[Ads-l] RES: fines for saying "you guys" to mixed groups?

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Mon Jun 15 01:19:55 UTC 2015

> On Jun 14, 2015, at 8:15 PM, David Daniel <dad at COARSECOURSES.COM> wrote:
> I've only ever heard men being called cunts in British English, in which it
> has (or at least used to have) approximately the same impact/severity as
> asshole in US English.

Agreed, as noted in my previous message.

> Back in the 80's, when I was living in England, there
> was a joke: What's red and dangles from a cunt? Answer: Arthur Scargill's
> tie. You can see that asshole would have worked just as well (though perhaps
> there is greater potential for having things dangle from a cunt), but the
> Brits didn't say asshole - or even arsehole - back then; they said cunt. I
> have only ever heard cunt used in US English - insultingly, that is - in
> reference to women. Prick or dick for guys, cunt for women, twat for both,
> though, when used to insult a man, twat has always meant more like "stupid"
> or "useless" (perhaps a variation on twit?). BTAIM, going back as far as the
> 70's, I have always been intrigued by the reaction of total outrage from
> women when calling them cunts. I have asked many women: Wait a minute. If I
> call a guy a prick I'm being mildly vulgar but if I call a woman a cunt I'm
> committing a beheadable offense? I never got any rational answers, which
> convinced me it was an irrational issue, as most things are.

Argument that it's not irrational (I'll leave "moist" to the experts):

"Cunt", as used to derogate (all) women, reduces women to a sexual object (which reduction often happens independently in the culture).  Here's HDAS, s.v. CUNT, 1c:

a woman or women considered solely as objects of copulation; *occ. a woman or women--usu. considered vulgar--usu. considered contemptuously*
[emphasis mine]

And here the OED, (2a):
A woman as a source of sexual gratification; a promiscuous woman; a slut. *Also as a general term of abuse for a woman.* 

That is, for someone (typically although not always a male) using the word contemptuously, (all) women are cunts, and are essentially reduced to their role as "source of sexual gratification" etc.  One of Jon's cites is a lexicon from 1916 that has it

'Female pudendum. The word is also generic for women'

This kind of metonymy (or is synecdoche?  I can never remember which is which) doesn't apply to "prick", and significantly I think applies elsewhere in gender-marking: compare "skirt" = 'woman' as in skirt-chaser with no obvious male equivalent.  And of course applying "cunt" to men (OED 3), in the U.K. or elsewhere, takes the generalized insult one step further (and is of course analogous to sergeants or sports team coaches calling their male players girls or ladies).  

Now for "prick":  since Random House in its wisdom--that pack of .... OK, sorry--didn't see fit to allow Jon to proceed to P, we'll content ourselves with the OED:

12c. coarse slang. A stupid, contemptible, or annoying person (esp. a man or boy). Also used as a general term of abuse. rare before 20th cent.

Neither "prick" nor any of its cross-linguistic analogues ("schmuck", "putz", etc.), I wager, really denote 'a man' or 'a male' per se, although they may be constrained to apply mostly to males. (But not always, which is why one's overbearing female boss might qualify as "a prick", although perhaps also as "a bitch"; see below.)  But "cunt" in its metonymic use really does denote 'woman' (the way any ethnic slur/epithet denotes an individual *as* a member of a class (racial group, religious group, nationality,...).  

One can of course make the claim that all men are pricks but that generally means something like 'all men are overbearing, Let's take some of the OED cites under CUNT 2a (easier to cut and paste than the more plentiful HDAS cites, which would make the same point):

1918   in K. White First Sexual Revol. (1993) v. 88   Twenty cunts hanging around here.
1934   H. Roth Call it Sleep 414,   I sees a pretty cunt come walkin' up de street..wit' a mean shaft an' a sweet pair o' knockers.
1947   J. Jones Let. Nov. in To reach Eternity (1989) 113   Dan..was at Condon's last night with two gorgeously decked out cunts.

In all these examples, "cunt(s)" seems to function as a simple (insulting) metonymy/synecdoche, very much in the manner of an ethnic slur.  My claim is that "prick" doesn't function that way, because a prick isn't just *any man (by definition)* but only a person with certain relevant (unpleasant) personality traits that are taken as especially prevalent among males--'a stupid, contemptible, or annoying person (esp. a man or boy)'.

