David Thompson
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April 07, 2009

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TimT

Five years ago I lived in Newcastle, a quiet little Australian city with a big university and small everything else. I liked picking up their student publication, Opus, from time to time.

Well, one issue I picked up had a backpage photo of the cast from the US Christian family drama 'Seventh Heaven', with a target painted over them, with some spiel below about them perpetuating 'sickening wholesome family values' and encouraging readers to go for their life.

An issue or so later, they ran a front cover spread with images from various religions. Jesus got a go; also Buddha, a Hindu god (I forget now), and Mohammed was there too.

A Muslim student wrote in to complain, and immediately drew a GROVELLING apology from the editors, berating themselves for insensitivity/bla bla bla.

So apparently it was all right to make fun of Christian 'family values' but not make fun of Mohammed! Double standards, anyone?

Anyway, just a little story that I remembered just now.

Anna

I'm outraged. No, wait. That other thing. Confused.

If I call someone a pussy I'm not calling them a vagina. Am I?

TimT

I should add, the kids from Opus did get a serve from a local blowhard at the Newcastle Herald, but only for their grovelling apology, not for the inconsistency (which he hadn't noticed, he didn't follow the magazine).

David

“If I call someone a pussy I’m not calling them a vagina. Am I?”

That wouldn’t be my understanding, no. Though synonyms for ladies’ unspeakables aren’t my area of expertise.

carbon based lifeform

OB says:

"Certain epithets just are not really ambiguous; they can't be. 'Nigger' is the best known in the US and maybe elsewhere; kike, raghead, kaffir are a few more. Queer and dyke have been reclaimed, and there is a school of thought that 'bitch' has but I think on the contrary, 'bitch' is more viciously misogynist than ever. And so are, as far as I know, pussy, twat and cunt."

But *some* men ARE pussies and dicks and *some* women ARE bitches. As long as we're talking about people those labels fit, what's the problem?

David

“But *some* men ARE pussies and dicks and *some* women ARE bitches. As long as we’re talking about people those labels fit, what's the problem?”

Well, quite. On occasion I’ve used the word “bitch” to describe particular women who were objectionable and malicious, and I’ve done so in the presence of other women, none of whom assumed I was speaking of women generally. I’ve heard women use “bitch” to describe women *they* found objectionable and I somehow doubt they were implying some default condition of womanhood.

Anna

So is 'pussyfooting' a taboo word now?

James S

And pusillanimous. ;)

Sir Henry Morgan

And what about snatch land rovers?

Sir Henry Morgan

As for 'bitch'. Would anyone argue that Lord Voldemort (Mandelson) ISN'T one?

prm

I seem to recall OB getting her knickers in a twist about some joke you posted a while back. I think we have to accept that, more-or-less on the money though she often is, she has her blind spots, hence this curiously wilful misunderstanding when it comes to certain things perceived to do with 'women', or attitudes to them, or something. She's on a hair-trigger to perceive offence where there is none. Which is kinda ironic, dontcha think?

Oh, and she's being purely parochial when it comes to people using (what she misperceives to be) 'sexist' derogatory epithets. 'Twat' is just idiot, moron, that sort of thing. 'Cunt' is merely the strongest swear-word to use; sweary girls use it the same way sweary men do, and I would use it with both, and would avoid it with non-sweary people of either sex. Pussy is less a UK thing I think, but, if used, the presence of men or women in my vacinity would be irrelevant.

TDK

To be frank I thought "pussy" meaning weak was of American origin.

Insulting weak men as being being effeminate is in the same territory as calling him a pussy. It has the same purpose. Having said that I can't agree at all with Orphelia. This is "You can't say that because victim group X will be offended" territory. Perhaps the argument should be about the virtues of non-violence rather than putting down people who don't agree with the language restrictions.

Separatist feminists regard the non-violent nature of most women as a virtue. They take pride in the difference and in that context a non-smiting goddess might be considered rather a compliment. In contrast the common description of Maggie Thatcher is that she was not being a "true" to womankind; she was somehow following a male agenda.

It seems that non-violence as an attribute of womankind gets a pass if it is classed a virtue but a veto if it is classed a limitation. Words like "effeminate", "pussy" must advance approved values OR not be used at all. Thatcher can't be feminine because capitalism is anti-women. Our commentator can't use the word pussy because it reminds the reader that women being weaker is a limitation.

My view is that women might be viewed as stronger if they stopped getting the vapours over nasty words.

I was amused by:

"none of my male friends and correspondents ever use “pussy” or “twat” or “cunt” that way in conversation or correspondence with me."

I recall a conversion in which a feminist was outraged at the idea of men who change their language in front of women. She thought the idea that men would use vulgarities or swear words to each other but moderate their language when in the presence of women was a sign of condescension. I'm sure OB didn't mean it that way but the first thought that came to mind: Frankly my dear I don't give a damn.

David

TDK,

“Insulting weak men as being effeminate is in the same territory as calling him a pussy.”

Insofar as I’d given it much thought, I’d assumed “pussy” (in the sense of timid, overly delicate, etc) was a corruption of “pusillanimous” and had nothing to do with vaginas or any disposition towards them. It’s possibly acquired other overtones, at least to some people, but it doesn’t strike me as a “sexist epithet.” I didn’t – and don’t - make that connection, and nor did the people I asked this morning.

Mary Jackson finds the whole thing reminiscent of the word “bugger,” which lacks its whimsical subtleties overseas. She’s also discovered what must surely be one of the more unfortunate real names…

http://www.newenglishreview.org/blog_direct_link.cfm/blog_id/20371

dirigible

"As for 'bitch'. Would anyone argue that Lord Voldemort (Mandelson) ISN'T one?"

I'd argue that he's guilty of far worse things as a politician than making you uncomfortable about your sexuality.

And that he's more of an asshole.

SG

Which is worse -bitch (for a rude or aggressive woman) or prick (for a rude or aggressive man)? Is prick worse than dick? What about knob, as in "he's a right knob"? Where do we stand on "twat" and "wanker"? Aren't they only used about men? Is that sexist?

TDK

Let me take a step back.

The objective of politically correct language is twofold

1. To flag (by usage) those righteous people who can be taken seriously in any debate. If you fail to use the latest PC term your contribution can be ignored.
2. To render impossible certain thoughts deemed wicked.

Your argument is focuses on whether "pussy" is or isn't PC. Defending it on the grounds that it derives from pusillanimous (plausible but new to me) or can be defined in certain PC ways avoids tacit PC argument that words have meaning outside the intent of the user. The etymology of the word doesn't clarify the issue. I would say that's the wrong argument and you concede too much.

The most import issue, the intent of the user, was absolutely clear and that ought to be the end of it. If OB didn't understand that usage then it reflects badly upon her but she shows no sign of humility. But this is typical of PC debates. The advocates claim righteousness by supposedly acting in good faith to protect the nominated victim groups.

