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Can we stop using 'mouth breather' as an insult
September 11, 2010 3:51 AM   Subscribe

Can we collectively agree to stop using "mouth breather" as an insult? It's not civil, and it doesn't contribute to a discussion. I can't be the only one with a deviated septum on here who cringes everytime a poster uses it as a synonym for ignorant. I know we're not exactly a protected minority, but still ...

(and it feels silly even bringing this up, but after 14 reconstructive surgeries to get this far no one would even dare use a phrase like that to my face).
posted by kanewai to Etiquette/Policy at 3:51 AM (651 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

Oh for fuck's sake. Even Wikipedia knows when this term is used as an insult it's not literally referring to people who have medical conditions requiring them to breathe through their mouths.
posted by IvoShandor at 3:56 AM on September 11, 2010 [27 favorites]


Out of sympathy, I will be writing a strong letter of complaint to the band Weezer.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:59 AM on September 11, 2010 [19 favorites]


Holy shit. How about we just agree not to say anything negative at all. And just post links to photos of cute pandas or some shit so that no one would ever have to express displeasure.

The list of Requests for Metafilter Protected Classes just went from white-hot annoying to absurd. I was an asthmatic, allergic child and still breathe mostly though my mouth. I use "mouth breather" pejoratively. Rest assured that I am not referring to you or me. Now go back to bed.
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:21 AM on September 11, 2010 [36 favorites]


I never even considered this before. Well I won't use it anymore.
posted by Danila at 4:21 AM on September 11, 2010 [10 favorites]


Well, wait. If we're going to enter into a collective bargaining agreement, what's in it for us non-mouthbreathers?
posted by Eideteker at 4:25 AM on September 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


also, knuckle-dragger - I didn't ask to be hunched over
posted by victors at 4:35 AM on September 11, 2010 [18 favorites]


Yes, damn you kanewal, taking away our precious dwindling methods of being unpleasant to people.

I don't really think this is going to happen, but I have to say I get a little chuckle over the indignation.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 4:39 AM on September 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Can we collectively agree to stop using "mouth breather" as an insult?

Nope.
posted by orville sash at 4:44 AM on September 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


Oh, also
posted by orville sash at 4:49 AM on September 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


I've always been fond of the term Mouth Breeder. I vote we use that instead.
posted by HFSH at 4:52 AM on September 11, 2010 [9 favorites]


Hey, I'm over 50. You wouldn't believe the perjorative comments and stereotypes no one else even notices! It seems to never occur to posters that not everyone is in their 20s and 30s on the site. I just sit back and let 'em fly, 'cause, well, it's a club you're all gonna join someday.
posted by thinkpiece at 4:53 AM on September 11, 2010 [56 favorites]


I'm with you, thinkpiece. I work with college students and the more "ageist" things they say, the more I have to chuckle. If you take care of yourself and have some luck in avoiding cancers and accident, increased age is your reward. Heh. Heh. Heh. Heh.

As for OP, I'm sorry about your trials but that word will continue to be used.

Especially with elections coming up. I suspect a lot of people here will be applying it to about 55% of their fellow Americans :)
posted by codswallop at 4:58 AM on September 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


As a person who was responsible for cleaning up his coprophage brother, I used to get enraged in GWB threads when people would talk of wanting to wipe that shit-eating grin off his face.
posted by gman at 4:59 AM on September 11, 2010 [23 favorites]


How about we just agree not to say anything negative at all

God, this would be just awful, wouldn't it?
posted by bonaldi at 5:07 AM on September 11, 2010 [13 favorites]


The list of Requests for Metafilter Protected Classes just went from white-hot annoying to absurd.

There's nothing wrong with asking folks to keep his feelings in mind. Some might in the future. Most probably won't. But if it matters to him, I suppose it can't hurt to ask.
posted by zarq at 5:21 AM on September 11, 2010 [26 favorites]


I can't even tell the fake posts from the real ones anymore.
posted by smackfu at 5:54 AM on September 11, 2010 [20 favorites]


But then what will I call teabaggers?
posted by Splunge at 5:54 AM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Go home, nosies.
posted by Uppity Pigeon #2 at 5:55 AM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


There's a fine line, IMO, with this sort of thing. It's good to request that people or a community stop saying or doing something when those things convey a negative attitude towards a group of people, particularly one that's undeserved. On the other hand, there are requests that hurt an individual's feelings. Obviously a group is made of individuals, so again, there's a fine line somewhere and of course that line may vary from person to person.

I think your request is understandable and I feel for everything you've gone through with 14 surgeries. But I think that when people use the term "mouth breathers" they're not thinking negatively of people who have a deviated septum. I don't think there's a Mefi segment that just can't stand, um, er, you people. So I'm going to ask you to consider that and think whether your fellow Mefites are really hating on people with who are really having actual medical problems from being unable to breath completely from their nose.

Again, I'm sorry for all the stuff you're going through and I really do feel for you, but asking a community of 50,000 or so to never use a the phrase "mouth breather" because it bothers you or possibly others is request I can't honor. If we're ever talking face to face and you requested that, I'd be more amendable to doing so, but frankly, if I use the term on Mefi, it's probably in reference to something else, used in conversation I'm not having with you and I resent the fact that you're attempting to control a conversation you may never see when I'm not using the phrase to actually disparage you or anyone with your condition.
posted by nomadicink at 5:58 AM on September 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


Well, there we go. Y'all have revealed yourselves as hypocritical assholes. Dude comes in and asks you to respect his feelings, and y'all deride him for it.

I already feel like communicating here requires about the level of linguistic straight jacketry that existed in my urban studies/white-men-are-bad seminar in college. But, I'd been coming to terms with it, since it seemed that metafilter did a pretty even-handed job in terms of making sure that everybody's feelings were protected.

But, now it's clear that the only people whose feelings are important to protect are those that win you points in your holier-than-thou liberal quest.

Even Wikipedia knows when this term is used as an insult it's not literally referring to people who have medical conditions requiring them to breathe through their mouths.

You're absolutely right. But, on the other hand, if I raped somebody at Halo, I didn't really sexually assault them. That retarded YouTube video wasn't really developmentally delayed. When I gypped that carny, I wasn't speaking Roma. And Sarah Palin's a bitch, but she doesn't walk on four legs and chase squirrels.

Yeah? See how that works? None of the various offensive terms in the preceding paragraph are meant to be taken literally.

That means they're not offensive, right?

The list of Requests for Metafilter Protected Classes just went from white-hot annoying to absurd. I was an asthmatic, allergic child and still breathe mostly though my mouth. I use "mouth breather" pejoratively. Rest assured that I am not referring to you or me. Now go back to bed.

Oh, it got absurd a long time ago.

But, really? Your argument is "I'm a mouthbreather, and I'm fine with it"? We've had that argument before. It comes down to: some members of a group may not be offended by a term, but that doesn't make it alright to use, since lots of other folks will be offended.
posted by Netzapper at 6:02 AM on September 11, 2010 [76 favorites]


I don't think people are being hypocrites. I think they are different people. We do have a lot of users. And MetaFilter really is pretty awful at any disagreements. As long as we were all "Bush sucks", it wasn't too noticeable, but lately it's gotten bad.
posted by smackfu at 6:09 AM on September 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


oh shit i forgot about netzapper's oppression
posted by Greg Nog at 6:10 AM on September 11, 2010 [7 favorites]


This is a somewhat queer request.
posted by googly at 6:11 AM on September 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


I can understand saying no but why do you have to be snarky and mean about it?
posted by furiousxgeorge at 6:15 AM on September 11, 2010 [11 favorites]


As a person with an asshole, I'm offended by the pejorative use of 'asshole.' Also please stop using the phrase 'thin-skinned'.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 6:18 AM on September 11, 2010 [9 favorites]


I resent the fact that you're attempting to control a conversation you may never see when I'm not using the phrase to actually disparage you or anyone with your condition.

Oh, come on. Just find another word. It's a reasonable enough request from a fellow member of the community here.
posted by mediareport at 6:21 AM on September 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


Netzapper, it's not "hypocritical" to draw a line between women, Roma and the developmentally impaired on the one hand, and people with deviated septums on the other. There's a rational explanation related to historical prejudice and oppression. You may not agree with the argument, but that doesn't make the people who use it hypocritical.
posted by palliser at 6:21 AM on September 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


I'll see netzapper holier than holier than thou and raise you a holier than holier than holier than thou...

turns out when us humans get together there's this thing called "social norms" that sometimes trumps the blight of inconsistencies and contradictions that are so prevalent in our behavior.

also, sometimes we relieve tension from more than one orifice. guilty.
posted by victors at 6:26 AM on September 11, 2010


I already feel like communicating here requires about the level of linguistic straight jacketry

that's a phrase offensive to the mentally ill, hypocrite

Sarah Palin's a bitch, but she doesn't walk on four legs and chase squirrels.

also if you're going to make statements like this, you need to back them up with proof
posted by pyramid termite at 6:27 AM on September 11, 2010 [13 favorites]


Someday someone is going to ask that people don't use the Lord's name in vain because it offends them, and MetaTalk will implode.
posted by smackfu at 6:27 AM on September 11, 2010 [19 favorites]


Oh goddamnit, I just stopped using 'thick-fingered vulgarian' because that one guy with the freakishly fat fingers had his feelings hurt, and now this. Whatever shall I do?
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:29 AM on September 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


The way people have reacted here is incredibly disappointing and ridiculous.

If you don't like the request, you can be civil about saying so.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 6:34 AM on September 11, 2010 [29 favorites]


I also would like to get "cocksucker" off this list.
posted by theredpen at 6:37 AM on September 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


Oh goddamnit, I just stopped using 'thick-fingered vulgarian'

The preferred term is "short-fingered vulgarian." God, I miss SPY.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:38 AM on September 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Piffle.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:42 AM on September 11, 2010


Yeah, this phrase actually is about ridiculing someone's real physical appearance, so it's not really comparable to thin skinned. Also not sure why several posters can't say 'no' without this ridiculous display.

Besides: you seen what's happening with allergy and atopy rates? We'll all be mouth-breathing soon enough.
posted by ~ at 6:43 AM on September 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm currently breathing through my mouth, but I think I'm coming down with a cold.

And as much as I shouldn't be defending an epithet - I really don't think the slur "mouthbreather" really has anything to do with people with a deviated septum any more then "knuckle-dragger" has anything to do with someone with a hunched back or osteoporosis.

See also: Troglodyte.

*casts summons languagehat or cortex to limber up their OED accounts*
posted by loquacious at 6:45 AM on September 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


I have been--not quite offended--but bothered by this before. To me, it's not so much that the mouth-breather contingent needs special protection, but that I wish people would stop pretending that making fun of people or deriding them for any personal quality they do not have control over is a part of acceptable discourse. I know that people are not going to change this, but it lowers my opinion of someone when they do it, and I wish there was less name-calling on this site (and less extravagant favoriting when it happens). But, as they say, if wishes were horses we'd all be eating steak, so I try to live with it. If it gets to be too much for me, I leave threads. If it gets to be too much for me overall, I'll leave the site. So be it.
posted by not that girl at 6:49 AM on September 11, 2010 [29 favorites]


Is clay-eater still okay? I tend to use the two interchangeably, or in tandem.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 6:54 AM on September 11, 2010


You know, I should be clear: I'm a mouth breather, and I don't mind the term. And I think the last thing mefi needs is another taboo phrase.

My issue is with the derision the OP received. All the talk about societal norms and non-literal meanings is specious. It wasn't too long ago that societal norms allowed for all sorts of speech we'd now consider hateful. Furthermore, in larger US society, there's lots of acceptable language that we've banned on metafilter.

If you want to dismiss the OP's complaint, that's fine. But, do it for the real reason: you don't care about this particular group of people. And do it civilly, instead of making fun of them.

(And for the record, one of my most painful memories is a teacher who yelled at me and sent me to the principal's office because I wouldn't couldn't comply with her instructions to breathe in through my mouth and out through my nose during a kind of guided meditation exercise. And the OP has had 14 surgeries. These are real traumas, even if you think it's ludicrous.)
posted by Netzapper at 6:55 AM on September 11, 2010 [14 favorites]


I also would like to get "cocksucker" off this list.

It's easy to get the cocksucker off, but lists aren't involved.

Joking aside, it's remarkable to think about the basis of the insults we often use very lightly. Along with the obvious (cocksucker, bitch), there are plenty that might be innocuous or might be a lot more problematic. When I call you a "jerk," is that a variation of "spastic"? Or is it instead connected to masturbation, as in "jerk-off"?

There's an issue with how deep do you follow those connections, and of whether it matters that the person saying the words has no idea that the insult was (long ago, maybe) based on something a lot nastier than the way the words are commonly understood now. Although it tends to raise flags on MeFi, I hear people use the word "gypped" in daily speech all the time. They are 100% using it as a synonym for "cheated," with not a though in the world of making a nasty reference to gypsies.

But just because you have no intention of offending doesn't mean that you aren't being offensive to someone. It's a tricky balance point, and I can see how many people find it frustrating to have the linguistic ground constantly shifting under them.
posted by Forktine at 6:59 AM on September 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Mayor Curley: "How about we just agree not to say anything negative at all."

Great idea. I will happily stand beside you in that endeavor! Why spew meaningless negativity out in the world? What does it buy us? Joy is the shit.
posted by iamkimiam at 7:00 AM on September 11, 2010 [13 favorites]


Why spew meaningless negativity out in the world?

Define "meaningless negativity". I may loathe X movie, someone else may love it. If I'm complaining about what I see as the negative qualities of the movie, is that negativity really meaningless?

I'm with ya on being more joyful and cheerfull and all that, but shooting for a complete ban of negativity on Metafilter, which it sorta sounds like you're doing (and please correct me if I'm wrong) is high water mark I'd rather not shoot for.
posted by nomadicink at 7:07 AM on September 11, 2010


When I meditate I breathe through my nose and mouth. I do not usually observe how other people are breathing unless I am within a small number of inches from their mouth and nose. Do people often observe a large amount of mouth breathing in others and correlate it with low status?
posted by bukvich at 7:08 AM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


You ever see Dragonslayer? It's old, like 1981 old, but was a pretty good movie and rather balanced for a Disney flick in that the characters were not as black and white as usual. Anyway, there was this novelization of it with a lot of interior voice of the characters. King Casiodorus, who behaved as kings would behave, encouraged people to think he wasn't quite on the ball as he actually was. Being underestimated is useful.

One of his little tricks in this was that he was a mouth-breather. This made him look a little vapid. I read this, and I wasn't very old and up until a few years ago I would have suffocated had someone kept my mouth closed and realized, "Oh, I'm a mouth-breather, too!" and wondered if that, including my sleepy eyes, was what caused everyone to immediately assume that I was a little slow upon meeting me.

Now, after having my schnozz heavily revamped on the inside, with all of the lovely airflow it entails, whenever I want someone to underestimate me ... I open my mouth a little.

It works.
posted by adipocere at 7:12 AM on September 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm pretty sympathetic to making linguistic accommodations and what not but I think this is silly. There is a world of difference between excising words from our language that have been used to oppress entire groups in very concrete and life-altering ways (see: the n-word, retarded, "gay" as a pejorative), and asking people to alter their language because one individual with a condition that has not historically been tied to oppression doesn't like the phrase.

The former is useful because those words reinforce repressive attitudes and causes the harmful oppression to continue; removing them is both a real and symbolic step towards change. In this context, asking for the same accommodations in the latter situation is a bit insulting to the groups whose struggles have been much, much greater.

There is a wonderful quote that was recently incorporated into a Supreme Court of Canada case* that I find myself referring to more and more often: "The law expects reasonable fortitude and robustness of its citizens and will not impose liability for the exceptional frailty of certain individuals." Like many things in the law, I find it's useful by analogy to everyday life.

On other words: hurt feelings aren't the end of the world. And the reason we don't use the n-word and other such language goes much, much deeper than hurt feelings.

*Fascinating case - man finds fly in his water and sues; wins at trial. In Canada, not the US. (Fortunately overturned on appeal)
posted by AV at 7:13 AM on September 11, 2010 [16 favorites]


Christ, what assholes.

Not you, kanewai.
posted by jtron at 7:26 AM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Someone with a physical condition requests some sensitivity, a bunch of people pile on like assholes. Not what Metafilter is for.

(and I'm as sick of hypersensitivity and PC and all that as anyone. Just don't be an asshole.)
posted by jbickers at 7:27 AM on September 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


But, now it's clear that the only people whose feelings are important to protect are those that win you points in your holier-than-thou liberal quest.

To be fair, the same members who are being petulant in this thread are, in general, the same members who are petulant in every thread of this type, so I don't think anyone is truly being hypocritical. Haters be hating is all.
posted by muddgirl at 7:29 AM on September 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


I should be clear: I am a flawed human. I am hypocritical and (probably due to past hurts) use expressions that no doubt, affect victims of painful maladies in an effort to be perceived as a funny guy.

It wasn't too long ago that societal norms allowed for all sorts of speech we'd now consider hateful.

Yea, I'd put this at 0.8 on the Goodwin scale.

you don't care about this particular group of people

Classic false dichotomy.

Again, even if you don't go under the assumption that contradiction is the natural order of things: it is possible to care about somebody and still bust them, with humor, when they act silly.
posted by victors at 7:29 AM on September 11, 2010


You ever see Dragonslayer?

I have to say, I am immensely pleased and heartened to live in a world where someone, anyone, could get a positive life lesson from the novelization of Dragonslayer. It is possible that there is hope for the human race after all.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:31 AM on September 11, 2010 [13 favorites]


To be fair, the same members who are being petulant in this thread are, in general, the same members who are petulant in every thread of this type, so I don't think anyone is truly being hypocritical.

It might be the case that the people who are being mean to the OP in this thread are generally mean on MeFi, so in a narrow, person-by-person sense, there might not be any hypocrisy. But it's still interesting to observe how the overall reaction to a request for more sensitivity can differ based on the nature of the request.
posted by John Cohen at 7:33 AM on September 11, 2010


I believe it is acceptable to say someone is acting like a mouth breather, rather than that they are a mouth breather. This is known as criticising the behaviour rather than the person and apparently it is less insulting, and therefore okay.
posted by Decani at 7:34 AM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


What I love about the insult 'mouth-breather' is that humans over a certain developmental age are the only extant mammals I'm aware of that don't have to make special palatal efforts in order to mouth-breathe. Disparaging mouth-breathers/mouth-breathing disparages one of the most significant adaptations that allowed us to develop complex, clearly articulated spoken language. Indeed, mouth-breathing is speech.

Culturally, of course, we mean someone who might as well be making 'icky' 'un-evolved' pharyngeal sounds instead of articulated speech. If that's what more primitive humanoids did, it's because they couldn't mouth-breathe well. Beautiful.

Anyway, I wasn't using it before because in the battle of reality versus the insult it's pretty much telling someone their cerebral cortex is too highly developed, and they can come argue when they revert to a brainstem-only state, but I'm happy not to use it for the additional reason of making people with medical difficulties feel self-conscious due to the majority of its cultural trappings.