So if we tried replacing "cunt(s)" with "prick(s)" in the OED cites above we'd get

1918   in K. White First Sexual Revol. (1993) v. 88   Twenty pricks hanging around here.
1934   H. Roth Call it Sleep 414,   I sees a handsome prick come walkin' up de street..wit' a mean shaft an' a sweet pair o' knockers.
1947   J. Jones Let. Nov. in To reach Eternity (1989) 113   Diana..was at Condon's last night with two splendid decked out pricks.

Doesn't quite work, does it?  (Although I find the shift in interpretation for those other nouns in the Henry Roth cite intriguing).

In fact, I would argue that "prick" is closer to "bitch" than to "cunt".  Granted, certain current uses of "bitch" (or at least uses I've only recently become familiar with) tend to efface the difference, as with certain current uses of "ho" as opposed to what I think of as the traditional force of "whore") but to me there's a real difference here if one considers only the "traditional" use of "bitch" ('a malicious, spiteful, promiscuous, or otherwise despicable woman': HDAS 1a).   

I suspect that for some discriminating anti-Semites, "kike" (an epithet for any Jew by virtue of being a Jew) and "shyster" (an epithet for a disreputable, dishonest, sleazy person who takes advantage of you in the way you believe Jews tend to do) differ along the same lines as "cunt" vs. "prick".  But I won't push the analogy, having done enough pushing here.

> Kind of like
> the modern outrage surrounding "moist". I mean, half the cake-mix boxes in
> the world have "moist" on them. What's the deal with that? Jeeez.
> Assunto: Re: fines for saying "you guys" to mixed groups?
> Poster:       Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      Re: fines for saying "you guys" to mixed groups?
> ----------------------------------------------------------------------------
> ---
> Getting back to insults, why should men be insultable as "cunts," but women
> can/are never vilified as "pricks"?
> It's so "taboo" (to use an overworked term) that it nobody does it. (Or do
> women say it covertly, beyond the ears of the guys?)
> Moreover, according to a certain strand of feminist sociolinguistics, men
> should be/secretly are pleased to be called "pricks" (and "dicks"),
> especially by women, but women are rightly enraged to be called "cunts,"
> especially by men.
> The only practical solution to these glaring and unsupportable asymmetries
> is a thorough overhaul of the language. You know, chopping things out and
> retrofitting and so on.
> I have occasionally heard an enraged woman call another both "bitch" and
> "son of a bitch." But if "son of a bitch" flies (in a way that "prick"
> doesn't), what about "mofo"?
> JL
> On Sun, Jun 14, 2015 at 12:26 PM, W Brewer <brewerwa at gmail.com> wrote:
>> Poster:       W Brewer <brewerwa at GMAIL.COM>
>> Subject:      Re: fines for saying "you guys" to mixed groups?
> ----------------------------------------------------------------------------
> ---
>> Rodney Dangerfield: <<When I drink, I don't know what I'm doin'. I was
>> loaded one night, I went into a gay bar. Whew, it was ridiculous. It was
>> fifteen guys for every guy.>>
>> ------------------------------------------------------------
> ---
> Este email foi escaneado pelo Avast antivĂ­rus.
> https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=https-3A__www.avast.com_antivirus&d=AwIFaQ&c=-dg2m7zWuuDZ0MUcV7Sdqw&r=wFp3X4Mu39hB2bf13gtz0ZpW1TsSxPIWYiZRsMFFaLQ&m=h71eudEBc8oILgxoq5Fh2yq4TSqKnYezMUMLByNhvu0&s=DyWALbbX2TPnV-wmlX04aBJv-Ha8N2hZwSuSWZ0hK6s&e= 
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__www.americandialect.org&d=AwIFaQ&c=-dg2m7zWuuDZ0MUcV7Sdqw&r=wFp3X4Mu39hB2bf13gtz0ZpW1TsSxPIWYiZRsMFFaLQ&m=h71eudEBc8oILgxoq5Fh2yq4TSqKnYezMUMLByNhvu0&s=ubHgKHdoe8toLSKBjkKeAt-lXhxFd9EWvtSTW5ZBkZY&e= 

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

More information about the Ads-l mailing list