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That's so... the children's insult of choice!
October 9, 2008 10:16 AM   Subscribe

AS OF 10/08/2008, THERE WERE OVER 80,100 PAGES ONLINE WITH THE PHRASE "That's so gay."

Hillary Duff is here to elevate teen discourse! And here's a handy printout.
How 'gay' became children's insult of choice.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur (261 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
tg;dr
posted by porn in the woods at 10:18 AM on October 9, 2008 [15 favorites]


That's so gay.

*waits for counter to update*
posted by decagon at 10:19 AM on October 9, 2008 [4 favorites]


That website BuddyHead used to sell a t-shirt that said "Homophobia is Gay".
posted by GilloD at 10:22 AM on October 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


I've been surprised at how effective "Hey, that's not cool" is when people use "gay" or "faggot" as pejoratives and invectives. A lot of people, when called on it, will turn out to have not really considered the implications of what they're saying, and will stop- or at least try.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:22 AM on October 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


So, if I start using gay as a pejorative, will Hillary Duff appear and tell me to knock it off?
Because I will totally do that if that's what it takes.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:24 AM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


Gay used to mean happy.

Later, gay meant ... gay.

Now gay is a pejorative.

If you stand in one place long enough, eventually gay will mean something else.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:29 AM on October 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


From the campaign's website:

"That's so... say something original!"

and then just below that:

"SEE WHAT OTHER PEOPLE ARE SAYING >"


Strange way to convince people to be original, no?
posted by Tapioca at 10:29 AM on October 9, 2008


Post flagged as "gay".

not that there's anything wrong with that...
posted by caution live frogs at 10:29 AM on October 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


...will Hillary Duff appear and tell me to knock it off?

No. You'll get Wanda Sykes.
posted by ericb at 10:30 AM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


When you say the word "dumb," think about what you say. You're insulting those without the power of speech.
posted by ALongDecember at 10:31 AM on October 9, 2008 [6 favorites]


So the logic here is that if we can somehow convince children not to say "that's so gay", then they will stop insulting each other by using slang words for homosexuals?

Yes? Correct? OK, then, carry on!
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 10:31 AM on October 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


People who say "gay" are, like, soooo retarded.
posted by elwoodwiles at 10:31 AM on October 9, 2008 [7 favorites]


Celebrity makes astute point that is made fun of because it was made by a celebrity. Film at 11.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 10:33 AM on October 9, 2008 [7 favorites]


So the logic here is that if we can somehow convince children not to say "that's so gay", then they will stop insulting each other by using slang words for homosexuals?

That doesn't seem like a worthy goal to you?
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:34 AM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


Ignorance is celebrated, mindfulness is passé.
posted by SaintCynr at 10:34 AM on October 9, 2008


Ah, one of the many, many reasons why I stopped enjoying World of Warcraft.
posted by giraffe at 10:34 AM on October 9, 2008 [3 favorites]


I've always considered your mom.
posted by Stan Chin at 10:34 AM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


I’m going to start a site called “youwritelikeanidiot.com” that calls people idiots for using B4 instead of “before.”
posted by bondcliff at 10:35 AM on October 9, 2008 [4 favorites]


"It's only in the last four years that I've documented it being used so much by young people. It's what we call a 'vogue' word, which is a fashionable word."

Every time I see South Park I am reminded that Parker and Stone must be my age, because back in my midwest of the late 70's and 80's, "totally gay" was also our catch-all insult for anything bad, lame, stupid, or suggested by parents and teachers. It didn't occur to me this was pretty awful of us until I was older and wiser.

But anyway, "gay" was used by schoolkids in this way a LOT more than "four years" ago.

(Don't ask me what we called brazil nuts, or the words we used for eeny-meeny. I'll be ashamed. And if you know what I mean: hi!)
posted by rokusan at 10:35 AM on October 9, 2008 [4 favorites]


I had a hard time finding a word to replace "gay" in those contexts.
I finally settled on "lame." Same long A sound, one syllable, generally non offensive, and can be used in every instance I can think of that I would have used "gay" before. Works well enough for me.

One of the higher-ups at my student newspaper uses "gay" in that context and it was kind of surprising. A senior in college still using "gay?" Especially after our newspaper ran this whole piece on the topic the year before... yeesh. I'm going to see if I can wean her off of it.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 10:35 AM on October 9, 2008


I’m going to start a site called “youwritelikeanidiot.com”

They'd never be able to type that. Way too hard.
posted by rokusan at 10:36 AM on October 9, 2008


I had a hard time finding a word to replace "gay" in those contexts.
I finally settled on "lame."


Yes, that is the best match to how we used it lo those many years ago.

Of course, that's just shifting the target from homosexuals to the disabled. :)
posted by rokusan at 10:37 AM on October 9, 2008


While these PSA's are noble in intention, the execution is a little girl wearing a skirt as a top.
posted by The Gooch at 10:37 AM on October 9, 2008


My sister, who is a lesbian, says "that's so gay."

So that's one battle I stopped bothering to fight.
posted by Foosnark at 10:40 AM on October 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


And imagine how my cock and douchebag feel about being used as your insults. THINK people, THINK!
posted by GuyZero at 10:40 AM on October 9, 2008 [9 favorites]


I tend to say "fucking weak" in the places other people say "so gay." Data point.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:41 AM on October 9, 2008


Now gay is a pejorative.

"Gay" is not pejorative. Using "gay" as a pejorative (as in "that's so gay") is offensive.

Also, your timeline on what gay has meant throughout history needs a little work.
posted by DU at 10:41 AM on October 9, 2008 [3 favorites]


Isn't the "Say What" section of the webpage just going to get kids to look up what the "other" meanings of the words are (if they don't already know them already)?
posted by stifford at 10:41 AM on October 9, 2008


If anyone is still using the word "bad", consider that the word originally meant "effeminate man".
posted by martinrebas at 10:42 AM on October 9, 2008 [3 favorites]


That's so Raven.
posted by djeo at 10:44 AM on October 9, 2008 [18 favorites]


Lame isn't cool either - it relates to one who cannot walk.
Retarded too.

Man, it could go on and on...
posted by k8t at 10:44 AM on October 9, 2008


What does "slag" even mean? I've never heard that before in my life.

Also, "wack" works surprisingly well.
posted by lunit at 10:45 AM on October 9, 2008


It was a British article/survey, lunit.

A slag is a loose woman. The US high school equivalent might be "slut" or "whore".

(In mining, slag is the lowest-value rock.)
posted by rokusan at 10:49 AM on October 9, 2008


What does "slag" even mean? I've never heard that before in my life.

A slag is a slut.

But I don't know what "batty boy" means. Or at least I didn't until now. Thank you, UrbanDictionary!
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:49 AM on October 9, 2008


Wow, this still goes on? Gayness as an insult was mostly deprecated in my experience around the time I was in 8th grade - if you called someone gay and they were gay, then that's that, and if they weren't gay, then you were just being incorrect.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 10:51 AM on October 9, 2008


I will continue to use the term until Hillary Duff offers me a replacement term that's not too gay sounding.
posted by weezy at 10:52 AM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


Also, your timeline on what gay has meant throughout history needs a little work.

Then I look forward to your extensive editing of this article. Better get to work -- looks you've got a lot of catching up to do.

In the early 17th century, the word meant "carefree," "happy," or "bright and showy", however it started to acquire sexual connotations in the late 17th century and finally it began to be used in reference to homosexuality in particular from the early 20th century, from the 1920s at the latest. ... While retaining its other meanings, it has also acquired "a widespread current usage" amongst young people, as a general term of disparagement. This pejorative usage has its origins in the late 1970s. Beginning in the 1980s and especially in the late 1990s, the usage as a generic insult became common among young people.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:52 AM on October 9, 2008


"Balls: innocent childhood playthings."

Perverts!
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:52 AM on October 9, 2008 [3 favorites]


I use "lame" because I associate the word more with horses than humans. Poor disabled horsies.

If old people are allowed to say offensive things because they "grew up in a different time," then I think I'm allowed to say "lame" when I grew up in a time when the word didn't refer to disabled people anymore. In turn, I promise to not use the word "lame" in front of anyone over the age of 70.

In other news, I just learned that the etymology of "faggot" supposedly has nothing to do with the same word which refers to a bundle of kindling. Uhh.. I'm still not comfortable with this word.
posted by giraffe at 10:52 AM on October 9, 2008


That's so Palin.
posted by wendell at 10:53 AM on October 9, 2008 [17 favorites]


If you stand in one place long enough, eventually gay will mean something else.

What's the old saying that I hear every single place I've ever been? Here on teh interwebs, if you don't like the weather meaning of the word gay, just wait five minutes and it'll change.
posted by educatedslacker at 10:54 AM on October 9, 2008


Many gay folks I know use it too, ironically.

"Weak", from AV above, is a pretty good one in that it conveys almost exactly the right thing without too much baggage.

But best of all, my brain sparked in another thread and I reminded myself that Bill and Ted's most excellent "bogus" filled this very same need for a short time once.
posted by rokusan at 10:54 AM on October 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


I've been surprised at how effective "Hey, that's not cool" is when people use "gay" or "faggot" as pejoratives and invectives. A lot of people, when called on it, will turn out to have not really considered the implications of what they're saying, and will stop- or at least try.
Ghetto is my that's so gay. Seriously, people--think about what you're saying.
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:54 AM on October 9, 2008 [3 favorites]


Many gay folks I know use it too, ironically.

I can think of another word like that.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:56 AM on October 9, 2008


"That's so ... Republican."

Pass it on.
posted by dhartung at 10:57 AM on October 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


Many gay folks I know use it too, ironically.
I can think of another word like that.


Yes, that too. Different reason, though.
posted by rokusan at 10:58 AM on October 9, 2008


I like the Wanda Sykes video most of the three. Because when she says, "knock it off." I actually feel motivated to knock it off.
posted by MrBobaFett at 10:58 AM on October 9, 2008


I was going to playfully bust on the usage of "top" in a positive, words-have-meanings kind of way but I don't get "Think B4" -- they're also against the use of "balls", "nuts", "ass" and "cougar". I like to think of these as victimless words, really.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 10:59 AM on October 9, 2008


I submitted "Douche Nozzle" to the "Say Something Original" section, I'm curious if that will make it up there.
posted by stifford at 11:00 AM on October 9, 2008


My inner Mormon suggests "goofy" as a substitute. But I suppose that's probably insulting to ... to ... to whatever Goofy is.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:02 AM on October 9, 2008 [4 favorites]


Let's not get hysterical, or be bastards about it, or we might reveal our darker side.
posted by tula at 11:02 AM on October 9, 2008 [6 favorites]


Sometimes, I really don't understand the causes some people pick up. Of all the injustices in the world, is this really worth the time and energy?

My husband is normally one of the most laid back guys you'll ever meet. One of the very few things I've found so far that can set him of is when he's asked to show a receipt when exiting a supermarket with something he's just purchased that didn't fit in a bag (usually beer.) He freaks right the shit out. I don't begin to understand it. Of all the things to get worked up about, he picks a ten second inconvenience meant to cut down on shoplifting? That's so gay!
posted by TrinaSelwyn at 11:03 AM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


and by of I mean off, obviously.
posted by TrinaSelwyn at 11:03 AM on October 9, 2008


Sometimes, I really don't understand the causes some people pick up. Of all the injustices in the world, is this really worth the time and energy?

You're right, the existence of genocide means that we shouldn't mind it when people use a common word for homosexuality as a pejorative and slur.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:06 AM on October 9, 2008 [9 favorites]


Pls use "retarded" instead, thx!
posted by Artw at 11:07 AM on October 9, 2008


I don't begin to understand it. Of all the things to get worked up about, he picks a ten second inconvenience meant to cut down on shoplifting?

It's meant to cut down on cashier fraud, actually... and I have to admit it pisses me off, too.

I usually just say "No, this is MY stuff now." and keep walking. Am I bad?
posted by rokusan at 11:07 AM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


Ah, one of the many, many reasons why I stopped enjoying World of Warcraft.

I've heard so many people say this about online gaming, but has anyone really made an alternative? I know that there are "women only" servers to prevent sexual harassment. How about "people over 18 who don't say stupid, insulting things" servers?
posted by roll truck roll at 11:12 AM on October 9, 2008


The worst is hearing it from the "I-have-gay-friends-so-I-can-say-it" crowd. Note to anyone who uses that as a justification: your gay friends think you're a total cocksucker.
posted by roger ackroyd at 11:12 AM on October 9, 2008 [5 favorites]


Sometimes, I really don't understand the causes some people pick up. Of all the injustices in the world, is this really worth the time and energy?

Yes. Oddly enough, I am capable of caring about/getting outraged about/working to change more than one thing at a time.

You probably are too. You seem to be worked up about your husband's freaked-outedness - are you suddenly unable to care about other More Important Things? I bet not.
posted by rtha at 11:13 AM on October 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


I've always considered your mom.

Mr. T begs to differ. Treat her right!
posted by ALongDecember at 11:13 AM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


I submitted "assneck". As in: "Stop wearing maternity skirts when you aren't pregnant. They make you look like an assneck." I can safely say it isn't a synonym for gay, AND it isn't translated into French yet, so you can get around that pesky Toubon Law. You should still probably say assnecku if speaking Japanese, though.
posted by Bernt Pancreas at 11:16 AM on October 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


The worst is hearing it from the "I-have-gay-friends-so-I-can-say-it" crowd: your gay friends think you're a total cocksucker.

I say it, ironically, to and with and around them, mainly because speech is infectious and they say it. And the ones I'm thinking of would rip my heart out and feed it to me if they were offended, I can count on them for that. It's a good thing to have checks and balances.

Words have the power we let them have.

So please narrow your brush.
posted by rokusan at 11:17 AM on October 9, 2008 [3 favorites]


Yes. Oddly enough, I am capable of caring about/getting outraged about/working to change more than one thing at a time.