/an asthmatic/atopic anatomist, and proud mouth-breather. I do wish I could drink and breathe at the same time, though. Everything's a trade.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 7:35 AM on September 11, 2010 [11 favorites]


Out of sympathy, I will be writing a strong letter of complaint to the band The Jesus Lizard.
posted by Houyhnhnm at 7:38 AM on September 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


I kind of like that we can use more colorful language than a technical manual. It's kind of a standard rhetorical device to substitute one visually descriptive feature of a subject for the name of the subject itself (although I don't think metonymy is exactly it.) It doesn't necessarily imply that [feature] is neccesary and sufficient to be [subject].

I say this as someone who sometimes plays a banjo.
posted by ctmf at 7:47 AM on September 11, 2010


ricochet biscuit, I miss Spy too.

Related: I wonder if this would make a good mechanical turk project, like the xkcd color survey, using all the various insulting terms mentioned here, and others of course, to get a current, international metric on the particular offensiveness of the various terms. Or maybe this already exists? Like the old HotOrNot, but OffensiveOrNot.
posted by artlung at 7:47 AM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


OP, I'm sorry for your trauma, but I think you're being oversensitive. It's not hard, on any given day, to find something that offends each one of us here. Some degree of pragmatism is necessary for all of us.

That said, it's no great sacrifice to merely switch to the insult "ignorant twat."
posted by MuffinMan at 7:54 AM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Search for "mouth breather" seems to show that this isn't a very common insult around here. Do we really need a thread for each and every special snowflake phrase that pisses someone off?
posted by sanko at 7:55 AM on September 11, 2010


The insult behind 'mouth breather' isn't really to do with your nose - it's all about intellect (at least that was my understanding). And we feel free to insult people's intellect in some situations (eg story about Tea Party rallies), but would be outraged if the same insults were thrown in other situations (eg heartwarming story about community gardening). Yes, I made those up, but there seems to situations where it's 'ok by Metafilter' to have a lower IQ than the norm, and others where it isn't.

I'm quite probably as guilty as anyone of doing this btw, it's not meant to be finger-pointing.
posted by Coobeastie at 7:58 AM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've never used the term myself. And knowing that there's someone here who is bugged by the term, for what seems to me a perfectly valid reason, I reckon I never will.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:03 AM on September 11, 2010 [7 favorites]


artlung, I love the offensiveness index idea. Living somewhere where 'f---' and even 'c---' is deemed acceptable language for talking to toddlers I find the sensitiveness to those words utterly baffling.
posted by Coobeastie at 8:03 AM on September 11, 2010


Search for "mouth breather" seems to show that this isn't a very common insult around here.

Well, wouldn't ya' know it? There's actually a related AskMe: Is there scientific evidence that "mouth-breathers" have lower intelligence, and/or are really perceived as being less intelligent?
posted by ericb at 8:21 AM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I may loathe X movie, someone else may love it. If I'm complaining about what I see as the negative qualities of the movie, is that negativity really meaningless?

This is not a conversation about movie criticism. We're talking about insults. Distinguish between "negativity" and "being a dick."
posted by cribcage at 8:23 AM on September 11, 2010 [6 favorites]


Sorry kanewai, it's been sort of a crappy week in MetaTalk and so people who spend a lot of time here appear to have arrived at your request pre-pissed off. I'm one of those people who doesn't say "mouth breather" for the most part, but I think it may be a little too far along the continuum of "things to avoid saying to avoid hurting people's feelings" to stick in any real way here. I think part of this is because for a lot of people it's not really clear even what the term means, i.e. it's not specifically making fun of people with septum deformities, it's become a catchall in the US for people who don't look intelligent.

And again I'm sorry because that's got to sting and I don't mean to say "hey you just need to get used to it because people don't MEAN anything mean by it" just saying that language change is difficult generally and in this community it's also pretty difficult, so this may be one of those things where people who are extra mindful of this sort of thing will, in fact, stop using it, but the larger peanut gallery probably will not [and may now make some sort of "unfair to peanuts" crack about my comment].
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:28 AM on September 11, 2010 [12 favorites]


Could we please stop using the term "special snowflake"? I happen to be a conglomeration of frozen ice crystals and calling me "special" clearly implies that I'm mentally deficient in the "took the short bus to school" way. In fact, I was valedictorian of SHS (Snowflake High School), and I cringe a little every time someone uses that crude terminology.
posted by chrisamiller at 8:29 AM on September 11, 2010 [7 favorites]


Someday someone is going to ask that people don't use the Lord's name in vain because it offends them, and MetaTalk will implode.

Don't tempt me!
posted by Stynxno at 8:29 AM on September 11, 2010


I want to rise ire against entrepeneurs with allergies. How much more self-centered can a person get? 'Oo, how does it affect my business? Oo, I can't eat this.'
posted by Free word order! at 8:31 AM on September 11, 2010


if wishes were horses we'd all be eating steak

PONY STEAK? what is this i can't even.


So wait, is "window-licker" still okay? What about "noodle-toucher"? "Goat-groper"?
posted by elizardbits at 8:35 AM on September 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


I've never used mouth breather, though when someone's acting simian-like, I will mention the slope of their forehead.

As for knuckledragger- I only use it in a derogatory fashion toward snowboarders.

I'm sorry you take such offense to the term.
posted by TheBones at 8:37 AM on September 11, 2010


Someone with a physical condition requests some sensitivity, a bunch of people pile on like assholes. Not what Metafilter is for.

I generally agree with kanewai's sentiment, find most uses of "mouth-breather" to be lazy rhetoric that could be improved with a small measure of effort by the writer in any case, and don't really like that people responded to this with as much pushback as they did.

That said, framing matters like it always does and people (especially if they're primed to be grumpy for whatever not-kanewai's-fault reason) seem often to react badly to requests/suggestions on Metatalk that come off as too general or impractical, and "can we collectively agree to stop [doing thing x]" is kind of textbook impractical as stated. This is a site full of people who tend to disagree and in some cases specifically to enjoy being disagreeable. So it can be a bit of a lit fuse for anyone not making an effort to be a little charitable in their reading.

And I think there are a lot of people around here who would really benefit, or who would at least be doing the rest of the community some benefit, by trying harder to be more charitable in their readings. Looking at kanewai's post more as "hey, so this is a thing that maybe people don't think about but it's bothering me and may be bothering others, can we talk about that a little?" than as "I DEMAND YOU CEASE USING TERM FOO" seems like the way to go here. And I don't think it takes a hell of a lot of effort to recognize that gentler reading and presume that sort of intent barring some sort of significant evidence to the contrary.

And as far as that goes, I hear you kanewai and I appreciate the heads up. It's not something I'd ever thought about before.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:39 AM on September 11, 2010 [10 favorites]


There is no possible way that the OP is being serious. Great use of MetaTalk as an alternative to Saturday morning cartoons, though/
posted by KokuRyu at 8:40 AM on September 11, 2010


I usually say "Slope headed mouth breather"

I was not aware of the correlation between a deviated septum and mouth breathing.

I learned something this morning and will reconsider the use the expression from now on.
posted by pianomover at 8:40 AM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Can we collectively agree to stop using "mouth breather" as an insult?

Unfortunately, we can't collectively agree on anything, since not every member that ever was or will ever be reads MetaTalk anyway. Speaking for myself, no problem, I won't use mouth breather as an insult.
posted by iconomy at 8:43 AM on September 11, 2010


No. People who can't breathe through their noses are not a historically oppressed group, so I'm not going to honor a request not to use a very lighthearted term that has never been meant to deride people with deviated septums. P.S. I also have a deviated septum, couldn't breathe through my nose for years growing up, and don't consider myself worthy of any sort of special treatment like it's a disability or something, geez. In fact I never even thought about deviated septum="mouth breather." There's a big difference between someone who breathes through their mouth in a non-noticeable way, and someone who breathes through their mouth in a "mouthbreathery" way.
posted by elpea at 8:45 AM on September 11, 2010 [8 favorites]


MetaFilter: I happen to be a conglomeration of frozen ice crystals
posted by artlung at 8:45 AM on September 11, 2010


And I think there are a lot of people around here who would really benefit, or who would at least be doing the rest of the community some benefit, by trying harder to be more charitable in their readings.

Good grief, YES. If that wasn't brought into sharp relief by the insane hammer-throwing thread, I don't know what.

Search for "mouth breather" seems to show that this isn't a very common insult around here.

Looking at those search results, quite a few of them seem to be referring to the medical condition rather than the insult, interestingly enough.
posted by Gator at 8:54 AM on September 11, 2010


i don't say this phrase because it's one of those annoying condescending wannabe Louis Black putdowns of people that the speaker considers too dumb to live that's about 1/2 a step from "sheeple." Calling somebody stupid is the best way to make yourself seem pretty unevolved yourself--true comedy would be to make fun of someone or something, not just insult them.

That said, I think people have a right to react angrily to this request in the abstract. Wanting an entire community of tens of thousands of people to change an everyday phrase common in their culture because of some unusual bad personal experiences is pretty self-centered. Sure it's the OPs right to request whatever they want, but we shouldn't be surprised by the tired snarkfest that follows.

Given that we're here and doing this, how about this proposal.

  • we all try to not to use cliches to insult our enemies, and use more creative language instead..like 'blueberry anal fist shitter'
  • the OP realizes the insult is meant for someone else, and that they will have to live with this disability whether people accidentally refer to it or not.
  • when any of us see something on the internet that makes us angry: we promise to recall that the majority of other posters are in fact Hobgoblins--mischievous and tiny woodland spirits--who are posting from inside their tree root cottages where bunnies are their companions and that they are just trying to trick humans into getting so enraged that we wander into the forest so they can trip us and tie us to the ground with spider webs and steal our mints which is their form of currency.

    Remember: When you get angry--the goblins win!

  • posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:01 AM on September 11, 2010 [5 favorites]



    Someday someone is going to ask that people don't use the Lord's name in vain because it offends them, and MetaTalk will implode.

    Ahem.....
    posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 9:06 AM on September 11, 2010 [16 favorites]


    I don't know, man. I'm a mouth breather and as someone who woke up with a face full of spit this morning (as happens whenever I turn over in the night and sleep face down), I don't really think it makes me look more intelligent.

    (Probably should finally get myself to an ENT about these nasal polyps, though.)
    posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:09 AM on September 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


    I'm for it! Let's be nice! Hugs for all!
    posted by mmmbacon at 9:13 AM on September 11, 2010


    No problem, kanewai, I am happy to avoid the use of this term myself.
    posted by grouse at 9:19 AM on September 11, 2010


    If I agree to stop using the lord's name in vain, the next thing someone is going to want is that I stop coveting my neighbor's wife, and that sure isn't going to happen.
    posted by found missing at 9:28 AM on September 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


    Ahem.....

    Use your words to say what you mean or kindly step off. Sideways allusions to what people might think you mean does not help foster understanding.
    posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:30 AM on September 11, 2010 [15 favorites]


    I like hurting people's feelings for no reason, so I will continue to use the phrase.
    posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:31 AM on September 11, 2010 [9 favorites]


    it's one of those annoying condescending wannabe Louis Black putdowns of people that the speaker considers too dumb to live that's about 1/2 a step from "sheeple."

    No kidding. I also dislike the shorthand use of Dunning-Kruger as a snottier way of saying, "that person is like rilly rilly dumb for reals right?" It's 'retard' for people who are trying hard to look smart.
    posted by fleacircus at 9:31 AM on September 11, 2010


    The issue isn't being "negative", it's name-calling, something that MeFites seem to simply be Unable To Live Without. Look at the use of hipster, applied to all and sundry. It's not enough to describe why you don't like something, apparently. You need a pejorative label, and it pretty much doesn't matter what it is so long as people can agree it means "bad".
    posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:36 AM on September 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


    Also, can people stop using the term contained in the acronym DTMFA as well? It's quite upsetting to me & your mother.
    posted by Aquaman at 9:37 AM on September 11, 2010 [7 favorites]


    Speaking of my mother, can everyone stop talking about how they slept with her last night?


    And, how fat she is.
    posted by found missing at 9:42 AM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


    These are just a few of the images we've recorded. And you can see, it wasn't what we thought. There's been no war here and no terraforming event. The environment is stable. It's the Pax. The G-23 Paxilon Hydrochlorate that we added to the air processors. It was supposed to calm the population, weed out aggression. Well, it works. The people here stopped fighting. And then they stopped everything else. They stopped going to work, they stopped breeding, talking, eating. There's 30 million people here, and they all just let themselves die.
    posted by iamabot at 9:44 AM on September 11, 2010 [9 favorites]


    The singularly best reason for avoiding the term "mouth breather" is this: it shows a lazy lack of creativity.

    If an insult is to be hurled, dress it up! Put some effort into it! Help this place be better than the dreary Internet norm. Amuse us!
    posted by five fresh fish at 9:48 AM on September 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


    Tailoring insults to the specific individual takes work, but it's work I'm willing to do.
    posted by Devils Rancher at 9:54 AM on September 11, 2010 [15 favorites]


    Could we please stop using the term "special snowflake"?

    I suggest "hunchback."
    posted by StickyCarpet at 9:57 AM on September 11, 2010


    That would be like me asking for people to stop using terms like "bat-shit crazy", "loony", and "mental" when referring to someone acting out of the norm. Because, you know, I have bipolar, and lumping me with those nut jobs is just insulting. :P
    posted by patheral at 9:57 AM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


    BTW, I just felt like typing a dirty word (hence my cocksucker remark)—I don't think I've ever typed "mouth-breather" but I will avoid doing so from here on out. I do think we can take this sort of route too far, but it's not like I can't communicate what I mean without that term. (I've never said "cotton-picking," either, but I was shocked when I was told that term had racist implications! So I didn't start using it.)
    posted by theredpen at 10:00 AM on September 11, 2010


    Has anyone pointed out that being a mouth-breathing cocksucker is a recipe for asphyxia?
    posted by found missing at 10:03 AM on September 11, 2010 [7 favorites]


    Potomac Avenue: "we all try to not to use cliches to insult our enemies, and use more creative language instead..like 'blueberry anal fist shitter'"

    I take offense to this because blueberries are pure fucking evil.

    Also, since I'm a red-head, is "ginger kid" off limits now? Every time I hear that, I want to punch a bag of kittens. Oh wait... I'm bald now. Go nuts.
    posted by KevinSkomsvold at 10:03 AM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


    "Blueberry Anal Fist Shitter" was the opening song at most Nirvana concerts from late '93 and early '94. It started life as a song called "Nine Month Media Blackout" and is generally considered to be the most aggressive song on In Utero.
    posted by mintcake! at 10:04 AM on September 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


    I don't see any reason ceasing to use 'mouth-breather' adds value to my life, so I won't use it. I'll sign on to using blueberry anal fist shitter instead.

    And if this whole request was a stalking horse for 'political correctness gone mad!' a la Mark from Peep Show, well, it's a beautiful day and I'm off to rode my shiny new Schwinn.
    posted by winna at 10:09 AM on September 11, 2010


    That should be 'I don't see any reason using 'mouth-breather' adds value to my life.' Damn those wily mischievous woodland spirits.
    posted by winna at 10:14 AM on September 11, 2010


    Gaggle of dick barns.
    posted by iamabot at 10:22 AM on September 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


    Someday someone is going to ask that people don't use the Lord's name in vain because it offends them, and MetaTalk will implode.

    That doesn't even make sense. Lord Krishna loves having his name said, openly & by anybody.
    posted by UbuRoivas at 10:25 AM on September 11, 2010 [9 favorites]


    I see what you did there, but I'm pretty sure we were talking about Michael Flatley.
    posted by found missing at 10:27 AM on September 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


    But, now it's clear that the only people whose feelings are important to protect are those that win you points in your holier-than-thou liberal quest.

    Yeah, it's all those liberals' fault! I knew there had to be someone useful and convenient to blame!
    posted by blucevalo at 10:30 AM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


    I was surprised by both the request and the response to it.

    People use metaphors to insult people a lot, by comparing one disliked person or group A to another group B. They do this so much that they cannot imagine foregoing the practice.

    This is not necessarily because they themselves dislike or have some prejudice against group B. It's because English as a language has incorporated those comparisons. I myself have a habit of saying that various things are "lame". While I myself am not thinking "that thing is as bad as a person who can't walk", the metaphor is baked into the language.

    If someone came up to me and said, "Hey, I have a lot of trouble walking. Can you please not use that word as a pejorative all the time?" I would have to weigh the cost/benefit of complying with this request. It would cost me the effort of figuring out some other way to express myself, and it would benefit me only insofar as this lame guy's feelings matter to me.

    So when you get a request like this, and you want to deny it, you could deny it straightforwardly, with a cost/benefit analysis that shows that it's too hard to find another way to express yourself and you don't care enough about the requester to benefit much from whatever good they get from your stopping.

    Now, this might feel awkward, because of your community norms regarding empathy. We're supposed to care enough to stop. The explicit cost/benefit analysis would lay bare your lack of empathy relative to the difficulty of the request and therefore subject you to the embarrassment of not valuing empathy as much as your culture says you should. This can be avoided, though, through other rhetorical devices that de-emphasize your own lack of energy or empathy and put the community's focus on a much more comfortable place- the ridiculous nature of the request.

    I don't think the request was ridiculous, and I'd like whoever does think it ridiculous to be explicit about why they don't think it's worth their energy/time to comply with the request. (This itself may be a request too ridiculous to comply with in their eyes; oh well.)

    I am happy that the request was made. It reminded me to look closer at what my words mean to others, regardless of the my own intention- something we are especially at leisure to do when we type into a text box and can reconsider before pressing "post comment".
    posted by Jpfed at 10:31 AM on September 11, 2010 [34 favorites]


    Has anyone pointed out that being a mouth-breathing cocksucker is a recipe for asphyxia?

    Is it? I suppose that'd depend on both the size and shape of the cock being sucked, as well as ones cocksucking style.

    I'm fresh out of cocks to suck, so someone needs to do this research and get back to me.
    posted by mollymayhem at 10:48 AM on September 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


    As a rich coating of guano on a cave wall that selflessly provides nutrients and optimal conditions for a diverse array of subterranean invertebrates, I object at the crass, reductive, and lazy use of the "batshitinsane" tag.
    posted by Burhanistan at 10:49 AM on September 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


    I'm fresh out of cocks to suck

    Here in MetaTalk, they're available by the bucketload.
    posted by grouse at 11:00 AM on September 11, 2010


    I see what you did there, but I'm pretty sure we were talking about Michael Flatley.

    One of the great tragedies of my high school career was when my director would not allow me to have my name printed in the dance recital program as "SONIKA FLATLEY: LORD OF THE DANCE!" I still seethe a little inside about that.
    posted by sonika at 11:01 AM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


    (feels the grip of Vaders wraith after 'mouth-breather' remark)
    posted by clavdivs at 11:31 AM on September 11, 2010


    Yeah, it's all those liberals' fault! I knew there had to be someone useful and convenient to blame!

    In all seriousness, oversensitivity and a need to agonize over language is an annoying feature of the American Left and an example of why it's in such shits. Conservatives can find four minorities to blame for life's inconveniences and make a plan to get press for it in the time it takes for a group of liberals/leftists to figure out an inclusive name for their organization. Uncompromising high ideals are the enemy of action as well as decent discourse.
    posted by Mayor Curley at 11:35 AM on September 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


    Can we still make fun of poor people at least? God, I sure hope so.
    *twirls cane, polishes monocle*
    posted by atrazine at 11:35 AM on September 11, 2010


    Oh, come on. Just find another word.

