended as you do by people using the word cunt, and neither is Emily.

  219. Just a man says

    That’s a completely arbitrary standard. No one calls you a bigot when women call men dicks, assholes, cocksuckers, etc.

  220. Just a man says

    “U5: (“I’m a woman and I think it’s fine.”) You weren’t the one being called a cunt. No one woman can speak for all of them.”

    But you’re speaking for her, telling her that she’s married to an awful bigot.

  221. Evan Bettencourt says

    Here’s a translation for you:

    Teabaggers chose to be teabaggers. They picked the name, they chose the ideology.

    Gay people didn’t chose to be gay. Women didn’t chose to be women. No women or gay people were allowed on the panels that made up the horrible words people use for women or gay people (or for straight, cis males who make the unforgivable crime of doing anything that makes them similar to women or gay people).

    Can you see the difference?

  222. Evan Bettencourt says

    That’s speaking to her, not speaking for her.

    Speaking for her would be saying, “Emily Jillette told me her husband is a misogynistic asshole.”

  223. julian says

    you’ve all now managed to make a specific, individual woman feel marginalized and minimized and co-opted and silenced.

    If this weren’t coming from Jillette’s posse, I’d be inclined to care. The ‘I’m offensive therefor I’m totally cool and superior to you’ comics can all get bent.

    Is the future of feminism is that we trample the feelings of one real woman to protect the feelings of a theoretical other

    Isn’t that what all activism, politics and healthcare comes down to eventually? In order to get the gains you want (I suppose in this case a less misogynistic atmosphere) you may have to sacrifice the comfort or views of some.

    For example, slavery, where many former slaves didn’t wish to be free and felt things had been better under their former masters. Or combating the Catholic Church and trying to erode its influence in order to diminish the homophobia influencing government (there are many gays who belong to the Church and see it as a moral good)

    If the goals are change on a grandscale it is inevitable some members of the group we’re trying to ‘help’ will feel marginalized, insulted or maligned.

  224. says

    He may not hate women per se, but he’s certainly got some issues with women which he refuses to acknowledge or fix (in line with his tendencies to do the same on other subjects). On that grounds, yes, I call him a bigot.

  225. ayla says

    Don’t forget Ireland! People in Ireland probably use it more than the British even. (Spoken as an American who lives in Ireland. I’ve had to explain to numerous people here that “cunt” has very different connotations on the other side of the pond.)

  226. Just a man says

    It’s a fairly logical comment. You left out the part where she said she wouldn’t say something like that TO him if she knew it would offend him.

  227. Just a man says

    “He may not hate women per se, but he’s certainly got some issues with women which he refuses to acknowledge or fix”

    How can you make that judgment? There’s no evidence that he has issues with women.

  228. Just a man says

    “Teabaggers chose to be teabaggers. They picked the name, they chose the ideology.”

    Prove it.

    “Gay people didn’t chose to be gay.”

    Prove it.

  229. Just a man says

    Well she’s a woman, and she thinks her husband doesn’t hate women. As a female, why is your opinion better than hers?

  230. Just a man says

    I don’t agree with your premise (2). “Cunt” isn’t really comparable to “nigger”. It’s somewhat of a taboo, but I still think it’s basically on the same level as “dick”, “asshole”, “bitch”, etc.

  231. patrick says

    Emily Jillette wasn’t saying its okay to use in ANY context.

    She already said she wouldn’t use the word fag in the context of saying “you fag” to someone she didn’t know was okay with the word. However both Emily Jillette and Jen are saying its okay to use the word fag in some contexts. They just happen to disagree which those contexts are.

    However, Jen is making the huge leap in thinking that because the other person believes use in certain contexts aren’t offensive, she just doesn’t care about peoples feelings.

    Whereas there are people who would think Jen is horribly callous as well for saying the word fag in ANY context.

    Does the fact someone would think that of Jen, mean she’s a horribly callous person too?

    Why do we only have to care about people who are only offended by certain contexts, and not people who are offended in any context?

    If we’re saying some contexts are fine, then this is merely a disagreement about which contexts are acceptable. Surely neither Jen nor Emily want to be bad people, so the contexts they. To say someone is callous or even malicious based on a disagreement is the height of theory of mind failure.

    I don’t get how this arbitrary line is being drawn. If we’re saying a word heard by a 3rd party could be offensive to someone based on sexuality/gender, then its wrong and heartless to use, then surely ANY use of the word fag, or gay, is wrong (regardless of intention) because there are many many people who would feel a offended to hear that word in ANY context.

    Someone brought up the blasphemy example earlier. In some cultures blasphemy is seen as so offensive you’re not even allowed to say what was said in reference to the blasphemy.

    There are people like this who feel that way about any word you care to mention.

    It seems unbelievably pious, self-rightous and disengenous to say those people don’t matter, but anyone who has a looser approach to language than I must intentionally be trying to offend people and is therefore heartless/callous etc.