My point (which I didn't make too well because I have to sneak in blog viewing amongst work) is that perhaps we should be attacking the very idea of protecting nominated victim groups from offensive language. That's not to say that people have no right to be offended or that we should start thinking well of people who use the term n*gg*r but that we should attack the people who pre-emptively seek to pervert language to one political outcome.

The idea that women are so weak and pathetic that they can't achieve equality unless certain words cease to be used, tends to support the notion that all women really are "pussies" (in the weak and pathetic sense).

David

TDK,

“Your argument focuses on whether ‘pussy’ is or isn’t PC.”

Does it? Well, if the word (in this context) is derived from pusillanimous, as I assume it is, I’m sure some people will find reasons to object anyway. Not that that validates their objection, and efforts to dictate the language one may use tend to arouse my suspicion. (I don’t mean to suggest that’s Ophelia’s intent, but it does happen elsewhere.) If I say something that offends someone, the offended party (or party claiming to be offended) doesn’t get exclusive rights to divine my intention or decide how many times I should be horsewhipped. Though there are quite a few people who, in the name of “social justice,” maintain that the offended party is the only one that matters.

See, for instance, here:

“Any form of activity, whether covert or overt, that creates a significantly uncomfortable, threatening, or harassing environment… will be handled judicially and may be grounds for immediate disciplinary action… and criminal prosecution. The conduct does not have to be intended to harass. The conduct is evaluated from the complainant’s perspective.”

http://www.thefire.org/index.php/article/10386.html

Or this:

“What really makes me angry about this whole situation is non-trans people deciding what is and is not transphobia… The sentiment of this release is blatant transphobia, and the section calling it otherwise is just rhetoric. *I don’t really believe that anyone has the right or ability to accurately gauge their own actions as phobic or not. The community being harmed is the only one with the perspective necessary to make that distinction.* It is overstepping and disrespectful, to say the least, for the non-trans authors of this release to say that their policies are not transphobic and further to attempt to explain why.”

http://davidthompson.typepad.com/davidthompson/2008/05/tears-and-role.html

Thus, injustice is defined, unilaterally, by feelings, or claims of feelings, and of course by leverage. Phobias, prejudice and oppression become whatever the Designated Victim Group or its representative *says* they are. And the basis for apology, compensation and flattery becomes whatever the Designated Victim Group *says* it is. (One could, of course, replace the word “transphobia” with “heresy” or “witchcraft.”)

“The most import[ant] issue, the intent of the user, was absolutely clear and that ought to be the end of it.”

Agreed. I found it baffling, given the context, that genuine misunderstanding of intent was possible.

Wm T Sherman

My 3.5 year old daughter Destructo is the farthest thing from being a pussy.

Paul Power

According to Merriam-Webster:

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pussy[4]


Etymology: short for pussycat
Date: circa 1942
slang : a weak or cowardly man or boy : wimp , sissy


End of debate, surely?

Sir Henry Morgan

Wasn't there a case recently in America of a "scandal" generated by someone's use of the word 'niggardly'? I seem to recall he was dismissed from his employment.

TDK

"Well, if the word is derived from pusillanimous, as I assume it is, I’m sure some people will find reasons to object anyway."

Yes, I'm reminded that niggardly is verboten.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/local/daily/jan99/district27.htm

Clearly that word has nothing to do with n*gg*r, yet the sound was close enough to end his job.

That illustrates my point that the defence has to be a bit more robust.

witwoud

Oh dear ... in the middle of comments thread about the joys of offending the religious she kicks off like a Muslim because someone says 'pussy'? It's a little bizarre.

For what it's worth, I've always understood pussy to refer to the infant cat in these circumstances. "Don't be such a pussy" is the same as "Don't be such a pussycat", whereas "Got myself a piece of pussy last night" is the same as "Got myself a piece of ass last night." On the other hand, "Don't be such an ass" is the same as 'Don't be such a twat" but NOT the same as "Don't be such a pussy." It's all very confusing, which is why a bit of caution is advisable before kicking off like a M.

AntiCitizenOne

Why do we give a shit that some cunt-flapper is offended?

Wm T Sherman

There was an uproar at a city council meeting in Dallas, Texas last year because a council member used the term "black hole" to characterize an agency where paperwork had disappeared. Demands were made for an apology, and to use the term "white hole" instead.

http://cityhallblog.dallasnews.com/archives/2008/07/dallas-county-meeting-turns-ra.html

Tim

"And what about snatch land rovers?"

Retrieving that very interesting comment, I realized that it is perhaps a species of special-language-joke, known only to a few. At least on this side of the pond.

i.e. British Army slang refers to those narrow armored land rovers used for "snatch-and-grab" detainee operations originally in northern Ireland and lately in Basra and other vacation spots in southern Iraq.

Indeed, when I was in Basra a few years back on an all-expense-paid working vacation ordered by Uncle Sam, I saw a poster in the fuel depot that looked like so:

"Clean up your kit"
[inserted here was a picture of a vehicle filled with gear and empty water bottles]
"Nobody likes a dirty snatch"

Ad Astra

Well, on the etymology question, according to the good old OED, "pussy" by itself originated as a word meaning cat, being a derivative of an old German word for cat. It dates the use as slang for a woman's genitals to 1699, and as slang for a "sweet or effeminate male; (in later use chiefly) a weakling, a coward, a sissy. Also: a male homosexual" to 1904, in the sense of tame housecat. Incidentally, pusillanimous is derived from a Latin root, meaning small and weak, and is unrelated to "pussy". Ahh, the joy of false cognates.

Given this origin, it seems that there are anti-female connotations in the use of pussy as an epithet, but not direct ones. Women are associated with cats, because cats are supposed to be weak and pretty, which people considered virtues in women. Weak and pretty were not considered virtues in men; thus associating a man with a cat says that he possesses traits traditionally considered effeminate. The issue seems to be lingering value judgments given to traditional gender roles more than anything.

Bingo Little

The gentleman in Washington DC was reinstated after a proper stink was made.

As for OB, I don't understand what she means by "sexist," although I gather that it has something to do with an attitude towards women with which she disapproves. She supports freedom of speech for those who disparage Islam but then she seems to want to censor those who disparage the foibles of women. Seems a bit inconsistent to me.

David

AC1,

That really doesn’t help.

Ad Astra,

“Given this origin, it seems that there are anti-female connotations in the use of pussy as an epithet, but not direct ones… Women are associated with cats, because cats are supposed to be weak and pretty, which people considered virtues in women… The issue seems to be lingering value judgments given to traditional gender roles more than anything.”

It seems to me these “anti-female connotations” and “lingering value judgments” are being *assumed* as omnipresent and necessarily objectionable, irrespective of whether the original commenter intended them, or was even aware of them. It’s as though almost any use of the word “pussy,” whatever its derivation or intended meaning, is made suspect by a cloud of (often fanciful) associations and antiquated baggage, much of it indirect. Even if one assumes the intended meaning is the vulgar one, vulgarity isn’t the same thing as malice. But what if those associations and that baggage – for instance, that “women are weak cowardly parasites” - are in the mind of the person taking umbrage but not the mind of the person speaking? Who gets to decide what the grounds for umbrage and atonement are? Whose feelings and understandings matter most - the doctrinaire umbrage-taker or the sap who may find himself being berated for someone else’s associations and someone else’s baggage?