Sure, and I think we all are. I really am sick of "You can't say this because it upsets this group of people", though. It is a waste of time. No matter how well you plan your phrasing, there is always someone, somewhere, who will find reason to take offense to it. It makes me tired.
posted by TrinaSelwyn at 11:19 AM on October 9, 2008


I’ve seen a [not good thing] being described as being “made of AIDs and fail” – where do we stand on that?
posted by Artw at 11:20 AM on October 9, 2008 [6 favorites]


My brother was born deaf, with no auditory nerves. He went to the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind. I was shocked to learn (I think I was 8) that there was a pecking order among the children there. The deaf kids made fun of the blind kids my mimicking their tapping with a cane. The deaf and blind made fun of the physically handicapped with various foot-dragging jokes and the "chest thumping arm". Everybody, no matter how disabled, made fun of the mentally retarded. Amongst the deaf kids, there was no bigger burn than an ASL "MR" held up to the side of the forehead.

I nearly shit myself when I realized that stratification was that ingrained in humanity. So, every time I hear a slur on someone the speaker seems to think is "beneath" them, I know that really they themselves feel weak, and are just trying to conjure the image of someone else they think has less power than they do.

Still pisses me off, because I think our species could be better than that. But few want to do better, and many want to do the thing that gets them an easy boost to their self image.

Well, and most people just don't think, and repeat whatever they see others doing in order to "fit in".
posted by SaintCynr at 11:22 AM on October 9, 2008 [51 favorites]


When I went to college, I was this hippie-ass longhair liberal city kid from the Pacific Northwest planted in amongst a bunch of new friends who were mostly smaller-town east coast guys, and this was one of the weirder bits of culture clash for me—wearing my peace-sign tie dye shirt and having to tell them that "gay" might not be the best catch-all insult for shit, what with there being, you know, actual gay people around to whom that might be a pretty fucking insulting bit of jargon to keep perpetuating negatively.

These are good, smart guys, really good friends who I've stayed close to even after years apart on opposite sides of the country again. We were in (or at least just starting) college. So, yeah, it's not reducible even to stupid 14-year-olds, though a lot of it comes out of foundational exposure as a stupid 14-year-olds, I guess.

I tend to say "fucking weak" in the places other people say "so gay."

Right on.

That's so Palin.

You're not the first person to go in that direction lately.
posted by cortex at 11:22 AM on October 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


You know what? Even though there are gay people out there who apparently have no problem with it, the use of "gay" in this manner does really bother me. While people can claim "oh, it has nothing to do with homophobia", look at the other terms on the BBC list that rank up there alongside "gay":

Bitch (59%)
Slag (45%)
Poof (29%)
Batty boy (29%)
Slut (26%)
Queer (26%)
Lezzie (24.8%)
Homo (22%)
Faggot (11%)
Sissy (5%)

So, "gay" isn't being used as a homophobic insult? And yet almost every other term is?

While I don't for one minute believe that those using the term have spent time thinking it through and have chosen to use it homophobically, I do think that socio-culturally my country -- and yours, too -- is institutionally homophobic and this is a proof that demonstrates that.

While people can wring their hands over this, or claim it doesn't matter (it isn't meant in that way), this is a big issue. I'm only tangentially aware of Hillary Duff, but I think well done for speaking out.
posted by Lleyam at 11:25 AM on October 9, 2008 [7 favorites]


I'd like to see opinions from gay people in here regarding their feelings on it, whether it's being used by kids or adults.

Personally, having been on the other end of a fist or boot from a hate-fueled bigot screaming out words like "gay", "faggot", and other words intended to insult my multi-culture/skinshade/gender/preference group of friends, I'll never be okay with those words being used by someone who isn't one of those things.

Also, I avoid terms that could hurt someone else whenever I'm aware of the potential. There are billions of words available. No need to rely on the potentially wounding/dividing ones.

But I'm not currently in the community, so I don't know what general consensus is.
posted by batmonkey at 11:26 AM on October 9, 2008 [3 favorites]


(Don't ask me what we called brazil nuts, or the words we used for eeny-meeny. I'll be ashamed. And if you know what I mean: hi!)

Hi! (wooo! midwest! [weeps with embarassment]).

I've been trying to expunge "gay" from my list of words that means lame. It was an uphill battle for me for a long time, until the day it popped out while talking to a lesbian friend of mine - the look she gave me has turned it into a downhill battle. I'm getting very fond of "fail" now. It's descriptive enough that even those who don't know the meme still think it's funny.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 11:30 AM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


AS OF 10/08/2008, THERE WERE OVER 80,100 PAGES ONLINE WITH THE PHRASE "That's so gay."

More specifically, that breaks down to
45,000 pages with the phrase "That's so gay"
and
30,000 pages with the phrase "Thats so gay"

(and presumably 5,000 undecided?)
posted by -harlequin- at 11:30 AM on October 9, 2008


I really am sick of "You can't say this because it upsets this group of people", though. It is a waste of time. No matter how well you plan your phrasing, there is always someone, somewhere, who will find reason to take offense to it. It makes me tired.

And I'm really sick of people whining about being asked to show a little common courtesy. Is it really that tiring to not use "gay" pejoratively? Really? You're not able to work out for yourself what words or turns of phrase others around you might find hurtful? We're not talking quadratic equations here.

I think the same people who whine about "political correctness" are the same ones who get called out for speaking without thinking. Well, guess what? It happens to all of us. Just say "sorry" and move on. You don't need to take it as some great affront to your person and make it seem like a chore to show others a modicum of respect.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:31 AM on October 9, 2008 [27 favorites]


Growing up, my dad wouldn't allow/want us to say "that's so stupid" let alone "lame" "gay" or "retarded." He'd say something along the lines of "use better words. That's so (whatever) doesn't mean anything. Say what your actual problem with it is."

Kind of along the same lines as the ubiquitous "Don't say 'you're a jerk', say 'I didn't like it when you (x), because (y).'" I'm still not great at doing so (it's definitely harder than just going with the flow and throwing out pejoratives) but I think it's a good policy to teach kids and to follow as an adult. When I was younger I didn't get it, but now I appreciate Dad's lesson.

I like the Office's take on this:

Michael Scott: I would never have called Oscar faggy had I known he was gay. You don't call retarded people "retards". That would be in bad taste. You call your friends "retards" when they're acting retarded. And I consider Oscar to be my friend.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 11:32 AM on October 9, 2008 [14 favorites]


I usually add "But not in a good way," which alleviates any pangs of conscience by making all the heteros uncomfortable too. This really is a well done campaign because it's attacking ignorant uses of the word rather than any use at all. "Do you realize what you're saying?" is the best way to shape people's speech--not telling them what to say in every situation.

Anyway that top was pretty gay. In that it made Hillary Duff want to lick her in the changing room. And then the other girl poured maple syrup on both of them and...wait did I imagine that? Darn this heterosexyism!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:35 AM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


I prefer to say, "What a Duketastrophe!"
posted by Saxon Kane at 11:36 AM on October 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


there is always someone, somewhere, who will find reason to take offense to it.

If that person is not within hearing distance, or a friend/relative/loved one etc. of one who is, then sure, it's silly to worry about it too much.

I assume most people police their speech for the n word (precious of me, isn't it? But I really, really hate that word, and I don't want to type it or say it), and for other words of that ilk, depending on culture and context. It really isn't that hard to not say "That [stupid thing] is so gay." I have used that construct in an ironic fashion with gay friends (I'm a dyke), but I don't use it with strangers or people who are not close friends or in the office or other inappropriate places. It isn't difficult. I use a lot of swear words pretty freely - but not in the office, not around little kids, and not around people who might be made uncomfortable by them. Again, not difficult.
posted by rtha at 11:38 AM on October 9, 2008


Or, what Marisa said.
posted by rtha at 11:38 AM on October 9, 2008


No matter how well you plan your phrasing, there is always someone, somewhere, who will find reason to take offense to it. It makes me tired.
So if one can't do everything, one might as well do nothing. Convenient.
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:39 AM on October 9, 2008 [4 favorites]


'That's so heterosexual.'
posted by shakespeherian at 11:41 AM on October 9, 2008


Not cool. Unless, of course, you're a faggot, and then it's okay. And I have an exception for articles of clothing: they can definitely be 'gay', meaning at the same time 'lame' and 'more likely to be worn by a homosexual.' Example: That shirt is so gay.

This should not, however, be used around children.

How about 'fruity'? It's pejoratively delicious!
posted by sixswitch at 11:41 AM on October 9, 2008


As the article said, it's the same in germany where "schwul" is now one the most popular insults.
I'm gay and if I hear that wort used as an insult, I'm offended. Might have used it ironically once or twice, but this joke gets old pretty quick.
And if people make excuses like "hey, it's not about homosexuality" I usually find it not very convincing.
posted by kolophon at 11:42 AM on October 9, 2008


Did you mean it was sleek and beautiful?
posted by pernoctalian at 11:46 AM on October 9, 2008


People who say "gay" are, like, soooo retarded.

That's funny. I was with a group of mostly gay men last week, and someone mentioned the rise in "that's so retarded," and someone responded, naturally, with "that's so gay." Someone wondered why retarded was OK to say and gay wasn't (um). I thought it was obvious. It's because there are fewer retards than fags (and to be blunt, it's a much more silent minority).

I agree with S&T. Diversify your vocabulary, *think before you speak,* and stop yourself when you start to use a catchphrase (unless it's hilariously obscure and retro, but still a risky proposition). It makes life much more interesting for everyone.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:47 AM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


That's so 9/11.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 11:48 AM on October 9, 2008


Another gay opinion from an actual gay person.

If someone puts me in the same category that they use for stupid and useless and annoying crap of all sorts, then they've effectively dehumanized me. Gay stuff includes boring lectures that they don't want to sit through, music from artists who've sold out completely, jeans that make their ass look too big, and me.

None of these things deserve respect or consideration. None of them are worthwhile. None of them have value.

That scares me deeply.

Please cut it out.
posted by MrVisible at 11:49 AM on October 9, 2008 [20 favorites]


Rtha, Marisa: So this is just about being polite? I know some white people who use the N-word around other white people, but would be quite polite around blacks.Yes I know cracker scumbags, that is true, but my question is: is the problem with this word just that it might offend someone, but that people can continue to use it with non-gays because it's OK?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:50 AM on October 9, 2008


i can recall instances of "gay" being a pejorative for non-people (as in "that's gay" rather than "you're gay") at least 20 years ago. probably more.

how many folks who are now middle aged grew up playing "smear the queer"? (it's sort of a very violent tag game)
posted by rmd1023 at 11:51 AM on October 9, 2008


I don't see why some people object so much to thinking before they speak so that they are respectful of their friends and family, as well as kind and respectful to strangers.

Movements like this are just to help us think before we speak so that we don't unintentionally say hurtful things. If, after being told that some people object to the use of 'gay' as a pejorative, you still choose to use it... go ahead. You should be allowed to and not arrested and thrown in jail by some hypothetical PC police.

But, if people think less because of you afterwards, and don't want to work with you or be your friends or buy your products or what have you - well, that's how the world works. You are entitled to your choices and the consequences of them.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 11:52 AM on October 9, 2008 [6 favorites]


*sigh* I'm not saying that it isn't worth considering the feelings of the people in the room with you. I'm saying it's not worth starting a campaign to tell inconsiderate people they're inconsiderate. They probably already know, and I'm betting most of them don't care.
posted by TrinaSelwyn at 11:56 AM on October 9, 2008


TrinaSelwyn: I think you're right, there's a possibility this gets overwrought. But I also think its a pretty cynical attitude to think that it isn't worth trying to raise people up, help them understand that being shitty to people ain't a good thing.
posted by Lleyam at 11:59 AM on October 9, 2008


So if one can't do everything, one might as well do nothing. Convenient.

Rephrasing and distorting a statement to make it seem more extreme that it was to being with, and therefore invalid. Convenient.
posted by TrinaSelwyn at 11:59 AM on October 9, 2008


is the problem with this word just that it might offend someone, but that people can continue to use it with non-gays because it's OK?

No, the problem is that people who one assumes not to actually be bigots use the words without considering the consequences. Don't confuse the idea of a savvy bigot with a well-meaning clueless person—this is functionally about the latter, not the former. Anyone who grows 'nigger' or 'faggot' and means is in a fundamentally different situation than someone who just hasn't considered their choice of slang carefully.
posted by cortex at 11:59 AM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


My sister, who is a lesbian, says "that's so gay."

... you know, there is a reason why nearly every homosexual organization's name starts with "Gay and Lesbian ..."

I know the term is frequently used by lots of people to mean all homosexual people, but where I'm from it means gay men, and so does the usage "that's so gay."

That's so Palin.

My bicycling road-rage insult of choice has always been "asshole!" ala Kevin Kline in A Fish Called Wanda--I've recently changed it to "Palin voter!"
posted by mrgrimm at 11:59 AM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


So this is just about being polite? I know some white people who use the N-word around other white people, but would be quite polite around blacks.Yes I know cracker scumbags, that is true, but my question is: is the problem with this word just that it might offend someone, but that people can continue to use it with non-gays because it's OK?

Well, holding your tongue with words that you use around some people but not others is a matter of politeness. Not using the word at all, in any situation, is a matter of respect. For those other people, and yourself.

Why is this rocket science?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:00 PM on October 9, 2008 [5 favorites]


Potomac Avenue, for me it's some about being polite, but it's mostly about respect, which I will always try to offer whether the object of that respect is actually present or not. The respect is not just for the person or group, but also for myself. Language can certainly be "catching" ("made of win", "FTFY", "I hope your head falls off", "QFT", to randomly pick examples easily found proliferating on MeFi and the internets at large), and I don't want to add to the popularity of some words, or give the impression that I think the usage is just dandy. All of this can be heavily context-specific, of course.
posted by rtha at 12:01 PM on October 9, 2008


The world would be an infinitely better place if people considered intentions paramount.

My entire world view and belief system is highly, almost totally, governed by intentions.

If someone intended to insult me, it is of little consequence what words they chose to use. Being called stupid, idiotic, moronic, retarded, dumb, or a dunce are all equally offensive if chosen to truly insult and belittle.

Likewise, if someone is teasing and obviously means no harm, then again, the words they use are of little consequence.

