On the insult patrol

Jeff Danziger’s take on the World Series:

Quite a compendium of insults on both sides, with slurs on political positions, geographical locations, social class — and masculinity, hinging on an association between the West Coast (and San Francisco in particular) and homosexuality and then effeminacy (hence “panty-wearin'” and, possibly, “weenie”), versus an association between Texas and macho.

Having posted recently on wieners (here), I’m especially interested in weenie or weeny as an insult. In that posting, I assumed that the path was from weenie ‘hot dog’ to weenie ‘penis’ (metaphor) and then to weenie as a deprecation of a man (metonymy; compare dick and prick). But this isn’t the story OED2 tells.

And no surprise, since the OED doesn’t (currently) have the penis sense at all, though I’m quite familiar with it, and you can google up lots of hits for weenie-wagging, both for (literally) waving the penis in public and (figuratively) for boasting or otherwise showing off. Nor does the OED have what I assumed to be the most common American insult use of weenie, as roughly equivalent to dork, nerd, geek, dweeb, or loser; again, it’s easy to google up examples. (And the Urban Dictionary lists all of these shades of meaning, including the penis sense.)

The OED‘s story begins with occurrences of weenie (I’ll continue to use this spelling to represent a number of alternatives) as an adjective, related to wee ‘small’ and built on analogy with tiny and teeny. First cite from a 1790 glossary, quickly expanded in the 19th century to tiny-weeny and teeny-weeny.

Then comes the noun weenie, attested from 1844 on in the sense ‘a very young child’ — still in ‘wee’ territory.

And then U.S. slang senses: ‘a girl’ in 1929; ‘an effeminate man’ in 1963 (in a report in American Speech); ‘an objectionable person’ in 1964 (again from AmSp). This chain of sense development — ‘girl’ to ‘effeminate man’, which is then generalized to cover socially unacceptable people in general — would not be surprising.

The OED treats the sausage sense of weenie (again, U.S. slang) as a separate entry, since it is so clearly derived from Wiener ‘Viennese’: Wiener Wurst shortened to Wiener or wiener, which is then treated hypocoristically as wienie or weenie. Different etymologies, different dictionary entries.

But back to the entry that the OED traces back to wee. It’s hard to find evidence for weenie ‘effeminate man’ in current usage; even the Urban Dictionary, with its profusion of entries for weenie, doesn’t list this sense, and several of the entries seem to assume a connection between weenie ‘penis’ (which might be derived from weenie ‘hot dog’, or might be related to the baby-words wee-wee ‘urinate, urine, penis’, or might be affected by both) and the many deprecatory uses of weenie.

Some of the deprecatory uses of weenie suggest deficient masculinity (in excessive caution, for example), but always, as far as I can tell, short of actual effeminacy or homosexuality, though they could have developed from an earlier ascription of effeminacy or homosexuality. The slur has certainly been extended (as is so often the case with sexuality slurs) so that it can cover people of both sexes.

The historical developments are, then, not at all clear, though it’s certain that the cartoon Texas batter’s weenie was meant as some kind of slur.


3 Responses to “On the insult patrol”

  1. richard01 Says:

    Perhaps time to bring in an oldie: a Filipino was offered a Hot Dog, but pulled back in horror: ‘But we don’t eat that part of a dog!’

  2. arnold zwicky Says:

    Ben Zimmer jogs my memory, reminding me that in 2005 he

    posted on ADS-L about the nerdish sense of “weenie” with exx going back to 1955 in collegiate use:


    This was followed downthread by a discussion of “tool” and other phallic pejoratives.

    Love “phallic pejoratives”.

  3. Spear/Smear the Queer « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] rhyme’s the thing, hurling slurs is a big thing on the schoolyard, and the game has an aggressive component that goes beyond […]

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