Acceptable alternatives. (Or: Please stop insulting my genitalia). (And yes: Curse words, ahoy).

Ok, I’ve said it before, and I’ll likely say it againandagainandagain. But.

Insulting someone with a word that is meant as a rude descriptor of female genitalia is

NOT OK.

Not.ok.

Not.

Ok.

You know why it’s not ok?

Because it’s misogynist and lazy and unkind and sexist and dehumanizing and fucking wrong.

No, you may not call that right-wing nut-job a cunt just because she is a right-wing nut-job. Not even if you feel that she is an evil right-wing nut-job, not even if you feel that she is beneath all contempt and should be treated as naught but a grease stain on the fabric of life.

Because it is always wrong to insult someone by dehumanizing an entire class of human beings. 

Furthermore you may not call someone who is lacking in courage, or is perhaps weak, or is perhaps unwilling to face an unpleasant reality, or is just, bottom line, someone you really detest, a pussy. Not only because doing so indicates a gross misunderstanding of the relative fortitude of the various human genitalia (here, let Hal Sparks explain it for you), but mainly because it is always wrong to insult someone by dehumanizing an entire class of human beings.

I realize, however, that habits being what they are and human culture being a slow-moving thing, it may be hard to think outside the dehumanizing-women box.

“Why Emily!” you declare. “How can I insult Ann Coulter and/or some random feckless member of the Romney/Ryan campaign without access to my words?! I need my words!!1!”

And to that I say: Heck, this is your lucky day!

The English language is positively chockablock with words! It’s so full of words, some folks have made dictionaries to hold ’em all. No, I mean it!

Thus, as a public service, I offer hereunder a smattering of acceptable alternatives to the words “cunt,” and “pussy,” for all your insult needs:

Cunt – may I suggest: Asshole, assclown, asswipe, fucker, dung-beetle, bunghole, imbecile, putrid waste of human skin, reprehensible sociopath, evil-doer, psycho-hack, lying sack of filth, human dregs, piece of shit, or, indeed: naught but a grease stain on the fabric of life. If you’re on Twitter and character-count is an issue, may I suggest: Ass (not only does this simple yet elegant descriptor convey contempt, it even saves you an entire character!).

Pussy – here I humbly offer: Wimp, weakling, coward, quitter, failure, rat, gutless, gutless rat, worthless piece of spineless trash, fraidy-cat, scaredy-cat, feeble, or, if you’re feeling particularly fancy that day: Poltroon.

There! /dusts off hands/

You may want to print this out and carry it around in your wallet for easy reference; you may also find that a thesaurus is your friend. Either way, now you know: There are many acceptable alternatives to “cunt” and “pussy” out there. Go, fly, be free! Go find new words!

But if you call yourself a progressive and still want to cling to words that demean and belittle me, my daughter, my mother, my sister, and every single woman you know (including those who may not have been born with female genitalia but are nonetheless women)?

Then you had better check not your dictionary, but your own damn self.

/ellaesther out

39 Comments

  1. “Poltroon” – one of my favorite words. Along with mountebank. And pissant.

  2. May I respectfully disagree with your synonyms for pussy? wuss and ____-cat are too clearly derived from that word for my comfort.

    I’d also like to add whore (slut and other synonyms) and douchebag to your list, for similar reasons. Thank you for the public service announcement.

    • As long as were all being respectful and word-nerdy, it’s all good.

    • PS Of course, being a word-nerd, I had to look up “[ ]-cat” and I think it’s unrelated. According to this it goes back to 1871 (and don’t forget that “pussy” was in current use as “cat” for a very long time): http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=fraidy-cat

      However, on wuss, you are clearly in the right! Apparently it comes from Fast Times at Ridgemont High (!), and means “part wimp, part pussy.”

      To the editing machine!

      • dave in texas

         /  October 16, 2012

        I’m not so sure about the Fast Times provenance; I think I can recall having heard wuss used as an insult way back in my school days of the 60s and 70s.

  3. carlosthedwarf

     /  October 16, 2012

    Liked. Repeatedly, and with feeling.

  4. On the dehumanizing a class of people front, you may want to remove “imbecile” from the list of alternatives. It’s a reference to people with learning disabilities. This of course means words like “stupid” should also be off the table. Obtuse springs to mind as a substitute. As does clueless.

  5. Seeing as though a vagina is probably one of the strongest, most adaptive parts of a human body, that fact that people use it as a synonym for weak is just ridiculous.

    One of my personal favourites is “asshat.” Because, let’s be honest here, no one wants to wear the asshat.

  6. caoil

     /  October 16, 2012

    I’ve always been partial to ‘waste of air’/’waste of oxygen’, myself.

  7. If I gotta hate on someone, I like to think I stick to good old reliable “assh-le” as my derogatory word. Assh-le can easily apply to anyone regardless of gender, race or creed. I don’t think I use female anatomy as insults.

  8. FOR THE RECORD (because I’m being asked about this on Twitter):

    No, I do not think that calling someone a prick or dick is the same thing.