Consider a 70 year old white man in Mississippi that drives his 85 year old black neighbor to his doctor appointments, plays checkers with him in the afternoons, and shares regular meals with him to make sure he's eating well. If he says "There goes the nicest colored boy you'll ever meet" then trying to impress political correctness on him is just being an ass.

Intentions mean everything.
posted by Ynoxas at 12:01 PM on October 9, 2008 [5 favorites]


It's not merely inconsiderate to align a social descriptor with crappiness. It's rhetorically diminishing to the more useful meaning of the word. Gay qua homosexual is more sociall, progressively, descriptively _functional_ than gay qua bad, useless, lousy, awful, and the latter is stealing from the former.

See that tiny black point, way way down there, creeping closer? That's the end of meaning as we know it, the surrender of cogent progressive discourse. Let's not race there.

OW MY BALLS

/not a linguist
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:04 PM on October 9, 2008 [3 favorites]


They probably already know, and I'm betting most of them don't care.

This directly contradicts my personal experience. I'm neither here nor there on the likely efficacy of a PSA campaign—I don't know if it'll have much impact, but I certainly don't think it can hurt—but I believe very strongly that lots of people are just casually using divisive pejoratives because they really haven't had anyone ever call them on it.

A dim awareness that there are folks who dislike it is a very different and less powerful thing than having someone visibly, or ideally personally, state that there's a problem with it.
posted by cortex at 12:04 PM on October 9, 2008


>>Intentions mean everything.

But is nearly impossible to judge, in most cases. And of course, someone who gets busted will say they were "Just joking".
posted by SaintCynr at 12:04 PM on October 9, 2008


how many folks who are now middle aged grew up playing "smear the queer"?

Me! By the time my brothers left middle school, the powers that be had changed the name of the game to "cream the guy with the ball." Ummmmm...yeah....
posted by The Light Fantastic at 12:05 PM on October 9, 2008


But I also think its a pretty cynical attitude to think that it isn't worth trying to raise people up, help them understand that being shitty to people ain't a good thing.

Fair enough. It's hard not to be cynical in this world. It's also difficult to believe that simply telling people to be nicer has any affect when you've seen no evidence of it whatsoever.
posted by TrinaSelwyn at 12:05 PM on October 9, 2008


Marisa types faster than I do, and is more succinct.
posted by rtha at 12:06 PM on October 9, 2008


Fair enough. It's hard not to be cynical in this world. It's also difficult to believe that simply telling people to be nicer has any affect when you've seen no evidence of it whatsoever.

I'm probably too optimistic for my own good, but I always find that behaving in a way consistent with how you'd like the world to be is a good start. Not to hector you, but from my perspective that would include standing behind people's good intentions in this regard vis a vis raising awareness of the power of these kind of words. :-)
posted by Lleyam at 12:09 PM on October 9, 2008


I've heard so many people say this about online gaming, but has anyone really made an alternative?

Private servers really are your only option other than turning off every chat channel and putting up a /dnd and getting a mod that lets you ignore tells and never grouping with anyone ever. Anonymity brings out the worst in people, unfortunately.

Anyway, slightly more on-topic:

I'd like to see opinions from gay people in here regarding their feelings on it, whether it's being used by kids or adults.

I'm somewhere in the "what does gender have to do with anything?" category. I mean, I seriously lucked out and fell for an opposite sex partner, people are generally more okay with w/w relationships, and I live in Massachusetts, so I have it pretty easy. I'm still offended by "gay" and "fag" and "homo" (except that scene in Ghost World with the mullet guy, because I'm a total hypocrite) and the like. I'm also offended when my manager calls me a "lady" though (I work as a secretary in a male-dominated field. Any email that starts with "Ladies..." is going to be condescending). I don't like anything that specifies "otherness" in a group of "normal"-and-therefore-better people.

People who are treated with significantly less respect than they deserve are never going to get equality if we're subconsciously reminding ourselves that they're not our equals. Using the word "gay" over and over doesn't take the hurt and power away from the word. It just cements the belief that "gay" = bad.

Hearing stuff like this from kids is worse than adults, I think. The only worse person I could hear these words from is a parent with youngish children. Hearing words that are laced with hate (whether people realize it or not, it's there) come from young mouths makes me seriously worry about the future. I don't want discrimination and prejudice to continue existing.
posted by giraffe at 12:09 PM on October 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


A dim awareness that there are folks who dislike it is a very different and less powerful thing than having someone visibly, or ideally personally, state that there's a problem with it.


I wish I had the kind of confidence in the average human being that many of you seem to have. I'll work on it.
posted by TrinaSelwyn at 12:13 PM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm saying it's not worth starting a campaign to tell inconsiderate people they're inconsiderate. They probably already know, and I'm betting most of them don't care.

I used to use the word 'gyp' all the time thinking it was spelled differently and didn't realize its hateful roots. Similarly, I had one friend who would use the term "to jew him/it/etc. down" without realizing what she was saying. We were both mortified and embarrassed when someone tactfully clued us in.

There are a lot of deliberately hateful people out there, but also a lot of people who simply don't think about what they're saying.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 12:15 PM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


how many folks who are now middle aged grew up playing "smear the queer"?

Me! By the time my brothers left middle school, the powers that be had changed the name of the game to "cream the guy with the ball." Ummmmm...yeah....


We called it "Kill the Man With the Ball," and the rules were different from Smear the Queer. In other words, whereas Smear the Queer actually had rules (or rather, just one rule), KTMWTB didn't.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:15 PM on October 9, 2008


cortex: Sorry if I was confusing, what I meant was that, as someone who says "gay" meaning bad occasionally, the task of those who wish to change my language is not only to convince me that it is insulting to gays, but that I should consider not saying it around straight people as well. If all straight people who didn't like this phrase said "hey Potomac knock it off" when I said it, I'd be conditioned not to.

On preview, thanks rtha and marisa. It's rocket science because it is a very very satisfying thing to say that is totally unconnected cognitively to homophobia.

I just heard about Louis CK's standup routine on "cunt" and "faggot" and then talk about it on Sound of Young America. Basically he says that you have to take responsibility for the words you say, but that people are never going to stop using offensive speech. It's comes from some dirty part of our brains that needs to express itself, maybe. I dunno.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:17 PM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


I made an intentional effort to stop using gay in this way. I have friends that still use it but I generally don't bother getting in anyone's face about it.

I try to avoid saying lame and retarded but this is a much harder battle for me. I also try not to say that I hate something when I actually just dislike it. I don't get offended when others do these things without genuine malice. I haven't modified my speech habits for anyone else's sake, I've tried to do it for my own.

My current favorite alternatives include "weak", though preferably it is said as "Shit's weak!" with appropriate hand gestures.
posted by utsutsu at 12:18 PM on October 9, 2008


Similarly, I had one friend who would use the term "to jew him/it/etc. down" without realizing what she was saying.

Sorry to derail, but where in the US do people actually use this saying? Because I hadn't heard of it until maybe a year or two ago, tops, and my initial thought was, "how does someone not know that's offensive?" and someone had to explain to me that this was an actual expression that people use.
posted by giraffe at 12:23 PM on October 9, 2008


Forgot to include:

Here is an instructional demonstration of the proper Shit's Weak Technique
posted by utsutsu at 12:23 PM on October 9, 2008


as someone who says "gay" meaning bad occasionally, the task of those who wish to change my language is not only to convince me that it is insulting to gays, but that I should consider not saying it around straight people as well. If all straight people who didn't like this phrase said "hey Potomac knock it off" when I said it, I'd be conditioned not to.

Sometimes a learned behavior doesn't need to be operatively conditioned. You can exercise a certain degree of empathy or caution as well. As a personal example: I didn't know the N-word was offensive until I was eight years old, when I used it casually in front of a classmate. He shot me a hurtful look and said, "That's not a nice word. That's mean." This was enough for me. I didn't need to continually repeat this word until every person I met had repeatedly admonished me for using it, and brow-beat me into Skinner Box submission. Just one time was enough to realize a) this word can hurt people, and b) I should avoid using it at all.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:23 PM on October 9, 2008


Meanwhile, "sick" has become a positive term now, meaning roughly what "rad" did 10-20 years ago. So if you can praise a thing with a term whose conventional meaning is extremely negative, then to denigrate a thing with "gay" is to, in effect, praise the conventional meaning of gay. So by insulting things by calling them gay, they are not necessarily disparaging that which corresponds to the conventional meaning of gay.

In other words:

sick : bad :: gay : good

or

If the slang meaning of "sick" is positive even though its conventional connotation is negative, then the fact that the slang meaning of "gay" is negative must perforce not necessarily imply that the conventional connotation is negative, it may be positive.

So really, I think we're good here.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:26 PM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone,' it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.'

'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.'

'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master - that's all.'

posted by fuse theorem at 12:26 PM on October 9, 2008


I started using the word "Trig" instead of "retard" for a few days until I realized that Trig will grow up to be the most worthwhile human being in that whole godawful family. True story.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 12:27 PM on October 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


as someone who says "gay" meaning bad occasionally, the task of those who wish to change my language is not only to convince me that it is insulting to gays, but that I should consider not saying it around straight people as well.

Personally, I think you should, in the literal sense, consider it. Examine your usage, look carefully at the pros and cons, decide for yourself whether a lack of specific objection from your presumed-straight friends and acquaintances is to you satisfying evidence of tacit approval rather than tacit tolerance, etc. You may decide that you're 100% in the clear, or that you're willing to accept the not-great remainder as worth whatever you get out of it, etc.

I'm never going to tell someone they can't use whatever language they like in general, but that consideration and personal responsibility for the secondary effects of their language choices (or non-choices, which is really the issue here I think) is a really important thing, and it can be hard to gauge the extent to which someone has considered and decided vs. refused to consider.

Basically he says that you have to take responsibility for the words you say, but that people are never going to stop using offensive speech. It's comes from some dirty part of our brains that needs to express itself, maybe. I dunno.

Which is I think a reasonable point to make. Shit, look at Tourettes as an argument for a legitimate hardwired biological imperative, maybe.

But how one chooses to talk dirty, and why, is the question. And for a lot of people, I believe it's momentum and laziness as much as anything that drives their usage—a million schoolboys didn't all independently come to the conclusion that homosexuality needed to be addressed pejoratively, there's acculturation and learning-from-elders behind this stuff.

So say "fucking weak" instead of "gay" or "faggy". Aim for something with the big thrust of expressiveness or taboo-violation that doesn't lead to collatoral damage. The instinct that leads to bar fights and to amateur boxing matches might be the same, but the expression is very different. So too language choices.
posted by cortex at 12:28 PM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


giraffe

>>Sorry to derail, but where in the US do people actually use this saying?

My grandfather and father used it when I was a kid in Colorado. Dunno where else it is/was used.
posted by SaintCynr at 12:31 PM on October 9, 2008


Marisa: That's not really a fair analogy, since if you said nigger anywhere with anyone they would say this to you and you never hear it among white people you know (I assume, I certainly didn't hear it growing up from white people). On the other hand, many kids like me heard "gay" everywhere growing up, from our friends and families. So it does take a bit more effort on the part of crusaders to make it a fully "bad" word.

Just to be clear, I'm not defending the usage of it without consequence. If people are really offended by it, by all means, speak up! It can only lead to a better, more conscious social discourse.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:31 PM on October 9, 2008


My mother started us at an early age learning about the power of words. Primarily, she found the phrase "that sucks" to be revolting, and forbade us to use it - explaining that it referred to a sex act. Fair enough.

Like Giraffe, I was totally turned off by the infantile language used in World of Warcraft.

To those who would argue that intent matters, I would agree. But the lack of concern shown by this behavior is indicative of another intent: to ignore gay people's feelings or to wholly deny that they have any.

Gay people are currently in a struggle to have our civil and political rights recognized. I would probably not feel quite so strongly about this if I knew that my rights were protected. For now though, I'm still a second class citizen, and hearing high school or college students use gay as a pejorative reminds me of that.
posted by greekphilosophy at 12:32 PM on October 9, 2008 [5 favorites]


Sorry to derail, but where in the US do people actually use this saying? Because I hadn't heard of it until maybe a year or two ago, tops, and my initial thought was, "how does someone not know that's offensive?" and someone had to explain to me that this was an actual expression that people use.

1) Not a lot of Jewish people where we lived, out in rural Connecticut.
2) The girl was at most 16, and I don't know if she found out and stopped using it earlier - she brought it up when I told her about my "gyp" experience.

So she probably heard it from her parents or other adults (maybe one of those holdovers from their childhood, when it was possibly fine to use 'Jew' as a pejorative) and just absorbed it into her vocabulary without ever thinking about it. That's how kids learn most words, along with most everything, right? Imitation.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 12:32 PM on October 9, 2008


Some good replacement terms:

That's so woman.

That's so n**ger.

That's so greasy Mexican with forty kids illegally crossing the border to take our jobs.



Obviously, the term "gay" is used pejoratively, Jesus.

And it's lame.

Especially when you're gay.

Anytime I come across someone who thinks they can weasel out of saying the phrase with
some half-assed double speak, I remind them that they ARE STILL USING THE TERM PEJORATIVELY.
posted by gcbv at 12:33 PM on October 9, 2008 [3 favorites]


Similarly, I had one friend who would use the term "to jew him/it/etc. down" without realizing what she was saying.

Sorry to derail, but where in the US do people actually use this saying?


Heh. I got my first job in journalism because a guy jokingly said another guy tried to "jew him" out of money for a late-night office dinner run.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:34 PM on October 9, 2008


I mean, they fired him, which created an opening for me.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:34 PM on October 9, 2008


cortex: How about, as Artw suggested, "Aids"? It really is a bad thing, it's got a funky beat, and I can bug out to it!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:35 PM on October 9, 2008


On the other hand, many kids like me heard "gay" everywhere growing up, from our friends and families. So it does take a bit more effort on the part of crusaders to make it a fully "bad" word.