Ad Astra

@ David,

I'm not saying that everyone who ever calls anyone a pussy has lurking anti-female thoughts; I can easily see "pussy" just being a synonym for "weakling", especially for non-Americans ('cause in America, at least among anyone I've known, it's pretty clearly also a word for women's genitalia), but that doesn't change the fact that the word's got a whole set of unpleasant feelings floating around it, at least for a lot of people out there.

Note here that I'm agreeing with you that the unpleasantness is often only in the mind of the hearer. I think that, given your explanation for your feelings on the matter, you don't deserve to be berated. However, I still think that, as a matter of politeness and as a matter of discouraging leftover sexist patterns of thought, it's better not to go around calling people pussies, at least in seriousness. The things we say have consequences, even if they're only in other peoples' minds, and to expect otherwise is foolishness. Basically, it comes down to a question of why you want to use the word in the first place. Just because you learned it without sexist connotations doesn't mean that, historically, it doesn't carry them. Do you agree that placing quasi-moral value judgments on sex roles is bad? If you do, I can't see how you can defend the continued use of a word when you know its origins and you know the effect it's going to have on many people. If you don't, than that's a whole different political argument, and I withdraw my objection.

Paul Power

Again from Merriam-Webster:

Main Entry: left
Etymology: Middle English, from Old English, weak

Main Entry: sinister
Etymology: Middle English sinistre, from Anglo-French senestre on the left, from Latin sinistr-, sinister on the left side, unlucky, inauspicious


Also: it's not a coincidence that "right" is a synonym for "correct" and that we speak of human "rights" rather than "lefts".

If we have to worry about the PC-ness of etymology we're all in trouble.

Ad Astra

@Paul Power:

Yes, I understand that this argument can be taken too far, but I think there's a significant difference between the perception of discrimination against left-handed people and the perception of discrimination against women. I also wouldn't go around arguing for a law against using "pussy" to mean weak, or even get terribly angry with someone who does, I just think that, as a matter of politeness and good practice, one ought not to. There are plenty of other words that contain the necessary meaning, but don't have the objectionable connotation. Why use a word that has connotations that you disagree with politically when another would work just as well?

David

Ad Astra,

“Do you agree that placing quasi-moral value judgments on sex roles is bad?”

It’s not something I spend my time doing. But, to me, it’s a leap from (for instance) my using the word “pussy” meaning a kind of feebleness to the “placing of quasi-moral value judgments on sex roles.” I’m not at all sure how we get from one to the other. That isn’t what’s happening in my head.

How the term is used – which meaning is intended (or not intended) - is a matter of some importance. And if the disagreeable connotations are disputed, regional, fanciful or indirect, then the speaker’s intention matters more. Returning to the example that started this discussion, does anyone really believe that the speaker meant to assert that “women are weak cowardly parasites” or that he was entertaining any such idea? I see no reason to assume he was. And acting *as if* he were doing that, or assuming that he’s somehow encouraging “leftover sexist patterns of thought” seems fraught with difficulties. The urge to “correct” patterns of thought deemed improper leads to some very sinister territory. I may well avoid people who offend me gratuitously and repeatedly, but on the whole I don’t feel entitled to remodel their psychology.

Paul Power

Ad Astra:

You're missing the point. There is no link between "pussy" meaning weak and "pussy" referring to something to do with women that applies the former meaning onto women. They are entirely separate derivations.

The former comes from "pussycat", the latter's origin is given as "perhaps of Low German or Scandinavian origin; akin to Old Norse pūss pocket, pouch, Low German pūse vulva, Old English pusa bag " by Merriam-Webster.

Unless you think that all cats are female the link does not exist.
Just because you think it exists does not make it so, any more than naming a child "Randy" is a comment on its future sexual promiscuity.

David

Ad Astra,

“I also wouldn’t go around arguing for a law against using ‘pussy’ to mean weak, or even get terribly angry with someone who does, I just think that, as a matter of politeness and good practice, one ought not to.”

But isn’t it telling that one might even feel obliged to say one *wouldn’t* go around arguing for a law against saying such-and-such? When did it become conceivable? It seems to me indicative of the prevailing climate and the options that quite a few people now entertain as justified. Sadly, as the archives here illustrate, others feel entitled to do much more than personally avoid coarse or ambiguous terms. My main concern – which is in no way directed at you – is that some presume to turn their personal “ought nots” into “thou shalt nots” by shoehorning law and official penalty into areas of intimacy and enormous subjectivity. Cue the spread of egregious speech codes, hypersensitivity training and institutional grievance-mongering:

http://davidthompson.typepad.com/davidthompson/2008/12/insufficiently-sensitive.html
http://davidthompson.typepad.com/davidthompson/2009/03/treatment-.html

The general idea seems to be that we’ll have an ever-growing list of words and symbols whose every conceivable association, however obscure or tendentious, must be borne in mind whenever one opens one’s mouth in public, for fear that one’s intentions may be grossly misconstrued. If only by those determined to misconstrue for reasons of their own. And isn’t that asking rather a lot? Moral objections aside, isn’t that a recipe for something like neurosis?

Mary Jackson

'Where do we stand on "twat" and "wanker"?'

On "twat" I'm sitting on the fence. "Wanker" is getting out of hand. "Prick" doesn't stand up to close scrutiny.

Being American, OB may not have read Viz or watched Are You Being Served, so allowances must be made.

Paul Power

I am reminded of the story of the captain of the English cricket team who was called a "bastard" by one of his Australian opponents. He reported the incident to the Aussie captain but was unable to identify the culprit. The Aussie captain lined up his team in the presence of the Englishman and said: "Right, which of you bastards called this bastard a 'bastard'?"

In Australia "bastard" is often a term of endearment, as in "the poor bastard".

When considering the issue of offence, you have to consider only the intent of the speaker. Inadvertently saying something inappropriate is a social faux pas, not a hanging offence.

Even if you do not accept this, Ad Astra, there is still a requirement of good manners on the part of the audience, not to ignore the speaker's intent and to keep things in perspective. This is not in evidence in Ophelia's comments quoted here. Allowances have to be made for everyone by everyone. What Ophelia is doing here is refusing to make allowances for others while demanding that the rest of us make allowances for her.

Anna

In the Jesus and Mo thread it's OB who comes across as intolerant and pretty aggressive, at first anyway.

