"slang" (1746); favorable insults

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Sun Jul 26 04:26:46 UTC 2009

On Sat, Jul 25, 2009 at 3:29 PM, Alice Faber<faber at haskins.yale.edu> wrote:
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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Alice Faber <faber at HASKINS.YALE.EDU>
> Organization: Haskins Laboratories
> Subject:      Re: "slang" (1746); favorable insults
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Laurence Horn wrote:
>> At 5:01 AM -0400 7/25/09, Jocelyn Limpert wrote:
>>> As a white woman moving to Washington, DC, in the late '60s I was very
>>> surprised at how offended a black male friend of mine was when I
>>> called him
>>> a "son of a bitch," almost taking it literally that I was calling him a
>>> bastard and also calling his mother a bitch -- whereas, I was just saying
>>> what white people always said to refer to anyone. I would have thought
>>> then
>>> that "motherfucker," which I had never heard until living in DC would
>>> have
>>> been much more offensive, rather than part of the common vernacular among
>>> blacks, who seemed to think nothing of it and certainly didn't think that
>>> using it meant one was really fucking one's mother. Now, almost 50 years
>>> later, I still say "son of a bitch," and am not comfortable saying
>>> "motherfucker," but I am conscious of not using it around black people
>>> because of the sensitivity many have to it. 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.
>> I'm in between on this.  I've always taken "son of a bitch" to be
>> essentially negative (ignoring reclamation and fixed contexts, e.g.
>> "The poor son-of-a-bitch"), but not compositional, any more than
>> "bastard" really evokes illegitimacy for me.  "Son of a bitch" never
>> evokes any reference to the referent's mother for me--and while I
>> never use "bitch" to refer to a woman (as opposed to using "bitch" as
>> a verb), calling a man "a (real) son of a bitch" (when he's out of
>> earshot) never strikes me as either generally misogynistic or
>> specifically insulting to the man's mother.  I'm not sure my
>> experience is that "white women" as a class don't interpret "bitch"
>> (as a noun) as "very offensive" or as a strong slur, at least not if
>> we're to go by many women's claimed reactions to the word; feminist
>> women in particular have sometimes suggested that "bitch" has
>> somewhat the same function as a sexist insult (albeit being less
>> potent) that the n-word does as a racist one, and hence to be
>> available in a similar way to in-group reclamation.  For younger,
>> "post-feminist" women, the response may be quite different.
> "Bitch" is definitely available for reclamation, and is so used in some
> of the on-line communities I participate in. It would be totally
> unexceptional for a forum thread to start: "so, bitches, I have this
> awesome lace-weight yarn; what should I knit with it?"
> While I'm not the oldest participant by any means (though I'm definitely
> above the median in age), this usage made me very uncomfortable at
> first, but I've gotten used to it.
> --
> ========================================================================
> Alice Faber                                       faber at haskins.yale.edu
> Haskins Laboratories                            tel: (203) 865-6163 x258
> New Haven, CT 06511 USA                               fax (203) 865-8963
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
Reminds me of my response to the "N-word." Used in-group, I have no
response to it all. It's like _stud dude cat man partner brother buddy
pal_ or any other term of address. Outgroup, I am simply totally
unready to deal with its use in conversation, even when it is merely
being discussed and is not being used as a term of address.

The middle-class BE dialect of Los Angeles can be *very* close,
phonetically, to my version of standard English, based on that of
Saint Louis, where I grew up. As a consequence, I was often seriously
mind-blown to hear "los Angelenos colorados" (for readers who are
familiar with literary Spanish, _colorados_ for "colored" is Spanglish
of obvious origin) using "nigger" [nIgr] as opposed to BE-standard
"nigga" [nIg@]. Really creepy! Like hearing Jackie O address another
woman as "bitch"!

OTOH, I'm really down with the Dave Chapelle / hiphop custom of
addressing or referring to *anyone*, regardless of race, creed, color,
previous condition of servitude, sexual orientation, or national
origin. (Chappelle, referring to an Asian man: "Get this nigga a
drank!") In like manner, in the anime version of the cartoon, The
Boondocks, any- and everybody might be addressed as or referred to as
"nigga(z)." This cartoon is especially interesting in that it also
shows instances of both "nigga" and "black" being used as insults in
inter-African-American confrontations.

IAC, let "nigger" come not to be used with its special, peculiar,
historical reference to black Americans (yes, I'm aware that white
people can use "nigger" to refer to a member of *any* "inferior"
"race" and I'm familiar with expressions such as, "an Irishman is a
nigger turned inside out" and "a Mexican is a nigger with his brains
blown out") and I could get accustomed to hearing it in informal
casual, colloquial use in any setting.
All say, "How hard it is that we have to die"---a strange complaint to
come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
-Mark Twain

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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