    No.

    Mind you, I don't use the word much, but still, I like having the choice.

    It's a reasonable enough request from a fellow member of the community here.

    I disagree and find the request entirely unreasonable for such a large community (smaller groups or one on one are a different story). Going though life trying to be entirely inoffensive of everyone is emotional baggage I neither want or nor intend to carry.

    There comes a a point when a member of community has to look around and decide if those supposedly offensive statements and actions are really an attack on their special snowflake condition or whether they're just being oversensitive and need to get over themselves.
    posted by nomadicink at 11:46 AM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


    Once, I suffered a penile fracture while attempting to make love to a large wild hog.

    Now, whenever I hear someone use the insult 'pigfucking cocksnap', it really lowers my opinion of them. It's like they're not even trying to imagine what other people's lives might be like.
    posted by Very Nice Person at 11:53 AM on September 11, 2010 [6 favorites]


    is an annoying feature of the American Left

    *snort*

    You'd have more credibility if it weren't for the fact that there is a vocal group of Conservatives who lose their fucking minds and scream about oppression by the liberal media every time anyone dares to tip any of their sacred cows: Christmas / Christianity, Ronald "Messiah" Reagan, abortion rights, 9/11, terrorism, military rights (which doesn't necessarily extend to giving them benefits or taking care of their families) gay rights (they're against 'em), Muslims (they're against 'em) and tax cuts (ditto).

    And let's not forget their hit from the last campaign: "Lipstick on a pig." As if most conservatives are such bastions of equality and rights for women.

    Your bias is showing, sir.
    posted by zarq at 11:55 AM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


    *sigh* Shouldn't have said "ditto." :P
    posted by zarq at 11:56 AM on September 11, 2010


    Lipstick on a pig.

    Now you're turning me on.
    posted by Very Nice Person at 11:57 AM on September 11, 2010


    Now you're turning me on.

    Moi?
    posted by zarq at 12:01 PM on September 11, 2010


    Going though life trying to be entirely inoffensive of everyone

    Is that what we are talking about here? You're being disingenuous. Nobody asked you to walk on eggshells and avoid offending anyone, ever. The OP is simply asking that, in the context of when you are insulting people, perhaps you could avoid that particular insult.
    posted by cribcage at 12:03 PM on September 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


    Your bias is showing, sir.

    iirc Mayor Curley criticises American liberals from the left, not the right. It's worth noting that "politically correct" was invented by Marxists ridiculing liberal bien pensants and their preference for linguistic hand-wringing over revolution. (Not that I'm saying that Mayor Curley is neccesarily a Marxist)
    posted by atrazine at 12:06 PM on September 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


    Probably been thinking about this thread too much today but it brings to mind my frustration regarding how long it will be before more of us figure out that 99% of the time people talk (and 100% of the time when snarking wise) it is a reflection of the talker not the talkee.
    posted by victors at 12:16 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


    is an annoying feature of the American Left

    You'd have more credibility if it weren't for the fact that there is a vocal group of Conservatives who lose their fucking minds and scream about oppression by the liberal media every time anyone dares to tip any of their sacred cows

    Everything, EVerything, EVERYTHING is about being on a team, about us vs. them, about "don't fucking diss my peeps," about tit-for-tat...

    Let's stop that.

    If the Jets do something annoying, it's annoying. It is not more or less annoying if the Sharks do it too. It's possible for something to be both an "annoying feature" of the Right AND the Left. It's also possible to point out that it's an annoying feature of the Left without, at the same time, mentioning that it's an also an annoying feature of the Right. If I point out that Windows has bugs in it, I am not required to say, "So does OS X." The fact that OS X has bugs has nothing to do with whether or not Windows has bugs. If Apple fixes the bugs in OS X, Windows will still have bugs in it.

    I am not writing this in response to just one of the comments I quoted. I am writing it in response to both. I recognize that the first comment was specifically calling out the Left in a environment where many people naturally see everything as Left vs. Right. (If you're not on my team, you're on the other team; if you're not for me, you're against me...) So, probably, it was not a neutral statement. It probably implied "The Left as opposed to the Right."

    In which case it's wrong. But replying with "Oh, YEAH? Well, the Right does it TOO" is childish. If this is a problem for the Left, then it's a problem for the Left. If it's not, it's not. If it is, and you're a member of the Left team, the honorable thing to do is NOT to say, "Well, YOUR team does it, TOO!" The honorable thing to do is to say, "You're right. We need to stop doing that." If the criticism is wrong, the honorable way to counter it isn't to say, "THEY DO IT TOO!" The honorable way to counter it is to say, "You're wrong because... " and then to provide some evidence.

    If you think oversensitivity to language is a problem, then why not just point out that it's a problem -- without invoking teams. It's not something The Left or The Right are doing. It's something individual people (who might possibly be Liberals or Conservatives) are doing. Even if, statistically, it correlates more with the Left or the Right, what do you hope to gain by bringing that up?

    Is your goal to vent? To say "Nyah Nyah Nayh Your team sucks"? Or is it to actually work to change perceptions and maybe actions. If it's the latter, read this: http://lesswrong.com/lw/gw/politics_is_the_mindkiller/
    posted by grumblebee at 12:17 PM on September 11, 2010 [13 favorites]


    iirc Mayor Curley criticises American liberals from the left, not the right.

    Doesn't matter. He's still wrong. This is not a problem that's restricted to either side of the political spectrum.
    posted by zarq at 12:24 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


    You're being disingenuous. Nobody asked you to walk on eggshells and avoid offending anyone, ever.

    No, I'm explaining and extrapolating, as reading the rest of what I wrote shows.

    Asking a community of thousands to walk on eggshells over an word that's not even being directed at him is asking for too much, IMO.

    The OP is simply asking that, in the context of when you are insulting people, perhaps you could avoid that particular insult.

    Got that and have already explained why I find the request unreasonable to ask of a large community.
    posted by nomadicink at 12:27 PM on September 11, 2010


    on non-preview: grumblebee, yes. I agree.
    posted by zarq at 12:28 PM on September 11, 2010


    I never get tired of threads like this because they touch on the really deep mystery of the existence in the first place of profane, obscene, and otherwise forbidden speech, and I always hope one of you will say something that will illuminate it for me, like Uniformitarianism Now! did (for your information, UN!, I am a strict Catastrophist).

    That it is a profound mystery rather than a mere epiphenomenon is demonstrated to my satisfaction by the fact that so many people aphasic from strokes can continue to swear fluently, showing that swearing often has its own little spot in the brain, and all that that implies.
    posted by jamjam at 12:29 PM on September 11, 2010


    When someone uses the insult mouth breather, they are in no way referring to people who can't breathe any other way. They are comparing the insultee to those people who don't have enough sense or manners to not breathe through their mouth.

    Unlike so many of the other insults out there, there is no implied "not that there's anything wrong with it" or "except you, you're one of the good ones" kind of stuff. Nobody in the history of the insult, as far as I can tell, has ever thought "hey, that person with a cold is suddenly a lower form of humanity, for which I will mock him or her". Users of that phrase aren't comparing their target to people with medical conditions, they are comparing them to people not smart enough to use their noses.
    posted by gjc at 12:29 PM on September 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


    They are comparing the insultee to those people who don't have enough sense or manners to not breathe through their mouth.

    Excuse me, I didn't realize it was bad manners to breathe through a hole that was meant to be breathed through. What if I breathe in through my nose but out through my mouth? Does that only make me a half-idiot?

    These threads do provide some value to me - they really demonstrate the thoughtless bigotry behind these sorts of insults that would be less evident if people didn't try to defend them.
    posted by muddgirl at 12:38 PM on September 11, 2010 [8 favorites]


    I think people like to use MeTa as an open ended forum to get away with being rude. The gray is really like a hot stove, if you have a complaint a hundred people will line up and tell you why you are an idiot for expressing that complaint, and taking up our precious time by making us read that complaint and furthermore I have to comment and register my soul wrenching disgust with that complaint, damn yo for wasting pixels and my time!!!

    Once you use this place for trying to talk civilly about a concern you certainly won't do it again unless you like being insulted.
    posted by edgeways at 12:41 PM on September 11, 2010 [10 favorites]


    I once had a plastic surgeon tell me that everyone has a deviated septum. He said that most insurances won't cover elective rhinoplasty, but in these cases he'd just have to tick the box for deviated septum and suddenly your nose job was covered.

    I don't use the term mouth breather, not because I find it offensive or uncreative, but it's just one of those terms that hasn't made it into my vocabulary.

    This said, I would love to see a compilation of all the "can we please stop" posts.
    posted by cjorgensen at 12:44 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


    Users of that phrase aren't comparing their target to people with medical conditions, they are comparing them to people not smart enough to use their noses.

    er, but how can you tell someone is not smart enough to use their nose vs someone with diminished nasal capacity?

    Fundamentally it really is a stupid insult. Am I offended by it? No, not really, despite falling in that medical class myself. Nor am I insulted by people using any other manner of lazy, stupid insults. I well might think less of in insulter and want to have less contact with them, but you know, it's in-vogue to not care what people think of you anyways so it all works out right?
    posted by edgeways at 12:47 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


    Hey kanewai, sorry, I'm sure you're perfectly nice, and it's kinda a shame that people came back at you like they did. I know that I generally take a rough-and-tumble view to MeFi and MeTa, and that I've used mouth-breather before (and likely will again, since I put it on mix tapes all the time), but I don't mean it to knock you. Just breathing through the mouth doesn't make a mouth breather — it's describing a stupid, slack-jawed gape that everyone gets from time to time as they stare off into space. Not everyone who fucks is a fucker, y'know?
    posted by klangklangston at 12:47 PM on September 11, 2010


    Users of that phrase aren't comparing their target to people with medical conditions, they are comparing them to people not smart enough to use their noses.

    To some extent, people have control over how smart they are. They can choose to read certain books (take certain courses, watch the news, etc.) or not to do so. But there's almost definitely a genetic component to intelligence (no matter how much I read, I am never going to be as smart as Einstein), and a lot of the non-genetic component gets hardwired (to a large extent) in childhood, depending on early diet, poverty level, schooling, parenting, etc.

    So when I make fun of someone for being stupid -- I'll just talk about myself here, because maybe I'm the only bad person in this thread -- I am making fun of him for something that is largely beyond his control.

    True, stupid people haven't been beaten down (historically) in the way blacks, gays, women, etc. have been. On the other hand, they have been mocked for CENTURIES. Just this week, we've had two posts on AskMetafilter from people who are worried they aren't smart enough. It's clearly a way we rank each other and way we're scared of being ranked. Yet it's largely out of our control. And yet, though I wouldn't make fun of a black person for being black, I continually make fun of stupid people for being stupid.

    I can go on and on about history if I want, but in the end that's just a smoke screen. Because if I could go back in time and erase slavery so that it never happened, it would STILL be wrong for me to make fun of a black person because he's black. At least that's my ethical stance.

    Given that, how is it okay to make fun of a stupid person for being stupid? It's not. It just isn't.

    So am I going to stop? Probably not. I like doing it too much. To be honest, as horrible a person as this makes me, I feel like I HAVE to make fun of SOMEBODY. If you take the blacks and the Jews and the women and the Christians and the gays and the Irish and the Gypsies away from me, who do I have left?

    STUPID PEOPLE! FUCKING MORONS!

    God it feels good to say that!

    I am going to keep making fun of stupid people because I am prejudiced against them. They (at least sometimes) can't help being stupid. I know that. I am 100% aware of it. Yet I don't care. (Or if I do, I don't care enough to stop.)

    Partly, I don't care because stupid people don't have a lobby. Black people, gays, etc. have been very vocal about how they want to be treated. Who is going to say "I'm stupid, and I hate being called stupid"?

    Largely, I don't care because there are no penalties in my social groups (including on Metafiter) for making fun of stupid people. In my set, being anti n-word, anti c-word and pro gay marriage is about more than fairness and what's right. It's also about signifying "I'm one of us." But I don't get brownie points for being fair-minded to stupid people. Quite the opposite, in fact.

    I am prejudiced sometimes, and I sometimes bow to social pressure. It's wrong, I know it's wrong, I do it anyway, and I'm going to go on doing it.

    Sometimes -- at least to me -- it's worth looking in the mirror and being honest about what you see.
    posted by grumblebee at 12:50 PM on September 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


    Excuse me, I didn't realize it was bad manners to breathe through a hole that was meant to be breathed through.

    Huh. All this time I thought it was for eating and drinking. No wonder those peas keep getting stuck up there.
    posted by Big_B at 1:01 PM on September 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


    stupid people don't have a lobby

    Our time is coming.
    posted by Gator at 1:04 PM on September 11, 2010


    I would like to register my offense to the term "motherfucker".
    posted by Ardiril at 1:09 PM on September 11, 2010


    Somehow, the idea that "historical oppression" is a necessary condition for someone to be able to say, "Hey, that's not okay" and be taken seriously bothers me, quite a bit. I cannot exactly put my finger on why.
    posted by adipocere at 1:10 PM on September 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


    Somehow, the idea that "historical oppression" is a necessary condition for someone to be able to say, "Hey, that's not okay" and be taken seriously bothers me, quite a bit. I cannot exactly put my finger on why.

    Because history is not why it's bad.

    If you're born without a nose, it's wrong for me to call you a "noseless bastard," even if you're a bastard. You (presumably) can stop being a bastard, but you can't wave a magic want and suddenly have a nose.

    If you gave birth to five children without noses, and they had kids without noses, and eventually half the population didn't have noses, and they were ill-treated by the nose-possessing half, "noseless bastard" would, arguably, be an even worse insult. But that doesn't mean that it was an okay thing to say back when you were the only "noseless bastard."

    History is not the core of the problem, though history can COMPOUND the problem.

    Slavery is horrible, horrible outrage of history. But it didn't suddenly start being wrong when it became history. And it also didn't start being wrong when it was in full swing. It started being wrong when the first slave owner owned the first slave.

    Calling a black person some derogatory term would be wrong even if slavery had never existed. It would be wrong even if, historically, blacks had been privileged over whites.
    posted by grumblebee at 1:24 PM on September 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


    As a breatharian, I object....
    posted by Burhanistan at 1:28 PM on September 11, 2010


    Huh. All this time I thought it was for eating and drinking. No wonder those peas keep getting stuck up there.

    I honestly don't understand this attempt at snark. Mouths have many uses. One of those uses is breathing. Another is eating. Another is sucking on things. And so on.
    posted by muddgirl at 1:36 PM on September 11, 2010


    As a seagull just shat on my head while I was out shopping and I am feeling rather sad and vulnerable about it, I would like to ask that the term "poopyhead" be removed from the lexicon of approved insults. Thank you.
    posted by Decani at 1:50 PM on September 11, 2010


    How about we just agree not to say anything negative at all

    God, this would be just awful, wouldn't it?
    posted by bonaldi at 8:07 AM on September 11 [8 favorites +] [!]


    Yes? The existence of negativity does not preclude pleasantness. Frequently, it enhances it. Conversely, solely positive commentary does not insure a pleasant time.
    posted by Lentrohamsanin at 2:08 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


    "I would like to register my offense to the term "motherfucker"."

    We heard ya, Oedipus.
    posted by klangklangston at 2:10 PM on September 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


    "But I don't get brownie points for being fair-minded to stupid people. Quite the opposite, in fact."

    Actually, if you value kindness as a virtue, being fair-minded to stupid people is the right thing to do.

    Stupid people frustrate me, and so I'm mean to them. But that's not a good thing, necessarily, even if I'm good at it (if I do say so myself).
    posted by klangklangston at 2:13 PM on September 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


    Somehow, the idea that "historical oppression" is a necessary condition for someone to be able to say, "Hey, that's not okay" and be taken seriously bothers me, quite a bit. I cannot exactly put my finger on why.

    I agree with this and grumblebee's elaboration on your point. "Historical oppression" isn't a precondition for being bothered by something.

    And even if "historical oppression" were somehow the litmus test for being upset about how someone is being treated, this still wouldn't settle the question of what we're allowed to be bothered by. That would just raise a whole bunch of issues about who has actually been "historically oppressed." Suffice it to say the answer is not "blacks, women, gays, and that's it."

    "Historical oppression" is so often invoked as if to shed light on truth and justice. Most of the time I've seen it used, the real purpose is to delineate which kinds of people are and aren't appropriate objects of our concern and sensitivity. I wish we could just agree to be concerned for anyone who's mistreated in any way.
    posted by John Cohen at 2:14 PM on September 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


    "But I don't get brownie points for being fair-minded to stupid people. Quite the opposite, in fact."

    Actually, if you value kindness as a virtue, being fair-minded to stupid people is the right thing to do.

    Oh, I completely agree with you that it's a virtue. And I think NOT being fair-minded to stupid people is an evil act. I wasn't talking about moral brownie points; I was talking about social brownie points. In my set, you get those for being fair-minded about very specific groups of people: African Americans, woman and homosexuals. You don't get them for being fair-minded about Conservatives or stupid people. In fact, if I'm fair-minded about them, I get ostracized (or at best ignored) by my social group.
    posted by grumblebee at 2:16 PM on September 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


    gjc: “Unlike so many of the other insults out there, there is no implied "not that there's anything wrong with it" or "except you, you're one of the good ones" kind of stuff. Nobody in the history of the insult, as far as I can tell, has ever thought "hey, that person with a cold is suddenly a lower form of humanity, for which I will mock him or her". Users of that phrase aren't comparing their target to people with medical conditions, they are comparing them to people not smart enough to use their noses.”

    That's a funny perspective, because it's always seemed the exact opposite to me.

    I can't stand the term "mouth breather," and have always found it ridiculously offensive. Maybe that's in part because I've never heard it used by anyone who wasn't a profoundly cruel person. I know that generally means that I'm probably making assumptions about it, and this thread is evidence that people aren't profoundly cruel apparently use the word – I'm actually surprised by the number of people who have defended it here, a number which includes some good people I respect. But I can't help making that association.

    My association with the word is that I've only heard it from people who'll say the word "retarded" in the most vile and disturbing way, a way that makes it clear that it's not colloquial; they're well aware of the meaning. I've always heard "mouth-breather" as an insult among people like a certain set of my ex-wife's family, among whom it's accepted practice to sneer about how this or that person by saying that they had "bad protoplasm" in their "background." Maybe "mouth-breather" was an insult that had some indication of a lack of politeness there, but I always got the distinct impression that that lack of politeness was always assumed to come from the fact that a person was lower-class, that they were boorish, that they couldn't help being unacceptably bad because they were mutated, misbegotten – retarded – and that they were not worth wasting any time on because they didn't reach our level of class.

    Again, these are all personal associations. But I can say with honesty that I've never heard the word from somebody I respect. And I'm kind of amazed that people love the word so much they're insistent on clinging to it.

