"slang" (1746); favorable insults

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Sat Jul 25 23:32:17 UTC 2009

These differences in perception owe much to individual sensibilities,
tempers, and local conditions.  Here's what I posted almost two years ago:

>From Norman Gladden, _The Somme 1916: A Personal Account_ (London: William
Kimber, 1974), p. 86 [based on Private Gladden's diary]:

"Swearing and talk that was often dirty, sometimes blasphemous, were a
common habit in the army and most of us wasted much breath on unnecessary
expletives. That morning [Sept. 21, 1916]...two members of the draft came to
blows after one had called the other a 'bastard.' It was an army convention
that this word was taboo on the grounds that it insulted not only the
recipient but his mother. Prevailing public opinion decreed that such a
lapse could be repaired only by apology or a fight. Even an NCO or an
officer could be called to account for its use. This particular fight...was
eventually stopped by the bystanders."

I have regrettably lost track of an additional quote from the '30s,
referring to sailing ship etiquette around 1890, that told a similar story,
except that "son of a bitch" was the taboo word, for the same reason.
Stabbing was the consequence.

It was in seventh grade that I first encountered MF/MFing. There was a fair
number of lads (white)  who seemed to employ the words as often as
possible.  Nobody seemed to take undue offense, but the word did seem
twisted and creepy to me.

 In high school, however,  I saw a guy who had just been called a "son of a
bitch" grab the accuser in a rage and demand, "Are you talking about my
mother?"  They didn't come to blows, amazingly.  I remember thinking
that getting angry on that basis was very weird.

The late Peter Tamony once wrote that a former inmate had told him, in the
1930s, that in either Alcatraz or San Quentin around 1920, MF was the
one epithet that nobody dared use. Stabbing would be the consequence. Or

I too am disconcerted when women call each other "bitch" in a spirit of
fun.  I began noticing it only within the past five years, I believe.


On Sat, Jul 25, 2009 at 3:47 PM, Alison Murie <sagehen7470 at att.net> wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Alison Murie <sagehen7470 at ATT.NET>
> Subject:      Re: "slang" (1746); favorable insults
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>  Jocelyn Limpert  wrote:
>                                                                 "
> Also, I think nothing of
> referring to a woman as "bitch," but try not to refer to black women as
> bitches as they seem to find it very offensive, whereas white women do
> not
> interpret it the same way."
> ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
> Hunh?  This 78-yr-old white female finds "bitch" as applied to women
> extremely
> offensive.  Since the old fart cohort is pretty big in these times,
> I'd guess that to
> generalize inoffensiveness to white women is a mistake.
> (I do say "son of a bitch" as a general purpose expletive, and use
> "bitch" as a
> pejorative noun about (e.g.) something difficult.)
> AM
> ------------------------------------------------------------
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