complaints, language

Non-sensical insults…

I have ranted about this topic before. I’m ranting again. Hope you can deal…

Yesterday, I was reading a book and came across this passage…

She ate faggots?

Although I spent three of my earliest childhood years in England, I had never before come across that particular usage of the word “faggot”. As a typical American, I mainly knew that word as a slur against homosexual men. I also knew it as a British term for a bundle of sticks, and Brits often refer to cigarettes as “fags”. But until yesterday, I had never heard of the word “faggot” as a food term, and I thought it was really interesting that the author of the book I’m reading used to eat faggots when she was coming of age. So I posted about it on Facebook, thinking one of the handful of bonafide Brits on my friends list would answer up and explain to me what this type of a faggot is. Several hours passed until my friend Susan, who is not a Brit, but apparently does have a long memory, offered this explanation.

Sure enough, I think that’s what Dawn Brookes meant… She was eating a type of particularly disgusting sausage.

I think Elton John’s comment about thinking someone had called him a “sausage” kind of makes a nice segue into today’s topic; that is, non-sensical insults. It made no sense to Elton John that someone called him a “faggot”, because to him, a faggot is a sausage. Likewise, I dislike the use of the word “douche” as an insult, because in many places around the world, it’s a shower… or it’s a cleanser used to wash out a woman’s vagina. To me, calling something “douchey” or referring to someone by any of the many compound word incarnations using the word “douche”, is a really non-sensical thing to do.

This morning, I ran across yet another cringeworthy use of the word “douche” in an insulting way. The Angry Bartender shared an article by Ted Wenger entitled “The 5 most ‘underrated, douche-free destinations,’ according to Anthony Bourdain“… Actually, I’m relieved to see that Bourdain himself didn’t write this article. I would lose some respect for his memory if he had come up with that title, using the term “douche” in a derogatory way. I think good writers can do better than that. Not only is the term “douche” overused and uncreative, but it also demeans women as a whole.

Who uses douches? Well, if you watched television in the 1980s, you’d come away thinking that douches are mostly used by virginal looking white women who don’t enjoy their own personal scents, like these…

This ad claims that if you use a douche, you’ll feel clean, fresh, and free.
More virginal white women extolling the virtues of douching.
And according to this ad, a good douching will make you feel more like yourself… and you won’t get pissed off at the kids or his mom…
Mom explains to her daughter why she douches…
And if you’re feeling especially nasty after your period, you can use this product…

So, if douching makes women feel so “free, fresh, and clean”, where did we get the idea that calling someone a “douche” is the ultimate put down? The first time I ever heard of a “douchebag” was when I was watching Revenge of the Nerds, a movie from 1984. When asked what he’s looking at, the character “Booger”, played by Curtis Armstrong, says something like, “Well, I thought I was looking at my mother’s old douchebag, but that’s in Akron.” That was the first and last time I heard of that particular barb until a few years later, when it suddenly became the “in” insult.

What’s so “douchey” about this? It’s just a box of cleanser.

Over thirty-five years later, I now hear and read some incarnation of the word “douche” pretty much on a daily basis. And since the only people who use douches are women, particularly if they menstruate, it not only seems to me like a non-sensical insult, but a blatantly misogynistic one, too. Basically, it’s kind of a back alley way of calling someone a “cunt”. But even the so-called “c-word” has a different meaning in different cultures. British people use the word “cunt” all the time, but not necessarily only to refer to a nasty woman. In Britain, a cunt is an obnoxious, stupid, or offensive person, male or female. However, unlike the words “douche” and “faggot”, the word “cunt” is universally taboo and always used in an insulting manner. I suppose that to some people, “douche” seems a bit softer and less cutting than “cunt”, so maybe it seems like it’s a more acceptable insult, non-sensical though it may be.