My point is, isn't it enough to hear it once, from somebody, that this word is offensive? Do you really need to continue using it until X number have said it? Is it not better to err on the side of caution, and just choose words that more accurately describe what you mean anyway?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:35 PM on October 9, 2008


The only way to sound more like a dipshit than using "gay" as a pejorative, is to preface it with the word "hella." Then again, "hella" lowers the apparent intelligence of any statement.
posted by brundlefly at 12:36 PM on October 9, 2008


It says on your chart that you're fucked up. Uh... You talk like a fag, and your shit's all retarded.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:37 PM on October 9, 2008 [6 favorites]


Shit, look at Tourettes as an argument for a legitimate hardwired biological imperative, maybe.

So my wife knew a kid, years ago, who had Tourettes but who didn't know any dirty words. Mostly he was fine when on meds and off anything caffeinated or chocolate, but a few times he let loose, repeatedly muttering phrases like "stupid lady" and "stupid fat lady".
posted by GuyZero at 12:39 PM on October 9, 2008 [5 favorites]


Intentions mean everything.

I disagree. This campaign is aimed at young people, mostly tweens and teens. Remember how awkward and nervous and insecure you all felt at that age, whether or not there was anything really "weird" about you? Imagine starting to question your sexuality, while surrounded by other kids who constantly use "gay" as a synonym for "shitty". Whether those kids have considered the origin of the term or not, as someone who's got gay-ness on your mind, it's going to stand out to you that this term means something bad among the people you're trying to fit in with.

I'm trying to think of a good analogy... What if "zitty" was the big insult in junior high? You're just hitting puberty, and suddenly your complexion is going a little haywire, and suddenly everyone is constantly implying that having zits makes you worthless and stupid and worthy of derision. So you pile on the concealing makeup, and pray nobody notices, and maybe end up feeling like you need to hide behind a mask of foundation every day well into adulthood. Because even if adults are telling you that the way you secretly know you are is ok, you've had it ground into you by your peer group that it's not ok. I don't think I need to point out the lasting damage this does to a young person's sense of self worth, when you translate back to the use of "gay".

We've already got a climate in which even the liberal politicians aren't comfortable supporting same-sex marriages, for fear of offending people and losing votes. The conservatives? Don't even get me started. Certainly some people grow up supported by loving family and friends and peers and role models who are open with their acceptance of homosexuality, but the sad truth is that our nationwide culture does NOT feel like a friendly place for homosexuals. Anything we can do to make the world feel a bit less hostile for people is, in my book, a good thing.
posted by vytae at 12:39 PM on October 9, 2008 [7 favorites]


Yes, "hella" is annoying. I'm still surprised to run into people who use it. But it still makes me laugh, because it reminds me of that episode of South Park, when Cartman fell in love with that word.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:41 PM on October 9, 2008


I find "made of fail and AIDS" sort of darkly charming in the way that a lot of the lowbrow memes that come out of 4chan are, at least at first blush. I think it's a complicated bit of language because, on the one hand, AIDS is a bad thing, but on the other hand AIDS is a Gay thing (or, depending on your cultural touchstones, a Primitive Brown People thing)

I have a hard time seeing it even gaining mainstream currency in that form, though, so I'm not sure what there is to say about it.
posted by cortex at 12:46 PM on October 9, 2008


I went to a Catholic all-boys high school. Pretty diverse on racial terms, and within Christian sects. I then went to college with a prominent Jewish population, and made many friends within the group. I was then aghast a friend explained another's behaviour by saying, "Well, yea, he's a Jew."

And that, my friends, was how I learned "Jew" was not always pejorative.
posted by FuManchu at 12:47 PM on October 9, 2008


I used to use the word 'gyp' all the time thinking it was spelled differently and didn't realize its hateful roots. Similarly, I had one friend who would use the term "to jew him/it/etc. down" without realizing what she was saying.

Oh wow. You just did it again. I completely forgot about those, but yessir, those were both in the everyday parlance when I grew up playing dodgeball for breakfast.

As I recall, it was "jew [someone] out of [something]", for cheating them, like "I got jewed out of winning by that retard, Stu."

Wow. We were horrible fucking kids.
posted by rokusan at 12:49 PM on October 9, 2008


Wait, "slag" means "loose woman?" What about "slagging someone off?" Is that... propositional?

As a new insult, how about "maverick" to mean any of "inconsiderate, useless, showboating schmuck?"
posted by Pronoiac at 12:50 PM on October 9, 2008


Marisa: No, sorry, it isn't, not as a bratty kid (who would love to offend everyone at once if possible) nor as a deeply flawed adult. Sometimes I want to offend people, including myself. I don't necessarily act on it, but the desire persists. You seem like a very nice person. I've never been accused of anything similar.

cortex: I meant as in:

"This new Stephenson novel is aids."
"Why are you being aids? Order the omelet so I can share."
"Haha nice aids shirt, why don't you just pop the collar so everyone can see how aids you are?"
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:51 PM on October 9, 2008


Yeah, I don't see it working, really, but I'd be grossed out if it did, for the complicated-baggage reasons above. I think "why that" would be a really fair question for anyone who decided it was a good meme to run with.
posted by cortex at 12:55 PM on October 9, 2008


Mr Throne?
*snicker*

Yeah, I think if you just break down what the implication is, it would shut someone using it right down.

“That shirt is so gay!”

“My shirt is like the insertion of a man’s erect penis into your mouth or rectum? How can you even compare that?”

“...shut up!”

I think I was one of the first kids in my grade school to use the term “motherfucker.” (I was gifted with a foul-mouthed family)
Someone says “Your shirt is gay!” And you come back with “Fuck you and your shirt, motherfucker!” - pretty much the H-Bomb of perjorative invectives on the playground. You get sort of a hushed awe.

Not that escalation here is what we should be shooting for.
But y’know, all you Oedipal folks step forward who are offended.

Yeah, didn’t think so.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:55 PM on October 9, 2008


What about "slagging someone off?" Is that... propositional?

Ha. Well, no, it's to chastise them or wave them off like you might wave off a cheap sidewalk trollop who was annoying you with propositions. You're treating them like a (worthless, cheap) whore.

(I'm not sanctioning. I'm describing.)
posted by rokusan at 12:56 PM on October 9, 2008


Oh yes, smear the queer - I remember it well. I also remember telling a friend who was eight years younger than me and grew up in California about it, and how horrified she was.
What we called "ring and run" was much worse.

Also, what MrVisible said. As a gay person, I can do without "that's so gay". The justification that "it doesn't mean homosexual, it just means things that are loathesome in some way" doesn't make me feel a lot better. It reminds me of the Ice T song Bitches 2, wherein Ice explains to us that ladies that when he uses the word bitch he means ALL terrible people, not just women. Thanks, Ice!
posted by smartyboots at 12:59 PM on October 9, 2008


Actually, this brings another question I have to mind. According to the usage above, this is homosexual, and this is gay. Is there an acceptable nomenclature that differentiates the two? Saying "that's so camp" just doesn't capture the second image.
posted by FuManchu at 1:00 PM on October 9, 2008


I think that second example is actually fabulous.
posted by cortex at 1:02 PM on October 9, 2008


Is there an acceptable nomenclature that differentiates the two?

Its all gay/homosexual. What differentiation you looking for?
posted by Lleyam at 1:03 PM on October 9, 2008


Is there an acceptable nomenclature that differentiates the two?

Its all gay/homosexual. What differentiation you looking for?


"Flaming" ?
posted by stifford at 1:07 PM on October 9, 2008


One of the things that has informed my approach is the concept of prejudice.

Not just to keep from spreading prejudice in general, but holding down someone else from acknowledging and accepting themselves because they have been exposed to prejudice which can reinforce the feeling of being trapped in an impossible situation - be what they are and learn what that means, or hold it inside to protect/keep the people in their lives who would be disappointed to learn they are anything "other".

It is gutwrenching to suddenly realise you are the thing your family/friends/whatever insult regularly. You suddenly feel very frightened and hyperaware of everything about you that could set them on you. Looking around at those you love and being terrified of how they would respond if they knew what you really are is dehumanising and can be crippling.

Some choose to suppress it forever based on the prejudice around them, and this may be one of the influential factors behind behaviours which are unhealthy for that individual and society in general - depression, risky sex, inappropriate partner choices, and other decisions based on fear and the perceived need for repression.

My contention is that this leads to a host of personal and societal ills, and choosing to be part of the wall of noise that prevents people from acknowledging who they are and what they need means choosing to perpetuate that cycle. This goes far beyond the gender one prefers to have sex with and can even get in the way of a person seeking appropriate medical help.

Further, I believe it encourages those who do use these words based on hate instead of just laziness. They feel it gives their approach credence, that it bears out their opinions, that they have more support than they may necessarily have. In my mind, this is unacceptable. I could never be okay with encouraging bigots.

The potential net effect of using words like "gay", "faggot", etc. is too great to ignore, I think, and it should be dissuaded with encouragement to find other words and understand the impact of doing otherwise. Those who want it to be easier, well, so do those who have to listen to the negative implications of these words. Life's not fair. The "suffering" of choosing a different word is pretty much negligible compared to the effect on those the words apply to.
posted by batmonkey at 1:08 PM on October 9, 2008 [16 favorites]


No, sorry, it isn't, not as a bratty kid (who would love to offend everyone at once if possible) nor as a deeply flawed adult. Sometimes I want to offend people, including myself. I don't necessarily act on it, but the desire persists. You seem like a very nice person. I've never been accused of anything similar.

Thanks. But I'm curious about something: since you freely and with refreshing honesty admit that you know this word offends but will continue to use it anyway due to a niceness deficiency, what exactly would it take to convince you? I was thinking something along the lines of positive reinforcement, like a Carribean cruise, or maybe a nice muffin basket.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:18 PM on October 9, 2008


I like the word hella.
posted by lunit at 1:20 PM on October 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


Also, for the record, I think we all possess the desire to offend at times, and sometimes act on it. I won't pretend to be above it.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:21 PM on October 9, 2008


I had a friend who went through something like sensitivity training to be a resident adviser in a college dorm (aka: supervise the new kids). She told me the list of derogatory terms she didn't realize were derogatory, including gyp. As in: "I felt gyped by that movie, I want my money back."

Oh, gyp = gypsy! Bother.
-----

In the last year or two I heard someone say they got jewed around here (central/coastal California), and that was possibly the first time I actually heard it in person. It was weird, almost like a throw-back to some time I never lived through (I'm almost 30, a California kid and all that). A few years earlier someone in a truck yelled "Gook!" at me, another white guy, and my Afghani friend, so we assumed they wanted to try out the word and see how it sounded, not really caring to be correctly politically incorrect.

This same Afghan and I had racial wars, strictly verbal, where we'd throw ridiculous terms at each other. His trump was "your people invented rape." Really, what do you say to that? I'm not a scholar in that sort of thing, but maybe the Vikings can take some of the blame.
-----

When I was in high school we took a trip to the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, and one exhibit they have is the Tunnel of Insults. I'm a white kid from a fairly bland neighborhood, and I went to what I'd consider middle-class public schools, so all those terms were pretty foreign to me. Jungle bunny? Camel jockey? Those are really offensive? I thought about it, and I could see how they weren't nice, but they still sounded like a silly thing to call someone. Post 9/11, "Towelhead" is a new one (to me), which sounds equally silly. Oooh, you have an odd hat, which appears to be a towel. Take that! The one saying the insult sounds more absurd (to me)
-----

My wife has been teaching algebra and geometry to high school kids for a few weeks now, and she's had to police their use of "gay" and other swear words. After the first day, she told me stories of all the "butt-heads" she has to deal with, and I realized she could no longer use the same language she was used to, and somehow turned back to another high school (or earlier) term. It's been strange to hear, and amusing.
-----

Well, holding your tongue with words that you use around some people but not others is a matter of politeness. Not using the word at all, in any situation, is a matter of respect. For those other people, and yourself.

Why is this rocket science?


With people past their teens, I'll go with common courtesy. "Calling you what you are" is fine amongst friends (I'll accept cossack, polock, honkey, and cracker). But "calling someone what they aren't" isn't nice, because it's fun amongst friends, but among friends you're devaluing that group of people. When fag or gay becomes the equivalent of stupid, then at some level you're saying all gay people are stupid, or less than you.

With teens and younger, it takes a bit more reasoning out. "How would you like it if someone else _derogatory term_? Those are just words, right? Oh, it's insulting to you, even if you aren't there?"
-----

Other alternative words:
ass-hat (shorts? protective undergarments?)
ass-jacket (pants?)
douchebox (douchebag, but compounded)

fudgesicle or fudge (my replacement for the f word)
sweet baby James (leaving Jesus outta things)
posted by filthy light thief at 1:21 PM on October 9, 2008


"Flaming" ?

Yeah, I know, funny joke and all. But this is really just an extension of using "gay" as a pejorative. Laugh at the flaming queers.

The second picture is at the edge of my personal experience, as a gay man, and yet it is still part of the gay experience.

While the use of these terms isn't something that particularly bothers me (its probably just that I'm drinking this evening), I find it an interesting observation that it remains perfectly acceptable to use words that separate those of us who are gay from the "normals", as though it is something that needs commenting on.

But anyway, what is it term that differentiates one straight experience from the next? Bland?
posted by Lleyam at 1:21 PM on October 9, 2008


But anyway, what is it term that differentiates one straight experience from the next? Bland?

I guess it doesn't necessarily have to be strictly for straight experiences, but you could start with the "prude" through "kinky" range.
posted by stifford at 1:31 PM on October 9, 2008


Marisa: I'm afraid that this is the type of inveterate and pervasive oppositionality than can only be cured by long, hard, thoughtful struggle and arduous but firm, tough but even-handed manly discipline. Yes I am talking about gay sex.

Excuse me folks...I've got a lot of crow to eat--the crow called another man's penis. God Bless America.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:33 PM on October 9, 2008


I used to have a nice, but clueless co-worker, who was entirely too influenced by the mainstream pop-culture expressions he heard his kids using. One day he remarked about how "gay" something was. I asked what he was referring to (fully expecting it to be something... you know, related to homosexuality) but it was just something online that he had found a little dumb.

I commented that he might not want to use the term as a pejorative considering the person who sat at the desk next to him was (very openly) gay.

