Steven Levine writes me about coming across the portmanteau frape on a recent visit to Ireland, heard from young Irish acquaintances:

It refers to somebody getting hold of your Facebook access (I’m assuming because they all log in from their phones so this is easy enough for a friend to do, if you leave your phone sitting on a table or somethiing) and posting as you. (A fake post is a “frape”, and somebody might have a status saying “fraped again”.) It stands for “Facebook rape”.

At first, Steven didn’t know whether the usage was specifically Irish or specifically youth-speak (or both), but he’s since discovered that it’s widespread. There’s even a snarky e-card:

Google on {“frape” “Facebook”} and look at the images — many many screenshots of frapes.

There’s an Urban Dictionary page for frape, with a first entry from June 2007. The word came up on ADS-L back in 2004, but not in its current sense. From Larry Horn on 12/30/04:

Below you will find the second annual compilation of selected (by me) entries from students’ NEWJs (New English Word Journals), collected during the course of the past semester and submitted as one of the assignments for the Yale undergraduate course in the Structure and History of English Words.

… frape, v. ‘to make overly strong and/or unwelcome attempts at friendship’

Not long after it began to appear in its current sense. (I should remind you that Facebook began early in 2004.)

Frape incorporates a rape metaphor, and many have objected to the metaphor in general. A characteristic posting, by Chloe Angyal on HuffPo (“More Than Words: The Rape Metaphor” of 1/11/10):

… the young men [at the University of Sydney] … insisted that they had used the word “rape” metaphorically, to describe the defeat of a rival football team by their own. And they were probably telling the truth; among Australian college students, “rape” is often used to describe particularly unpleasant experiences. Certainly, it is a part of the vernacular of St. Paul’s, the residential college to which the young men in question belonged. The day after the article first appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald, one member of the Facebook group expressed his feelings about it using his Facebook status: “Paul’s was raped by the SMH.”

It’s not only in Australia that “rape” is used as a metaphor for an unpleasant experience. Here in the US, it is not uncommon to hear the word invoked to describe a particularly grueling exam or an especially hard day at work. Indeed, Media Matters has compiled a rather disturbing montage of clips of conservative media commentators, most notably Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, repeatedly using the word as a metaphor for anything and everything bad.

There’s nothing wrong with metaphors, of course, and as I’m sure they’d be swift to point out, Limbaugh and Beck are well within their rights to use any words they please to express their feelings about taxation, bailouts and illegal immigration. But using the word to describe a garden variety bad experience trivializes the very real experience of rape victims. And the sad truth is that our culture already trivializes rape enough without the contributions of Fox news commentators or Australian frat boys.

It’s a complicated matter. Sexual and violent metaphors are natural for describing competitions, dominance, and undergoing bad experiences:

The Tigers totally destroyed / annihilated / screwed / fucked the Panthers.

What an awful test; I’m totally destroyed / screwed / fucked.

The rape metaphor is especially suited to the Facebook case, where the affected person is violated against their will.

It would be hard to tolerate the other violent and sexual metaphors while barring only the rape metaphor. The other violent metaphors glorify violence, and the other sexual metaphors incorporate negative views of sex, and you might reasonably object to them on those grounds, but I can’t see purging these metaphors from language use. In addition, many of these metaphors have become conventionalized to one degree or another, so that the literal senses of the lexical items are at least muted, if not entirely below the level of consciousness.

So you can agree that our culture trivializes rape but still not see every use of the word rape as literal (and trivializing of the experience of being raped).

15 Responses to “frape”

  1. Serene Vannoy Says:

    You can do that, sure. I don’t. And I don’t condone using “bashing” to mean “disagreeing with vociferously” or other uses of violent metaphors to talk about trivial matters.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      We’ve been through this before, but the short sermon is that in interpreting what people say, you need to take their intentions into account, and to understand that their usage might be different from yours. Steven’s young Irish friends intended no reference to literal rape, and indeed would be appalled that you read their words this way. Shame on you.

