[Ads-l] "bugger"

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Wed Jul 13 19:09:27 UTC 2016

> On Jul 13, 2016, at 12:58 PM, James A. Landau <JJJRLandau at NETSCAPE.COM> wrote:
> 3.  It seems to me that just about every derogatory term for a person (even the N-word) is used, in certain times and places, as an endearment.  For example the old joke:
> Midget (to prostitute): "What would you say to a little fuck?
> Prostitute: "Hello, little fuck"
> Is there a term for this process?  Or am I imagining things?

I think epithets fall into two classes with respect to this process.  Consider:

             (i)  The poor {shmuck/bastard/S.O.B.}, there was really nothing he could do about it.

            (ii)  #The poor {prick/putz/asshole/cunt}, there was really nothing he could do about it.

--although some might be marginal cases or in transit from (ii) to (i).  It's possible to find cases like

“The poor asshole never had a chance.”

"Manny hit Normal only once — a gut-wrenching sucker punch that lifted him about six inches off the ground and dropped the poor asshole like a brick."

For me these seem odd, although perhaps with contextualization they improve; perhaps some assholes are easier to sympathize if not empathize with than others.  YMMV.

I think "fuck" is in (i).  Thus we have attested cases like the following, which seem natural enough to me:

"My heart sank for the miserable fuck who maybe never really knew how good he had it until things got very, very bad." 

"Ooh. Poor bastard. Maybe the mage was shaving the poor fuck's head right now."

Geoff Nunberg tells me that the same contrast obtains for French epithets, as for example between "pauvre con" and #"pauvre connard".  

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

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