Here there be “Language”

06 Aug

Recently on twitter, @drskyskull and I had a bit of back-and-forth about whether “testicular” was an appropriate description of the GOP (he said that while it’s good to have testicles, it’s not good to be them; I think testicles might disagree, but the science there would be… challenging). Also recently, Ophelia Benson at Butterflies and Wheels wrote a post about sexual epithets and (white male) privilege. It got me thinking.

It’s a peculiar thing to use the names of sex organs as insults. These are the fun bits of the human body, but are we supposed to be reviled by them? The Abrahamic religions (and several other religions as well) will say yes, of course, because… well, because some 4,000 years ago, some dude got squicked out by a woman’s vagina, or something. Believers wouldn’t put it that way, though. They’d dress it up in florid language about how Yahweh/God/Allah/Thor wants people, especially women, to be pure and holy and the only way women can be pure and holy is by remaining virginal at least until marriage (and if she can swing it, even after giving birth the first time).

How does this ever not mess people up? Before you get married, sex is badbadbad. It’s so bad, you shouldn’t even call it “sex.” You should call it “making love,” or something even more euphemistic. You shouldn’t use the proper terms for sex organs, because if you were to say “penis,” some delicate flower of a woman might swoon, and we can’t have delicate flowers swooning. That would be too tempting for men, who for some reason can’t control their “manhoods” in the presence of a woman who can’t offer resistance. Or something.

(I’m saying “or something” a lot in this post.)

However, once a (heterosexual) couple is married, sex magically becomes a beautiful expression of one’s love for one’s mate. That’s a major frameshift. And it occurs the instant someone in funny clothes says some magic words. (In the exceedingly unlikely event that I get married, I’d like the Elvis impersonator to replace “I now pronounce you husband and wife” with “abracadabra.” If it’s about magic words, I want magic words.)

I think it would be a fine thing for people to refrain from using the names of the fun bits of human anatomy as insults, especially the names of the fun bits of female anatomy as extra-strength insults of men. History is against me. Even the words “woman,” “womanly,” “girl” and “feminine” are used as insults, so how can the names of our sex organs not be epithets as well? We have been denigrated for thousands of years just for being women. The epithetical use of our sex perpetuates our second-class status, and I can’t help thinking that people who spit words like “cunt” and “twat” like it that way.

Years ago, when I was preparing for college, I participated in a seminar or class that was supposed to prepare us for the SATs. The instructor of this class digressed a bit from his plans and asked the students to come up with as many words we could think of that were insults of men. We filled up one of the four chalkboards in the room. We then repeated the exercise with insults of women. We filled up all four chalkboards, and could probably have filled another if we’d had one.

As a matter of principle, I try not to insult people, and especially not by reducing them to their body parts. It doesn’t help anything, and it usually hurts more than just the intended target of the insult. And in the case of using the names of sex organs as insults, it reinforces the attitude that sex is sinful (in a bad way).


Posted by on August 6, 2011 in language


Tags: , ,

5 responses to “Here there be “Language”

  1. moonkitty

    August 6, 2011 at 7:36 am

    It’s true; there are more words and terms for insulting women than for men. It’s evidence of our lower social status which is largely invisible. Most people just don’t see it unless it’s pointed out to them–it’s part of the air we breathe.

    Found you through Butterflies and Wheels, and I’m glad I did.

    • beaucoupnada

      August 6, 2011 at 6:35 pm


      You’re absolutely right about the invisibility of status, whether it’s lower status or privileged status. That’s why it’s so hard to fight.

  2. Nathan DST aka LucienBlack

    August 6, 2011 at 8:07 am

    In a similar vein, I’ve been pondering why the word “fuck” is so often used negatively, i.e., “fuck you,” or “fuck me.” Fucking is fun, so why are those phrases negative?? The only thing I can come up with is that its because an attitude sex is supposed to be bad, or dirty. Until you’re married. Then it’s the most precious gift ever.

    (or maybe its a certain kind of sex that’s bad? such that a certain way of having sex deserves to be called a negative term, which is fucking, and another way deserves a positive term, like “making love”?)

    • beaucoupnada

      August 6, 2011 at 6:32 pm

      I think it’s about attaching shame to the act, which helps religion retain its power (by controlling, or at least strongly influencing, people’s attitudes about sex).

      I’d argue that “fuck me” isn’t always negative, however. Tim Minchin’s bit on religion and evolution includes a charming use of that phrase. Fuck seems like it can be reclaimed, in part because it describes and act, and in part because it’s accumulated so many uses that really aren’t offensive at all. I think I’m going to have to do a post just on “fuck” and its variants. 🙂

  3. Nathan DST aka LucienBlack

    August 6, 2011 at 7:14 pm

    I agree, the use of “fuck” isn’t always negative, but it kinda bothers me that any use of it is negative. Of course, having written the previous sentence, I immediately think of “motherfucker” or “donkey-fucker,” both of which seem like decent insults (implying incest, and bestiality).

    Btw, have you ever noticed that for those Christians who accept the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, which has it that Jesus and God are one and the same, God is literally a motherfucker?


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