    • Steven Levine Says:

      Serene: Arnold’s not getting through here, so I doubt I will, but it is my friends against you have made some very serious accusations as to their intentions and even morality, friends who will likely see this article, so I have to take exception to what you have said here. Arnold noted that you can agree that our culture trivializes rape and not see every use of the word as literal — that is, you can see that the word “frape” can be used to mean “hijack a facebook account” without any literal sexual meaning in the usage per se on the part of the people using it. You said that you don’t (not see the word as always being literal), implying that you see every use of the word as literal. This is not how you “feel” about the word “rape” — those are not feelings you are describing at all — this is your insistence that the word — in this case “frape” — literally means sexual assault, and thus trivializes rape, whatever the usage and meaning of the word might be in the coterie in which it was used. Your understanding of the word’s meaning trumps the understanding of all parties in the conversation in which it was used.

      The problem for me is that in what you write is the accusation that my friends are trivializing rape, and that this is in the category of what you don’t condone, implying they are committing a moral wrong. Those are very serious accusations (when I read what you wrote I thought “how dare you”), which I believe are unjustified. It is your apparent willingness to insult people this deeply because of your insistence that a word means what you say it means and not what context would indicate that is shameful — these are actual people about whom you are making these claims.

      The word was new to me when I came across it and I found it a little startling and I doubt I could ever use it comfortably myself, but I saw how common it was in certain circles and then how common and even longterm it is across the Internet. There’s even a lot of discussion about the problematic nature of the word’s origins (there’s a FB page devoted to protesting its use, although it’s not particularly active). And as Chris notes, there are issues of sensitivity to take into account in its usage (and the usage of related words), depending on context. But an insistence that “the word always means literal rape” no matter the speaker or context is a claim that is difficult to respond to, since it is a proclamation that no further discussion is possible.

      • chryss Says:

        Woah, did part of Serene’s text get deleted? Where does she make accusations against your (Steven’s) friends? Is it time to respond to this on my own blog?

  2. chryss Says:

    It was surprising to me when I realized that college students in their early 20s — and specifically women — use “rape” casually in a figurative sense. For example, the only undergraduate in what turned out to be an excessively hard class I took for my degree program (it was newly designed and somewhat over-full of material), after the midterm exam: “I’ve never been so raped in my life.” (In a sarcastic way I thought I was glad she could say that – not everyone can.)

    My reaction was similarly negative when I first heard “nuke” used to mean “warm up in a microwave oven”.

    Now I use casual hyperbole myself, usually with words like “destroy” or “annihilate”, which I justify by telling myself they are so unspecific as to not elicit negative reactions, and I grew up with “beat” (or German “schlagen”) to be the commonplace verb to use when one team wins a game over another at a team sport. I am sure that the figurative use of a word as hyperbole doesn’t necessarily mean the literal action is trivialized. On the other hand, it seems pretty callous to me to use it this way in a mixed group where people present may have first or second hand experience with such acts.

  3. Ann Burlingham Says:

    What an unpleasant exchange. It’s SO GAY.

    Of course we all understand I don’t mean “gay” “that way”. So it’s fine.

    What the hell?

  4. Ann Burlingham Says:

    “I am sure that the figurative use of a word as hyperbole doesn’t necessarily mean the literal action is trivialized. On the other hand, it seems pretty callous to me to use it this way in a mixed group where people present may have first or second hand experience with such acts.”

    Yes. Both parts of that.

  5. Stephanie Says:

    Ann, as always, nails it. I’m kind of boggled that the connection between the culture trivializing rape and the function of this kind of neologism within the culture — which does not entirely rely on the intent of the speaker — can be so easily glossed over.

    My sense is that that is Serene’s point. I am also boggled that she should be shamed for making it.

  6. Tim Says:

    I don’t really know what to make of all this. Arnold and Steven seem to be responding to something completely beyond what Serene wrote here, which leads me to wonder if there were earlier comments that have been deleted. None of this makes sense to me, least of all what seems like their casual dismissal of “trivializing rape.”

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