Monday, May 17, 2004
I'm not all sweetness and light. When I get angry, I get very angry and want to call the cause of anger terrible things. Sometimes my anger leaves me speechless, not because I don't have plenty to say, but because the English language doesn't give me the tools for proper wrathful self-expression. Anna in Cairo, an insightful commenter on this blog and elsewhere, complained about the same thing, and provided the idea for this post. We both want to know what to call a man who deserves the worst words can give.
And therein lies the problem: The epiteths and slurs that are supposed to hurt a man the most actually attack him in a roundabout way. Think of calling someone 'the son of bitch' or even a 'motherf**ker' (see, Ashcroft, what you have wrought!). These are insults, yes, but they insult the man's mother every bit as much as the man himself.
Of course we could also call him an idiot or a chimp or a faggot or something else that compares him to a group some hold in contempt. Almost all ways of cursing someone out in English use this comparison-trick; degrade the person by implying that he or she is no better than members of some other, routinely denigrated, group. But these comparisons are quite far-fetched in most cases. Sexual slurs hit much closer to home, especially because they're so much harder to disprove.
Consider 'cocks**ker' and its many variations: hints about needing kneepads and so on. All these are regarded as hateful, because they imply that the person takes a submissive position in sexual encounters. Who usually is viewed as taking such a position? Certain gays and women, that's who. Thus, the denigrating comparison here is to either submissive gays or to women.
The new development of calling men, too, bitches, sluts and whores ties sexuality into insults even more openly. This may or may not be a more egalitarian development, but it's interesting that the sources of slurworthy sexuality are all found in the ways that some women behave. We are poorly provided when it comes to good, juicy insults concerning the male sexuality. Poorly indeed.
Of course, men are routinely denigrated by comparing them to women. Evidently, being a woman or a girl is a really despicable thing to be in some people's minds. Examples of this abound: sissy, 'you throw like a girl', 'make them cry like schoolgirls' are just a few I've heard or read in the last few days, and a good feminist male friend recently accused me of 'thinking like a girl'. Like that would be a bad thing.
On the other side of the fence, the grass is very much greener and lusher: Women can be called whores, bitches, sluts, slits, gashes and so on and so on. Men have very few counterparts for these expressions, even the time-honored prick doesn't let itself for such general indiscriminate use.
A necessary next step in linguistic evolution of the English language is the development of good sexual insults for all those people who deserve to have them flung into their faces, men included. We need to put on our thinking caps and contribute new expressions to this language. Otherwise it will wither away with the withering of the American empire.