He gave me this sort of shocked and confused look and I suddenly realized that he 1.) wasn't aware of this fact, and 2.) had never really connected the dots that the word "gay" in this context was taken from the offensive term, probably in much the same way that a lot of people don't realize that getting "gypped" is derived from unhappy dealings with gypsies.

He was very contrite and, as far as I know, never used the term again. I guess that, up until that point, it never really occurred to me that some people honestly didn't know that it wasn't really appropriate.
posted by quin at 1:33 PM on October 9, 2008


I don't get it. Is it really that hard to avoid insulting and dehumanizing people when that's not even the intent of whatever you're saying? "That's so gay/lame/retarded," is lazy, inaccuracte, uncreative, disrespectful, dehumanizing, and makes me think less of the speaker.

My daughters (in high school now) heard a lot of this when they were in middle school (just as I did when I was in school in the '70s and '80s), and tended to use responses like "That's so weak," or "That's the best you've got?" Sometimes they'd resort to, "My mom is a lesbian. Are you saying that movie is like her?" It worked, overall. Now the only kids I hear saying, "That's so gay," are a couple of gay teenage boys who are working on being comfortable with themselves. They get wiggle room, AFAIC.

Now if someone can just tell me how to stop teen boys from talking about humping apple pies, ovens, and cats at the dinner table ...
posted by notashroom at 1:39 PM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


While I applaud the goal of the campaign, I find it disheartening and -- I believe I'm using the term correctly here -- ironic that each of the video spots ends up insulting the people who they're trying to persuade to be kinder and more compassionate in their word choice. I take it that they're to elicit an empathic response from the viewer ("Oh snap! I don't want to get called out like those people, I better change.") and perhaps it's effective, but I wish it could have been done in a more positive way.

For instance, have an actor say, "Hey, I'm guessing you didn't mean anything by it but I'm gay and that hurt my feelings!" and then show some contrition and friendly resolution. Maybe that's too hard to do in 30 seconds, or not as effective. Or maybe I just saw too many LDS commercials as a kid. But I could really use a lot less divisiveness in my life, including my tolerance education.
posted by funkiwan at 1:47 PM on October 9, 2008


I find "made of fail and AIDS" sort of darkly charming in the way that a lot of the lowbrow memes that come out of 4chan are, at least at first blush.

More interesting and related is how in that context the term 'fag' has been stripped of a great deal of context and power. I remember the early posters for Scientology protests had "CALLING ALL NYCFAGS" and "CALLING ALL AUSFAGS" and so on until Anonymous remembered that word wasn't appropriate to the wider world.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 1:48 PM on October 9, 2008


This is probably a good time to point out that not just gyp, but also gypsy is a racial slur.

Roma, folks.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:49 PM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


A few months ago, I was checking the cable guide, and there was a description of a movie on Lifetime that read: "A successful lawyer tells his troubled brother he's gay and has AIDS."

Struck by the image of the successful lawyer telling his troubled brother, "You're gay and have AIDS," I started laughing and called my girlfriend over. Now corrupted into "You're gay and has AIDS," the phrase has become an in-joke, but one we can never use in public.

I will say that the pejorative "gay" has a more nuanced meaning than just "lame" or "sissy," and is therefore hard to replace, at least for me. Like, the most obvious examples would be things like macho religious retreats, where it's a bunch of guys acting manly as a perceived reaction against the femininization of modern men. Homosexuality is explicitly something that they set themselves in opposition to, but they have behaviors that either echo romantic love between men or the hyper-masculine posturing of some gay dudes. It's "totally gay" to have an unreflective and unironic construction of masculinity; it's "totally gay" to militantly assert heteronormativism.

I realize that I'd probably be offended if someone posited my sexual orientation as part of an ironic critique of gender roles, but it's not like it's not there—camp from Judy Garland reinterpretation to the Village People exists both as gay culture and as part of broader pop culture. And viewed from the safety of fiction, homosexuality is a fantastic ironic device—it's something that contrasts between what characters know and what the audience knows in a way that can completely change the interpretation of a scene without being necessarily visible. Referring to something as "gay" ties into that irony.

But I also realize that there are plenty of folks who just use it unironically to mean "bad," and that gay folks may both be sensitive about it and may not get the sense that I want to convey. So, just like how "I'd hit it" comes across as tone deaf, with not enough space between the ironic and unironic usages, I try to hold back on "gay" unless I know that I'm around people who will understand it. Or how I only use "negro" or "colored" or "nigger" around folks who know that I'm making fun of racists when I use them.

So, if there's a word that can replace how I use "gay" that's also short and catchy, give it to me, boys, because I'd love to use it instead.
posted by klangklangston at 1:49 PM on October 9, 2008 [5 favorites]


While my personality could adequately be described as 30% Beer and 70% Complete Indifference to Hillary Duff, I thought that was really cool. Good on ya, Hillary.

That said, I don't know how helpful all of this will be. Kids are fucking cruel. They know exactly what they are saying, and why (because it's offensive.) There's something bizarre about trying to get people to stop using expletives and the like because they are offensive. Their offensiveness is their primary selling point.

Most likely the makers of the PSA get this, though, and that's why it seems aimed at the slightly older teen crowd who might actually be receptive to the message, and who likely uses "gay" without thinking about it anymore. Not a lot of use trying to reach the junior high crew, however. They're assholes just for the sake of being assholes.
posted by Navelgazer at 1:52 PM on October 9, 2008


I usually respond this way:

Person who knows I'm gay: That's so gay. (Uncomfortable silence, look at me) Does that offend you?

Me: A little, but it makes you look very ignorant.

Person who knows I'm gay: (Uncomfortable silence)
posted by AloneOssifer at 1:53 PM on October 9, 2008 [4 favorites]


And "fucking weak" is, too, my favorite replacement word, if only because I always hear it in Cartman's voice. For the situations Klang describes above, I think "gay" is the only word that fits, though.
posted by Navelgazer at 1:54 PM on October 9, 2008


Oh man... I started using Boone as my substitute curseword of choice. Please look to Ice-T if you'd like to be schooled on the breadth and depth and deliciousness of the word Boone.

Boone.
posted by grippycat at 1:57 PM on October 9, 2008


So, if there's a word that can replace how I use "gay" that's also short and catchy, give it to me, boys, because I'd love to use it instead.

The great thing about English is you can invent words, and if you say them often enough and with enough conviction, they might even catch on.

So as a replacement for the pejorative "gay", how about ... flart?

"Hey, man, did you see Juno?"

"What, are you kidding me? That movie was totally flart."
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:59 PM on October 9, 2008


Though the last time that I was hanging out with a bunch of friends, describing how "gay" and "faggy" everyone looked, I was officiating a same-sex marriage.
posted by klangklangston at 2:01 PM on October 9, 2008


Hang on, it seems "flart" has already been taken. And what a multifaceted word it is.

But anyway, you get my point. Just make a word up. Or co-opt the name of a dead president.

"I thought Juno was witty and insightful."
"You have got to be shitting me. That was the most Taft movie I ever saw."
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:07 PM on October 9, 2008


"The great thing about English is you can invent words, and if you say them often enough and with enough conviction, they might even catch on.

So as a replacement for the pejorative "gay", how about ... flart?

"Hey, man, did you see Juno?"

"What, are you kidding me? That movie was totally flart."
"

And the reaction? "Stop trying to make 'flart' happen." You can only invent words where someone else will know what you mean when you use it.
posted by klangklangston at 2:13 PM on October 9, 2008


But "flart" wouldn't even work there, since that's not how I'm using it. It's like you just read the last sentence and ignored everything that came before it.
posted by klangklangston at 2:14 PM on October 9, 2008


ericb writes "No. You'll get Wanda Sykes ."

The more I learn about Wanda Sykes, the more I realize how much she kicks serious ass. It started with Pootie Tang ...
posted by krinklyfig at 2:14 PM on October 9, 2008


When I was a kid my father was a heavy smoker. He would regularly go out to smoke a "fag," a word for cigarette. I believe the derivation is from faggot, meaning a bundle of twigs used to start a fire. His best friend's last name was Gay. In high school I was in the play "You Can't Take It With You" and my character's name was Gay Wellington. On my cast t-shirt I put on the back, "I'm Gay (Wellington)" just to see what reaction I would get. And I have met a couple of older women who were named Gay. The word used to mean, at one point in history, happy or joyful.

My point being, the whole insult thing aside, isn't it interesting how word meaning changes. I think it would be cool if someone called me gay, so I could come back with, yeah, I am happy and joyful, thanks!
posted by Belle O'Cosity at 2:14 PM on October 9, 2008


And the reaction? "Stop trying to make 'flart' happen."

Yes, well, you do need to exercise a degree of usage there. I didn't mean to say that one should spam the word.

But "flart" wouldn't even work there, since that's not how I'm using it. It's like you just read the last sentence and ignored everything that came before it.

Whoah, hang on. I did read your post. I think I just might have misunderstood you. My apologies. If you meant "gay" in the sense of reflecting homoeroticism, then I think "gay" is wholly accurate and anyone hearing you describe the Robert Bly retreat would know entirely what you mean.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:24 PM on October 9, 2008


Sorry, Marissa, I didn't mean that last bit to sound fighty either. It's just that, y'know, I would like a word that fit better but I don't think there is one. Just like how, when referring to overblown racist fears of African-American criminals, "The Negro Menace" is really your best choice for sarcasm.
posted by klangklangston at 2:24 PM on October 9, 2008


Gay Talese is not gay.
posted by mrgrimm at 2:28 PM on October 9, 2008


It's just that, y'know, I would like a word that fit better but I don't think there is one.

I don't think there is one, either. Consider: "Wow, that Rammstein concert video is pretty gay."
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:29 PM on October 9, 2008


Just to add my own personal anecdote ...

A good friend in our circle used to be sort of a guy's guy, burping, farting, telling crude jokes, shave every third day, hanging out getting stoned, drinking beer and playing video games with the other guys, and he liked pit bulls and had a few different ones in the time I knew him. He used the pejorative "fag" all the time, almost reflexively, and he seemed to think it was really funny. Well, time went on and a few of us started to suspect he liked men more than women sexually, due to a few subtle hints, but nothing really overt. He's certainly not a femme. But turns out, it's true, although it took years for him to come out to us, and that finally happened at a wedding we all attended. In his case, I think he was trying to "get along" with his straight friends, and one of his ways of doing it was to constantly use "fag" as a derogatory term, jokingly, but still ... We all sort of did back then, but it was sort of locker room talk, and I didn't think too much of it until I realized what he was doing. I genuinely felt bad for him, because you shouldn't have to use pejoratives which describe who you are to get along, and he certainly didn't with us, but the perception of peer pressure was obviously very strong. I can't remember using the term like that since then, and I always think of my friend when I hear it, and I haven't seen him in years but hope he can be proud of who he is now.
posted by krinklyfig at 2:33 PM on October 9, 2008 [3 favorites]


Where is languagehat when we need him? Etymology =/= meaning! The fact that the use off the word "gay" to mean "lame" originates in it's reference to homosexual men does not mean that current usage necessarily has any connection to homosexuality.

My mom used to always complain about how homosexuals had "stolen" the word gay, which she wanted to continue using to mean "lighthearted". Now the grade schoolers have stolen it again. Efforts like this to try to grab hold of language and keep it from changing and morphing almost always fail. I think a generation from now people will still be using "gay" to mean lame, and it won't make people think of homosexuals any more than they think of mute people when they say something is dumb.

"Eww! I saw your older brother kissing a girl!"

"That's so gay!"
posted by straight at 2:34 PM on October 9, 2008


Lighten up, Nancies.













I'm kidding, I'm kidding!
posted by turgid dahlia at 2:44 PM on October 9, 2008


straight: easy for YOU to say!
posted by Navelgazer at 2:50 PM on October 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


Just out of curiousity, do any other gay people even care that the word "Gay" is used as a pejorative by high-schoolers? I don't. It's just part of the teenage colloquial dialect. I used it too, even after I knew I was gay. Most people I talked to who said "that is so gay" didn't really care enough about gay rights to actually have anti-gay viewpoints. Although they all said that if there was a refferendum to outlaw homosexuality they would vote against it. As long as these people don't want to lynch Spongebob and Patrick for holding hands I don't see a problem with this.
posted by Pseudology at 2:53 PM on October 9, 2008


a guy's guy, burping, farting, telling crude jokes, shave every third day, hanging out getting stoned, drinking beer and playing video games with the other guys, and he liked pit bulls and had a few different ones in the time I knew him

Next up for Hillary Duff: Convincing people that these above-mentioned qualities are not unique to heterosexuals.
posted by Adam_S at 2:58 PM on October 9, 2008


do any other gay people even care that the word "Gay" is used as a pejorative by high-schoolers?

Maybe you should ask all the closeted gay high-schoolers who feel that their environment is not a safe place to be honest about who they are.
posted by vytae at 2:59 PM on October 9, 2008 [13 favorites]


Where is languagehat when we need him? Etymology =/= meaning! The fact that the use off the word "gay" to mean "lame" originates in it's reference to homosexual men does not mean that current usage necessarily has any connection to homosexuality.

This is true but beside the point, just as griping about how niggardly is not etymologically an ethnic slur is beside the point. The point is that if enough people find a word offensive, it should not be in general use. If the vast majority of gay people aren't in the least offended by the "lame" use, I have no problem with it either, but frankly I doubt that's the case.

Efforts like this to try to grab hold of language and keep it from changing and morphing almost always fail. I think a generation from now people will still be using "gay" to mean lame, and it won't make people think of homosexuals any more than they think of mute people when they say something is dumb.

You may well be right, but that doesn't make it OK to use it now if it's offending people.
posted by languagehat at 3:05 PM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


>>Sorry to derail, but where in the US do people actually use this saying?

Very common in the southeast in the 70's and 80's, when Jews were not very common in these parts. I had never even met a Jew till i was in college.

The thing is, it was said as a mark of pride.

Someone would say "Hey, you got a new truck!" "Yeah, they wanted 15 for it but I jewed 'em down to 12." "Damn, nice work. I'd pay 12 for that truck easy."