    It's amazing how much we humans cherish our ability to insult each other. We prize it highly, imagining that uttering our favorite insults is some great and worthy freedom to be fought for. "Oh, come on! I should be able to call somebody a mouth-breather if I want to!" Isn't that hilarious, from an ethical point of view? Why should your insults have some necessary moral weight?
    posted by koeselitz at 2:26 PM on September 11, 2010 [14 favorites]


    Also, in reading through this thread, it's become extraordinarily tiresome to read all the sarcastic "I am X, and therefore I am offended if you use X as an insult" comments. It's not creative, it's not thoughtful, it's not even right. If that argument made any damned sense at all, it would mean that calling people "nigger" or "fag" or "retard" or anything else is perfectly acceptable – because after all, just because someone actually happens to be black or homosexual or disabled, why can't they just have a sense of humor about it?

    Seriously, people, when you make that argument, you sound like your parents. Not even your parents – most of our parents have wised up enough now, and don't talk like that. Mine certainly don't. The only person who makes these "have a sense of humor, don't be so offended" arguments in public any more is Rush Limbaugh. It stopped being popular or even acceptable to sneer and whine about "political correctness" and bemoan the loss of the ability to smack your secretary on the ass at work and get away with it around 1992. We don't have the best society in the world, but 'political correctness' is one of the best things we have going at the moment; can't people try to keep up?
    posted by koeselitz at 2:35 PM on September 11, 2010 [17 favorites]


    "Mouth-breather" is a pretty weird insult in that it's a relic from finishing-school days and not many people anymore seriously think that breathing through your mouth necessarily means you're stupid or ill-bred (and who would really think to discriminate against people with deviated septums, in this post-physiognomy age we live in?*) - but, it kind of sounds good, so it gets thrown in with other more current epithets in modern invective.

    More generally, having a bunch of little rules as far as what you say or don't say is neither here nor there, if good will isn't present in the discussion. Tight rules for civility don't make people nice - they just start finding ways around the rules to get their jabs in.

    *on preview, koeselitz's ex-wife's family? boggle
    posted by furiousthought at 2:35 PM on September 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


    I literally breathe through my mouth more than 90% of my waking and sleeping hours. I have constant allergies.

    I don't use the term "mouth breather", but it usually doesn't exactly bother me, it's just another one of those terms that I use when I observe other people using it to determine that they're either always assholes or are having asshole moments.

    When we use insults instead of respectful discourse, we are mocking the folks who are the targets of the insults. There's no other honest rhetorical way to spin it. In the science/art of rhetoric, we utilize ad hominems when we feel that they are more effective (either because we have no actual factual, respectful argument at hand or because we feel the rhetoric will just be more effective in that case).

    I think that it's obvious that when a rhetorician (on MetaFilter or off) uses insults, then they either want the discourse to get insulting or they're just out of steam or ideas and the passion of their argument just got the better of them.

    Obviously the best way to handle this from a moderator standpoint is to just ignore the insult and either leave the argument or carry on as if the insult never happened. Lately I tend to feel like just leaving the argument is going to be as productive as engaging when the ad hominems start flying around.

    I don't think "mouth breather" is any more offensive than any of the others we brought to Metafilter or made up here. I think it's just as bad to make fun of folks for being new ("this broom it vibrates?"), to make fun of them for not knowing the thousands of not particularly obvious social norms on the Metas, to make fun of them for not knowing the right people, whatever.

    I come to MetaFilter for reasoned discourse and to learn about neat things I wouldn't otherwise know. I don't come here for the insults as creative as they may be. I can go to the wider Internet for insults. MetaFilter has better specialties, and I wish we'd remember to focus them more often, especially when we were tired or wrought or sick or whatever we happen to be today.
    posted by kalessin at 2:40 PM on September 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


    Look, phrases like "mouthbreather" are commonly used phrases in the North American (if not global) English-speaking culture. You can't expect the entire English-speaking world to stop using the phrase, so getting all sensitive about it on one website isn't helpful. As hard as it may be for you, you can't expect people to change their language choice just because it offends you personally. It's not even meant to insult people-who-happen-to-breathe-from-their-mouths-for-medical-reasons, so getting offended by it is absolutely ridiculous in my opinion.

    Seriously, I think we need to grow thicker skins and learn to pick our battles. If you can't handle the rhetoric on the internet because you get offended by every little off-the-mark phrase, then perhaps you should get off the computer and go live in a bubble or something. Is this question even for real?

    Yeah, I'm an insensitive asshole, but at least I don't get all offended and outraged at every single non-PC term or phrase. Good Lord, how do some people even manage to exist in the real world.
    posted by 1000monkeys at 2:43 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


    koselitz, I think that your add-on argument for calling folks "nigger", "fag", "retard" is flawed in that you seem to not perceive that the epithets you just trotted out usually have a whole lot of add-on emotionally hurtful baggage that goes beyond the objective truth.

    If you call a black man simply "black", then it's as devoid of additional meaning as we can get these days, and the term brings with it the respect of trying to be careful with your language and your thinking.

    If you call him a "nigger", you bring in a lot of insulting, hurtful, awful, nasty, unnecessary bullshit. The fact that you are willing to use it with him means that you are an asshole.
    posted by kalessin at 2:45 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


    Mayor Curley: “How about we just agree not to say anything negative at all.”

    bonaldi: “God, this would be just awful, wouldn't it?”

    Lentrohamsanin: “Yes? The existence of negativity does not preclude pleasantness. Frequently, it enhances it. Conversely, solely positive commentary does not insure a pleasant time.”

    There's a distinction to be made here. It's possible to say unpleasant or unpopular things that are nonetheless true; it's possible for the truth to be jarring and harsh and difficult to accept. The distinction is that usually those jarring, harsh truths don't require handy euphemisms that have popularly accepted negative overtones.
    posted by koeselitz at 2:48 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


    Kalessin is right, and that's what I mean by trying to "pick our battles". Although I admit to using the term myself, I would much rather us argue about the use of the term "retard" then "mouthbreather", which seems a much more relevant discussion (since the term mouthbreather isn't actually trying to invoke the image of somebody who happens to breathe through their mouth/someone with septum issues).
    posted by 1000monkeys at 2:50 PM on September 11, 2010


    Partly, I don't care because stupid people don't have a lobby.

    Sure they do! It's called the Republican Party!

    Now to sit back and wait for the favorites to roll in...
    Okay, typing the above line and this one will probably guarantee I won't get any.
    I would feel dirty if I did get any for such a cheap shot.
    Jesus, how small does this text get?
    Sorry about using the Lord's name in vain, St.Alia.

    posted by charred husk at 2:50 PM on September 11, 2010 [6 favorites]


    "In my set, you get those for being fair-minded about very specific groups of people: African Americans, woman and homosexuals. You don't get them for being fair-minded about Conservatives or stupid people. In fact, if I'm fair-minded about them, I get ostracized (or at best ignored) by my social group."

    If your set includes Metafilter, this is patently not true.
    posted by klangklangston at 2:54 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


    If your set includes Metafilter, this is patently not true.

    I wasn't referring to Metafilter. Metafilter is too big a community to be easily typed.
    posted by grumblebee at 2:55 PM on September 11, 2010


    kalessin: “koselitz, I think that your add-on argument for calling folks "nigger", "fag", "retard" is flawed in that you seem to not perceive that the epithets you just trotted out usually have a whole lot of add-on emotionally hurtful baggage that goes beyond the objective truth. ¶ If you call a black man simply "black", then it's as devoid of additional meaning as we can get these days, and the term brings with it the respect of trying to be careful with your language and your thinking. ¶ If you call him a "nigger", you bring in a lot of insulting, hurtful, awful, nasty, unnecessary bullshit. The fact that you are willing to use it with him means that you are an asshole.”

    I don't think I understand. Are you telling me that "mouth-breather" isn't supposed to be an insult, because technically it might be true? And are you telling me there isn't a lot of insulting, hurtful, awful, nasty, unnecessary bullshit that rich, 'cultured' people have imposed on poor, 'boorish' people? As I said above, this is colored by my own experience, but I'd be hard-pressed to come up with an example where "mouth-breather" didn't indicate that the person being insulted was "low-born" or poorly educated or lower-class. Anyone who's using "mouth-breather" as an insult because they think it has no background or history of unnecessary bullshit behind it is sadly mistaken.
    posted by koeselitz at 2:57 PM on September 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


    "mouthbreather" doesn't have the same emotional or political baggage that words such as "nigger" or "fag" do (God, I feel dirty for even typing those words).
    posted by 1000monkeys at 2:59 PM on September 11, 2010


    1000monkeys: “Kalessin is right, and that's what I mean by trying to "pick our battles". Although I admit to using the term myself, I would much rather us argue about the use of the term "retard" then "mouthbreather", which seems a much more relevant discussion (since the term mouthbreather isn't actually trying to invoke the image of somebody who happens to breathe through their mouth/someone with septum issues).”

    Oddly enough, I've met a lot of disabled people who breathed primarily through their mouths, often because of their disability. And it's pretty striking to me that "mouth-breather" seems to have become popular as an insult just now, when in the last few years "retard" has started to be frowned upon in polite discourse. It seems pretty analogous to me, honestly, to the moment when "nigger" became a dirty word in the south, and "polite circles" started to use euphemisms like "he's got a few hiding in the woodpile." I have a hard time not seeing "retard" and "mouth-breather" as pretty much identical in meaning.
    posted by koeselitz at 3:03 PM on September 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


    "mouthbreather" doesn't have the same emotional or political baggage that words such as "nigger" or "fag" do (God, I feel dirty for even typing those words).

    Do you mean that if you poll 100 people, many more of them will be upset by "nigger" and "fag" than "mouthbreather"? Because I can't make sense of your statement on a personal level. And groups don't have emotions. Only individual people have emotions.

    I am pretty sure there are some individual people -- perhaps in this thread -- who are more upset by "mouthbreather" than "nigger" or "fag."

    I certainly agree that many more people are upset by the latter two words than by "mouthbreather." So if it's okay to say words that offend just a few people but not okay to say words that offend many people, then perhaps that's a reasonable justification.
    posted by grumblebee at 3:05 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


    I'm saying that "mouthbreather" doesn't stand in for people with disabilities any more than "slack-jawed yokel" does. It doesn't have the same connotations that "fag" or "nigger" have. If you're trying to make some argument that "mouthbreather" is used specifically to denote people with disabilities, then I think your issue is that you don't know what the term stands for.
    posted by 1000monkeys at 3:11 PM on September 11, 2010


    From Macmillan Dictionaries Website, regarding the pejorative use of the word "Mouthbreather":
    The use of the word as an insult, based on the idea of the dopey expression of someone with their jaw hanging open and possibly the nasal sound of their voice, actually dates as far back as the 1940s, but has recently emerged from obscurity through use on the web, especially in the US, where it has also been used on television and by the popular press.
    posted by 1000monkeys at 3:12 PM on September 11, 2010


    Sorry for the triple post, but it seems to me that people are adding meaning to the word that doesn't exist (i.e. that it is somehow equated with being disabled). That is just simply incorrect. This reminds me of that episode of The Apprentice where Omarosa got all offended by the term "pot calling the kettle black", which had absolutely nothing to do with race at all. Let's not add definitions that don't exist.
    posted by 1000monkeys at 3:15 PM on September 11, 2010


    koeselitz, I am saying that the way I read your argument, you were saying that folks who say they're sensitive to a certain term because they ARE that term or somehow typify that term are somehow making an invalid argument. You seemed to go on saying that that was equivalent to being able to say that calling a black person a "nigger" is equivalent to calling a black person "black", but what I wanted to point out is that your formulation of argument seems to minimize the vast difference between "nigger" and "black" by comparing it to the less extreme difference between someone who is factually, e.g. a mouth-breather (i.e. me) and saying that the epithet e.g. "mouth-breather" is insulting to them.

    The problem with the argument as you formulated it is that you went hyperbolic with the comparison and it makes you sound like you don't understand the difference in intensity between "nigger" vs. "black" and "mouth-breather" (in fact) vs "mouth-breather" (epithet).

    I generally try to avoid discussions of victim or misery calculus, but I think you are actually aware that "nigger" is thought of as being unforgivably rude, however you seem to be arguing that "mouth-breather" belongs in the same category of intensity, which I think is a dangerous assertion. - I think the intensity is different, even though they are both epithets... and I agree with the assertion that's generally being made in this thread which is that epithets in general are things we should avoid using on MetaFilter.
    posted by kalessin at 3:15 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


    1000monkeys: “If you're trying to make some argument that "mouthbreather" is used specifically to denote people with disabilities, then I think your issue is that you don't know what the term stands for... [dictionary definition]”

    So your answer to kanewai, and his own sense that the word is painful and hurtful, is that he doesn't get it? That the people who used the word weren't talking about him or people like him, so he should give it a rest?

    By the way, I don't really accept your dictionary definition, and it'll take a lot more than that and your reference to your own experience to convince me that the word isn't connected in the modern mind with disability. People don't use words with their dictionary definitions strictly in mind, and even this dictionary points to (but does not explain) the curious resurgence the word's made in recent years. For what it's worth, I've heard this argument before; I used to have a friend from Texas who used to insist over and over again that "not all black people are niggers" and that "nigger is just a word for the bad ones."

    What matters is the hurt caused.
    posted by koeselitz at 3:18 PM on September 11, 2010


    1000monkeys, you're saying things like "doesn't stand in," "have the same connotations" and "is used."

    Nothing stands in by itself. When an individual person says "mouthbreather," that individual person means something by it, and you don't know what that is, because you can't get inside his head. I am not suggesting that trends don't exist. But I see no evidence that they're even close to universal.

    Nothing "has connotations" in a universal sense. "Beer" might have a different connotation to a party girl vs. a recovering alcoholic. Nothing "is used." Specific people use words in various ways.

    I know exactly what mouthbreather means (in the "medical" sense), and yet I've used the word as an insult while (dimly) aware of that. I can't see a huge difference between me doing that and me saying "stop trying to Jew me out of my money." I see a HUGE difference in terms of the NUMBER of people affected by it (and in terms of the history involved that many of those people care about), but in both cases, I know that the word CAN mean a trait a person has that's beyond his control.

    I am sure other people use the term without being remotely aware of its "medical" meaning. Not all people mean the same things when they use the same words.
    posted by grumblebee at 3:20 PM on September 11, 2010


    grumblebee, I am uncomfortable with misery calculus, but I think that we oral breathers have perhaps a lesser lobby and fewer special interest groups than United States people of color formerly from African nations.
    posted by kalessin at 3:20 PM on September 11, 2010


    People who are trying to argue that this phrase has no class connotations beyond "stupid" are kidding themselves. From urbandictionary: A moron from a low social caste ... check your local pool hall in any small southern town ... everybody at Kia, involved with Kia or even knows about Kia is a mouth-breather.
    posted by enn at 3:23 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


    Please don't count me as one of the folks who argues that "mouth-breather" is simply a descriptive epithet. I am aware of and deplore class issues in the world economy as well as the United States socio-economic system.
    posted by kalessin at 3:29 PM on September 11, 2010


    kalessin: “I generally try to avoid discussions of victim or misery calculus, but I think you are actually aware that "nigger" is thought of as being unforgivably rude, however you seem to be arguing that "mouth-breather" belongs in the same category of intensity, which I think is a dangerous assertion. - I think the intensity is different, even though they are both epithets... and I agree with the assertion that's generally being made in this thread which is that epithets in general are things we should avoid using on MetaFilter.”

    I'm aware, yes, that "nigger" is thought to be an unforgivably rude insult. And I wouldn't ever use it. It points up a painful history, and it has a terrifying legacy.

    What I object to here, though, is the conception you seem to be arguing for here of relative intensity. I don't think it makes sense to argue as though there's anything like a relative spectrum of "intensity" for insults; words are hurtful to different people for different reasons and on different levels. The word "nigger" is an interesting case, for example, because it's been at least a generation since almost anybody was willing to even think of using the word in public as an insult. As a result, I have never actually met a black person who's heard it as an insulting term aimed at them. Have the black people I know experienced racism? Hell yes – but they've still never heard that word applied to them. It's been driven out of our discourse in that usage. In fact, the chief question we have to grapple with now happens to be whether it's acceptable for young black people to use this term as a sign of comraderie. None of that has taken away the shared history behind the word that we're all aware of; and the word is still, I think, an emblem of the racism black people have experienced, even if they've never heard it directly as an insult.

    But someone who has been called a fag, for example – and hopefully in a generation that word will be as distant and unspeakable as "nigger" – has a personal and very palpable experience with it. It's a much more raw thing, something more immediate. I even believe that words like "retard" and "mouthbreather" can have the same immediate rawness to people who have heard them.

    Does that mean any of them is worse than "nigger"? Does that mean any of them are better? They're different. There are a lot of different circumstances and situations behind the words used.

    What matters, again, is the hurt caused.
    posted by koeselitz at 3:30 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


    Now we are citing urbandictionary?
    posted by smackfu at 3:31 PM on September 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


    koeselitz, I disagree. I have been called many epithets. Some of them are definitely better or worse than others.

    I really think that "nigger" could be used less, and I suspect you used it for shock value, as you used "fag" and "retard". I don't think that that rhetoric use was appropriate, and I think you know better.
    posted by kalessin at 3:32 PM on September 11, 2010


    So, let me get this straight. Mouth breather = low intellect = impolite = a term which we should all continue to use to describe people with whom we somehow disagree or find to be inferior in some way. Did I get it right?

    Because that seems to be the opinion of about half the comments here.

    They're all retarded moron imbecilic mongoloids, if you ask me.
    posted by hippybear at 3:36 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


    Boy, MetaFilter really got up on the wrong side of bed this weekend, didn't it?
    posted by kalessin at 3:37 PM on September 11, 2010


    – and to extend that; in 1995 or so, "nigger" was seen as just as horribly offensive as it is now; but nobody would blink if you used "fag" or "queer" or "swishy" as an insult, even on national TV. And if anybody objected to the use of those words, or compared using the word "fag" to using the word "nigger," they would've heard the swift and incredulous reply: 'oh, come on now! You aren't really suggesting that homosexuals have had it worse than black people, are you? How can you disrespect the experience of black people like that?'

    That's why I object to the notion of 'relative intensity' of insults. Because that doesn't even make sense on a personal level. Black people have experienced some of the same things homosexuals have experienced; hell, there have been black homosexuals who experienced both. But pain isn't a shibboleth, and bigotry doesn't belong to any one group. "Nigger" isn't a terrible word because it's a dirty word for "black person." It's a terrible word because it's an instance of bigotry. I think we should be careful about saying that the systematic hurt caused to one person is bigotry, whereas the systematic hurt caused to another person is just happenstance.
    posted by koeselitz at 3:37 PM on September 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


    Look, phrases like "mouthbreather" are commonly used phrases in the North American (if not global) English-speaking culture

    "Cunt" is a common term in British English, but don't MeFi get it's panties in a bunch about it.
    posted by rodgerd at 3:38 PM on September 11, 2010


    There are a lot of things you could fix about the world, from systematic hurt to outright bigotry, but one of the ones I'd really appreciate you stop doing, koeselitz, is using the word "nigger" for shock value, and to drive home your point.

    I'm out.
    posted by kalessin at 3:39 PM on September 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


    This is how MetaFilter jumps the shark. Not with a bang, but with a wheezer.
    posted by team lowkey at 3:43 PM on September 11, 2010


    Oh, Jesus wept. It seems some people have just decided that this is going to be their GRAR-cause-de-jour.