Personally, I hate the word douche as an insult, and I almost never use it in any capacity. I just can’t bring myself to do it. Every time I think about that word when it’s used as an insult, I think of an anecdote I read in a book a few years ago. Brian David Bruns, author of the book, Cruise Confidential: A Hit Below the Waterline, was the first American to survive an entire contract period working as a waiter for Carnival Cruise Lines. One night, he and a colleague were waiting on an extremely large, obnoxious, morbidly obese American family. Several family members were so heavy that they had to use scooters to get around the ship. Brian and his colleague, a lovely young Romanian woman named Camilla, were trying to serve this family, but it was like frantically filling a bottomless pit or bailing water out of a sinking boat. They kept ordering more and more food, and their waiters had to keep bringing it out non-stop.

At one point, Camilla was carrying a huge tray full of shrimp ordered by the massive clan. Brian heard a crash, then saw his crestfallen colleague standing in a heap of broken china and scattered food. The poor woman then proceeded to have some kind of a nervous breakdown. He writes:

Incidentally, I highly recommend Brian David Bruns’ books. They are very entertaining. I think I’ve read three of them– all about his days working on cruise ships. Having once waited tables myself and been delighted when I could go home at the end of a shift, I must admit that I bow to Bruns’ true grit, working on a Carnival cruise ship!

Anyway, thinking more about this subject, I wonder how some words became insults in the first place. For instance, why is the word “shit” more offensive than “crap” or “poop”? Don’t they all refer to the same, stinky, brown mess? Why is the word “faggot” deemed more offensive than the word “gay” or even “queer”? Who decided it was more offensive? I’m sure there’s an answer out there somewhere. But, you see, this is also why I am against banning words and burying language. All words have uses. What we should focus on is encouraging each other not to be abusive. But it’s a lot harder to be an example for good behavior than it is to shame people, whitewash history, and ban things. I know… it’s a struggle I deal with all the time.

I know people aren’t going to stop using the word “douche” to insult others, just like they won’t stop saying something “sucks”. In fact, I say “sucks” all the time, even though that term is probably just as offensive as “douche” is. I’m reminded of a conversation I had with one of my aunts about twenty-three years ago. She confided to me that she hates it when people say something “sucks”.  She said that was the one phrase that just really offends her to the core.  I started thinking about where that term comes from, remembering when a soldier told me that it originally referred to something potentially very vulgar.    

According to…
Old English sucan, from PIE root *sug-/*suk- of imitative origin (cf. OldSaxon, Old High German sugan, Old Norse suga, Middle Dutch sughen, Dutch zuigen, German saugen “to suck;” Latin sugere “to suck,” succus” juice, sap;” Old Irish sugim, Welsh sugno “to suck”). Meaning “do fellatio” is first recorded 1928. Slang sense of “be contemptible” first attested 1971(the underlying notion is of fellatio). Related: Sucked ; sucking. Suck eggs is from 1906. Suck hind tit “be inferior” is American English slang first recorded 1940.

This particular use of the slang term “sucks” at one time implied engaging in fellatio. While males can participate in performing fellatio, when it involves sucking, it’s usually a woman or a gay man doing it.  So, if you think about it, saying something “sucks” can be somewhat misogynistic too, even though the term has since sort of evolved into something more benign.  Now, when someone says something sucks, it basically means that it’s disappointing or of poor quality.  But at one time, it referred to sucking dick and, while many men enjoy having their dick sucked, it may not be as pleasurable or appealing if you’re the one doing the sucking.  So I can see why my aunt thinks it’s disgusting to say something “sucks”, though I doubt I’ll modify my use of it.

Ah well… such is another subject that I like to overthink. Maybe my tendency to do this is what kept me out of the really good schools. Anyway, I hope today’s post gave someone besides me something to ponder. I’ll probably keep saying that certain things “suck”, but I doubt I’ll use the words “douche” or “faggot”, especially since I don’t like to eat offal and rarely encounter bundles of sticks… and I recognize that the vagina is a self-cleaning body part and doesn’t need me to shoot vinegar and water into it so I can feel “fresh as a country lane”, which probably stinks to high heaven of manure, anyway… Seriously, I’ve been around my share of country lanes, and a lot of them play host to livestock who can drop some serious deuces. Enjoy your Saturday, folks… I have to go put clean sheets on the bed, since Arran dropped a deuce in them in the middle of the night last night.

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