It was said as prideful, not shameful. The person doing the "jewing" was considered to be shrewd, which is desirable in business transactions. Even if you were the target of the "jewing", you respected them for driving a hard bargain.

So, while I can understand how it is a stereotype and perhaps harmful on some level, it was certainly not meant to be derogatory. Take that for what you will.
posted by Ynoxas at 3:07 PM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


Nothing compares the word virus "like" . It's unavoidable , and abused by almost everyone these days.
posted by Liquidwolf at 3:13 PM on October 9, 2008


It's tricky, though. You're talking about a usage that is saying, essentially, "hey! Good job! You handled that financial transaction as well as—maybe better than—one of those greedy fucking shylocks could've!" That the target of the statement is meant to be praised doesn't remove the third-party derogation from the statement itself.
posted by cortex at 3:15 PM on October 9, 2008


Nothing compares the word virus "like". It's unavoidable, and abused by, like almost everyone these days.
posted by quin at 3:30 PM on October 9, 2008


Sorry, I just, like, couldn't resist.
posted by quin at 3:31 PM on October 9, 2008


True fact: middle-class people are 100% more likely to use the word 'cunt' with abandon than ever say the word n*gger. See, I can't even type it and I'm lower-middle.
posted by mippy at 3:38 PM on October 9, 2008


A friend of mine has a popular blog about bipolar disorder and someone commented because she described herself as a 'mentalist'. This word's quite ironic - a character in I'm Alan Partridge who was an insane stalker was described as a mentalist, and it sounds a hell of a lot less prissy than the other words we can use about ourselves.

If I'm both bipolar and dyspraxic, can I describe something as retarded or someone as a spazz without feeling Liberal White Guilt?
posted by mippy at 3:40 PM on October 9, 2008


That's so 9/11.

*sigh* that's sooo september tenth.

also...what MrVisible said, and yay H. Duff and yay this whole campaign.

and as far as i'm concerned, in a world this overpopulated, you should be kissing my shiny metal ass, breeder, not insulting it.
posted by sexyrobot at 3:47 PM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


"I will continue to use the term until Hillary Duff offers me a replacement term that's not too gay sounding."

That's So Yesterday?
posted by clearly at 3:51 PM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


klang, yeah yeah yeah congratulations on your queer friends who so bravely subvert the illiterate hegemony by demonstrating the plasticity of contextual speech. I don't think Hillary Duff is talking to you.

However, by describing your private practices publicly, you may be setting an inimitable example for some young, dumb asshole. Don't you think your defense of such a culturally specific (granting a continuing heteronormative public imaginary) use of "gay" is lacking in coherence and responsibilty via a vis enacting social progressiveness?
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 4:26 PM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's tricky, though. You're talking about a usage that is saying, essentially, "hey! Good job! You handled that financial transaction as well as—maybe better than—one of those greedy fucking shylocks could've!"

I've also seen it in different contexts where there is a shrewd business man and you don't want them to jew you [i.e. rip you off by being totally stingy or shrewd in their own intersts and not yours].

I also think "douchey" is weird as an insult though I may be in a total minority here. It just sounds like "ew we use you to clean out dirty vaginas...." Again I'm pretty sure people using it don't equate it with any sort of weird anti-woman thing, but any time I hear someone calling someone a douchebag/douchey, it just sounds like they're taking a female-marked thing that they likely have no experience with and are using it as an insult. I'm curious where that comes from actually.
posted by jessamyn at 4:27 PM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I'd be curious about the source of douchebag-as-insult. ("Ostomybag" would be more gender-neutral, but doesn't really have the same euphonious zing to it and is trending into LOLCOLONCANCER,ETC territory too. I digress.)
posted by cortex at 4:32 PM on October 9, 2008


(Enemabag? Eh.)
posted by cortex at 4:32 PM on October 9, 2008


Um. I kinda care more about the fact that we're legally discriminated against, that married couples get 1200+ more rights than committed couples in domestic partnerships in most of the country, and that I can't kiss my girlfriend in public without being hyper-aware of my surroundings.

I'm never for censorship. Like many have said, lots of people use the words 'dumb' and 'lame' without meaning to insult an entire subset of the population.

The difference, though? Dumb and lame people don't have an entire political party that is hostile to their very existence.

Once we change that, and we're on equal footing, you guys can use the word all you want.

Of course, once we're on equal footing, I doubt the word will hold the same appeal.
posted by jnaps at 4:36 PM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


Fulltext Google Books search for "jew me." They're older books generally, since they're full-text but in most cases getting jewed is something you want to avoid having done to you.
posted by jessamyn at 4:39 PM on October 9, 2008


So, while I can understand how it is a stereotype and perhaps harmful on some level, it was certainly not meant to be derogatory.

The way people used it in my school certainly was. It was a word for someone who was cheap. Also, once the school/culture started cracking down on "that's so gay", a lot of people I just switched to "that's so Jewish" as the catchall insult. Small town America.
posted by lunit at 4:39 PM on October 9, 2008


I don't see using "douchebag" as an insult as anti-woman at all. I like calling jerks, especially sexist ones, "douchebags". Douchebags are totally unnecessary and offensive products. It's sometimes an apt metaphor.
posted by lunit at 4:43 PM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


I prefer "douchenozzle" in intelligent company. The extra syllable says, "smart-ish".
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:56 PM on October 9, 2008 [3 favorites]


This is true but beside the point, just as griping about how niggardly is not etymologically an ethnic slur is beside the point.
I'm sorry, but you couldn't be more wrong. Your use of etymogically as some libelous talking head might use allegedly or technically, or as a yellow tabloid might use scare quotes, is a cheap rhetorical trick. And you are directly encouraging the decline of public discourse and of handing control of our very thought processes to the lowest common denominator of impulse-driven screeching monkeys.

The way to go is education, education, education. Far better to educate someone about the word if they are once offended by it, then they won't be offended (unless they remain suspicious, in which case they are uneducatable and their opinion is irrelevant), than to avoid the word, and in the future when they come across the word again they will again be offended.

Obviously this doesn't address someone deliberately using niggard as a clever substitute for nigger. That is easily addressed by the same subjective judgement calls that address case-by-case harrassment, or should.

blockquote is still broken
posted by vsync at 4:57 PM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


I've been appalled by the use of "gay" as something useless, weak, bad, wrong, etc. Lately, I've taken to saying "That good, eh?", when i hear it.

I'm glad to see the campaign. Like many, I think it will result in a backlash, but most people are decent, and while protesting their right to be insulting any way they please, I think they hear it... the hurt they cause... and do moderate themselves. Some will still be in that frightened child headspace, and get some enjoyment from having the power to hurt others.
posted by reflecked at 4:59 PM on October 9, 2008


do any other gay people even care that the word "Gay" is used as a pejorative by high-schoolers?

Maybe you should ask all the closeted gay high-schoolers who feel that their environment is not a safe place to be honest about who they are.
posted by vytae at 2:59 PM on October 9 [7 favorites +] [!]


True. I suppose what I should've said was that maybe this celebrity influence would be better spent arguing for a mainstream acceptance of gays rather than try to get teenagers to use a different pejorative.
posted by Pseudology at 5:04 PM on October 9, 2008


See, I disagree on "douchebag" (and "douchenozzle" etc.). I think it's sexist, just like calling a guy a "pussy," "cunt," "twat," "bitch," or "sissy." It's meant to attack his manhood in some way and, in the process, reinforces that woman = less than. I think the two biggest factors in homophobia that's not a cover-up for homosexual feelings, urges, etc., are 1) the "ick factor" ("I want to buick when I think of another man's penis entering my sacred rectum") and 2) the cultural association of male homosexuality with femininity, sexual receptiveness (sexual bottom = female), and loss of male status. The essence of all of it is sexism and reinforcement of patriarchal hierachy in which penis = man = better than = more powerful than.

That said, it's not worth the headache of being uptight about everything, and sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
posted by notashroom at 5:08 PM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


"However, by describing your private practices publicly, you may be setting an inimitable example for some young, dumb asshole. Don't you think your defense of such a culturally specific (granting a continuing heteronormative public imaginary) use of "gay" is lacking in coherence and responsibilty via a vis enacting social progressiveness?"

Frankly, no. For two reasons—first, I try to take pains to not use "gay" as a slag unless I know the folks I'm around understand the context I'm using it in, as I mentioned above. Saying, "These are the gayest vows ever!" is pretty clear at a gay wedding, even though I'm not gay (and most of the guests weren't either). Second, in the words of Charles Barkley, I'm not a role model. Look, I talk pretty openly about doing a lot of drugs, including stuff like LSD (which can be mentally taxing) and booze (sweet, sweet booze), that I wouldn't want morons and assholes doing if given the choice. But that idiots could misuse them doesn't mean that I shouldn't talk about them, or even endorse them openly. My responsibility to social progressiveness is neither primarily verbal nor totalizing, and if, after making my effort to choose my audience, people misinterpret or act poorly in emulating me, that's not my responsibility.
posted by klangklangston at 5:11 PM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


Sheesh vsync, tone down the insults if you really expect anyone to take your advice on how not to be offensive. Monkeys, really? Your quixotic crusade to save niggard is doomed to failure. Somehow "public discourse and [...] our very thought processes" will manage. Words come and words go. Don't you find the pronunciation gymnastics required to even think of using the word painful? "Niggardduhduhduh."
posted by Wood at 5:21 PM on October 9, 2008


I suppose what I should've said was that maybe this celebrity influence would be better spent arguing for a mainstream acceptance of gays rather than try to get teenagers to use a different pejorative.

Pseudology - I get what you're saying. On the other hand, it seems like mainstream acceptance in this country of any previously-maligned group has come as newer, more tolerant generations age into adulthood and older, less-tolerant folks age and (for lack of a less crass term) die off. It's a lot easier to get people to believe on a visceral level that their fellow human beings are equals, if you teach them this at a young age. That's not to say that adults don't have a responsibility to respect each other (at least out loud, if they can't manage it in the privacy of their own thoughts), but I think targeting the youth might be the most effective long-term strategy for changing how our culture views gay people.
posted by vytae at 5:21 PM on October 9, 2008


"He used the pejorative "fag" all the time, almost reflexively, and he seemed to think it was really funny. Well, time went on and a few of us started to suspect he liked men more than women sexually, due to a few subtle hints, but nothing really overt. He's certainly not a femme. But turns out, it's true, although it took years for him to come out to us, and that finally happened at a wedding we all attended."

I went to high school with a guy named Dylan who was like this. He was the center of the football team, dated a cheerleader, and given to calling everything "gay". It ran like a bad comedy, with him frequently bringing the conversation back to weird, well, gay shit.

He'd go from weirdly belligerent, like, "Were you checking out my ass? I bet you just want to fuck me, you fag. Hey everybody, this fag was looking at my ass!" to just kinda weird pseudo come-ons, like, in the locker room, "Hey, you guys all want to rub dicks together? Go team!"
"Rub dicks, what?"
"No, what? No, I bet you'd like to rub dicks, you fag!"

Then, right after high school graduation, he got a job on a cruise ship and after a year or so came out. He was a pretty nice guy aside from that (the angst of the closet, I'd guess), and I hope he's doing well. It's kind of a shame that the only out guys (or those whose closeting hid less than a shower curtain) were really effeminate theater guys, because I don't think it gave Dylan any way to be gay and out and a star athlete. Which is even more the shame, because as an over-six-foot tall blond guy with huge muscles and a classic farm-boy face, he could have been getting laid like masonry.
posted by klangklangston at 5:29 PM on October 9, 2008


Targeting the youth is a good strategy for ensuring the acceptance of any minority. I'd just prefer if they left language use out of it. The use of Gay as a pejorative will possibly only die after hating people because they're gay is just as common as hating people because they're ,oh say, Irish. Until then these ads are about just as useless as anti-marijuana ads.
posted by Pseudology at 5:33 PM on October 9, 2008


Maybe 'gay' has outlived it's usefulness as a term for homosexuals, possibly because of it's literal meaning which has all kind of la-de-da connottations. "Queer" on the other hand seems non-la-de-da, very assertive, even a little menacing (in a good way).

Just a thought from my possibly clueless straight guy mind.
posted by jonmc at 5:38 PM on October 9, 2008


I'm sorry, but you couldn't be more wrong. Your use of etymogically as some libelous talking head might use allegedly or technically, or as a yellow tabloid might use scare quotes, is a cheap rhetorical trick. And you are directly encouraging the decline of public discourse and of handing control of our very thought processes to the lowest common denominator of impulse-driven screeching monkeys.

Uh, is this a joke? Or performance art?
posted by languagehat at 5:38 PM on October 9, 2008 [3 favorites]


Of course you could blame this guy.
posted by jonmc at 5:40 PM on October 9, 2008


Fred Flintstone? (How come he's got four fingers and three toes? Is he a sloth?)
posted by klangklangston at 5:46 PM on October 9, 2008


No sloth would have the energy to propel a car through foot power alone, sir. Frankly, in this troubled energy market, I wish he'd share his secret.

(also, back when I had a blog, I got a search hit for 'Flinstones Porn." Yabba-Dabba-Do-Me?)
posted by jonmc at 5:50 PM on October 9, 2008


klang, okay, wevs, yes you are a role model, or maybe not, but anyway I think you're skipping step "You're Doing It Wrong" and heading too quickly to step "This Is How We Do It," and I am sort of charging you to revel less and teach more. Or not, reveling is also something of which we (the royal, editorial) h-approve. Nyes. Because I can't even begin to explain the myriad ways inappropriate public language can be used in private for COMEDY. I LIVE with two Jewish dudes, ffs. Vey iz mir the fagelehtude it's unceasing!
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 5:53 PM on October 9, 2008


I think he wore off his other toes starting the car.
posted by jessamyn at 5:54 PM on October 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


It's friday night (for me), and I feel alright and the party's here on the west side.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 5:54 PM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


I think he wore off his other toes starting the car.

Why didn't that little green bastard Gazoo share some technology with those poor bastards anyway? Selfish fucker.