    I would just like to note that I referenced an actual dictionary, not urbandictionary where, like Wikipedia, anybody can define anything however they like (and the contributors at urbandictionary all seem to be about 12 years old). I'm not saying that the term is good, I don't think ad hominem attacks are okay on this site anyways, I'm just saying that people getting outraged by the phrase because they happen to breathe from their mouths are overidentifying (and perhaps, redefining incorrectly) the term. We shouldn't be using the term directed at any specific users because it's rude to (and against the site rules, in general) but the term in and of itself is not directed at people who happen to breathe from their mouths. I don't know why people don't get this, and I think that certain people never will because they just decided to jump on this cause and are so invested in it now, they're just going to save face and keep arguing their ridiculous arguments.
    posted by 1000monkeys at 3:43 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


    kalessin: “koeselitz, I disagree. I have been called many epithets. Some of them are definitely better or worse than others. I really think that "nigger" could be used less, and I suspect you used it for shock value, as you used "fag" and "retard". I don't think that that rhetoric use was appropriate, and I think you know better.”

    What the – you're saying I used those words for shock value, as a rhetorical device?

    I'm not even the one who brought those three words up. That was AV, up above. I'm not trying to shock anybody; we all know what we're talking about, right?

    If anything, I find the willful avoidance of words that we're all thinking – the decision not to say what we mean, and not be forthright and honest in our speech – to be offensive. We all know what we're talking about. I refuse to use those words as insults, but why in god's name can't I be clear about what words exactly I'm talking about here?
    posted by koeselitz at 3:46 PM on September 11, 2010 [6 favorites]


    kalessin: “There are a lot of things you could fix about the world, from systematic hurt to outright bigotry, but one of the ones I'd really appreciate you stop doing, koeselitz, is using the word "nigger" for shock value, and to drive home your point.”

    Y'know, this is the most fucking obnoxious and hurtful thing anybody's probably ever said to me here on Metafilter, and I have a really, really hard time expressing just how I feel about it right now, kalessin.
    posted by koeselitz at 3:48 PM on September 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


    I'm just saying that people getting outraged by the phrase [mouthbreather] because they happen to breathe from their mouths are overidentifying

    I'm just saying, that people who get outraged by [faggot] [nigger] [retard] are overidentifying...

    Jeez... Do you even listen to yourself as you think your thoughts that you type?

    People don't like certain phrases because they feel they are described by the term and don't like having descriptions of themselves used in a pejorative manner. It's not that hard to grok, really.

    It's not about being invested. It's about having a visceral reaction to something. A lot of people here don't like hearing "rape" used metaphorically, for any number of reasons ranging from personal experience to professional training to general sensitivity. That doesn't mean anything more than realizing that perhaps "rape" should be used selectively.

    Maybe "mouthbreather" should be used selectively, too, and not as a general metaphor or insult.
    posted by hippybear at 3:50 PM on September 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


    For the record, I brought up the word "retard" (although perhaps someone brought it up before me) purely as an example, and I don't see koeselitz's use of the word as offensive since he obviously wasn't using it for shock value, but to illustrate his point. I think that was a big jump in logic to say that he was using the terms inappropriately (seriously, now we're so sensitive we can't even use the offensive terms to illustrate their own offensiveness?).
    posted by 1000monkeys at 3:51 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


    It wouldn't be a bad thing if we could agree to avoid all kinds of name calling, and debate like adults instead of resorting to the tactics of third graders.

    And if it's any consolation, kanewai, I promise to avoid the term henceforth.
    posted by crunchland at 3:51 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


    Adults don't really debate, they just avoid subjects.
    posted by smackfu at 3:52 PM on September 11, 2010


    Can we use "sline"?
    posted by jeffamaphone at 3:54 PM on September 11, 2010


    Okay, hippybear, so if I (hypothetically) get offended whenever someone makes a joke about being Canadian/Newfie/blonde/ginger/American/[insert term here], then I can expect everybody on metafilter/the internet/planet Earth to stop using the term because it offends me personally? Give me a break! Society as a whole defines what is or isn't acceptable/offensive. People can be personally offended by something, of course, but that doesn't mean the entire world has to change their language usage because of it.

    You've mentioned the effects of a term in how it makes someone else feel, but you're forgetting to look at one thing: intention. The use of the term "mouthbreather" is obviously intended to insult somebody (hence it isn't nice to use) BUT it's not intended to make fun of people who happen to breathe from their mouths because of X medical condition.
    posted by 1000monkeys at 3:55 PM on September 11, 2010


    I think we've all been had.
    posted by not_on_display at 3:56 PM on September 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


    The use of the term "mouthbreather" is obviously intended to insult somebody (hence it isn't nice to use) BUT it's not intended to make fun of people who happen to breathe from their mouths because of X medical condition.

    So, you don't understand how using a term as an insult can somehow be hurtful for people who actually equate with that term?

    I don't think there's really anything left to say here, other than you lack empathy on some basic level.
    posted by hippybear at 3:56 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


    I realize this not a nuanced suggestion or anything, but in the interest of something or other could people maybe just chill a bit? Go for a walk? This feels like it has gotten sort of arbitrarily powderkeggy throughout the day and I'm not sure we're arguing any kind of applicable point of policy or community practice at this point so much as just arguing for arguing's sake, which I don't have a problem with per se but it seems to be going nowhere great.

    That's pretty much the sum total of my thought on the subject. I don't know if it's a nice day wherever everybody else is, but if it's at least tolerable and you can get outdoors for a bit on a Saturday, it's not a terrible way to spend some time and may involve a little less stress and rhetorical escalation and so on.
    posted by cortex (staff) at 3:56 PM on September 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


    I weep for metafilter.
    posted by feloniousmonk at 4:00 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


    I agree Cortex. After hippybear's last response, which is getting a little personal and IMO stepping away from debating a subject and into personal insults, I'm going to step away from this one.
    posted by 1000monkeys at 4:00 PM on September 11, 2010


    It's crazy, because I really believed that we were just have an average, normal, non-combative conversation here; I didn't feel any hostility at all. But suddenly in the last few comments that's really changed for me. So personally I think that suggestion is a great one for myself right now, cortex, since the sun is shining and there's no reason for me not to at least try to enjoy that for a while. Hope it doesn't go too bad in here; I'm out, too. Take care, friends.
    posted by koeselitz at 4:01 PM on September 11, 2010


    urbandictionary where, like Wikipedia, anybody can define anything however they like

    Also, you'll note, like the English language, where you can't decide that people who interpret "mouth-breather" as a class slur are interpreting it wrong and should ascribe it your meaning instead. You don't use words with the connotations you want, you use them with the connotations that your listeners will bring to them, and many such listeners in this thread have made it clear that this term has many levels of meaning beyond its surface definition.
    posted by enn at 4:01 PM on September 11, 2010 [7 favorites]


    Thank you enn... that's my point exactly. People who claim "oh, but that's not how I MEANT IT are demonstrating a lack of understanding of how language works.

    I'm sorry 1000monkeys took my last statement as somehow a personal insult, but perhaps s/he understands now how a lot of people who have to breathe through their mouths for any number of reasons feel when they are confronted with that particular word as a metaphor for being stupid or impolite or whatever.

    Mostly I meant it to indicate that s/he needs to think through his/her words a bit better. I don't feel I need to think through mine any better, because I said what I meant.
    posted by hippybear at 4:05 PM on September 11, 2010


    Hm. This thread was an odd experience. I will probably never use the expression "mouth breather". (But that's because it's not part of my active English lexicon, not because I don't passively know what it means, or because I find it offensive in the "nigger," "cunt," "bitch" sense.)

    Pretty much every single MefaFilter member is old enough to understand that some terms are used in a derogatory sense precisely because of their traditional use as derogatory terms for widely despised groups.

    Not once has it ever occurred to me that "mouth breather" was based on a wide-spread hatred of people who have to (mostly or always) breathe through their mouths for medical reasons.
    posted by Dumsnill at 4:07 PM on September 11, 2010


    [Mouthbreather is] one of those annoying condescending wannabe Louis Black putdowns of people that the speaker considers too dumb to live that's about 1/2 a step from "sheeple."

    This is true, which means that Sarah Palin will inevitably use it in a tweet one of these days.
    posted by octobersurprise at 4:24 PM on September 11, 2010


    I want to write a Greasemonkey script for MeFi that strips out everything in the comments but curse words, insults and insensitive terms.
    posted by brundlefly at 4:28 PM on September 11, 2010


    "As a result, I have never actually met a black person who's heard it as an insulting term aimed at them. Have the black people I know experienced racism? Hell yes – but they've still never heard that word applied to them."

    Really? The vast majority of black folks I know definitely have. Maybe that's also a big class divide, in that the vast majority of black folks I know are from the lower socio-economic quintiles, just like the vast majority of white dudes I know.

    I will say that nigger, cunt, faggot, kike, etc., all fall under not just the category of insults here, but also fall into fighting speech. Whether or not you think someone will actually hit you when they say that, there is a historical pattern of implied violence to all of 'em. I will say that rogerd makes it clear that meaning hasn't reached New Zealand yet, nor does he yet understand that "panties in a bunch" makes you sound like more of a dickfor than just the general "Oi! Why can't we oll say 'cunt' anymor'?" jibberjabber.
    posted by klangklangston at 4:44 PM on September 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


    I want to write a Greasemonkey script for MeFi that strips out everything in the comments but curse words, insults and insensitive terms.
    posted by brundlefly at 12:28 AM on September 12


    The way things are going, dude, that's going to leave you with some mighty thin reading.

    When I saw this post earlier today I assumed it was satire.

    Man. Just wow. Un. Fucking. Real.
    posted by Decani at 4:46 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


    I will say that I can only imagine other websites seeing this pompous, bloviating and self-important sturm und drang and laugh their asses off at us.

    Can't Nerf the world, guys.
    posted by klangklangston at 4:47 PM on September 11, 2010 [11 favorites]


    Yeah, feelings are important. Everybody's feelings, everwhere, all the time.
    posted by turgid dahlia at 5:30 PM on September 11, 2010


    As a result, I have never actually met a black person who's heard it as an insulting term aimed at them.

    Hi.
    posted by nomadicink at 5:35 PM on September 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


    Yeah, feelings are important. Everybody's feelings, everwhere, all the time.
    posted by turgid dahlia at 1:30 AM on September 12


    We're just high on emotion.

    If that doesn't put this thread out of its misery I don't know what will.
    posted by Decani at 5:39 PM on September 11, 2010


    I will say that I can only imagine other websites seeing this pompous, bloviating and self-important sturm und drang and laugh their asses off at us.

    In my experience, a large portion of the internet don't see much difference between Metfilter and Fark or lgf. So there's that.
    posted by muddgirl at 5:54 PM on September 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


    I want to write a Greasemonkey script for MeFi that strips out everything in the comments but curse words, insults and insensitive terms

    Ironically, judging by how rarely words like "mouth-breather" show up on Metafilter, pretty much the only threads that would wind up being censored by that script would be callouts and requests like this one.
    posted by zarq at 5:56 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


    I thought the Ahem... was pretty was pretty good comedy timing.
    posted by Edward L at 6:17 PM on September 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


    It's crazy, because I really believed that we were just have an average, normal, non-combative conversation here; I didn't feel any hostility at all.

    Normal conversations do not contain multiple mentions of the n-word.

    Honestly, after catching up with this thread, your repeated and caviler use of the n-word came off as strikingly ignorant. It sounds like you think it's perfectly fine to say the word over and over, 'cause hey no one actually says it anymore. You sound similar Dr. Laura's most recent idiotic tirade. I'm just sitting here thinking "Really? Seriously?".

    I get that you don't mean anything negative by it, that you're a smart person, who has contributed many smart comments on Metafilter and that you're probably no more prejudiced than the average person, but the ease you reel off that word, seemingly blind or forgetting the long history of that word and it's mere utterance, as you mention that you've never met a black person that's been called nigger and you use that as a seemingly academic point? That strikes me as shockingly, almost unbelievably tone deaf.
    posted by nomadicink at 6:25 PM on September 11, 2010 [7 favorites]


    Ironically, judging by how rarely words like "mouth-breather" show up on Metafilter, pretty much the only threads that would wind up being censored by that script would be callouts and requests like this one.

    Rather, they'd be the only left standing. This thread would be an explosion of profanity and nothing else.
    posted by brundlefly at 6:34 PM on September 11, 2010


    I thought the Ahem... was pretty was pretty good comedy timing.
    posted by Edward L at 2:17 AM on September 12


    Hell yes, it was. It was succinct and apposite and witty and pertinent. And the reaction to it was fucking absurd. It's like we're being asked to simultaneously accept that MeFi is full of really smart folk but don't you dare do actual smart stuff like making veiled allusions, or ironic asides, or hyperbolic satire, or anything that might tweak the lachrymose tear-ducts of the hypersensitive folk who aren't smart enough to actually get that clever stuff. It's a goddamned shame and it makes the site look like a joke.
    posted by Decani at 6:35 PM on September 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


    I'm with nomadicink on this. There's something really, really off-putting and tone-deaf in the incessant repetition of that word in this thread. I don't believe that any word is off-limits -- but there are words that carry so much nastiness and evil weight that they should only be used when necessary, and with careful intent. That wasn't how it was being used here.

    And seriously, if you've never known someone who has been called that, you need to know more people. I've heard it used "with intent" (as compared to between friends, say) plenty of times, and I'm a clueless white guy who grew up in Whiteyville, Pacific Northwest.
    posted by Forktine at 6:39 PM on September 11, 2010


    Ahem.....

    Use your words to say what you mean or kindly step off. Sideways allusions to what people might think you mean does not help foster understanding.
    posted by jessamyn at 9:30 AM on September 11 [11 favorites +] [!]


    If you have to explain a joke, it kind of ruins it.
    posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:45 PM on September 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


    (well, it was a joke with a POINT, but still....)
    posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:47 PM on September 11, 2010


    Koeselitz:

    Enjoy the day, and thanks for all the smart, thoughtful, compassionate words in this thread. You're fighting the good fight, and doing so eloquently and with grace.

    Come back soon :)
    posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:54 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


    muddgirl: “In my experience, a large portion of the internet don't see much difference between Metfilter and Fark or lgf.”

    They're right. After almost six years, it still astounds me how hard Mefites are willing to fight just so they're allowed to keep using their favorite ways of being condescending jerks and cruel, selfish, wretched douchebags.

    'Look, we're totally liberal, but you're offended by one of our favorite insults? Fuck off! What will you ask for next - an end to negativity? World peace? What do you think we are, angels?'

    Netzapper already nailed this in his first comment in this thread. It's just liberal hypocrisy. Guess what, assholes – the fact that you vote right and you pay strict attention to the list of 'words liberals are not supposed to use' doesn't mean you have a license to be cruel, hateful, and condescending. The most hilarious thing about this whole debacle is that it's made it clear that there are still plenty of people out there who believe they're very liberal... but deep down, they're only on the bus because they're under the impression that at the end of the ride they're finally going to get to call a kid names and shove him in the dirt like they've been wanting to since they were nine years old.

    At least have the courage of your convictions. Drop all this bullshit on Metafilter about being respectful to women, gay people, the disabled, etc. You know it's all bullshit. Why fake it? Why pretend that you have an impulse to do good, to be equitable, to be be fair, to be welcoming? Most of the cruel little jerks elsewhere on the internet, as bad as they are, are honest about it. Metafilter seems to be filled with people who are willing to waste years of their lives spouting complete bullshit about how they want to be respectful toward human beings. Admit it and be done with it: what you really crave is the privilege of kicking a person as hard as you can and watching them cry. It's okay – we all have weird issues from childhood, now more than ever, and I can admit that it'd be satisfying to relive those childhood traumas from the other end. And then at least you wouldn't have to lie about it by pretending that you have some desire to be fair or just. If it's bullshit, it's bullshit – just admit it, eh? Mayor Curley's right, isn't he? I mean, what you want is to be as 'negative' (that is, as cruel and hurtful) as possible. I'm glad he's here, because he's one of the few who's honest about how he feels: humans are shit, people are assholes who never change, and all this silliness about being decent or friendly is just a waste of a chance to stab one another heartless little fuckwad in the eye.
    posted by koeselitz at 7:11 PM on September 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


    Heh. Hi there, JG. Thanks.
    posted by koeselitz at 7:12 PM on September 11, 2010


    What does any of this have to do with being "liberal"? Can we, for once, leave (alleged) political affiliations out of the debates that have little or nothing to do with them?
    posted by 1000monkeys at 7:14 PM on September 11, 2010


    nomadicink: “I get that you don't mean anything negative by it, that you're a smart person, who has contributed many smart comments on Metafilter and that you're probably no more prejudiced than the average person, but the ease you reel off that word, seemingly blind or forgetting the long history of that word and it's mere utterance, as you mention that you've never met a black person that's been called nigger and you use that as a seemingly academic point? That strikes me as shockingly, almost unbelievably tone deaf.”

    Yeah, I see that now. And I'm saddened that I did that. I was being tone-deaf; that's a good way to put it. And I wasn't paying much attention to what the word would sound like or how it would feel to read it for people here.

    I'm sorry for that. Really, I am. It's a point of regret for me, and at this point it's one of the few times that I really wish I could go back and delete things I've said here. I haven't really changed my mind about the issues here, but I really, really wish I hadn't brought that word, in its literal form, into this discussion.

    I apologize for that. I wasn't here for a lot of this discussion, but now I realize that my use of that word probably made the part I was here for a lot more unpleasant for other people than it needed to be.
    posted by koeselitz at 7:18 PM on September 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


    1000monkeys: “What does any of this have to do with being "liberal"? Can we, for once, leave (alleged) political affiliations out of the debates that have little or nothing to do with them?”

    Fair enough. You're right; you're allowed to be a jerk and be a liberal. Carry on, then.
    posted by koeselitz at 7:19 PM on September 11, 2010


    And you're allowed to be not-a-liberal and a jerk (see your above post). So, right back atcha. No hypocrisy in that statement whatsoever.
    posted by 1000monkeys at 7:25 PM on September 11, 2010


    I'm not the one begging for the social acceptance of my favorite insult.
    posted by koeselitz at 7:28 PM on September 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


    Admit it and be done with it: what you really crave is the privilege of kicking a person as hard as you can and watching them cry

    Now you're just sounding crazy and I'm starting to worry about you being alone in the house with sharp objects.
    posted by nomadicink at 7:28 PM on September 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


    Look, I don't want to turn this into an insulting back-and-forth. And I'm not trying to sound like a shrill, keening whiner.

    Seriously, though. I've read back through this whole thing several times, and all I can see here is an argument about whether we get to insult people and get away with it. If there's something going on beyond that, then I'd actually like to know why.

    And I mean that. Honestly. I've had a few minutes away, and I'm clear-headed now, I think. I'm willing to talk rationally about this, and maybe that's what I need: to open my mind to your perspective. I just can't figure out what this is all about if it isn't about our right to keep using an insult we all like to use. This started with a fair enough request that we try not to use it; people have been militant here about their refusal to honor that request in any way. And I don't really like that. But again, maybe what I need is to see it from your perspective.
    posted by koeselitz at 7:32 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]



    I'm not the one begging for the social acceptance of my favorite insult.


