Archive for the ‘Insults’ Category

He meant to say “supine”

February 11, 2018

Wilson Gray on ADS-L on the 6th:

“She was lying on her back, when she was stabbed, in the prone position.”

He meant to say, “in the supine position,” of course.

There’s no “of course” here. No, that is almost surely not what the speaker meant to say; I’d wager he intended to say exactly what he did say. It’s just not what Wilson thinks the speaker should have said. (Or he’s mocking people who talk this way, though I failed to detect any raised eyebrows in what he wrote so briefly and dismissively.)

We have here a widespread vulgar confusion, a failure to distinguish

between inadvertent errors, things that are “wrong” for the person who produces them, and advertent errors, things that are ok so far as the producer is concerned but “wrong” from the point of view of at least some other people. (Faced with [the first], you call in the psycholinguist; faced with [the second], you call in the sociolinguist.) (Language Log link)

On top of that, Wilson has the sociolinguistic facts wrong, through a confusion between ordinary language and technical language: supine is a technical term for a bodily postion (lying flat on one’s back), used in certain specific domains (anatomy, sport, and shooting, in particular); in those domains, its counterpart (referring to lying flat on one’s belly) is prone, but in ordinary language, outside these specific domains, prone can refer to lying flat in general, and supine isn’t used at all.

The mistake here lies in assuming that technical, domain-specific (medical, botanical, technologcal, etc.) vocabulary is the true, correct, uniquely valid scheme for naming. From my 7/27/15 posting “Misleadingly named animals”, on zoological names:

The terminology “true fly” and “true bug” (etc.) here arises from the attitude that the naming practices of biologists are the only valid (true) naming schemes — what I’ll call technicalism. In the case of fly and bug, technicalism is remarkable from the historical point of view, since the specialized use of these nouns represents a decision to use perfectly ordinary vocabulary as technical terminology by drastically restricting its reference.


Xmas follies 2017: the clothing

December 15, 2017

Inspired by office groups gathered for holiday celebrations in local restaurants, with lots of participants in seasonal sweathers, variously festive, garish, raunchy, or ridiculous. It turns out that the Ugly Christmas Sweater is a thing: large retailers like Macy’s and Target sell the things under that name, and there are companies specializing in them. Here, for example, is an UCS that incorporates another Xmas follies theme: the shirtless men of Christmas:

(#1) Blizzard Bay Men’s Shirtless Santa Ride Ugly Christmas Sweater


Gay slurs in New Zealand

August 16, 2017

… with quotations from a Stanford linguist.

The story: “Garry Mallett’s explanation of the F-word falls short” by Jeremy Olds yesterday in the NZ website Stuff (, about fag(got), beginning with events in Hamilton City NZ (south of Auckland on the North Island):

OPINION: It’s unclear why Hamilton City councillor Garry Mallett believes pink is a “homo colour”. Perhaps he thinks it’s effeminate; perhaps he thinks it’s cute.

Whatever the case, when Mallett described a pink piece of paper from an agenda last week as a “homo colour”, before using the word “fags”, his comments were perceived as homophobic by his colleagues, including councillor Angela O’Leary.

While he apologised for his language this morning, Mallett was last night defending his comments, saying gay people are comfortable with the labels, and to think otherwise is to be “sucked into this politically correct vortex,” The Spinoff reported.

“Many homosexuals freely and willingly identify with these words. Indeed, to some extent, homosexuals have ‘commandeered’ these words such that many non-homosexuals feel uncomfortable using them,” he said.

Ah, the right to use fag openly and proudly as a slur, threatened by the pansies, fruits, and fairies who have begun reclaiming fag for their own use.


The taunt

August 8, 2017

Today’s One Big Happy has James reciting a piece of American childlore, the taunt “X is a friend of mine” (where X is a name, preferably a trochaic one, like Ruthie, to fit the trochaic tetrameter pattern of the verse):


A cornucopia of pop culture references.


Macho Muffler Man vs. the elite geek

June 2, 2017

Today’s Zippy pits Griffy against a familiar figure in the strip, a Muffler Man roadside fiberglass figure — in this case a lumberjack figure, selling tires rather than mufflers, but still part of an automotive theme:

Not just selling tires, but presenting himself as hypermasculinely disdainful of analytic academics.


hockey puck

April 11, 2017

From the Bloomberg site on 4/6/17, a death notice: “Don Rickles, Comedian Who Turned Insults Into Art, Dies at 90”, by Laurence Arnold, which notes:

“The Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang credits Rickles, circa 1963, with repurposing ‘hockey puck’ to mean ‘a stupid or useless person.’”

There’s some question about when Rickles first used the insult to address someone, but no one seems to have asked

🏒Why hockey puck?🏒


More British slurs

July 17, 2016

A follow-up to yesterday’s posting on “oiks, yobs, and prats”, about British social slurs, especially in the tv series Midsomer Murders: Facebook comments from John Wells (on the slurs in my posting, plus chav) and Don Steiny (on the status of cunt in British (also Australian) English).


Two Z language cartoons

March 1, 2016

A Zits and a Zippy playing with language:





August 11, 2014

Unfolding in Iraq, a fierce campaign by the Sunni Muslim organization ISIS against “infidels”, in particular, Shia Muslims, Christians, and Yazidis. (I’m skipping here what ISIS stands for, and whether some other label entirely should be used for the organization.) Jews would of course be on the list, but there aren’t many left in Iraq; ISIS proposes to get to the Jews by attacking Israel, but only after they eliminate Iraqi infidels first — by the classic tactic of requiring them to convert or be killed. (The Convert or Die tactic is familiar in the West from the long history of Roman Catholic impositions on other groups, especially the Ottoman Turks, but also Jews and (what the Church saw as) heretical Christian sects.)

Obviously, what counts as an infidel depends on your point of view, as will become clear from a run through the OED2 entry. But first, some notes on the etymology.



October 10, 2013

From David Nash on Google+, this ad (from Australia, I assume):

(meaning, ‘in the native language of the country where the games will be held, namely Brazil’ — that is, in Brazilian Portuguese).

The verb sledge was new to me, though David quickly explained it to me.