David

Well, these things can become very charged and polarised and a tad doctrinaire. I’ve lost count of the online conversations in which I’ve had to point out that my objection to one thing doesn’t imply my endorsement of its opposite or of something else entirely. For instance, if one sees serious problems with the policing of language and with presuming what others mean in very loaded ways, some may assume one is therefore in *favour* of people being treated shabbily. The idea being, I think, that one is somehow giving tacit approval to meanness and stupidity. In fact, it may simply be the case that the urge to inhibit speech of which one disapproves is, at least in the long term, much more worrisome than the mouthing of crudity.

Chris S

The key is not so much that "offence" has occured, but that the offendee has decided to instruct the rest of the populace of their "error". Or other well wishers that want to make sure that all persons everywhere are not offended in the future.

Those who would be offended, will always be offended. Especially when they supplant the intent and meaning of the speaker and replace the speakers words with a narrative of their own construction. It especially grinds my gears when they then demand that you appologize for this narrative you did not construct.

David

“It especially grinds my gears when they then demand that you apologize for this narrative you did not construct.”

If someone were to do this, yes I think it would. That the word “pussy” has genital connotations in one kind of usage doesn’t mean it automatically has that same genital meaning, or one much worse and more elaborate, when used in another sense altogether. As has been demonstrated, people have quite different understandings of the phrase “don’t be such a pussy,” along with its associations, derivation and tenor.

But among those inclined to umbrage, the belief seems to be that “don’t be such a pussy” must be taken as meaning (at least in part) something like “don’t be a feeble, contemptible woman” or “don’t be like her equally contemptible genitals.” This was news to me (and news to the women I asked yesterday). To insist that this bundle of associations is the primary, “official” understanding to which all else must defer is… well, puzzling.

Ad Astra

@ Paul Power:

I see that etymology in MW, but frankly, I trust the OED more, especially since they have examples of use as a word for women's genitals from far before MW's origin date of "circa 1879". And while you're right that the use as an epithet for weak appears to come from the sense of "housecat" rather than "vagina", my argument is that since among many, many people the word is inextricably tied up with vulgar slang for genitalia, as well as traditional feminine traits generally, there's no good reason to use the word.

@ David re speech laws:

I suppose it is telling, in a sense, but I really don't think it's all that relevant to this debate. Does that fact that some people think their personal sense of offense should override others' civil rights mean that no one can ever feel like someone else ought not say certain things? I don't like slippery slope arguments, because they're almost always wrong.

@ David, et al generally:

I understand that the main problem is that you don't think it's fair to call people misogynists when they had no such sense in mind. I agree. What I don't understand is, now that you know many people do see it, for better or for worse, as having sexist connotations, why you feel compelled not only to continue using such words, but to defend their use vehemently. I know you've said you don't like analogies on subjects like this, but I'd genuinely like to know how you distinguish these cases:

1: Let's say I've picked up the habit common among certain American youths of calling everything I don't like "gay". Through a series of unlikely events, I never learned that gay is a word meaning "homosexual". I actually have nothing against homosexuals, and am in favor of equal rights for them. Not knowing the source of the word, I go about my business calling things that I think are bad or stupid gay. Someone calls me on it. However, I say that since I don't have any homophobic intent in mind, I'm perfectly justified in continuing to call things I don't like gay, regardless of what others think.
2: I really like the sound of the word "nigger". I just love the way it rolls off my tongue. I have no animus towards black people, I just really like the word. Therefore, I start using it as a filler word: where other people might say "um", or "ah", I say "nigger". Many people around me take offense, but since I don't mean it in any racist way, I continue to do so.

Would I be justified in either of these analogies?

pam402

When can we have a debate about women calling men "pricks" and "dicks"?

Ad Astra

@ pam402:

Here would work for me. I don't like that either. Do we really need to be asserting that our genitals are bad things?

David

Ad Astra,

“Does that fact that some people think their personal sense of offense should override others’ civil rights mean that no one can ever feel like someone else ought not say certain things?”

No, and I don’t recall suggesting otherwise.

“…now that you know many people do see it, for better or for worse, as having sexist connotations, why you feel compelled not only to continue using such words, but to defend their use vehemently.”

I didn’t realise I was compelled to do any such thing, vehemently or otherwise. Though the “sexist” default and implication of oppression and gender-based unfairness is disputed for reasons stated earlier. (If one person doesn’t like the use of “pussy,” meaning wimp, can others make similar demands regarding “dick,” etc?)

“Would I be justified in either of these analogies?”

There is a whiff of question-begging. :)

Let me try to clarify. As Paul and Chris pointed out earlier, a complainant who ignores or overrides the speaker’s intent, or most likely intent, and insists instead on a detailed formulation of their own is not an entirely sympathetic figure. If someone says, “the god of Islam is such a pussy,” it doesn’t seem fair or reasonable to instantly assume – with nothing else to go on - that the speaker intends some egregious slur against women, or is somehow tacitly endorsing such things, consciously or otherwise, and is thus deserving of rebuke.

I’m quite happy to concede that Person X may hear the phrase (or some other phrase) with very different associations in their head and may not appreciate its use. Fine, I’m a nice guy. We can work around that. I suspect many of us would be willing to negotiate these things in face-to-face exchanges. But we’re talking about the broader assumptions, not just a personal one-to-one exchange, and hence the attempt to fathom what’s involved. What’s irksome is the attempt by some to insist that their understanding of the phrase, or of some other term, however detailed and tendentious, and regardless of context, is the “official” one – the one that everyone else should have in mind or, when pressed, defer to in all public utterance. Those of us not immersed in the finer points of feminist theorising may find it odd that those theories apparently allow the pejorative use of “prick” and its variants by women, but not “pussy” by men, irrespective of their intent.

Ad Astra

Accusations of question-begging aside (which I don't see the foundation of), I actually agree with much of what you just posted. I think that Ophelia overreacted in the Jesus & Mo comments, for the same reason you stated: we don't know what was going on in the poster's head at the time. That doesn't change my argument that there isn't any good reason to use a word when many people have a not-unjustified belief that the word carries a lot of misogynistic baggage. Once you know that's the case, why do you defend the use of the word? If your response had been, "I think Ophelia was being too sensitive about the whole incident, because even I didn't realize that there was such a sexual charge to the word for many people. Now that I do know, however, I'll refrain from using the word, or at least strongly consider why I'm using it." That doesn't seem to have been your reaction, though, and that's what I'm trying to get at. I also completely agree with you regarding "prick" and "dick" - no need for them, for similar reasons.

I still want to hear why you think my analogies are question-begging or otherwise inapt.

Ad Astra

I'd also like to say that, to the extent that your earlier comment regarding speech laws was just a statement that institutional speech codes are idiotic and a blight on intellectual development, I completely agree. Free speech is one of the most fundamental rights we can have, and I don't support any state or organizational limitation on it other than the most egregious of treasons and defamations. I was objecting only to what I perceived as a counter-argument to what I had been saying.

Ophelia Benson

Now that Ad Astra is commenting here I feel that perhaps I can dare to comment without being drowned in a torrent of sexist garbage (like being called a cunt-flapper, to be specific, in case anyone wants to say I'm over-reacting again).