    Dude, what are you even talking about? I've never used the term. And I've explicitly stated that it's not polite or kind to attack people or call them names, using that term or any other term. I just don't see how the term needs to be completely banned from the community's vocabulary because it offends someone in a way that has nothing to do with the definition of the term at all.

    Frankly, to do a big mea culpa post and then immediately acting like a huge hypocrite (my sins have been washed away so now I'm free to sin again), makes you look extremely insincere, especially given your post not a moment before.
    posted by 1000monkeys at 7:33 PM on September 11, 2010


    Let's go get a root beer and talk about something more satisfying and interesting, like True Blood.

    Seriously, Hoyt, "Drink me" ?! Getting chewed on should be considered foreplay.
    posted by nomadicink at 7:33 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


    er, should not, yeah that's it.
    posted by nomadicink at 7:35 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


    Goddamn. I need to get out more.

    *sigh*

    Okay, yeah. You're right, nomadicink. I'll let this go.

    1000monkeys: “Frankly, to do a big mea culpa post and then immediately acting like a huge hypocrite (my sins have been washed away so now I'm free to sin again), makes you look extremely insincere, especially given your post not a moment before.”

    I'll cop to one of those: being a hypocrite about it. A sincere hypocrite, but a hypocrite nonetheless. Apology still stands, if there was any doubt (I hope not, but...). There's just this to add to it: I'm apparently not very good at coasting to a halt, letting the discussion alight gently on a conclusion. Sorry for that, too.

    Ech. Root beer. Yes.
    posted by koeselitz at 7:47 PM on September 11, 2010


    Root beer! Imma hit up the 24 hour Signature Kroger and get some Virgils or something. It's gonna be a wild night!
    posted by Burhanistan at 7:49 PM on September 11, 2010


    "all I can see here is an argument about whether we get to insult people and get away with it."

    And the answer to that, in the most basic form, is "Yes, given some broadly agreed-upon restraints."

    Sorry if that's not the answer you like.
    posted by klangklangston at 7:49 PM on September 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


    Eh, if you want to talk about it more, go ahead, I'm just kinda over it. A request was made, I personally am not agreeing to it as I think it's over sensitively and taking the worst possible reading of fellow community members.

    You, of course, should do as you like.
    posted by nomadicink at 7:52 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


    You're absolutely right. But, on the other hand, if I raped somebody at Halo, I didn't really sexually assault them. That retarded YouTube video wasn't really developmentally delayed. When I gypped that carny, I wasn't speaking Roma. And Sarah Palin's a bitch, but she doesn't walk on four legs and chase squirrels.

    This is the most favorited comment in this thread, yet it is completely misguided. All the terms the commenter mentions for snarky comparative purposes are examples of words that were used to disparage groups long before they (the terms) became all-purpose insults..

    "Mouth-breather," on the other hand, was never a word that expanded its usage from existing hateful terminology. There is no significant group of people who hate or mistreat another group of people because of a medical condition forces the first group of people to breath through their mouths.
    posted by Dumsnill at 7:57 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


    Dumsnill:
    You're wrong. "Retarded" came from the sanctioned and official term, long since replaced.

    And as for "mouth breather," I'm not sure, but Koeselitz, at least, has heard it throughout his life as a sort of shorthand for "low-class" or "poorly-bred."
    posted by Joseph Gurl at 8:01 PM on September 11, 2010


    There is no significant group of people who hate or mistreat another group of people because of a medical condition forces the first group of people to breath through their mouths.

    ^THIS times a thousand.
    posted by 1000monkeys at 8:02 PM on September 11, 2010


    "Retarded" came from the sanctioned and official term, long since replaced.

    So "retarded" was not a term generally used in a negative way because it was officially sanctioned. Yeah, right.
    posted by Dumsnill at 8:04 PM on September 11, 2010


    Don't know. Either way, "mouth-breather" clearly means "retard."
    posted by Joseph Gurl at 8:05 PM on September 11, 2010


    And "yeah, right" is not exactly a compelling argument, fwiw.
    posted by Joseph Gurl at 8:07 PM on September 11, 2010


    You're wrong. "Retarded" came from the sanctioned and official term, long since replaced.

    And as for "mouth breather," I'm not sure, but Koeselitz, at least, has heard it throughout his life as a sort of shorthand for "low-class" or "poorly-bred."


    Actually, the term retarded is still in use medically. The definition of the term to include people with Down's Syndrome has been changed. People who are retarded are not the same as people with Down's Syndrome. Retarded simply means mentally/developmentally delayed (technically, it's a measure of an extremely low IQ). But yes, it is an offensive term when used casually, though it is culturally part of our regular lexicon.

    Regarding "mouth breather" used to denote people who are "poorly-bred": the last time I checked, there was no protected/vulnerable "poorly bred" group, since (in the definition you gave) it is a subjective statement of a person's opinion of another's "breeding" or "class" and not a definable, marginalized group. Just like people with deviated septums are not a marginalized group (and I belong to that group, BTW).
    posted by 1000monkeys at 8:10 PM on September 11, 2010


    Don't know. Either way, "mouth-breather" clearly means "retard."
    WHAT? Where did you get that conclusion from?
    posted by 1000monkeys at 8:11 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


    jessamyn wrote: "but the larger peanut gallery probably will not [and may now make some sort of "unfair to peanuts" crack about my comment]."

    Your comment isn't unfair to the nut, it's offensive to children.

    Also, I am tone deaf. Please stop using the term to describe someone who doesn't have enough sense to not repeatedly use words most everyone finds offensive.

    I'm also offended that people somehow felt the need to cast aspersions over "liberals" in general.

    I'll get over it, though, because specific words don't really hurt me. Hurtful intent does. That may be white/male privilege talking, though.
    posted by wierdo at 8:16 PM on September 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


    Hmm..it was totally not clear that other than the first sentence, I wasn't speaking to jessamyn specifically, but to the thread in general.
    posted by wierdo at 8:17 PM on September 11, 2010


    who-hoa, this thread is all kinds of crazy.

    I just wanted to mention that I think I've only hear the term 'mouth-breather' used maybe 5-10 times, and never as far as I can recall on Metafilter. From reading the definitions here, it sounds like what I would have called a 'fly-catcher', but that's mostly based on one dude I saw in a public square in Spain about 10 years ago, and that guy looked like he was about 300 years old.

    anyways, carry on!

    *runs to the kitchen to make a grilled-cheese & popcorn sandwich*
    posted by mannequito at 8:19 PM on September 11, 2010


    That's exactly what it's always meant every time I've heard it, as an imprecation on someone's ability to think, to be self-aware, and as an allusion to developmentally challenged people who for reasons mental or physical are unable or "unaware enough" to breathe through their noses.

    What does it mean to you?
    posted by Joseph Gurl at 8:22 PM on September 11, 2010


    And as for "mouth breather," I'm not sure, but Koeselitz, at least, has heard it throughout his life as a sort of shorthand for "low-class" or "poorly-bred."


    OK, I would say that it means "stupid in a way that I can laugh at from my tower," but yeah. I understand what "shithead" means too, but nobody who uses the term shithead would dream of thinking that this word was an expansion of a slur used against a real group of people whose heads actually consisted of shit, any more than "mouth breather" was ever used by a powerful group (or any group) to denote people who suffer from a medical condition.
    posted by Dumsnill at 8:24 PM on September 11, 2010


    And nobody would think the C-word actually means a woman is a walking, talking reproductive organ. So?
    posted by Joseph Gurl at 8:28 PM on September 11, 2010


    I've already posted the dictionary definition above, which is the same as my definition. Basically, the "slack-jawed yokel"--someone who may be stupid and stands there with their mouth agape, but not in a medically/developmentally disabled way. In fact, I've often heard it used to describe overweight Americans in the mid-west (hey, I'm not saying it's right, that's just the context I normally hear it used in). Granted, other people may misunderstand the definition of the term and think it means something else (and use it in that way), but I think that's their issue for not understanding the correct definition of the term (like my "kettle calling the pot black" analogy).

    Like I said twice before, I personally don't use the term, and think we should try for the most part not to call each-other names, but to reinterpret the term in this faux-PC/offensive-to-people-with-disabilities-or-deviated-septums-or-seasonal-allergies defined way seems absolutely ridiculous to me.
    posted by 1000monkeys at 8:29 PM on September 11, 2010


    And nobody would think the C-word actually means a woman is a walking, talking reproductive organ. So?

    But that's a false logic, you're comparing apples and oranges again, because the C-word is traditionally used as sexist slur against women (like the word "bitch", although this one has arguably lost some of its offensiveness due to common use in popular culture, whereas the C-word is still for the most part taboo). There is historical and political baggage tied to the C-word that isn't tied to "shithead".
    posted by 1000monkeys at 8:32 PM on September 11, 2010


    Not as ridiculous as ridiculing someone with a deviated septum who says the term makes her feel bad. I mean, even if we don't think she should feel that way, she does, and the tenor of this thread has way too much "you're wrong to feel that way" and not enough "I don't want to make you feel that way," imo.
    posted by Joseph Gurl at 8:33 PM on September 11, 2010 [9 favorites]


    And nobody would think the C-word actually means a woman is a walking, talking reproductive organ. So?

    Would you at least agree with me that there is a long and systematic history of men denigrating and dominating women in a large variety of ways, including by using slang terms for their genitals as all-purpose slurs?

    Would you agree with me that there is (as far as I know) no consistent history of powerful groups denigrating repressed groups of people who cannot breathe through their mouths?
    posted by Dumsnill at 8:35 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


    (*mouths?)

    *noses
    posted by Dumsnill at 8:37 PM on September 11, 2010


    You mean other than "slack-jawed yokels" or the developmentally challenged?

    Because in those cases, um, no, I don't agree. The powerful have been denigrating the poor, the rural, and the developmentally challenged for as long as our species can remember.
    posted by Joseph Gurl at 8:37 PM on September 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


    It's not that she's "wrong to feel that way", it's that the term was never directed at her in a literal sense (how would anybody know she has a deviated septum?) or a figurative sense with a literal connotation to people with a deviated septum (since that's not how the term is used, nor is it how the term came to be), so it's kind of ridiculous to expect the whole community to stop using the word because it offends you (in a way that it has no real connotation to you or meant to offend in that way). It's sort of like an asthmatic expecting people to stop wearing perfume in public because they are allergic to/bothered by it, when the people aren't trying to give them an asthma attack and shouldn't be expected to stop wearing perfume because it bothers one or two people.
    posted by 1000monkeys at 8:38 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


    Seriously, though. I've read back through this whole thing several times, and all I can see here is an argument about whether we get to insult people and get away with it.

    Maybe it's an argument about whether we have to continue to waste our time with these 200+ post loyalty-oaths about how "good, equitable, fair, welcoming", and "very liberal" we are.

    I'm with the Mayor -- these "can we not say X???" threads are primarily about shaking the Moralism Stick at people who aren't sufficiently respectful of this week's shibboleth, not about civility. Actual civility involves open discourse, which involves encountering (and countering!) words and ideas we may be offended by.
    posted by vorfeed at 8:39 PM on September 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


    You mean other than "slack-jawed yokels" or the developmentally challenged?

    Because in those cases, um, no, I don't agree. The powerful have been denigrating the poor, the rural, and the developmentally challenged for as long as our species can remember.


    Oh, Lord. This is going to be my last response to you because I can see we're getting nowhere and you're not even analyzing the arguments. Once again, there is NO connotation of the term to developmentally disabled people. It's more about "normal" people (i.e. statistically average, non-disabled, etc.), who happen to be stupid. Now you're trying to create some whole cause for "rural" people? Really?
    posted by 1000monkeys at 8:41 PM on September 11, 2010


    I am a card carrying member of the ACLU and I still think that respect and politeness has its place in rational discourse. Where I come from, having the decency to know that some of your audience is sensitive to certain terms and respecting that is part of being respectful.
    posted by kalessin at 8:43 PM on September 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


    Sure, 100monkeys, the community is under no obligation to stop using the word, and I'd never argue otherwise. But the term offends her, and yet many of us responded with "don't be offended!" And since then a lot of the discussion has centered on whether the term "mouth-breather" is offensive at all, when it should be quite clear that at least one person in the thread is personally offended by it.

    Again, that may or may not affect site policy or users' individual behavior, but it is a fact and can't really be debated reasonably.
    posted by Joseph Gurl at 8:46 PM on September 11, 2010


    Now you're trying to create some whole cause for "rural" people? Really?

    I'm creating no such cause. But there are many, many words in standard English that associate rurality with stupidity or lack of sophistication and urbanity with the opposite (start with "urbane"!).

    And just because YOU don't associate the term "mouth-breather" with developmentally challenged people doesn't mean you can say there's no such association. That's just arrogant. The people I know who use the term use it as a pure synonym for "retard."
    posted by Joseph Gurl at 8:49 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


    Granted, other people may misunderstand the definition of the term and think it means something else (and use it in that way), but I think that's their issue for not understanding the correct definition of the term...
    posted by 1000monkeys at 8:52 PM on September 11, 2010


    Because in those cases, um, no, I don't agree. The powerful have been denigrating the poor, the rural, and the developmentally challenged for as long as our species can remember.

    Yes, but by this logic, a sensitive person should never use the term "stupid." I think the people who vote against equal marriage rights for gays are stupid (when it comes to that particular question). Now, while "that's a stupid argument, you're stupid" might not be a great contribution, it is very different from "that's a cunt argument, you're a cunt," or "that's a fag argument, you're a fag."

    "That's a mouth-breathing argument, you're a mouth-breather," falls squarely into the first category, not the second.
    posted by Dumsnill at 8:55 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


    I don't think it does, but regardless, I've never argued we should outlaw those terms (in fact, I was against outlawing the C-word, which I've never really heard in use except by UKers who use it about men and women constantly). Rather, I believe it behooves us to treat people with respect and kindness when they tell us we've hurt their feelings rather than shout them down for being "wrong" or "too sensitive."
    posted by Joseph Gurl at 9:10 PM on September 11, 2010


    Except that the OP is asking the community not to use the term any more.
    posted by 1000monkeys at 9:12 PM on September 11, 2010


    It's not that she's "wrong to feel that way", it's that the term was [meant] in a way that it has no real connotation to you or meant to offend in that way.

    But it is meant to offend. That's the humor here: You aren't wrapping your arms around an innocuous term. It is, and is invariably intended to be, an insult. If y'all really want to defend the term, then so be it; smart people can disagree. But that defense would be a lot easier to take seriously if it weren't trying to visualize the OP interrupting a polite and civil conversation to inject the notion of "insult" out of the clear blue sky.

    A request was made, I personally am not agreeing to it as I think it's over sensitively and taking the worst possible reading of fellow community members.

    Maybe at some point you'll reread your exchange just prior to this comment, where you took personal umbrage at another person's rhetorical (not deliberately insulting) language, and then you'll reconsider this comment and think about what Kanewai had to say. Maybe not.
    posted by cribcage at 9:13 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


    Of course it's meant to offend and, again, that's why I said it isn't nice to call someone a "mouthbreather" but I'm saying that it isn't a term directed at people who happen to breathe through their mouths for medical reasons. Yeesh. What is so difficult to understand about that?

    What's next? Don't use the word "God" but use "G-d" instead because it offends Jewish people? Don't use the word "Jesus" unless you're praying because it offends Christians? Don't mention God at all because it offends atheists? Don't swear at all because it offends...well, people who don't like swearing? This is MetaFilter, not PoliticallyCorrectFilter. People are going to get offended by things, that's just life. Some things are worth getting offended over (certain terms we've already discussed), but some things, especially things which were never directed at you in any way in the first place, aren't worth getting offended over.
    posted by 1000monkeys at 9:18 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


    You know, we could all decide as a group that it's okay not to be easily offended.
    posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 9:25 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


    Of course it's meant to offend...

    Okay, maybe I'm missing something. If you understand that fundamental point—that we're talking about the context of personal insult, not innocuous conversation—then why are you coming back with analogies like, "What's next, I can't mention God?" or "What's next, I can't ever swear?" Surely you understand these are entirely different animals.
    posted by cribcage at 9:29 PM on September 11, 2010


    What's next? Don't use the word "God" but use "G-d" instead because it offends Jewish people? Don't use the word "Jesus" unless you're praying because it offends Christians? Don't mention God at all because it offends atheists? Don't swear at all because it offends...well, people who don't like swearing?

    Ah, the old slippery slope fallacy. Enjoy that.
    posted by Joseph Gurl at 9:32 PM on September 11, 2010


    But it is meant to offend.

    Yes, of course it is meant to offend. If I call someone a moron or a hipster I (in some contexts at least) mean to offend, in a very lazy way.

    That said: I'm not a native speaker of English (no, you don't say), and it's possible that I may have misunderstood the evolution of the term "mouth breather." I thought I knew what it meant, where it came from, and how it is used. And a quick google search seemed to confirm what I thought I knew.

    Anyway: I did not in any way mean to disparage the OP or make light of their very real problems. I suspect my comments came across that way, and I apologize.
    posted by Dumsnill at 9:33 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


    Let's eliminate all the "policy" canards--the site is NOT going to change policy to outlaw "mouth-breather." That's been clearly established by the mods, so the conversation really should stop trying to be about it.

    As for the original question, the OP asked people to stop using it, and I, for one, will now comply with the request. It doesn't have to be a matter of policy; it can be a matter of common civility and community spirit. Again, we can disagree on this. Of course. But so far none of the "reasons" that "mouth-breather" is "not offensive" hold water at all.
    posted by Joseph Gurl at 9:34 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


    *sigh* I'm saying that the term is intended to insult somebody but it's not intended to insult a group of people who happen to breath through their mouths. It's basically a synonym for "stupid" and it doesn't need to be removed from our vocabulary as a community any more than the term stupid does. Yes, it's an insult to be called a mouthbreather of course, but it's not an insult directed at a group of people with deviated septums (or whatever). That's my point. And if we need to remove the term "mouthbreather" from the community's collective vocabulary because some people interpret it that way, then where do we draw the line? Because many things offend many different people, and if we want to become a totally PoliticallyCorrect! community, then we're going to be a pretty damn boring one.
    posted by 1000monkeys at 9:35 PM on September 11, 2010


    Let's eliminate all the "policy" canards--the site is NOT going to change policy to outlaw "mouth-breather." That's been clearly established by the mods, so the conversation really should stop trying to be about it.

    Great. So by that logic, this thread should never have been created and since it's totally irrelevant, it should be closed and deleted immediately...
    posted by 1000monkeys at 9:36 PM on September 11, 2010


    "We" don't have to be anything, 1000monkeys, but what "I" will do is simple: when someone tells me something offends her, I will carefully consider that and adjust my own actions accordingly.
    posted by Joseph Gurl at 9:37 PM on September 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


    Your username offends me.
    posted by 1000monkeys at 9:38 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


    Great. So by that logic, this thread should never have been created and since it's totally irrelevant, it should be closed and deleted immediately...

    No, because at first there may have been a question of policy, but the ensuing discussion eliminated it--we have quick and communicative mods.

