Monday, April 6, 2009

Words for Asshole

There are many ways to call someone an asshole. If they're a guy, you can call them a dick or a douche bag. If they're a woman then you can call them a bitch or a cunt. Either way, you can still just call them an asshole (although, like many gender-neutral terms, it is more often used for guys). All these words, when used as a pejorative, have basically the same meaning: that the person in question is self-serving, cruel, callous, greedy, or just generally evil. Yet, the connotations of the words are so different.
The most obvious difference is the gender difference. Cunt and bitch are used to describe women, which makes sense because they mean "vagina" and "female dog," respectively. Dick makes sense for men because it means "penis" (or a male nickname). What about douche bag, though? It's a female hygienic product, so it's kind of a mystery that it's used to refer to men. I guess it could be to create more of a gender balance in the number of words. Dick already provides a lot of permutations, though: dickhole, dickface, dickweed. It's kind of unique amongst these words. Cuntface? Bitchweed? You just don't hear it.
Another stark difference is the level of offensiveness. Obviously, cunt is the most offensive of these. Calling someone a cunt and calling someone a dick are basically the opposite-gender equivalents of each other - they're both words for genitalia that also colloquially mean asshole - and yet the former is so much more offensive than the latter. I'm not really sure why this is; possibly just a result of the fact that it's used less-often.
I've seen lots of people try to "reclaim" the word bitch, and re-invent it as a compliment. I've even seen a positive backronym create for it: "Beautiful Intelligent Talented Cute Hot." I'm against this reclamation. If someone calls you a bitch and clearly means it as an insult but you respond as though it were a compliment, then you're just being an idiot. I'm generally against people responding to the literal wording of what someone says when it's clear that the intended meaning is different, like back in elementary school when you asked your teacher if you can go to the bathroom and she'd say "I don't know, can you?" That's kind of the same thing that someone is doing when they interpret being called a bitch as a compliment, except it makes less sense because they're not using the literal meaning; they're using some crazy, made-up one. "Bitch," unlike other words that have been reclaimed like "queer," wasn't a slur against every member of a certain group but rather an insult against someone's personality. Plus, reclaiming the word bitch wouldn't really change much. If someone wants to say that a woman is an asshole, they'd just call them an asshole. Or cunt.


  1. See, I've seen these words used across sexes. So, yeah.

    As for the "Can I go to the bathroom?" bit, I only ever got that once or twice, but never in elementary school. It was only ever in high school. It doesn't seem so mean then, I guess.

  2. Anecdote: I never came across the word "cunt" until my Intro to Women's Studies class in college. I recall my mother had hinted at there being such a word, but I was obviously very sheltered and also didn't really pay much attention to the subject of cursing. By the way, the book "Cunt" by Inga Muscio is an excellent and very empowering read, and is fun to secretely lend to your sister...

  3. Blog comment: We had an interesting discussion in my Psychology of Women class about how nicknames and vulgar slang is very often sexist. For example, the worst words to call a male are words that imply femininity, and the worst words to call a female are often bestial (and also often edible, but that's not part of my point).

    I do reclaim the word bitch, and enjoy the magazine of the same name. It is powerful and threatening. Ther eis a well known double standard of being a female boss, that you are either a pushover and try to be everyone's friend, or you are a "bitch," which by a man's standards would be called other words like "tough" or "productive."

  4. That double-standard thing is a separate issue from the word "bitch" and any reclamation there of.
    Is it easier for women to be labeled as a bitch than for men to be labeled similarly, in the workplace? Quite possibly, but that's doesn't mean there's anything wrong with the word itself, or it's current meaning.

    The whole reclamation thing strikes me as a little Orwellian, too. As in, "You can't call me something if you don't have a word to use." Reclaiming it also seems to hold the implication that it's okay for women to be assholes, which I don't agree with.

  5. hey sometimes, I can really be an