The funny thing is I agree about prick and dick, and have been saying so at Butterflies and Wheels.

I don't really agree that I over-reacted at Jesus and Mo, though. I just looked at my comments again, and I don't see it. The first one simply pointed out - quite abruptly, perhaps rudely, but no more than that - that to say the god of Islam is "such a pussy. He is unable to do a thing to protect himself or his reputation and must rely on his minions to do his dirty work" is to say that women are weak cowardly parasites.

Is that really such an over-reaction? It may be a misinterpretation, given that I didn't realize at the time that 'pussy' is not so unmistakably a sexist epithet in the UK as it is in the US - but it's not a torrent of abuse, is it now. In particular, I nowhere upbraid the commenter as such. I say that because I've been accused of doing just that several times here, but I didn't. I certainly didn't say the commenter was misogynist.

Who, exactly, is over-reacting? I think you're doing some over-reacting of your own, David.

"a complainant who ignores or overrides the speaker’s intent, or most likely intent, and insists instead on a detailed formulation of their own is not an entirely sympathetic figure. If someone says, “the god of Islam is such a pussy,” it doesn’t seem fair or reasonable to instantly assume – with nothing else to go on - that the speaker intends some egregious slur against women, or is somehow tacitly endorsing such things, consciously or otherwise, and is thus deserving of rebuke."

That's tendentious, and I would argue, wrong. It's not a formulation of my own; it's the US understanding of the word. It's not true that I had nothing else to go on; the comment itself spelled out what was meant. Also, remember, I did not know that the US understanding was different from the UK one, so I didn't know I had any need for anything else to go on. If you see the word "nigger" used in what looks like an unambiguous way, you don't cast about for other readings without good reason.

"What’s irksome is the attempt by some to insist that their understanding of the phrase, or of some other term, however detailed and tendentious, and regardless of context, is the “official” one – the one that everyone else should have in mind or, when pressed, defer to in all public utterance."

I'm not doing that - I'm not saying it's the "official" one - I am saying it's one that can't just be brushed off as if it didn't exist. I have taken in that there are other readings - but you don't seem to have taken in that the pejorative one is very strong and very hard to get rid of.

"Those of us not immersed in the finer points of feminist theorising may find it odd that those theories apparently allow the pejorative use of “prick” and its variants by women, but not “pussy” by men, irrespective of their intent."

Well my theory doesn't, so the sneer is misplaced.

Ophelia Benson

A bit more about the abruptness of the original comment - it was meant to be abrupt, or irritable, or mildly rude if you like. That's because there is often a very laddish blokey haw-haw atmosphere in the comments at Jesus and Mo, which annoys me, because I think J and M is much better than that, and also because, after all, the barmaid is the voice of reason there. I make mildly abrupt comments about sexism now and then by way of reminding commenters that women exist too, and read J and M too.

I asked author if I should stop doing that, and author said please don't stop. So I don't feel very apologetic about it, frankly. I don't think I did much harm.

Ad Astra

OB, I know you don't think you overreacted, and I don't think that your sentiment was an overreaction. My feeling is that, when there's room for misunderstanding (which is all the time on the internet), it makes sense to approach situations like this, which are fraught with opportunities for people to get angry and defensive, with a presumption of good will. I'm from the US too, and I agree that here, pussy is unavoidably a sexual term, but even here, people using it in the sense of "wimp" may not have that in mind. I hate the "blokey haw-haw" of that and a lot of other comment threads too, and I understand the desire to break into that with strong words, I just don't know how productive it can ever really be. If you state your position without temper, then maybe people of good intent will think about it, and agree. If you state it abruptly, with strong words, especially in that sort of environment, blokey testosterone-fuelled defensiveness is likely to result. If you're ok with that, that's fine, but it you should recognize that it's probably not the best hearts-and-minds strategy.

David

Ophelia,

“I’m not doing that – I’m not saying it’s the ‘official’ one […] so the sneer is misplaced.”

On re-reading, I see I’ve been unclear and blurred the distinctions between what you said yesterday and my experiences with others who take a broadly similar view and invoke feminist rationales. Apologies.

Ad Astra,

“Once you know that’s the case, why do you defend the use of the word?”

I’m not really “defending” the phrase “such a pussy” or any of its variants. I’m just interested in the basis of the various reactions to it and the assumptions that seem to be in play – and the implications of proscribing language generally. It’s a broader concern, not particular to “pussy.” I’m perfectly willing not to use the term (which, prior to this, I used perhaps twice in umpteen years) when talking with Ophelia or anyone else who disapproves. That was never the issue. I’m actually a courteous guy by nature. It’s the apparent non-reciprocal aspect, touched on by Paul earlier, that intrigues. And, as I said, the fact that women are seemingly free to use sexual references, however pejorative, while men may not, regardless of their actual motives. And it’s the projection of someone else’s baggage, someone else’s intent – I think that’s what makes the subject prickly (and this thread so long).

“I still want to hear why you think my analogies are question-begging or otherwise inapt.”

Well, the “nigger” example is particularly charged and I don’t know anyone who would use the word or be comfortable hearing it; whereas the “such a pussy” reference was, obviously, much more ambiguous and open to innocent usage.

“I also completely agree with you regarding ‘prick’ and ‘dick’ - no need for them, for similar reasons.”

But there is a need for them, isn’t there? Much as there’s a need for the word “bitch.” As someone pointed out earlier, there *are* dicks and bitches in the world and it’s quite right that we have words to denounce their dickery and bitchery. My own infrequent use of those terms doesn’t imply some sweeping dismissal of all men and all women, and no-one I know would assume that it does.

Ophelia Benson

Ad Astra (may I call you Per Ardua? ha!)

Yeh, fair points. I suppose I am content just to be briefly snotty and then go away again, in that context. Maybe I'm unconsciously mimicking the barmaid.

David - okay! Thanks!

"the fact that women are seemingly free to use sexual references, however pejorative, while men may not, regardless of their actual motives."

That's exactly why I've given up prick & dick (the trendy new eating spot in Ruislip). I admit I miss them, especially when driving, but since I don't like the female versions...

Epithets are difficult territory. Several of your commenters think I'm incoherent for saying that criticism of religion should be wide open but objecting to epithets - but I disagree. I don't use epithets in order to criticize religion. (Tailgating drivers, yes; religion, no.) Epithets are very tempting in moments of fury, but in public discourse...they are terribly loaded, and I think they are generally best avoided - except ones that are too generic to draw blood.

Ad Astra

@ David:

If by non-reciprocal you mean the "dick" issue, as I've said, I disagree with that as well, so I don't see much of a reciprocality issue there. If you mean instead the "projection of someone else's baggage" issue, then I think you're carrying it too far. While I'll admit nigger analogy is charged, I'm not sure it's so unreasonable to imagine someone not being uncomfortable with it; my grandmother, who so far as I know bore no ill-will towards black people, called brazil nuts "nigger-toes". When my parents asked her about it, she was confused why there was such an objection - to her, it was just the name of the nut. Should she have kept on calling them nigger-toes?