It's friday night (for me), and I feel alright

It's just thursday here and today at work one of my co-workers got sucker-punched in the mouth by a psycho for looking at a girl the wrong way (or so the rumor mill has it, reason wise). I saw the aftermath and my guy was definitely fucked up something fierce.
posted by jonmc at 5:57 PM on October 9, 2008


It's friday night (for me), and I feel alright and the party's here on the west side.

Same here. The designated driver took the keys to my truck. A little later we are going to flip the track and bring the old school back.
posted by nooneyouknow at 6:45 PM on October 9, 2008


When I was in grade school, we called things "corroded." As in, she is so corroded, that is so corroded. I didn't know what the word really meant at all, it just sounded so disgusting.

I wonder how that got started.
posted by [NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] at 6:52 PM on October 9, 2008


The Euphemism Treadmill grinds on. What force powers this perpetual motion device we may never fully comprehend, but I suspect we were shackled to it before we could so much as form an audible word.

That "gay" was selected is not a huge surprise. Might be "atheist" next, if you go by who the American public might consider least for the office of President. No, what came out of Phantom Zoen for me was "so." "That's so gay." It's so gay it whats? Visit the stereotype if you feel you must, but at least go for a complete sentence. That's so gay it knows all the words to The Music Man and Oklahoma? Give me something at the end of those three words. I keep expecting some kind of phrase after that and it never shows up. It doesn't even call to say it won't be coming to work tomorrow, either, and maybe you should just put its stuff in a box out on the loading dock.

Oh, weak? We want to use weak now? That can cover a range of physical disabilities (remember when "handicapped" was the correct term for that?), anything from cerebral palsy to chronic Epstein-Barr. I'm sure there's plenty of muscle-wasting diseases out there. "Weak" is out. I've found it very difficult to denigrate something without elaborate clauses and sounding a bit like an emotionless lawyer-bot; an eavesdropper, through some sufficient combination of sensitivity and gymnastics, might find almost anything worthy of condemnation. "I do not care for that; my evaluation of its performance I consider low versus the following criteria I believe it failed: ..." doesn't exactly fulfill what people seem to want from communication. You take it far out, you want to keep it surreal in the left field, go for the classics and pick "fish." "Dude, that's kinda fish." Better not let someone with ichthyosis hear you say that.

Let's just skip to the doubleplus ungood and call it a day.
posted by adipocere at 6:56 PM on October 9, 2008


I've found it very difficult to denigrate something without elaborate clauses and sounding a bit like an emotionless lawyer-bot

"Wow, dude, that was gay. You hit like a girl, haha, you fag."

"Wow, dude, you totally missed. You fail, haha! What a loser."

If your goal is to put something down while still retaining that hint of idiocy, it's pretty easy.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 7:11 PM on October 9, 2008


Next up for Hillary Duff: Convincing people that these above-mentioned qualities are not unique to heterosexuals.

Of course. But as you're growing up in a society which sort of tolerates homosexuality but really does not, sort of on its way but not really there yet, even if you're raised in a tolerant household you may not get a lot of exposure to out homosexual people. Once you start to realize some of your friends are gay, it hits home that you really can't make assumptions about people, even if you thought you were tolerant.

I already knew that gay men weren't always femmes or the over-the-top tv stereotype, and it wasn't difficult to figure out our friend really was gay but tried to hide it from us, despite the fact that he clearly didn't fit the stereotype. But I still can't shake the feeling that he was trying to compensate a bit.
posted by krinklyfig at 7:15 PM on October 9, 2008


Don't you think your defense of such a culturally specific (granting a continuing heteronormative public imaginary) use of "gay" is lacking in coherence and responsibilty via a vis enacting social progressiveness?

Damn AV. That's not even a sentence. It's a dissertation.

See, I disagree on "douchebag" (and "douchenozzle" etc.). I think it's sexist, just like calling a guy a "pussy," "cunt," "twat," "bitch," or "sissy." It's meant to attack his manhood in some way and, in the process, reinforces that woman = less than.

I gotta disagree that "douche" and all of it's variants are in the same boat with the other words you mentioned there, at least in it's general usage. I'm reminded of an old (or at least back to the early 90s) joke.
Q: What's the difference between a bitch and a ho?
A: A ho sleeps with everybody. A bitch sleeps with everybody but you.
(Not trying to condone the terms used, just the inherent personal hurt and envy involved in the use of the word "bitch" as opposed to the outright degradation in "ho." I think there's something similar with "douche," though I myself am at a loss to understand where the term comes from, aside from it's simply visceral appeal. So...
Q: What's the difference between a dick and a douchebag?
A: A dick wears TAG body spray while singing along to Nu-Metal at your favorite bar and trying to start a fight with you after spilling your own beer on you with his clumsiness. A douchebag does all that with your crush fawning over him the whole time.
I said in a thread about this very topic last year that I do indeed have a real problem with "gay" as a pejorative. If you're a straight boy and it's used against you, it's an assault on your manhood, and if you're a gay boy and it's used against you, it's an assault on your sexuality. Obviously the fact that it is made into a pejorative at all is worse for the gay community than the breeders, but it's hurtful to anyone who it is used against, which is of course why it is so popular with adolescents.

Of course, this also comes from the fact that the word is most popular among those who are just starting to be terrified about sex. When everyone is insecure and distrustful of everyone around them (i.e. middle school) they will create cliques and hierarchies as a defense mechanism. What are the only things we want to talk about? Sex and Music. So we group up according to musical tastes and torment those who seem like the "other" in terms of sex in order to secure ourselves as somewhere other than the bottom rung of the ladder. As I said above, no use trying to get through to middle school kids, as all middle school kids are necessarily dicks (note: see how it wouldn't have made sense here to call them douches? That's because no one above the age of fourteen has ever envied a middle school kid ever.)

You'll rarely to never hear an adolescent use words like "nigger" or "kike" or "spic" in the same way as "gay" or "fag," and I think that's because (a) even a 10-year-old can hear that and think "dude, not cool, man," and (b) because race isn't the primary concern for establishing social cred amongst ones peers at that point, at least not in most places in America these days. Also, most white kids would probably be too afraid of getting their asses beaten if they tried it.

As for myself, until I was fifteen I used the phrase "gay as a dancer" to describe the type of things that weren't necessarily "bad," but rather "flaming." I can't remember where I picked it up, but around the lunch table it would always bring things to an awkward silence, and I never knew why. At the end of my freshman year, I discovered that my friend Nick, who was very straight, was actually a semi-professional dancer, and that my expression had kept him from telling me. At this time, he was dancing for the Houston Comets WNBA team, and actually ended up getting two championship rings out of the gig. Once I realized this, I stopped using the phrase altogether, and began to use "gay" only in the type of contexts Klang mentions above.

(I had stopped using "gay" as perjorative at 13 when my much older brother was describing the plot of Philadeplphia and started with "Tom Hanks plays a gay lawyer," and I said, "aren't ALL lawyers gay, though?" and he made a point about how ignorant I was being, and set me straight - so to speak - about never being derogatory to gays again. Also, I'm in law school now. Penance?)

Anyway, I use the word occasionally to describe, say, a shirt or something that sends off really homosexual signals, but if the shirt were being picked out by a gay friend of mine, I would probably describe the same shirt as "hot." The closest it comes to being a pejorative is when used to describe an obviously self-hating, closeted, homophobic asshole, though I guess I should give that some reconsideration as well, as no one should feel the need to be defensive and closeted forever, and I'm probably not doing anything to help.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:30 PM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


Also, languagehat, gotta say I disagre with you about "niggardly." Prescriptivist as it may seem, I'm not about to be cool about letting ignorant people destroy the actual meaning of a word without a fight. One of the first real arguments I ever got into on MeFi was with you about this very sort of thing, and I understand where you're coming from now and don't want to get into it again, but I think there's a difference between the evolution of language and devolution, and "niggardly" as it is commonly misunderstood is an example of the latter.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:34 PM on October 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


ask me if it hurts
posted by gorgor_balabala at 7:34 PM on October 9, 2008 [3 favorites]


Ha, Navelgazer's dancer story reminded me of my own. I was a figure skater in high school. My close friends ripped me about it pretty constantly. In senior year, when I was away for several competitions, two of my closest friends suddenly realized that it hadn't been a joke for the four years. Shut them up real good.
posted by FuManchu at 7:45 PM on October 9, 2008


"and I am sort of charging you to revel less and teach more."

Whom should I teach? And how better to teach than doin' it well? (I represent Queens, she was raised out in Brooklyn.) You can't simultaneously hector me for providing a positive example, a time when, yeah, calling something "gay" isn't per se inappropriate and demand that I hide this to keep the newbs safe.

And, honestly, MetaFilter users should already have a clue on this, just like the vast majority of my friends and acquaintances do. The case for why calling things "gay" is bad has been made many times, many times in this thread even. I'm telling you why I say it (and even asked for replacements!) and why I continue to say it.

But if someone says, hey, that's not cool, I'll take concerns about that a lot more seriously than, say, someone offended by the lack of an NSFW tag.
posted by klangklangston at 8:00 PM on October 9, 2008


"You'll rarely to never hear an adolescent use words like "nigger" or "kike" or "spic" in the same way as "gay" or "fag," and I think that's because (a) even a 10-year-old can hear that and think "dude, not cool, man," and (b) because race isn't the primary concern for establishing social cred amongst ones peers at that point, at least not in most places in America these days. Also, most white kids would probably be too afraid of getting their asses beaten if they tried it."

Ugh. I've seen plenty of "nigger" and "fag" in most of the online games that have a chat attached. There's a nice piece of games lit called "Bow, Nigger" that's really strong.

I quit a job once over the constant use of "nigger" by some of my coworkers.

Whereas, now my job has me staring into the abyss of homophobia, sexism and racism all the time, and that's just the jokes page.

(There was actually a weird office fight over a joke that ran in Hustler a couple months ago, which ties into Jon's comment from above: "What would you call the Flinstones if they were black? Fucking niggers." I tried to get "What do you call a black man who flies a plane? A pilot, you fucking racist" added on the same page, but failed.)
posted by klangklangston at 8:10 PM on October 9, 2008


There was actually a weird office fight over a joke that ran in Hustler a couple months ago, which ties into Jon's comment from above:

I was just riffing on 'gay ol' time,' klang. leave me out of this.
posted by jonmc at 8:31 PM on October 9, 2008


Jip/Gip refers to Gypsy... not cool either, along the lines of Jew 'em down....
posted by k8t at 8:51 PM on October 9, 2008


I used to get a fair number of people (mostly dudes) calling me a faggot, etc. on the street for no particular reason. Then when I got a job at a hedge fund and had to dress nice and worky for work, people kinda stopped. Strange how that works. Also I happen to be straight so I'm not sure exactly what made them decide that was a good insult for me (or why I would be good to insult in the first place).
posted by Astragalus at 9:12 PM on October 9, 2008


I'd like to see opinions from gay people in here regarding their feelings on it, whether it's being used by kids or adults.

I don't like it.
posted by longsleeves at 9:20 PM on October 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


k8t: We've been over that. Again: Roma.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:37 PM on October 9, 2008


(And, for the sake of disambiguation, Pavees.)
posted by Sys Rq at 9:40 PM on October 9, 2008


It's Hilary Duff (just remember one "L", two "F's")
posted by vronsky at 9:47 PM on October 9, 2008


Sometimes I want to offend people, including myself.

Hella edgy.

Also, my dad has used jew as a verb - mom has tried to correct him, but because he thinks of it as being a word in its own right and unrelated to the Chosen People, he still slips up now and again - and my grandma has referred to Brazil nuts in the manner mentioned here. She didn't actually know they were Brazil nuts until a very awkward Christmas a couple of years ago. Rural Manitoba, if anyone's mapping usages. Oh, and both my parents used 'scotch' as a pejorative when they were growing up.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 12:23 AM on October 10, 2008


That's so duff.

"When I use a word, " the Fat Controller said in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less."
"The question is," said Thomas, "how do communicate effectively without a common frame of reference?"
"The question is," said the Fat Controller, "Which of us is the Controller? That will be all, Thomas. Go play on the railway tracks."

Rev. Trainspotter: _Thomas The Tank Engine Pursues Meaning_

posted by Sparx at 3:06 AM on October 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


This is one of those words like "fuck", which is at its base level a word about an act. A pretty fun, good, positive act, if I do say so myself. It's used, though, in an almost exclusively negative manner, to express the most extreme anger possible ("you fucking prick!"). When you think about it, it's rather bizarre to conflate extreme good and extreme evil together in the same word, and I think about people of other cultures who don't have this strange linguistic...what? hangup? Freudian/religious pathology? Makes me cringe if I think about it enough.
posted by zardoz at 3:10 AM on October 10, 2008


I have a hard time believing that this many of you use the word pejorative in everyday conversation.
posted by TrinaSelwyn at 4:14 AM on October 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


Funny enough, even at my age, I learned the bad word for Brazil nuts from an older cousin (older as in adult) and she explained it was bad, at the same time. I had no word for them at all, at that point.

As for dumb stuff, I'm terribly sorry, but deaf people are no longer allowed to complain about the use of the word 'dumb', except when used to describe the hearing impaired.

Lame? I'm lame, and don't mind the word. It seems descriptive. I have a lame leg. So what? So I appreciate elevators more than the next guy? Doesn't mean a joke can't be lame.

Gay? If I said "That's so gay!", I'd mean it's so stereotypical, in a negative way, I cringe. But then, I'm gay, and date back to times when it was fashionable, amongst gay folks, to be fem (we were very gay, back then, you know?). But gay != lame. That's just dumb.
posted by Goofyy at 4:47 AM on October 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'd like to see opinions from gay people in here regarding their feelings on it, whether it's being used by kids or adults.

I think it makes any speaker sound like a 7th-grader, except that it also has the twist of making an adult sound like the kind of adult who for some reason wishes to sound like a 7th-grader, something which is hard for me to understand.

Not the "that stereotypically homosexual thing is so gay" usage, but the "that thing I dislike is so gay" usage. The former just sounds like a provincial adult. "My gay friends also use gay that way" sounds provincial and defensive. You really need an explanation of the difference between pointing out the foibles of a tiny still-subject-to-violence group from the inside and from the outside?