    Policy isn't the only thing guiding our behavior here, though, one would hope.
    posted by Joseph Gurl at 9:38 PM on September 11, 2010


    Your username offends me.

    Jesus. Grow up.
    posted by Joseph Gurl at 9:39 PM on September 11, 2010


    Please don't take the Lord's name in vain.
    posted by 1000monkeys at 9:42 PM on September 11, 2010


    *quietly raises banner of the dread Lord Skullfuck The Easily Offended*
    posted by cucumber at 9:45 PM on September 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


    ^ commas can make that phrase mean several different things, depending on placement.
    posted by Burhanistan at 9:52 PM on September 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


    Really, people?

    How about some of you stop offending people on purpose just to be jerks and others stop being so easily offended? Then we can have pie.
    posted by Justinian at 10:16 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


    Yes, but are we going to ignore the fact that Burhanistan just made fun of placements in a way that leaves no room for ambiguity about my finishing last in the high school 100 meters trial?
    posted by Dumsnill at 10:25 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


    Please don't take the Lord's name in vain.
    posted by 1000monkeys at 2:42 PM on September 12 [+] [!]


    Ah, a Canadan. I should have known. Only two things I can't stand in this world: intolerance and those goddamn Canadans.
    posted by Joseph Gurl at 10:36 PM on September 11, 2010


    :-P
    posted by 1000monkeys at 10:38 PM on September 11, 2010


    Okay, fine. Here's my compromise: everyone's a fuck-nut. If you have a problem with fuck-nut, please favorite this comment so I'll know if I need to come up with another one.
    posted by davejay at 11:03 PM on September 11, 2010


    Everything is very quiet
    Everyone's gone to sleep
    I'm wide awake but these fuck-nuts
    These fuck-nuts can't
    WAIT!!!!
    posted by Dumsnill at 11:17 PM on September 11, 2010


    I myself have a habit of saying that various things are "lame"


    >:-(
    posted by various at 11:18 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


    "As for the original question, the OP asked people to stop using it, and I, for one, will now comply with the request."

    Congrats. You win MeTa.

    The next step is to realize that attempts to get other people to give it up who have argued against you have mostly failed to change their minds, so there's no real point in continuing to argue past the point that it has made you change your behavior. Anything else just comes across as self-righteous hectoring and fishing for compliments over your enlightened progressiveness.
    posted by klangklangston at 11:22 PM on September 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


    i just don't get it - if there weren't mouse breeders, we wouldn't have laboratory animals to do tests for cures of cancer and stuff

    oh ... never mind
    posted by pyramid termite at 11:32 PM on September 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


    I think there's a line we have to walk, klangklangston. On the one hand, yes, I admit that it's easy to fall over into self-righteous hectoring. But on the other, it's also easy to fall over into eye-rolling condescension and insistence on using words that are hurtful to others simply in the name of freedom.

    I don't think there's too much condescension here. And I hope that there hasn't been too much hectoring.

    In the end, Google is getting less than a hundred pages on all of metafilter that use this particular epithet. So it's pretty rare here, anyway. My own perspective at the moment is that I disagree that self-righteous hectoring is likely to be a problem in the future – and I do still feel as though people are really too quick to be insulting – but this is a really crappy place to choose to fall on my sword for that ideal, considering that it's not really likely that the word's going to be used all that much more in the future than it was in the past.
    posted by koeselitz at 11:34 PM on September 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


    The next step is to realize that attempts to get other people to give it up who have argued against you have mostly failed to change their minds, so there's no real point in continuing to argue past the point that it has made you change your behavior. Anything else just comes across as self-righteous hectoring and fishing for compliments over your enlightened progressiveness.

    As opposed to the self-righteous meta-heckling of the enlightened cynic who can only come in and stir shit up after other people have finished their discussion?

    Because that comes across as really great, man.
    posted by Joseph Gurl at 12:12 AM on September 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


    Actually, the term retarded is still in use medically.

    Only in backwards places. Most modern North American professionals now use other, more accurate terms. The word "retarded" has no place in medicine.
    posted by five fresh fish at 1:00 AM on September 12, 2010


    I'm left-handed. Thanks in advance for ceasing to use "sinister" or "gauche" in a pejorative fashion.
    posted by one more dead town's last parade at 1:10 AM on September 12, 2010


    Someday someone is going to ask that people don't use the Lord's name in vain because it offends them, and MetaTalk will implode.

    Ahem..


    His name is Jehova. "God" is a title, making "goddamn" not using his name in vain. That's why I say "Jehova-damn-it".
    posted by spaltavian at 1:28 AM on September 12, 2010


    Most modern North American professionals now use other, more accurate terms. The word "retarded" has no place in medicine

    Bullshit. Often "MR" is used to sugarcoat it for the oversensitive, but "mentally retarded" is still a commonly used term.
    posted by spaltavian at 1:30 AM on September 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


    Bullshit

    Most North American fertilizer professionals sugarcoat it for the oversensitive.
    posted by Dumsnill at 1:34 AM on September 12, 2010


    Nethack question: If I go into a shop and pick up but but don't pay for items and then read a blessed scroll of identify and it identifies all my inventory will it identify items I haven't paid for?
    posted by vapidave at 2:27 AM on September 12, 2010


    yes
    posted by Dumsnill at 2:33 AM on September 12, 2010


    Maybe at some point you'll reread your exchange just prior to this comment, where you took personal umbrage at another person's rhetorical (not deliberately insulting) language, and then you'll reconsider this comment and think about what Kanewai had to say. Maybe not.

    I didn't say I was insulted, just surprised by the cavalier use of a term with centuries of negative history behind it's mere utterance, history that existed on social, economic and judicial levels throughout American society, all them resulting in the justification of enslaving a specific type of people, of whom I happen to be one.

    I said, quite specifically, that his use of the term was tone deaf and ignorant, with an implication that he might want to rethink about how and what he was saying. I did not request that he, nor anyone else in a community of however many thousands that exist here refrain from using it.

    I do no understand how nor why you are attempting to equate this two different situations.
    posted by nomadicink at 3:39 AM on September 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


    Because Jessamyn mentioned the peanut gallery:

    Peanut Gallery refers to the poorer inhabitants of a theatre. When you talk about the peanut gallery in this way, you're actually reinforcing the damaging myth that the working classes are less capable of behaving themselves. That a lack of income equates to a lack of manners and a lack of intelligence. It's a pretty offensive assumption, and because metafilter is a middle class world, it's one you're happy to trot out.

    You think I'm joking. I'm only half joking. I know people who would be offended by the use of the phrase "peanut gallery". Well mannered polymaths with low incomes who have to take the cheapest option whenever they do anything cultural. For example, people who use libraries instead of buying books.

    Is kanewai taking this too far? No. Metafilter has demonstrated time and again that it is policy that if something offends a vocal enough minority, then usage of particular phrases will be reduced and removed. Given current policy, mouth breathers get to decide how upset they are by the phrase mouth breather, and if we ignore them, then we're each of us drawing a line which excludes those we don't empathise with for no other reason than we don't think their grievance is as valid.

    There's a pretty offensive comedian in this country called Frankie Boyle who got into some trouble mocking Down's syndrome. I think it was Frankie Boyle who said (I can't find the direct quote, so I may be wrong) that the offended woman was happy enough laughing at all the offensive shit he had to say, but as soon as he touched on something that offended her - He'd gone too far. It's an understandable reaction, but we need to remember that she and others were happy enough laughing at all the prior offense he was giving.

    Then you have stories like the Qu'ran burning thing. I know non-Muslim, non-American people who are vehemently opposed to the burning of the Qu'ran, but are perfectly happy to see American Flags burnt. I can't understand why you would decide that one highly offensive thing is worse than another highly offensive thing just because you don't really like Americans. Seems pretty arbitrary and devisive.

    I think that's where we are right now on metafilter. We like to offend, but we don't like to be offended. I think that has to stop. If someone calls someone gay or a fag or a cunt or a retard or a bitch or a limey or a teabagger or a tranny or a windowlicker or a paki or an ass-raper, then I think we also need to step back and try to empathise with the person who used the word. We need to work out if they are saying it in a way which deliberately lessens the inclusive nature of metafilter. This isn't an easy call BTW, and there are words in the list above that offend the fuck out of me.

    But I still think there is a case for dialling back on the "My Uncle was a Roma, and can we not use the word gypped" posts and just concentrate on the fact that sometimes we're going to offend, sometimes we're going to be offended and that is not because "everyone is so insensitive", it's simply because this is a large public space full of people who don't know every facet of the lives of every other person here.
    posted by seanyboy at 3:49 AM on September 12, 2010 [8 favorites]


    Just to add to the confusion here, I never knew what 'mouth breather' meant, aside from breathing through the mouth. I probably will never use the phrase, now that I understand it. My ability to communicate on Metafilter has not been limited by the absence of this phrase, so I will continue not to use it.
    posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 4:22 AM on September 12, 2010


    I just wish people would stop referring to having sex as "sexy time."

    Sounds like 8th grade to me.
    posted by fourcheesemac at 5:38 AM on September 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


    10th actually, stairs by the boiler room.
    posted by nomadicink at 6:00 AM on September 12, 2010


    Would you prefer "business time"?
    posted by kalessin at 6:01 AM on September 12, 2010


    Peanut Gallery refers to the poorer inhabitants of a theatre.

    Actually it was where the kids in the studio audience on Howdy Doody sat. My dad and my late Uncle Mike were in the Gallery once, but Mike started crying so they were yanked out. I think Dad is still bitter.

    (There's a record of Buffalo Bob & Howdy Doody at the Fillmore East in 1971. I betcha it's cool.)
    posted by jonmc at 6:02 AM on September 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


    You know, we could all decide as a group that it's okay not to be easily offended.
    posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:25 AM on September 12


    Should that happy day ever occur I might just start believing in God.

    Honestly, the hand-wringing in this thread has gone beyond the merely embarrassing into some sort of surreal, fevered state of self-cannibalising hypersensitivity, where the air is so rarified, and every snowflake so delicate and unique that any and every word might crush it utterly. In this impossibly elevated domain even parody cannot survive.
    posted by Decani at 6:46 AM on September 12, 2010 [12 favorites]


    Peanut Gallery refers to the poorer inhabitants of a theatre.

    Actually it was where the kids in the studio audience on Howdy Doody sat.


    Doody used it, of course, but its origins are as Seanyboy summarized.
    posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:07 AM on September 12, 2010


    Actually it was where the kids in the studio audience on Howdy Doody sat.

    The first meaning apparently predates the Howdy Doody meaning and is surprisingly (to me, I mean) pretty racist.
    posted by elizardbits at 7:08 AM on September 12, 2010


    damn you haddock

    *throws peanuts*
    posted by elizardbits at 7:09 AM on September 12, 2010


    The first meaning apparently predates the Howdy Doody meaning and is surprisingly (to me, I mean) pretty racist.

    Racist? Or do you mean classist?
    posted by idest at 7:34 AM on September 12, 2010


    I mean racist. See also: synonyms, references.
    posted by elizardbits at 7:37 AM on September 12, 2010


    I mean racist. See also: synonyms, references.

    Fair enough, I know it as described in haddock's link-- meaning poorer and rowdier folks.

    In any case, it's clearly derogatory and insulting.
    posted by idest at 7:48 AM on September 12, 2010


    Can we collectively agree --- This right here is practically impossible, not even getting into the particulars.
    posted by crunchland at 7:50 AM on September 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


    Fair enough, I know it as described in haddock's link-- meaning poorer and rowdier folks.

    Right, me too. Hence my (perhaps naive) surprise at the etymology listed in the wiktionary link.
    posted by elizardbits at 7:52 AM on September 12, 2010


    I like the Howdy Doody story better. Of course the idea that he's calling a bunch of 5-year olds impoverished rowdies has a certain appeal.
    posted by jonmc at 7:59 AM on September 12, 2010


    Everything great is doomed to eventually devolve into self parody.

    Nice work, kanewai.
    posted by CunningLinguist at 8:22 AM on September 12, 2010


    My favorite example of language routing around attempts to contain it is when the Spastic's Society in England changed it's name to SCOPE because 'spastic' was commonly seen as a derogatory term -- "you spaz!"

    Within a year the insult had changed to "You Scope!"
    posted by unSane at 8:32 AM on September 12, 2010


    Your favorite insults suck.
    posted by mazola at 8:35 AM on September 12, 2010


    Also, by the same criteria, moron, cretin and idiot should be retired.
    posted by unSane at 8:35 AM on September 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


    Etymology is cool and all, but etymology isn't what matters when deciding whether a term is offensive now. What matters now is whether significant numbers of people are offended by the term now.
    posted by pracowity at 9:27 AM on September 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


    What matters now is whether significant numbers of people are offended by the term now.

    So now three people are significant numbers?


    Ugh, I give up.
    posted by 1000monkeys at 9:48 AM on September 12, 2010


    I'm half expecting Gloria Allred to show up and represent the mouthbreather population.
    posted by 1000monkeys at 9:49 AM on September 12, 2010


    jtron, get your ass back here.
    posted by heyho at 10:31 AM on September 12, 2010


    I'm left-handed. Thanks in advance for ceasing to use "sinister" or "gauche" in a pejorative fashion.

    Sorry, sinister is one of my favorite insults, considering my middle child is a lefty. :P

    Lefty.
    posted by patheral at 11:29 AM on September 12, 2010


    I'm a middle child and a lefty....Mom? Who the hell taught you to use the intarwebz? *glare*
    posted by 1000monkeys at 11:40 AM on September 12, 2010


    A friend recently sold me on the gender-neutral "fucky" as a general-use epithet. It probably offends the asexual and the celibate, though.
    posted by kalessin at 11:54 AM on September 12, 2010


    As in, "Hey, fucky! Watch what you're doing!"
    posted by kalessin at 11:55 AM on September 12, 2010


    1000monkeys, I'm fairly sure my middle child isn't on metafilter because when I asked, he denied everything. And I've been on the interwebz since there was nothing but Bulletin Boards and I had to connect with dial up, peripheral modems - "Hey, no one use the phone for the next five hours! I'm going online!"
    posted by patheral at 12:18 PM on September 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


    A friend recently sold me on the gender-neutral "fucky" as a general-use epithet.

    What's wrong with "fucker"?
    posted by nomadicink at 12:19 PM on September 12, 2010


    What's wrong with "fucker"?

    It's not as novel?
    posted by kalessin at 12:46 PM on September 12, 2010


    I prefer the gender-laden "fuckatrix"
    posted by found missing at 12:57 PM on September 12, 2010


    So now three people are significant numbers?

    I didn't say that. Where do you get that number?

    What I said was that it doesn't matter where a word comes from. It only matters what it means to people now. If it offends enough people -- a significant number of people -- a word is inarguably offensive, regardless of its history.
    posted by pracowity at 1:21 PM on September 12, 2010


    "The first meaning apparently predates the Howdy Doody meaning and is surprisingly (to me, I mean) pretty racist."

    Except that the sourcing there was incredibly thin. The first source listed, a cookbook for cookies, thinks that peanuts weren't respected because they came from Africa. The second finds a novel (I haven't seen that discussed in any of the many other etymologies listed for "peanut gallery," though Flexner's a respected slang scholar) racist connotation based on the fact that it's synonymous with an idiom that had a racist term in it. But that doesn't follow logically. "Jury-rigged" isn't racist simply because as an idiom it's synonymous with "nigger-rigged."

    Which brings us back to the broader point of going and looking for offense. If you are offended by "peanut gallery," fine, don't use it. But realize that you're exiling a useful idiom from your lexicon based on oversensitivity and nonsense. It makes as much sense as refusing to use anything IBM makes today because of their aiding the Nazis, or refusing to ride in a Volkswagon. Fine for you so long as it doesn't impact anyone else; ridiculous to insist on for anyone else.
    posted by klangklangston at 1:24 PM on September 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


    I am not offended by peanut gallery, dude. I was just surprised by the alleged origins of the term.
    posted by elizardbits at 1:54 PM on September 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


    .......
    (says it all)
    posted by jonmc at 2:03 PM on September 12, 2010 [7 favorites]


    If you are offended by "peanut gallery," fine, don't use it. But realize that you're exiling a useful idiom from your lexicon based on oversensitivity and nonsense.

    posted by klangklangston at 9:24 PM on September 12


    I do not think those who posted about how "peanut gallery" can be viewed as "offensive" were actually offended by it. I rather think they were using it as an illustration of how ridiculous we become when we choose to constantly search for offence. They were making the point - as others have tried to do here using similar tactics - that pretty much anything that is critical of a person, idea or attitude can be seen as offensive if we really want to play that game. And that it is far better to just keep some perspective about this stuff and stop bristling at every perceived insult or less-than-complimentary turn of phrase.
    posted by Decani at 3:19 PM on September 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


    For the record: mouth breather doesn't mean retarded. It means ignorant. As in, someone who has the capacity to understand or do something, but who doesn't. It isn't even classist, unless the speaker is using it in a way that is classist.

    It is an idiom; not to be interpreted literally. There has to be a limit to the narcissistic-outrage, and I think this is it.
    posted by gjc at 3:22 PM on September 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


    I sincerely don't give a shit whether an epithet can be seen as offensive. What I care about is whether it is intended to be offensive and whether it is taken as offensive.

    It is true that offense has to be both given and taken for the equation to become whole. In my book that doesn't mean we get to get away, again, with blaming the victim and putting all of the responsibility on the target for having the temerity to be offended.

    If you happen to unintentionally offend someone with your phrasings, please be a responsible adult, take responsibility and favor the offended with an apology. This is basic polite discourse. It is not infringing on your freedom of expression to take responsibility for your words' effect on people.
    posted by kalessin at 4:05 PM on September 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


    I always assumed "jury rigged" was a mix-up of "Gerry (Jerry) rigged," a WWII reference to items of unfathomable or improbable German construction, and "rigged jury," a jury that has been tampered with. Wikipedia disagrees, informing me that "jury rigged" is a nautical term with hundreds of years of history behind it. The more you know!

    Also, may I suggest "ass-munch" as the officially sanctioned MeFi put-down?
    posted by Mister_A at 4:25 PM on September 12, 2010


    No, that would be offensive to anilingus enthusiasts.
    posted by jonmc at 4:37 PM on September 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


    How about 'bottom-feeder'?
    posted by kuujjuarapik at 4:47 PM on September 12, 2010


    That would be offensive to our crustaceous friends and countrymen.
    posted by elizardbits at 4:50 PM on September 12, 2010


    How about 'bottom-feeder'?
    posted by kuujjuarapik at 12:47 AM on September 13


    This would be offensive to people who have the head of an ass. Also to Shakespeare's ghost because as we all know Shakespeare never, ever mocked or insulted people.
    posted by Decani at 5:00 PM on September 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


    "Beaners"

    It's ambiguous enough that no one will ever know for sure just how they're being insulted.
    posted by zarq at 5:14 PM on September 12, 2010


    How about 'bottom-feeder'?