As for the gay analogy, I still think that one's pretty apt, and you haven't presented much of an argument against it.

Regarding the dick/bitch thing, I think you're putting way too much weight on the "but there *are* dicks and bitches in the world" thing. Are there really dicks and bitches in the world? There are penises and female dogs, there are men and women we dislike, but are we under any particular obligation to call the latter the names of the former? I'd rather call them something more facially descriptive that doesn't make pointless connections between genitalia and things we don't like.

Ad Astra

@ OB:

If you like :-). I think it's better to see this comment thread as being a lot of work, rather than a hardship, which would be the other popular way to end the phrase.

Just don't call me a dick!

Chris S

"That doesn't change my argument that there isn't any good reason to use a word when many people have a not-unjustified belief that the word carries a lot of misogynistic baggage. Once you know that's the case, why do you defend the use of the word?"

Why do I defend it's use? Because it's a power struggle over the definition of words, and who gets to define them. The baggage you describe is the baggage of someone else (real or imagined), not me or my intended audience. Offence recieved by the hearer that is not intended by the speaker is the hearer's personal problem. Not using the word infantilizes the offended by saying, "yes, you are too weak to hear this word". This is especially the case for group protected words, wherein only people who are part of that group are allowed to use those words freely. Ad astra's examples of gay and nigger being great examples. These words are not universally offensive, but become offensive soley by the nature of the speaker regardless of speakers intent.

If I cede my ability to use the term pussy to descibe weak individuals because someone ancillary might be offended, what other words do I cede as well? Is there some centralized dictionary of words that I can reference that can show me all the "correct" terms that I am currently allowed to use? Is this dictionary properly localized so that each protected group has their own version of words that are ok?

The individual case and argument for each word seems logical and resonable and makes sense in a polite society, but when you add them all up it starts to become impossible to keep track of.

Only the most banal of communicators will be inoffensive to everyone. And they get the bonus of not communicating anything of interest or value.

Ad Astra

@ Chris S:

Please, you're being alarmist. I'm pretty familiar with the etymology of a lot of English words, and I've thought seriously about what words my political and philosophical commitments argue against using, yet somehow I'm still able to speak. I disagree with "PC" as a rule, because it tends to seek to establish such a centralized regime of what's acceptable and what isn't based on groups, not individuals. My objections here are personal, based on my assessment of what makes my life and beliefs more consistent. I'm trying to ask other people, who I believe share many of my philosophical commitments, to look at whether they're acting consistently as well. It's about personal development, and about not causing unnecessary harm to others.

Whether you believe any particular word has sexist connotations is, to some degree, irrelevant, because the purpose of words is to convey information to others. If the information you're conveying is different from the information you intended to convey, I would think you'd like to know that.

I'm not asking people to be constantly afraid of offending everyone they meet. All I'm saying is that we should try to live our lives consistently with what we believe.

David

Ophelia,

“Epithets are very tempting in moments of fury, but in public discourse... they are terribly loaded, and I think they are generally best avoided.”

Well, there’s the problem, or one of them, anyway. You can choose what you say and you can choose what kind of language to permit on your website. I’ve no grumble at all with that, obviously. That’s your territory. My broader concern – one that animates me quite a bit - is the urge among some to extend that inhibition to the public arena and the territory of others. Somewhat related are efforts by Designated Victim Groups to decide unilaterally what constitutes “hatred” and “intolerance,” a manoeuvre that reduces injustice (and grounds for compensation, flattery, etc) to whatever the Designated Victim Group says they are. (See my examples above, April 7, 7:16)

Ad Astra,

“As for the gay analogy, I still think that one’s pretty apt, and you haven’t presented much of an argument against it.”

A few months ago, my partner’s good-natured 12-year-old nephew made some passing reference to something on TV being “a bit gay.” (I forget what it was he was referring to, but I vaguely recall sharing the general sentiment.) Almost immediately, he got really upset that he’d offended the two of us and he took some convincing that no offence had been taken. Presumably, he’d imagined we would be outraged by the association of the word “gay” with something cheesy or unflattering. I was much more bothered by his upset and what it took to reassure him. I just don’t feel an urge to proscribe certain words, even if they’re notionally at my expense.

“Are there really dicks and bitches in the world? There are penises and female dogs, there are men and women we dislike, but are we under any particular obligation to call the latter the names of the former?”

I don’t see where “obligation” comes into it. I don’t feel “obliged” to use those words – when I use them, I choose to. I like them phonetically, as I imagine others do. And I don’t follow this “we” business. You can call unpleasant people whatever you wish. I’ll do the same.

Ad Astra

@ David:

That's fine if you're not offended by the use of the word gay to mean "stupid" or "bad". I'm glad that you're so easygoing. From my perspective, though, it's not entirely about whether you're offended or not. I look at the word gay, and I know that the reason people started using it to mean "stupid" or "bad" is because they thought homosexuality to be bad, and considered associating someone or something with homosexuality to be a severe insult. I find that sort of behavior distasteful, because I don't think homosexuals are bad. Therefore, why would I reinforce the use of a word in a sense I believe to be wrong? Even if I didn't know gay meant homosexual, as soon as I found out, my prior philosophical commitments would strongly militate against my continued use of the word in that sense, even if it didn't provoke any gut-level offense for me.

David

Ad Astra,

“I’m glad that you’re so easygoing.”

I’m a wonderful guy.

But I don’t see why I would take umbrage. It seems to me preposterous. My partner’s nephew wasn’t comparing the cheesy programme with *me* and he certainly wasn’t saying all gay people are cheesy. His intention was benign. I don’t live in the 1950s. I don’t feel slighted or threatened by such things. And, as I said, I just don’t have urges to outlaw certain words. I am, though, somewhat suspicious of people who do have such urges and the license to indulge them. By all means avoid whatever words you wish, but please don’t feel obliged to do so on my behalf.

Chris S

I realize that I'm being a bit alarmist, but I've been thinking a fair amount about the use of words and the power of others to subvert them to their own devices. More specifically in the realm of speech codes and the supposed "right to not be offended".

Our current discussion about the specifics of the term pussy is exactly how you get from A to B. You start with a pretty straight forward statment. Someone takes offence to a word used in the statment (it may or may not be relevent to the argument being made by the original speaker). Other parties get involved, with lots of tut-tutting, references to polite society, debates on intent and modern useage vs etymology. Words like "baggage", "loaded terms" or "code words" get thrown around. And the next thing you know you've got "facilitators" in the university monitoring conversations for offence. Or government agencies writing ordinances about the term manhole.

Alarmist? Sure, but there's good reason for it.