    The power relationship between men and women actually matters here, and asking this is the gender politics equivalent of saying “But hey, isn’t ‘whitey’ a racist slur, too?” (or nearly so. There are no real equivalents in life. So it goes). Not to mention that female genitalia is dragged into the conversation only and always as an insult to indicate a lesser human being. Being a dick may a bad thing, for instance (though, I would argue, the intent is generally not as mean-spirited and dismissive as with the word “cunt,” but YMMV), but it is in fact a very good thing to have balls.

    • NaHa

       /  October 16, 2012

      No, I think that your original verdict “…it is *always* wrong to insult someone by dehumanizing an entire class of human beings” (my emphasis) is indeed correct.

      Dehumanizing a class of people is wrong. Period.

      Even if that class of human beings is powerful and/or unlikeable. A class of persons (or indeed a single person) doesn’t have to be lovable or an underdog to be legitimately victimized.

      The _effects_ — especially on the big scale — may be different because of the mentioned power differential in our society, but that doesn’t mean it’s right or justified.
      And on the individual scale there may be men for whom such belittlement, in aggregation, has a noteworthy impact.

      You’ll don’t have to start a movement to eradicate “dick” or “wanker,” but would it be so hard to acknowledge “Yes, that’s also not acceptable.”?

  9. Darth Thulhu

     /  October 16, 2012

    Brava!

    My experience is that you will find your list of powerful words shrinking rapidly. Almost by definition, the more visceral and powerful and succinct the word, the more likely it is to derive from group-shaming. You are already getting the standard group-defense pushback on dick and any word meaning unintelligent, and the usual uncomfortability with anything perceivable as part of the feline or female archipelago or words.

    For sheer visceral impact, the only thing transgressive and intense and short is probably fuck/fucker, which needs to be used judiciously or it loses impact. Shit- and ass-stuff are the next remaining wells, but definitely far more played out. Beyond that, it’s mostly mild 50s stuff and all-ages-games “cursing”: baby, dweeb, jerk, doofus, dookie, loser, punk, whiner, fool, pissant, santorum, and so on.

  10. Excellent! Have a read of my gender-marketing rant :o) – http://rosiehannah.wordpress.com/2012/10/16/sexist-marketing-yes-in-2012/

  11. What about bitch? I gotta admit I love this word and I’m a woman. I don’t “own it” I don’t call my friends bitches or anything like that. But I do like “don’t be a such a whiney bitch” that sort of thing.
    And for what its worth I agree with you about words such as prick and dick. They just don’t have the same meaning when applied to men.

  12. Cunt is actually derived from the Old German word “cint” meaning slit or cleave in a rock. So there. Thought you’d like to know.

    But riddle me this. I called someone I disliked intensely “a right cunt” in front of a feminist friend of mine and she told me off for all the reasons expressed above. When I demurred, and said that I like the very sound of the word cunt, and anyway, being offended by a sound – or even worse, being offended because it relates to a naughty bit of the body, which is really hidden conservative Puritanism – she called me a real prick.

    Unselfconsciously. With no irony.

    So, um, why is it ok to abuse me with the name of my Male genitalia – a word very commonly used around the world – but not when we use the, er, other thing?

    Just sayin’.

    • For several thousand years, in cultures far and wide, the basic tenet of many human societies has been: women are lesser than men. In status. In strength. In intellect. In bravery. In ability. Take any measure you want, and throwing out all other differences (and they muddy the waters quite a bit), where society is concerned, men are considered “superior” to women.

      So, with this, derogatory and degrading epithets often revolve around women or perceived women’s issues. As we saw in last night’s Presidential debate, even now, there are those (Mitt Romney) who do not see women as pure equals and make ham-handed attempts to look as if they do, because the tide is slowly turning, and women are continuing to affirm their equality every single day.

      What does this means for us guys? You’re right: in a perfect world, no one would be subject to degradation by the use of any genitalia-inspired utterance. We don’t live in that perfect world. So, as women slowly throw off the yoke of oppression that has constricted their rightful place in the power structure, we men are simply going to have to take it in the balls and like it, no matter who we are. This isn’t about logic, it’s about emotion, and thousands of years of pent up frustration at being locked out of the power rubric of human society means there is a lot of ball-busting to come. So, when you’re tempted to call a woman a “cunt,” ask yourself why; when a woman goes ahead and calls you a “prick,” that is also a time for reflection. In both cases, the answer is the same: your male privilege is showing.

      • Well I wasnt calling a woman a cunt. I was referring to a male politician at the time. But whatever: I confess, I am not convinced by your argument. When will thousands of years of pent up emotion allow the word cunt to be used without it relating to a female derogatorily? Next year? A thousand years? Cant we just “decide” we are not offended by noises?

        • You cannot separate the word from its context and historical meaning so easily. It will take a very long time for the word to attain some neutral connotation. Look at the trouble we are still having, centuries later, over the concepts of atheism, homosexuality, and even scientific determinism. Human society moves glacially, on time scales faster than geologic, but not by much. It can safely be said that only in the last hundred years have women broken out of the patriarchal shackles they have been kept in, but that is not even true all over the world, only in select areas and cultures, and even in them, it is imperfect at best.