    If someone can explain to me why we should cater to people who think fag should not be used between friends even if both parties are fine with it, but we shouldn’t cater to people who think fag should NEVER be used because its been used to denigrate gay people so often that its offensive meaning is inseparable from the word?

    Is it just a numbers thing? If there were more people who felt like that, would it then be horribly offensive to use the word fag in any context?

  232. maus says

    The worst thing about the “skeptic community” is the douchey “Mens Rights Activists” quotient that seems to infest them. At least Pharyngula seems to sidestep them and discourage their noisier participation.

  233. Allie says

    Emily, Penn said it on your wall, true. But he didn’t say it about you. He wasn’t calling you a cunt. He said it about someone else. Please at least get your facts straight, jesuschrist.

  234. Allie says

    Uh, yeah. My friends don’t use words like that. Or, if they did, they would get read the riot act by me. Just as them using the n-word would be unacceptable, no matter how much they thought it was funny because WORDS MEAN THINGS.

  235. Allie says

    For god’s sake, Emily, YES. If he uses the word ‘cunt’ to describe women in general (or a woman that he’d like to fuck, reducing her to only her playful parts), then YES, HE’S SEXIST AS FUCK.

    I don’t even understand how this is confusing to you. Would it be okay if he said, “I’d really like to fuck that hot chink next door?” Or would that make him racist as fuck? [Hint, since you seem totally clueless: It’s the latter.]

  236. Allie says

    This has been explained numerous times, assmunch. From matthewsmith’s post upthread:

    In some contexts slurs can be used to refer to people. It is more tolerable to use a slur to refer to a member of a person of privilege, than to someone who lacks privilege. (This is the essence of the Anatole France quote “The law, in its infinite majesty, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in streets, and to steal their bread.”) It may be proper to call Newt Gingrich a dick; it is not proper to call Callista Gingrich a cunt.

  237. Allie says

    lol, I am a fucking English teacher. And your comment makes no sense. Do you seriously believe that someone has to be an English professor to talk about why/how a word is offensive?

  238. Allie says

    Well, except for the whole history of misogyny, ie reducing women down to their sexuality only. And the lack of power, both social and political, that women still endure.

    But you know, other than that…

  239. Allie says

    Some of us did read it, dumbass. My favorite part was when Emily claimed to be a Kantian but didn’t know what the Categorical Imperative was. But hey–most of what Emily said was stupid beyond belief, so it’s hard to pick just one…

    Also, I DO think that Penn has a certain disdain for women, as evidenced by the casually sexist way he treats them, both in this exchange but also in his shows and in other public appearances. The man has absolutely no use for things he doesn’t personally experience (quite like my first year men, who don’t want to talk about sexism because they don’t think it affects them.) This isn’t the first time Penn has said some stupid mess about women. So, my opinion of his attitudes is pretty well grounded in shit he’s actually said and done.

  240. Allie says

    …aaaand, you persist in this view, despite hearing for the people who that word is directed at, telling you that it’s not.

  241. Just a man says

    And apparently Allie’s interpretation of what words mean is better than Emily’s, because, just because.

  242. Just a man says

    Allie: If people use words in a way I disagree with, THEY ARE SEXIST AS FUCK. FUCK OTHER INTENTIONS.

  243. Just a man says

    It sounds like you’re saying men are second-class citizens in feminist land. Wait, I thought feminism wanted equality between the sexes! :O

  244. Just a man says

    I thought feminism was supposed to be empowering. Like, if men can be called bad words and be expected to take it, then womyn should be held to at least the same expectations that men are.

  245. Just a man says

    I would say, it sounds like you have some disdain for men, but I don’t like making psych evaluations on people I’ve never met.

  246. Just a man says

    Some women say “cunt” is as bad as “nigger”. Others say it’s not. You’re not giving me a good reason to take one group of women’s opinions over the other, or why either of their opinions are better than mine, in any case.

  247. felipesegundo says

    Re: the whole English vs. American thing.

    I’m English and I use the word cunt all the time. In fact it’s my favourite insult (narrowly pipping wanker to the post). Like almost all English people, I use the word more to describe men than women. If I, Englishman, use the word cunt in England, no-one has any right to accuse me of misogyny.

    The thing is though, Penn Jilette isn’t English, and he wasn’t in England when he wrote this. In American, the language spoken by Jilette, not to mention his chosen audience, the word cunt has particularly nasty misogynistic connotations.

    In this context, therefore, the English Defence is irrelevant. Besides anything else, when someone uses a word they understand to be hateful, this represents the prejudice that exists within their brain. When I use the word cunt, misogyny does not enter my head because I understand the word, and always have done, as one with a completely different meaning. Penn Jilette, American, can hardly claim to be unaware of the word’s meaning in his own language, however. Even if he used the word in England where no offence would be taken, we would nonetheless be justified in assuming on the basis of that evidence that he has misogyny on the brain.