Ad Astra

@ David:

And that's fine. I was objecting because I thought there were universalizable issues involved, which I was surprised you did not share. If you don't, that's ok - there's something to be said for taking language as it comes, and not being concerned with the political implications that may be floating around behind them. It's certainly easier. In the end, a lot of it comes down to what the group you're with finds acceptable and amusing - I'll admit to saying all sorts of horrible things about my friends, because we all found it funny. Anyway, I don't mean to be a horrible priggish bore. This was a somewhat unusual situation, with misunderstandings on all sides, and it's been interesting to talk about. As I said, I'm avoiding such words on my own behalf as much as yours, so we're in agreement there. My only issue at this point is to get across that one can be concerned with such things without necessarily falling into the trap of PC-ness and victimhood.

Ad Astra

@ Chris S:

As I've said before, I put next to zero (.0000001?) credence in slippery-slope arguments. I don't think it's incompatible to say what I've said, and then turn around and oppose campus speech codes with everything I have. What's the alternative? Use words I find distasteful just to hold back the horde of slavering PC zombies? I guess I could just take the use of such words by others in stride, and say nothing, but to me that would seem a betrayal of ethics. Are we not obligated to engage people in discussion where we think they are doing something wrong, and by doing so we think we might change their behavior? Not outlaw it, not shout them down, just discuss.

David

Ad Astra,

“There’s something to be said for taking language as it comes, and not being concerned with the political implications that may be floating around behind them.”

There’s a great deal to be said for that. I am, however, outraged that you’ve used the word “universalizable.” I’m aghast and need a snifter to steady my nerves.

Ad Astra

@ David:

Aghast at the philosophical implications, or at what it says about my grammar skills?

David

Ad Astra,

It’s just a wee bit clunky.

Some music, perhaps…. http://fp.ignatz.plus.com/blackcoffee.mp3

Chris S

"What's the alternative? Use words I find distasteful just to hold back the horde of slavering PC zombies?"

I would say no. To thine own self be true. But, be sure to examine your distaste to see if it is truely yours and not a byproduct of being around the slavering PC zombies. Are you actually offended, or are you "supposed" to be offended?

Ad Astra

It's not the most elegant of words, I'll admit. It's not even the most apt for the meaning I was trying to get across, but hey, I was in a hurry and it was what came to mind.

I'm sorry that it's affected you so - in future, I'll use words that aren't so offensive, even though I didn't detect such offense myself. :-)

David

Right, I’m off to bed. Please feel free to poke around the place and help yourself to snacks and liquor. Just don’t spill anything on the rug.

Ad Astra

@ Chris S:

I recognize the fear you're raising, but I'm pretty sure the problem is my own, to the extent that any moral belief can be my own. Also, it's not exactly taking offense that I'm concerned with here; I'm not all that offended on a gut level by the word "dick". I just thought about it one day, looked at the course the word's taken to be used the way it is today, and decided that I like my genitals too much to associate them with people I dislike. I have similar feelings regarding pussy. As far as I can tell, that's the main source of it.

Ad Astra

I should add here that, yes, I think other people should like their genitals too much to make such invidious comparisons as well, because when everybody starts making such comparisons then my ability not to have to be ashamed of my and others' genitalia is reduced. Hence my feeling that I should try to convince others not to use such words.

David

Ad Astra,

“I like my genitals too much to associate them with people I dislike […] when everybody starts making such comparisons then my ability not to have to be ashamed of my and others’ genitalia is reduced.”

See, *that’s* where you’re inviting mockery. It doesn’t ring true; it sounds like a contrivance. I think that’s what Chris means about the feeling one is *supposed* to be offended – i.e., ideologically, theoretically, vicariously. It sounds like borrowed indignation. Likewise, if someone takes exception to sexual epithets because, say, children are present that’s pretty easy to comprehend and I suspect most people would defer. But the further one ventures into sociological or theoretical justifications and claims of what the epithet “really” signifies or what shame and/or hatred it supposedly induces, the more mockery is invited.

Ad Astra

I don't see how it doesn't ring true - while I admit I was being a bit rhetorical about my feelings toward my genitals, I genuinely think that that's a good reason to refrain from using sexual words as pejorative epithets. You keep bringing in the word "offense", but I'm not so sure that's the issue. Why can't I rationally assess the connotations of words, decide I don't agree with the sentiments that brought them into their present usage, and on that basis refrain from using them? I want to live my life as consistently with my beliefs as I can. All things considered, refraining from using certain words is pretty easy for me. Therefore, I'll do so. Is it the attempt to discourage others from using sexual epithets too that you have a problem with? I think that it's reasonable to discuss the issue with others, since if they shared some of my premises they might come to the same conclusion. If they don't share those premises, though, they won't. If you don't think that the origins and connotations of words have a significant enough effect on society to bother worrying about, then my argument doesn't have much force. That's not an unreasonable choice, I just disagree with it.

I'm not sure where the mockery comes from, though; why is it so ridiculous to choose as I do? Would my feelings be more valid if I was personally, emotionally offended, rather than making an intellectual assessment? For that matter, why should concern over the exposure of children to sexual language be somehow more valid? What evidence do we have that children are harmed more by sexual epithets than adults?

David

Ad Astra,

“Why can’t I rationally assess the connotations of words, decide I don't agree with the sentiments that brought them into their present usage, and on that basis refrain from using them?”

I didn’t suggest you couldn’t; quite the opposite. How you decide what *you* do or don’t say is none of my business. The rationale only becomes an issue when someone starts making claims on what others may say.

“I’m not sure where the mockery comes from, though; why is it so ridiculous to choose as I do?”

Again, your choice (for you) is none of my business, so I’m not moved to mockery. I think you’d risk amusing people, though, if you were to suggest others should do the same for similar reasons – i.e., because their ability not to be ashamed of their genitals is diminished or whatever.

“Would my feelings be more valid if I was personally, emotionally offended, rather than making an intellectual assessment?”

I think they’d be taken more seriously by a broader range of people. (This is part of the “taking language as it comes” thing for me. If it bugs you personally, I most likely won’t do it. If someone starts making grand sociological or theoretical claims, it all seems a bit abstract and ideological - and, perhaps, suspect.)

“For that matter, why should concern over the exposure of children to sexual language be somehow more valid? What evidence do we have that children are harmed more by sexual epithets than adults?”

I’ve no idea. But I suspect a larger number of people would find that objection credible without much fuss. I suppose it’s more than just an arbitrary custom, though I’m not quite sure why. I don’t do it, do you?

David

Ad Astra,

Sorry, missed out this:

“Would my feelings be more valid if I was personally, emotionally offended, rather than making an intellectual assessment?”

I think it’s the difference between causing someone immediate emotional hurt (which I tend to avoid) and causing ideological irritation, which isn’t quite the same thing and doesn’t involve the same instinctive inhibitions. A person’s emotions are generally treated differently from their political ideas.

James S

"I think it's the difference between causing someone immediate emotional hurt (which I tend to avoid) and causing ideological irritation, which isn't quite the same thing"

OB blew it with the "meaning women are weak cowardly parasites" line. Making it a big song and dance number just sounds like a lecture and a challenge. You're expected to agree that what you're really saying is "women are weak and cowardly parasites" and I don't think anyone was.

