The way men insult one another is seldom direct. When we shout imprecations at one another, those taunts nearly all get bounced off women first. From “son of a bitch” to “bastard” to “motherfucker,” we insult men by insulting women. It may have gotten worse over the course of the last couple of generations, since it’s become common to offer unisexual insult by calling anyone at all, male or female, a “bitch.” And, of course, referring to another guy as a “pussy” has a long history as a punishing insult, though not quite as harsh as calling him a “cunt.”
Leaving those female-loaded insults aside, there are the expletives bound to the so-called “f-word”. From my youngest days, I never understood the logic of telling someone I didn’t like to “go get fucked.” It hardly seemed like anything more than good advice. After all, when 15-year-old boys are tagging one another with that insult, most of them are already giving their highest priority to trying to get fucked. So, telling another male to do the thing he’s most obsessed with doing anyway hardly seems like it should hurt anyone’s feelings, let alone make us want to fight.
But it’s all rather irrational in the world of exchanging verbal tokens of disdain. Most of that bad badinage is rooted in our discomfort about those parts of our bodies engaged in excretion. We don’t think much of that rather elemental process apparently, though we’re quick to insult someone whose excretory organs aren’t working, because we seldom tell anyone that they’re “full of shit” as a compliment.
It’s complicated, this business. Even on the complimentary side of shady language, there are things that just don’t make sense. When I was a kid, it was common to describe a particularly comely woman by saying she was “built like a brick shithouse.” I’ve been trying to figure out how that could have ever been seen as anyone’s idea of a flattering remark.
Having been subjected to my share of insults over the course of a lengthening life span, most of the ways people swear at me have long ago lost their novelty, and much of their sting. If, however, I move to a country where Arabic is spoken, I hope my skin has grown thick enough to protect me from someone who says “Eyreh be afass seder emmak.” For those who may not know, that means “my dick in your mother’s rib cage.”
In any language, ain’t we a sweet and refined species?