As someone who was very dykey in school, I remember something that I suspect a lot of you do not, which is that in large ways and small, participation in the gender enforcement process among schoolkids is near-universal. Your adult self-image probably requires that you not remember it too distinctly, but you probably added to the homophobic fog at your school at some point. Not definitely, but probably -- I'd say about 90% of kids are putting a little effort in to maintain gender conformity. This doesn't break down along lines of smart or dumb, or popular or unpopular, it purely breaks down along lines of emotional independence or dependence on the group, so I don't believe that Metafilter represents a population which is less likely than others to have had homophobic moments in school. Yeah I'm using gender conformism and anti-gay feelings interchangeably, because they are the same thing to kids.

So, when I hear an adult go there just so they can sound youthful and edgy, I am also struck by how self-indulgent it is to expect the listener to draw a big distinction between the adult homophobia that they don't really mean, and the probable childhood homophobia that they no doubt also didn't really mean, because: my adult self is just being ironic, dude. And I prefer not to think about my childhood homophobia, which was the result of my environment in any case, so, see, it's all good. You should be worrying about the real haters!

But when did I become so responsible for reading your mind, dude?

Let's be frank: you wouldn't have the balls to use a racial term referring to blacks for the same purpose, because you know it would make everyone think badly of you and furthermore you'd expect to offend the wrong person one day and get a punch in the nose. This is something obnoxious that everyone can get away with, but I don't really know why a grown-up would have such a need to impress others by getting away with something.

On a different topic, the only issue with positive bias regarding Jews and their mythological skill with the ducats is that it logically reinforces the negative bias against Jews at whatever point it re-emerges. "Jews are great with money, yay Jews" logically supports "Those Jews have all the money, boo Jews". "Black men are great lovers" logically supports "Black men are sexing our womenfolk." A positive stereotype which logically supports a negative stereotype is only charming until the negative stereotype reappears in force and you realize that the good (or more likely indifferent) intentions behind the positive stereotype can't be subtracted from the cultural weight which it added to the negative stereotype. IMO.

Still, I think that positive stereotypes between people who honestly have love for each other (not just indifference) can be fun and makes life interesting. I'm kind of assuming that that is what Klang is talking about with his gay crew. Among the folks I actively have love for, we've got a few nationalities and ethnicities and we snap on each other as a way of defining the extent to which we know each other ("I can joke with you about X because I know you so well that I can see that this topic is just inside of the lines and it makes you laugh too").

Anyway, mainly my point is that anyone should feel free to go ahead and work a rough laugh, but they shouldn't feel sorry for themselves or indulge in defensiveness if someone shares with them the fact that they think it makes them look like an asshole. And yeah, it's good to tell kids what you expect from them -- it doesn't get immediate results, but it sets a baseline for decency that they will usually come back to after adolescence is over, so it's good to say "don't talk like a homophobe, here are some reasons why" directly to kids.

Also I think douchebag is basically sexist because I think it gets 100% of its freight from its mental proximity to "unclean vagina", but I can't prove it so I give most "douchebag"-users the benefit of the doubt unless they are obvious assholes in other ways.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 4:59 AM on October 10, 2008 [11 favorites]


Sparx - He's not called The Fat Controller anymore, as it's prejudicial against fat people. Now he's Sir Topham Hat. Which is lame.
posted by Artw at 8:21 AM on October 10, 2008


Sir Topham Hat

Really? Good Lord! My past feels violated like a secondary character on True Blood.

But a quick google reassures me that this is only the case in the United States, which stands to reason as it's pretty duff. And, in fact, the Fat Controller in all his glorious obesity has been Topham Hatt since 1951 ('58 if you're a stickler) anyway (he received a baronetcy and the Sir appellation in the nationalistion of the Railways in 1948). And he's the third of that name. Who knew?
posted by Sparx at 8:49 AM on October 10, 2008


He's still occasionally The Stout Gentleman on US TV though, so stout is okay for whatever reason. When reading his parts I always use the voice of Daniel Day Lewis from There Will be Blood. “Good Evening! Mr Name is Sir Topham Hat and as you can plainly see I am a train man.”
posted by Artw at 9:10 AM on October 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


I thought kids were using "weak sauce" instead of "gay" or "retard." Weak sauce is infinitely better.
posted by porn in the woods at 9:16 AM on October 10, 2008


>>Also I think douchebag is basically sexist because I think it gets 100% of its freight from its mental proximity to "unclean vagina"

Interesting. I've always thought it to mean "useless", because doucheing was something recommended in the old days, but most now consider it to be both unnecessary and in fact deleterious to vaginal health, as it strips out the good microorganisms and alters the ph to allow the growth of bad ones. So, a totally useless, bad idea. I see what you mean, though, and I'm sure that's what is in a lot of people's heads.
posted by SaintCynr at 10:11 AM on October 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


Sort of a derail, but do people who get offended by "douchebag" on behalf of women and their vaginas get equally offended on behalf of men when someone uses "dick" or "prick" or any of the other penis-related euphemisms? I'm not saying anyone should feel one way or the other, just curious.
posted by vytae at 10:46 AM on October 10, 2008


Sort of a derail, but do people who get offended by "douchebag" on behalf of women and their vaginas get equally offended on behalf of men when someone uses "dick" or "prick" or any of the other penis-related euphemisms?

I'd like to draw a line between saying "that offends me!" and "I just don't like it when people talk that way" Offensiveness to me appeals to a sort of authority in a way where we're making presumptions that someone else is impugning something, to me anyhow. I think I can say that I don't like hearing people say douchebag without saying that I have some sort of sensitive earholes that can't handle that sort of thing. It's annoying, not offensive.

My take on dick/prick as someone who doesn't have one except as a loaner is that

1. It's more generic-sounding to me, like the word asshole. Yeah it's gendered but it's the gender of the dominant gender which means a different set of edges and issues. I'm okay with agreeing to disagree on whether a dominant class can be oppressed in the same way a non-dominant class can be but I think that's the core issue with those sorts of gendered insults.
2. I only use those words, when I use them, to apply to men. Doughebag is usually used to refer to men and achieves some sort of bitingness because it's associating the unclean-vagina thing with someone not generally thought of as having one. Similarly back to the point at hand, people say "that's so GAY" to refer generally to ungay people doing something that associates them with the (uncool) "gayness"

I've always thought it to mean "useless", because doucheing was something recommended in the old days, but most now consider it to be both unnecessary

I think the aisles of the drug stores might beg to differ. Plenty of people still buy and use douching products, the dougebag however, like the enema bag, is mostly a bygone product.
posted by jessamyn at 11:20 AM on October 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'd like to see opinions from gay people in here regarding their feelings on it, whether it's being used by kids or adults.

It irritates the shit out of me. Immediately transports me back to eighth grade -- it took me years and years to figure out that when people threw that or "fag" at me, that they didn't even actually mean it literally. It was just something to say. Until then, every time I heard it, I assumed that all of my caution, self-preservation, and artifice were all for nothing, and that they could see right through it to the truth. It made me want to die.

Now that I'm older, confident, and physically powerful, hearing it tempts me to pick somebody up and set them down on their head. Which, to my credit, I have never done. Yet.
posted by [NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] at 11:37 AM on October 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


I like that this post has the “Hillary” tag, as a nod to those likely to take offense at just about anything.
posted by Artw at 11:53 AM on October 10, 2008


>>I think the aisles of the drug stores might beg to differ. Plenty of people still buy and use douching products

AFAIK, it's not a good idea to douche, but A) old habits die hard B) They imply that you stink if you don't do it, which isn't true, and plays on fear and C) It's corporate marketing, which fools lots of people
posted by SaintCynr at 12:04 PM on October 10, 2008


When I was in grade school, we called things "corroded." As in, she is so corroded, that is so corroded.

I like that. Let's start spreading it. Who are we going to offend, Iron Man?

Also, languagehat, gotta say I disagre with you about "niggardly." Prescriptivist as it may seem, I'm not about to be cool about letting ignorant people destroy the actual meaning of a word without a fight. One of the first real arguments I ever got into on MeFi was with you about this very sort of thing, and I understand where you're coming from now and don't want to get into it again, but I think there's a difference between the evolution of language and devolution, and "niggardly" as it is commonly misunderstood is an example of the latter.


Thanks for your civility, and I don't want to get into an argument about it either, but just so we're clear: I don't like it either, and my first reaction to the infamous "niggardly" uproar was typical educated-whiteboy outrage. But once I got over that, I realized that the word is 1) rarely used and 2) easily replaceable, and I would rather not run the risk of offending people who have enough shit to put up with, even if by giving them a crash course in etymology I might be able to defuse their outrage. Also, the only difference between evolution and devolution of language is in your attitude. One speaker's weed is another's flower.
posted by languagehat at 2:03 PM on October 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


>Sort of a derail, but do people who get offended by "douchebag" on behalf of women and their vaginas get equally offended on behalf of men when someone uses "dick" or "prick" or any of the other penis-related euphemisms?

I'd like to draw a line between saying "that offends me!" and "I just don't like it when people talk that way" Offensiveness to me appeals to a sort of authority in a way where we're making presumptions that someone else is impugning something, to me anyhow. I think I can say that I don't like hearing people say douchebag without saying that I have some sort of sensitive earholes that can't handle that sort of thing. It's annoying, not offensive.


Everything jessamyn said plus, it seems to be that "dick," "prick," "dickhead," "cock" (and, interestingly, maybe "cocksucker," too), terms that relate to penises and are used pejoratively against people primarily as a result of their actions that offend you and are generally intrusive against you. "That fucking dick just took my parking spot." "Those pricks were hitting on our wives." They are active, instrusive. Masculine. They imply power and aggression.

On the opposite side, "pussy," "bitch" (when applied to a man, in particular a masculine man), "sissy," "douche," in my experience, all tend to be applied more often when the offender is choosing not to act -- not going along with a suggestion (or demand), not standing up for himself or someone else, not acting ambitious, etc. "Those pussies won't stand up to us if we take their keg." "You won't go along because you're her bitch." They are inactive, passive, receptive. Feminine. They imply lack of power and aggression.
posted by notashroom at 2:06 PM on October 10, 2008


P.S. I also used and heard used "corroded," in this sense, primarily in the early '80s, in the Southeast. This was around the same time as Valley Speak, and I'd guess some kids thought "grody" in science class when their teachers introduced/explained "corroded," liked the connection (aural and connotative) and started using it.
posted by notashroom at 2:10 PM on October 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


I think it's one thing for a group of people to ask to be or not to be called by a particular name. If you want me to stop calling you black and call you African-American, to stop calling you queer and call you gay, to stop calling you Native Americans and start calling you First Peoples, then it's only common courtesy to call you by the name you prefer, and it doesn't matter whether I personally like it or think it makes sense.

But if instead of something unambiguous like "African-American" or "homosexual", you insist on a word like "black" or "gay" that is already being used for other things, and then expect that word to always and forever refer only to your group, then good luck with that.

Even if "gay" had never been attached to homosexual and had remained primarily "lighthearted and cheerful" it might have morphed to "lightheaded and annoying cheerful" and from there to something like the way it's used today.

Yes, some people are bigots who use the word gay in a way intended to disparage homosexuals. And they should be called on it. But I think more and more people use "gay" the way they use "dumb". No reference or insult to actual homosexual or deaf people is intended.
posted by straight at 2:34 PM on October 10, 2008


languagehat: of course you're right, and I've never actually used "niggardly" outside of discussions about how its meaning has no actual racial background, so yeah. I guess I can let that one go. The real reason that particular case gets my hackles up is when that congresswoman (or whoever. Can't recall exactly what her position was except that she was a civil servant in some capacity) had to publicly apologize for use of the word. That was fucked up, IMHO. I've got no problem at all with letting the word die, as it will. Miserly works better anyway.
posted by Navelgazer at 4:21 PM on October 10, 2008


When I was in grade school, we called things "corroded." As in, she is so corroded, that is so corroded.

I like that. Let's start spreading it. Who are we going to offend, Iron Man?


Lepers. or as they prefer to be called, Corroding Americans.
posted by jonmc at 4:33 PM on October 10, 2008


A hot Asian chick saying "that's gay" about an article of clothing: not offensive.

People who go to great lengths to find reasons to be offended: offensive.


Yes, some people are bigots who use the word gay in a way intended to disparage homosexuals. And they should be called on it. But I think more and more people use "gay" the way they use "dumb". No reference or insult to actual homosexual or deaf people is intended.

This is the correct opinion.
posted by Zambrano at 4:51 PM on October 10, 2008


But I think more and more people use "gay" the way they use "dumb". No reference or insult to actual homosexual or deaf people is intended.

Why the fuck do you think it came to mean that, genius? The whole reason that "gay" is used as a pejorative is because it is also used to mean homosexual. Go on ahead and say that stealing something is "[n-word]ing", or that getting something cheaply is "jewing". No insult meant, right?
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:17 PM on October 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


People who go to great lengths to avoid growing up and recognising they're part of a much larger world: missing out.

"But I think more and more people use "gay" the way they use "dumb"."

This sentence seems to show a gap in provided explanations and comprehension.
posted by batmonkey at 5:48 PM on October 10, 2008 [1 favorite]


Just curious, but is there an equivalent term that also means "white heterosexual male?"

Also, aren't gay people really just homosexual?
posted by agress at 8:18 PM on October 10, 2008


This is the correct opinion.

Well, I guess we can close the book on this one.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:02 PM on October 10, 2008


The reason I don't like niggardly is that it's archaic. It's like using gay in the literal sense. Niggardly has plenty of perfectly good synonyms that don't sound like the single worst word you could possibly utter; why go with that one?

Also, niggardly is doubly awful, since it not only sounds like a universally recognized racial slur, but also denotes a negative quality. So, even if someone doesn't know what it means, they know from the context in which it's used that it means something bad. And it sounds like nigger. How do you expect people to react?

Don't understand the word? Okay, ignorant. Agreed. Use the word, not expecting it to piss people off? Idiotic.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:09 AM on October 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


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