Ad Astra

@ David:

I think we've sort of boiled this down to the major difference. I put more social importance on the choice of words we use than you do. That's a valid question of fact to differ on.

I can understand how, from that perspective, trying to change others' minds might seem ridiculous. Of course, I disagree, because I think that it's always at least worth talking about these things, since peoples' minds might change, or they might not have thought through the consequences of their beliefs, but when there's a principled difference, I'm content. I had a conversation about this last night with some of my friends, and one of them took a position quite similar to yours, so I think I understand a little better where you're coming from. I think that you should be more concerned, but I know why you aren't, and that's something.

David

Ad Astra,

“I had a conversation about this last night with some of my friends, and one of them took a position quite similar to yours, so I think I understand a little better where you’re coming from.”

Good-oh. And by the way I’ve enjoyed our exchange. You’re always welcome to drop by and tell me why I’m wrong. :)

Ad Astra

I may just take you up on that. If nothing else, I've learned all sorts of interesting things about UK attitudes toward various vulgarities, which is always fun.

Geoff

"I should add here that, yes, I think other people should like their genitals too much to make such invidious comparisons as well, because when everybody starts making such comparisons then my ability not to have to be ashamed of my and others' genitalia is reduced.... I genuinely think that that's a good reason to refrain from using sexual words as pejorative epithets."

Lost in all this is the derogatory use of the word "asshole."

For, much as we love our genitals, should we not also "like our assholes too much to make such invidious comparisons"?

If not, why not? Do our rectums and anal sphincters not deserve every bit as much love and respect as our "Dicks and Janes"?

I, for one, am not ashamed of my anus! I trust you can say the same, Ad Astra.

More to the point, while both men and women have anal sphincters (so that "asshole" can't be a sexist term) ... how are gay men supposed to feel, when we so callously insult their "portals of ecstasy," turning that delicious source of male intimacy into a term of abuse?

Indeed, suppose that the J&M commenter had called Mo an "asshole" instead of a "pussy." How would that be viewed by the gay "community" and its (non-elected) leaders? Could they not reasonably see it as "meaning gays are stupid, incompetent and detestable people"?

More importantly, would the vigilent Ms Benson have lept, cat-like (as it were), to the defense of that oft-oppressed group?

I trust she would have. Because if I have learned one thing from this discussion, it is that the very least we can do is to avoid using the "a-word" around male homosexuals. At least I, for one, would not wish to reduce their ability not to have to be ashamed of their and others' anuses. Or anii. Or whatever.

"Hence my feeling that I should try to convince others not to use such words."

Precisely. To paraphrase, "Are there really assholes in the world? There are rectums and anal sphincters, there are straights and gays we dislike, but are we under any particular obligation to call the latter the names of the former? I'd rather call them something more facially descriptive that doesn't make pointless connections between gay sex and things we don't like."

Also, I, for one, could use a really good enema right now. I think my butt deserves at least that much "love."

jones

It is quite tragic that the 'bastardisation' of language in general has resulted in entire swathes of social intercourse (not 'fucking' please note) becoming fraught with an undercurrent of fear at committing some gaff or other. There was a time when one could have a 'gay' day and enjoy some 'gay' activity or other without the obvious connotation. I'm now off to have some rampant gay sex so thank you for listening.

Bingo Little

OB said: ". . .to say the god of Islam is "such a pussy. He is unable to do a thing to protect himself or his reputation and must rely on his minions to do his dirty work" is to say that women are weak cowardly parasites."

Well no. If the god of Islam must rely on his minions to do his dirty work, it does not mean that he is a weak cowardly parasite. The quote may be a non-sequitur or objectionable for other reasons, but I don't see how it conveys thoughts about women.

The problem is that OB assumes that her interpretation is the only reasonable one. I suspect that very few men believe that all women are weak cowardly parasites, so most men would not interpret the comment in the way she assumes they would, and if they don't then OB's complaint is based on a false assumption.

OB then says: "Several of your commenters think I'm incoherent for saying that criticism of religion should be wide open but objecting to epithets - but I disagree"

But it's not that she's objecting to epithets-- she's objecting to the expresion of the ideas or attitudes behind them. She's not objecting to the vulgarity of the "P" word but to the attitude toward women that she thinks the word reflects. So arguing that this is an epithet and she doesn't use epithets toward religion (although as I recall she used them toward Bush) doesn't clear her from the charge of being incoherent (or inconsistent).

mlrosty

Good post and discussion. I spent two days wondering why it was called "Tuppence". I just got it.

pam402

Thank God no-one said "chuff"...

Paul Power

For what it's worth the Wiki page http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pussy is informative.

It starts "Pussy is an English word meaning cat. It may also refer to the female genitalia in slang, among other definitions."

It gives other examples of double entendre than Mrs Slocombe: Arrested Development ("where the word was censored if used as an insult, but not censored if used to mean sweet or gentle (as in pussycat) ") and Steve Martin in particular. These American examples show that hearing "pussy" and thinking only of weakness is an error even in the US.


It seems to me wrong-headed to want to change the world by having people stop using the weakness meaning. Surely it would be much better to forget the reference to female anatomy ?


Karen M

Damn, I missed all the fun -great thread though. And I love the Team America clip.

"Pussies may think they can deal with assholes their way. But the only thing that can fuck an asshole is a dick, with some balls. The problem with dicks is: they fuck too much or fuck when it isn't appropriate - and it takes a pussy to show them that. But sometimes, pussies can be so full of shit that they become assholes themselves..."

David

Karen,

It’s something I meant to point out earlier – overt sexual usage doesn’t necessarily denote contempt for the organ in question or for the half of humanity that happens to possess one. It *can* do, of course, as any number of dreary posturing rap tracks testify. (This may explain why the American ear is more likely to find it much more loaded and disagreeable, even when used in the phrase “X is such a pussy,” which many of us take to mean something quite innocuous.) But to be doctrinaire about the word itself, as some commenters have been, is to overlook the scope for context, tone and intent. Which is wider than most of us probably realised.

FabulouslyFagtastic

Ophelia's unfortunately a bit of a moron. She's the sort of person who I'm sure is well-meaning, but is completely and utterly wrong.

I'm a gay guy, but I don't break down into tears, or throw a hissy fit any time someone uses the word 'faggot' or 'fag'. It's sometimes slang for a cigarette, sometimes it's used in a bad derogatory way, and sometimes gay guys use it to poke fun at themselves (usually when we we're describing a particularly flamboyant moment) in a way to sort of take back the word. That's how language works - it changes in societies sometimes, and takes on new meanings. I can be a delightfully huge fag sometimes, and I don't mind saying so, because I know it's all about the intended usage of the word.

Besides, being a raging, oversensitive bitch doesn't do a thing except make you look bad.

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