  248. says

    Words don’t have intrinsic meanings/properties, they are ascribed meaning by the people on the basis of the context of their use (like everything).

    Yes, they’re ascribed meanings according to universally shared understanding of what they mean. And that universal understanding is, for all practical purposes, the intrinsic meaning/property of each word. So yes, words DO have intrinsic meanings.

    It’s impossible to come up with universal rules around language use…

    Bullshit. A language is, by definition, a set of rules stating that certain combinations of mouth-noises have certain meanings. If you don’t have universal rules, you don’t have a language. Period.

    Seriously, boy, grow the fuck up and take responsibility for the noises that come out of your mouth, and the keystrokes of your fingers. Using bullshit sophistry like this to blame others for “not hearing you right” is just plain babyhish.

  249. says

    A problem is wondering if diarrhoea is going to kill your third child this year. A problem is going to bed without food so that your wife could have the only bite of bread that day.

    If you’re actually dealing with any of these problems, then why are YOU wasting your time commenting here?

  250. Just a man says

    Felipe, using an insult you don’t like doesn’t make Penn a misogynist. American or otherwise.

  251. Allie says

    In a ~magical world~ where everyone is treated equally and misogyny did not exist, than yes–that would be great. But in this world, where those things DO exist, it isn’t. Because starting for the assumption that everyone has a level playing field is starting for a bad assumption.

    The fact is that casual insults of women ~hurt women as a class~ in a way that women insulting men does not do. I, as a woman, don’t have the institutional power to make a man take a pay cut so he makes 22 cents on the dollar less than me. I don’t have the power to rape 1/4 men, and blame those rapes on the stupid menz for going out in provocative clothes or being drunk. Those are things misogyny wrecks…and words like “cunt” hurt women as a class because they feed into the already misogynistic culture that devalues women, treats them like sexual playthings, reduces them to their anatomy and seeks to strip us of our rights to bodily autonomy and safety. Until THAT changes…until women are treated like full citizens…yeah, ‘dick’ will never be as egregious or as hurtful as ‘cunt.’ (Just as ‘cracker’ isn’t as hurtful as ‘nigger.’)

  252. Allie says

    Where’s your evidence? I can cite my reasons for thinking that Penn has problems with his views on women. Can you cite equal evidence for yours? If not, you’re just making a tu quo quo argument (and not even a valid one.)

  253. Just a man says

    Well, how about the fact that men in prison are likely to be raped, and that when there’s a domestic incident, the police will take the man by default? I’m not saying it’s ~sooo awful~ to be a man, I’m disputing this idea that you can put people into large groups, like feminists do, and say women have it SO bad in America, and men have it SO good.

    And all these problems – very real problems – have nothing to do with the discussion at hand. Plenty of women – literally millions – won’t get offended by someone saying cunt and bitch. I know women who use these words themselves, in an appropriate context of course. Someone women do get offended. But, some men get offended when you call them a dick. Some feminists – many in this very thread – have argued that using the words dick or asshole as an insult is less offensive than calling someone a cunt, because men don’t have it half as bad as women do, and male privilege and stuff. Stated differently, men are EXPECTED to be less emotional and more “manly”. How is this not very sexist?

  254. Just a man says

    Penn: (a) is married to a women, (b) is related to women, (c) has friends who are women, and (d) has never given anyone reason to believe that he hates women, besides using an insult you don’t like.

    It seems extraordinary to me that you are going to read his mind and accuse him of bigotry. I find it a lot more offensive than what he said originally.

  255. Omi says

    Well, I don’t think Penn Jillette hates women – but that doesn’t mean he can’t be a sexist asshole.

  256. says

    C2: (“There is more important sexism to fight.”) The only reason for such a comment would be to imply “So you shouldn’t be wasting time writing about it.” Yet the respondent felt it important enough to reply, so the comment contradicts itself.

    This argument is fallacious because the opportunity cost may vastly exceed the benefit of reducing the usage of cunt.

    U4: (“You’re overly sensitive.”) This is similar to C2. If it is being over-sensitive to criticize Jillette’s comment, why is it not also over-sensitive to criticize the critic. But if the slur was not intended to wound, what possible other function could it have?

    This argument is fallacious because it’s a combination of Tu quoque and argument from ignorance. Also, it implies the falsehood that one can never say ANYONE is being overly sensitive, even if they have a heart attack upon hearing that their neighbor ate non-kosher food.

  257. Azkyroth, Former Growing Toaster Oven says

    Must be nice to be able to treat the whole thing as a purely academic exercise.

  258. says

    Well, the main point of being a skeptic is to point out fallacious arguments, no matter whether we agree or disagree with the speaker.

  259. says

    It -is- the female equivalent of “dick”. Whether you have a bingo card of other rationalizations, “dick/dickhead” sticks out like a sore thumb to me – because it’s the exact same thing. Let’s see the bingo card for why Feminists feel like they can use the word “dick” to slur men, but then take great offense at a slur of them.

Leave a Reply