          It may be thousands of years, yet, before these words have receded so far into human consciousness that they can be looked at clinically. That is the burden we suffer, those who live in such eras as wind up in the history books. We simply must endure, persevere, but above all, change. The more of us that change the connotation, that refuse to accept the derogatory and demeaning as acceptable, the faster we can urge along the wholesale change of human culture. It’s long, excruciating work, but worth it.

          • Well it took “bloody” five hundred years to mature from “God’s blood!” – an epithet so shocking that it could lead the person uttering it to be executed – to something we really no longer recognise as a swear word. So you are probably right. I still think it’s a lot of fuss about nothing. But I dont feel very strongly about it ….

  13. I mean, I get the whole power status in society thing (sorry, I should have said that) but I really don’t think it’s an excuse. What you’re really pleading for here is selective linguistic special treatment/positive discrimination for women. Do you really need that? I mean, REALLY?

    I suppose we had to disagree about something one day …

  14. SWNC

     /  October 17, 2012

    I love you, Emily.

  15. I’m not a big believer in the power of specific words, as opposed to how they are assembled in context to form ideas. That said, this is a case where I agree, at least to some degree. While I don’t necessarily believe that the use of the C or P word is as harmful as you think it is, I also believe that what I, as a male, think of that is not my call, but rather that of women, just as the use of N**gger is for African-Americans. In the end, if I believe as I do that words are not that inherently powerful, then why use the ones that upset another to no useful purpose?
    But my real point in posting this comment is to support your view that this is different than calling a person a dick. Just isn’t the same thing, and not only because of the imbalance of male/female power, though that is obviously true. It is also because, as you rightly pointed out another part of the male sexual anatomy is used as a positive, and because the meaning behind the pejorative is not anything like as negative as the female versions. C is used to denote a truly awful person by comparing him or her to a vagina, and P is used to say a person is weak or cowardly by doing the same. Calling someone a dick is, indeed, calling him or her a bad person, but it is based on the idea that a more animal instinct, as represented by the phallus, blocks out moral or thoughtful behavior. Most men talk about “thinking with our dicks” to denote the same thing in one way or another.
    I’ll agree with some commenters that, yes, if we are talking an absolute purity of justice then it should apply to the anatomy of both genders. But I recall a similar debate about N**ger and Whitey or Honky in my youth, and the answer is the same–if we’re concerned about justice or fairness, we need to recognize where one might offend some people while another is seen as part of a larger system of marginalization or bigotry. Again, I think we have evolved to a place where we are far too concerned about specific words, so I wouldn’t place anywhere near the kind of emphasis on this issue that you do, Emily, but as a male I leave that in my academic worldview. Whether it should be acted on is your call. And the argument that the male version of the pejorative needs to be viewed the same way is just specious, in my view.

    • The thing is, it’s exhausting – not the fighting it (though that is, too), but the living with it. One is forever and ever being insulted, belittled, demeaned and dehumanized, right, left and center, and having to roll past it because there are other things on the docket for the day. You think I deal with it a lot, but you have no idea how often I choose to let it roll on by….

  16. I do get that. My wife deals with such things by ignoring them, not just women-related matters. I deeply envy her ability to do that, and to really forget about it a minute later. I sure can’t do that. I wish i could, because I encounter my own share of such things, though obviously not gender-related, and in some cases it’s just stupidity. It exhausts me, but when it’s a matter of gender, I expect it is far more omnipresent than any combination of the things I deal with. It certainly seems exhausting…

  17. bJonthegrid

     /  April 8, 2013

    I’ve called people the A word and the D word many more times than I’ve said the P word before but never ever the C word – the C word is just really really hard core meanness to me. You never really went into the A word and although it’s not gender specific, it’s a body part. You see the D word is used a lot in books, movie and even TV before 10 pm. The D word is close to the female version, the B word, in the sense that I guess it’s more acceptable and used a lot in our culture. So much so that being called a D word or a B word can also indicate shrewdness or having authority.

    The P word is often used a lot but like “It’s so gay” meaning “lame, cliche” it’s being phased out along with “throwing/acting/crying like a girl”. We’ve banned the “It’s gay” in my house or talking about girls all together because I’m the only chick (expert in all things girl) in my house and I’ll be damned if I raise sexist boys. Other people are starting to wake up. I’m seeing a lot more discussion on how to talk about genders in print and in discussions. Illegal alien is even being phased out in thoughtful circles. I would even bet the Washington Redskins will have to chose another name in the next 5 years.

    Question: Human beings don’t change that much even if we’re not using certain words any more. When someone is acting like a D word or a B word – what is an appropriate way to call em out? Can we still call them A words, since it’s not gender specific?

    • I do really like “naught but a grease stain on the fabric of life” (see above), but “assclown” and “asshat” and “douche-fill-in-the-blank” work for me, because an ass is also an animal, and douches do actual damage (and if you say “douchecanoe” it’s funny, too!).

      Also – hi BJ! xo

  18. I like the word “Cunt”, particularly the background of it http://www.vdaysouthbay.org/originsofcunt.htm

    Words are only as powerful as you allow them to be. To not be offended by a word, is to strip it of its power over you. Then it becomes meaningless and insignificant. All words and language have been created by the human mind.