    I thought we had a general site-wide moratorium on mentioning The Human Centipede.
    posted by UbuRoivas at 5:16 PM on September 12, 2010


    This is still the internet right? The internet, where at any moment you might be confronted by a video of a guy taking a shit on a hedgehog; where there are communities of thousands devoted to discussion of how best to commit murder; and where Rick Astley, Justin Bieber and Chuck Norris are cult heroes. If you want a dull, inoffensive browsing experience that protects you from nipples and four letter words, go to a fucking Christian bookshop (or buy an iPhone). If you think someone is wrong, tell them they're wrong. If you think someone is being offensive, tell them you think they're being offensive. Hell, create a MetaTalk thread that says something like "My parents loved me too much and now I cry if someone says I'm EMO" and half the community will crap on about how it's terrible that we say mean things about sissies and the other half will make crappy in-jokes because they're too scared to say anything offensive in thread in case Jessamyn scolds them and they don't get many favourites (actually, that's me) and then eventually there'll be a six week old argument about Israel/Palestine, which, I mean come on, those over religious pricks need to get together and breed a Mandela and maybe host a World Cup and become like us. But don't expect people to stop using the words. They're just words. You give them more power when you're scared of them. It's the internet, it's easy to skim past something. It's easy to read over something (yeah, I know, I should have read over this thread) and forget about it. And another thing: ad hominem attacks are a good thing. They're fun and interesting. Nobody watches that mind numbing "Let's Talk Politics" panel show they have in pretty much every country in the world on a cable channel somewhere in the channel 100-124 range on a Saturday morning. Maybe that's because it's on a Saturday morning and who the fuck wants to be awake on a Saturday, or maybe it's because they have civilised debate procedures and nobody's yelling. What's more fun? A discussion about the etymology of the phrase "mouth breather" or an ad hominem attack on the little bitch that complains about the phrase "mouth breather"? I've had countless fucking surgeries on my nose (actually, only 3) before which I couldn't use my nose for nose-like things such as breathing, and smelling and tasting food. And for a good year or two after the accident, I breathed loudly through my mouth because I couldn't get surgery until I was 18 and everyone hated it, and therefore, me, and you know what I did? I grew some testicles. Big hairy fucking testicles, right in my pants.

    Some people hold opinions that are offensive. Some people use certain words to mean certain things. You get to choose whose opinions you care about. If someone says something mean, ignore them, or tell them what you think. If they don't change their mind, tough. They might think your opinion is just as abhorrent. Homophobes are just as offended by my hypothetical homosexuality as I am by their homophobia. The argument isn't any better if they can't use the word "gay".

    We seem to spend more time arguing about how to argue about things than actually arguing about things. That's a good thing in Parliament/Congress/Corporations. It's important that they debate issues with clear parameters and limited scope. That's how they get things done. But guess what. Everybody hates Parliament. Everybody hates Congress. Everybody hates their job because it takes five fucking years to get anything done. Same thing happens on MetaFilter. Someone feels aggrieved and writes a 4000 word rant about it and, instead of addressing their issues, or just ignoring them, we flag their post to the days and say they "flamed out".

    You know what's offensive? That we spend more money as a society on packaging chocolate bars than we do on, you know, helping people (repeat this sentence, replacing "packaging chocolate bars" with other somewhat unnecessary activities). You know what's offensive? That, instead of discussing how best to X, we derail the discussion with "Please don't use the word XX to refer to X, it's a bad stereotype. (Okay, so this sort of contradicts my earlier thing about ad hominem attacks - but I'm done writing and can't be bothered distinguishing the two and presenting a consistent thesis.)

    And why does everything have to mean something? Why can't someone just post a comment and have that comment be slightly wrong or inconsistent or hypocritical? Sometimes we get things wrong, or don't think through something all the way to the end, or just went with our gut. This comment is a good example of that.

    This isn't a Harry Potter book. Words can't hurt you here. Don't tell me what to say or how to say it.

    Also, I lived with a mouth breather for almost a year, and he was dumb as shit. That's bad luck about your deviated septum, but I now hold a probably unfair stereotype in my head about mouth breathers. It's too much work to maintain accurate perceptions and to ensure that I'm not unfairly stereotyping people. I'm just trying to get through the day without sweat patches.
    posted by doublehappy at 5:17 PM on September 12, 2010 [22 favorites]


    Hey doublehappy, nice trolling. When you're done ranting get yourself cleaned up and come join us for conversation at the adults' table.
    posted by kalessin at 5:22 PM on September 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


    "Beaners"

    sweet jesus no.
    posted by kuujjuarapik at 5:32 PM on September 12, 2010


    > I grew some testicles. Big hairy fucking testicles, right in my pants.

    Is that like pocket mulching?
    posted by Burhanistan at 5:40 PM on September 12, 2010


    Hey doublehappy? Brilliant. Bang on. You nailed it. You nailed it so hard that you're going to get insults to your maturity from the sort of person who thinks that this thread is anything but a total childish embarrassment to the "Metafilter community". You're going to get called a troll because god forbid you might actually be sincere. That couldn't be right. That just doesn't fit the worldview. You have to be trolling. You're going to get the sort of insult that will be deemed *okay* by the ever-righteous here. Because by hell, thoroughly justified criticism riles 'em a lot harder than being called silly names.
    posted by Decani at 5:45 PM on September 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


    Big hairy fucking testicles, right in my pants.

    I hear they live next door to an asshole.
    posted by jonmc at 5:47 PM on September 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


    Hrm. Does anyone actually drag their knuckles? I'm at a loss to find even one of the more unfortunate illnesses which would cause this to occur. If we cannot find one, I like "knuckle-dragger." It's in the same "none too bright" category with some "unevolved" on the side.

    Knuckle-dragger. Slots right in where we had mouth-breather.
    posted by adipocere at 5:49 PM on September 12, 2010


    >It's too much work to maintain accurate perceptions and to ensure that I'm not unfairly stereotyping people.

    You sound exactly like my old boss when he talked about black people and Mexicans.

    And he was a fucking racist asshole.
    posted by Joseph Gurl at 5:49 PM on September 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


    What I said was that it doesn't matter where a word comes from. It only matters what it means to people now. If it offends enough people -- a significant number of people -- a word is inarguably offensive, regardless of its history.

    What does significant mean? You're trying to establish a minimum threshold between unreasonable grievance and inarguably offensive. Okay. What is that threshold? Can you define it?

    Moreover, if 50 people say a word is offensive and 3000 say it isn't, who's right?

    Nothing is "inarguably" offensive. There's not an epithet in existence whose meaning and offensiveness isn't dependent on the context in which it is used, and the life experiences and history of the people to whom it is directed.

    You're trying to apply an absolute metric. That's understandable but I think ultimately futile. Perhaps the best we can aim for is to assume good faith by others, listen to them when they ask us to consider their feelings and then act with as much kindness as possible towards one other.
    posted by zarq at 5:49 PM on September 12, 2010


    Hrm. Does anyone actually drag their knuckles? I'm at a loss to find even one of the more unfortunate illnesses which would cause this to occur. If we cannot find one, I like "knuckle-dragger." It's in the same "none too bright" category with some "unevolved" on the side.

    Knuckle-dragger. Slots right in where we had mouth-breather.
    posted by adipocere at 1:49 AM on September 13


    You know that "knuckle-dragger" is just the skiers insult to snowboarders, right? Very appropriate, too.
    posted by Decani at 5:50 PM on September 12, 2010


    And in case it isn't obvious, (considering the ultra-high level of grar that seems to be present in this thread I suppose it needs to be said,) by saying that, I'm not trying to dictate to anyone.
    posted by zarq at 5:52 PM on September 12, 2010


    Shit. The next time I try to make a lame joke I should check urban dictionary first. I had no idea that "beaners" is a derogatory term for Mexican immigrants. Was thinking of "beanplating." Apologies if I inadvertently offended anyone. :(
    posted by zarq at 6:01 PM on September 12, 2010


    Hah. doublehappy ranted the shit outta that. Nicely played even if I don't necessarily agree with all the particulars.
    posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:02 PM on September 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


    I'm not trying to dictate to anyone.

    On behalf of Handsome Dick, Top Ten, Adny & Ross The Boss, I am offended.
    posted by jonmc at 6:04 PM on September 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


    Shit. The next time I try to make a lame joke ...

    posted by zarq at 2:01 AM on September 13


    Please be more sensitive about our crippled brethren. Oh God, I've been sexist.
    posted by Decani at 6:04 PM on September 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


    On behalf of Handsome Dick, Top Ten, Adny & Ross The Boss, I am offended.

    Well, if I knew who the hell those people were...
    posted by zarq at 6:12 PM on September 12, 2010


    Please be more sensitive about our crippled brethren. Oh God, I've been sexist.

    Interestingly enough, I've mentioned something similar here before.
    posted by zarq at 6:13 PM on September 12, 2010



    Well, if I knew who the hell those people were...
    posted by zarq at 2:12 AM on September 13


    These fine gentlemen.

    Man, I like this thread a whole lot better now it's starting to rock.
    posted by Decani at 6:16 PM on September 12, 2010


    More recent footage of the aforemntioned gents. Doing their own material. (I was in the audience that night)
    posted by jonmc at 6:27 PM on September 12, 2010


    I wanna gay-marry doublehappy and have his babies right now :)
    posted by 1000monkeys at 6:34 PM on September 12, 2010


    Hmm, and maybe Decani too. I could have their polyamorous hypothetical gay babies.
    posted by 1000monkeys at 6:34 PM on September 12, 2010


    The Polyamorous Hypothetical Gay Babies ought to be a great name for a band, and yet it isn't. Ah, the infinite mystery of words and meaning...
    posted by Decani at 6:57 PM on September 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


    ^True. I guess I should clarify that the babies themselves are not polyamorous nor are they hypothetically gay (not that there's anything wrong with that).
    posted by 1000monkeys at 7:06 PM on September 12, 2010


    It's too much work to maintain accurate perceptions and to ensure that I'm not unfairly stereotyping people.

    You sound exactly like my old boss when he talked about black people and Mexicans.

    And he was a fucking racist asshole.


    Actually, he sounds exactly like my mother. She raised 3 children as asingle mother on a secretary's salary in the Sixties, put herself through university at night, and taught all of us to actively oppose racism, misogyny, homophobia, bigotry, and intolerance of any kind. She took us to peace rallies, was a founding member of Greenpeace, and worked tirelessly to repeal the Indian Act. She mocked political correctness as meaningless, lightweight, posturing then; and she did so till the day she died. What she taught all of was that it was actions that count, not symbols.
    posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 7:32 PM on September 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


    I don't think anyone here actually is conflating actions with words. It's a web forum; the stakes are low. However, the reason there is attention given to word usage here is so we can actually have conversations rather than just obtuse wannabe demagoguery. People seem to think they are fighting the power or some other issues related to unresolved adolescent problems so the like to rant about how "it's just words, man".
    posted by Burhanistan at 7:40 PM on September 12, 2010


    More like it's just words that people are adding meaning to that never existed, do not exist, and never will exist regarding the term.
    posted by 1000monkeys at 7:49 PM on September 12, 2010


    Interestingly enough, even Wikipedia understands the usage of the term (and no, it wasn't edited in after this discussion began):

    In North America, mouth breathing in public is sometimes considered to be less socially acceptable or attractive than nose breathing, as mouth breathers can appear to have a somewhat "slack jawed" look, and mouth breathing can cause or exacerbate bad breath[citation needed]. Thus the term 'mouth breather' is used as an insult towards a person with a perceived lack of intelligence or someone with poor social skills. This pejorative term should not be confused with the medical description of mouth breathing - indeed, it is used as a general form of insult, and not necessarily to refer to people who breathe through the mouth.
    posted by 1000monkeys at 8:10 PM on September 12, 2010


    Yeah, to be clear I think this particular callout is silly, but some people late in the thread got on their soapboxes and drunkenly belched their renegade status above and beyond the silliness of complaining about using "mouth breather" as a pejorative. Anyway.
    posted by Burhanistan at 8:14 PM on September 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


    ...or perhaps some people just enjoy a good debate (and get frustrated when others drop common sense for over-the-top-PC-ism).

    :-P
    posted by 1000monkeys at 8:31 PM on September 12, 2010


    Good luck with all that.
    posted by Burhanistan at 8:36 PM on September 12, 2010


    Thanks!
    posted by 1000monkeys at 8:41 PM on September 12, 2010


    shit-for-brains ratfucker always does in a pinch
    posted by unSane at 9:11 PM on September 12, 2010



    shit-for-brains ratfucker always does in a pinch

    See, now you're offending people into beastiality. And Richard Gere. Sort of. Allegedly.
    posted by 1000monkeys at 9:40 PM on September 12, 2010


    Shit. The next time I try to make a lame joke I should check urban dictionary first. I had no idea that "beaners" is a derogatory term for Mexican immigrants. Was thinking of "beanplating." Apologies if I inadvertently offended anyone. :(

    This is the second time I've heard someone who was otherwise really clued in to bias and bigotry and yet had somehow never noticed that "beaner" is a nasty insult on a par with the others that have been mentioned above. I guess maybe it has to do with where you grow up or something, but it's a good (and comparatively painless, as such things go) that putting one's foot into one's mouth is a very easy thing to do. All you can do is laugh and hope you don't do it again immediately.
    posted by Forktine at 9:54 PM on September 12, 2010


    This whole callout and this whole thread are stupid. Many insults come from olden words that used to mean something piercing, maybe .. theoretically.

    Society decides that some of them are naughty and some are not. "mouth breather" is not naughty. So, for better or worse, the out-caller can suck it and deal.

    Everything about this thread is based on stupid. I would call it "bean-plating" if I didn't think that was a faux self-deprecating arrogant term.
    posted by cucumber at 10:40 PM on September 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


    I like MetaFilter because sometimes people are nice here. Not because people are always nice. I would like it if people were always nice here. It would be great if nobody hurled insults at each other. There's no good reason to anyway. There are several people here who never insult anyone. They are the best members of the site.
    posted by The World Famous at 11:03 PM on September 12, 2010 [7 favorites]


    "This is the second time I've heard someone who was otherwise really clued in to bias and bigotry and yet had somehow never noticed that "beaner" is a nasty insult on a par with the others that have been mentioned above."

    In Lansing and Ann Arbor, there was a pretty decent local coffee chain (like, five, six cafés) was called Beaner's, and had to, within the last five years, change its name. The new name's something dumb and unsatisfying, like The B-Spot or something, and I always felt bad for the guy who started the chain, since his last name was Beaner. I'd think it'd suck pretty hard to grow up with a last name that ended up a racial slur (I don't know how old the guy is, so I don't know if the slur was in common parlance in Michigan when he was a kid).
    posted by klangklangston at 12:07 AM on September 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


    unSane: “shit-for-brains ratfucker always does in a pinch”

    Thank you. I've always liked to think that I'm quite good in a pinch myself.
    posted by koeselitz at 12:09 AM on September 13, 2010


    Cucumber wrote: This whole callout and this whole thread are stupid. Many insults come from olden words that used to mean something piercing, maybe .. theoretically.


    None the less, most people today have dropped terms like "to Jew" or "to Gyp someone", they no longer describe others as "Indian givers", and they don't describe someone with Down's Syndrome as being a Mongol or mongoloid. I like it better this way.
    posted by Joe in Australia at 12:15 AM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


    doublehappy: “This is still the internet right? The internet, where at any moment you might be confronted by a video of a guy taking a shit on a hedgehog; where there are communities of thousands devoted to discussion of how best to commit murder; and where Rick Astley, Justin Bieber and Chuck Norris are cult heroes. If you want a dull, inoffensive browsing experience that protects you from nipples and four letter words, go to a fucking Christian bookshop (or buy an iPhone).”

    Oh – so we're going back to characterizing our opponents' arguments in the most distorted and least accurate possible way in order to make them look like idiots? Awesome. I've got some additions I've been dying to tack onto my big 'why are you assholes so goddamned eager to be insulting and hateful?' speech up above. Let's see...
    posted by koeselitz at 12:16 AM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


    1000monkeys: “Interestingly enough, even Wikipedia understands the usage of the term (and no, it wasn't edited in after this discussion began)...”

    I am not going to start this whole ridiculous thing again – I just wanted to make the purely linguistic point that Wikipedia is clearly not the world.

    In fact, as far as linguistic conventions go, this thread has been rife with hearsay and conjecture that has nothing to do with the facts as they actually are. People on your side have been all "mouthbreather is always just an innocuous reference to a stupid look, it never has anything to do with disability etc, it's always used in the way we're familiar with," – and then people on my side have been all "mouthbreather is always a reference to disability, it's always used as a representation of social disdain, it's a stand-in for 'retard.'" I know I started off this thread with some comments that, though they were measured and temperate, were full of 'anecdata' and 'I've always heard it used as...' BS. (And – I hate to say it – you can talk about the dictionary, and Wikipedia, and various other authorities all day long, but they're not even supposed to be representations of actual usage.)

    What we'd really need is some actual linguistic survey data concerning the actual usage of the word. Until we have that, this is really just conjecture. Not that knowing the usage of the word necessarily would settle the argument; but that kind of data would be the only way we could concretely say something about the actual usage.
    posted by koeselitz at 12:25 AM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


    While keoselitz is correct, we have to remember the Dilbert rule: people misuse the language because they are stupid. How many people do you know who say "supposibly" or think that it is "carrot and the stick" and not "carrot on a stick"(*), or any other manner of getting shit wrong? The people who think mouth breather means retarded or think it is meant to compare someone to someone whose nose is malfunctioning, are both more ignorant and more misanthropic than the people who use it correctly.


    (*) The idiom means to continually move the goal, like a farmer riding a mule who holds a carrot in front of the mule on a stick. Every step the mule takes closer to the carrot, it also moves a step forward. Which is actually a meaner connotation than the incorrect carrot=reward, stick=punishment. Because you are comparing someone to a mule. Plus, it is pretty moronic to think that a carrot is a good reward, or that a stick is a meaningful punishment.
    posted by gjc at 2:35 AM on September 13, 2010


    You might think that, if you were an ass.
    posted by UbuRoivas at 2:48 AM on September 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


    How many people do you know who say "supposibly" or think that it is "carrot and the stick" and not "carrot on a stick"(*), or any other manner of getting shit wrong?

    'Carrot and stick' is perfectly correct and describes an approach of combined reward and punishment. I have never used in the way you appear to think is mandatory.
    posted by unSane at 4:21 AM on September 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


    The carrot and stick dichotomy is hopelessly muddy, as I discovered when I first started digging into it a few years ago (prompted, I think, by an argument on Metafilter about it). Both forms of the metaphor have currency, it was not clear to me which really came first, and people tend to strongly favor whichever of the two is normal to them.

    I personally prefer the on-a variation to the and-a variation since it actually makes any fucking sense as a concrete image (the carrot dangling just out of reach of the mule's mouth a familiar cartoonish icon), but, eh, idiom. No accounting for sense with it.
    posted by cortex (staff) at 4:33 AM on September 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


    The people who think mouth breather means retarded or think it is meant to compare someone to someone whose nose is malfunctioning, are both more ignorant and more misanthropic than the people who use it correctly.

    Well, except the only thing that gives meaning to words and expressions is the way people use them.

    Hence the "stupid people" have gotten "niggardly" widely excised from even academic discourse. This used to bother me, until I realized that offense, intended or not, is not optimal, and it's not exactly an onerous burden to avoid the word "niggardly," much as it is little skin off my ample back to avoid "gyp" or "Indian-giver," "spaz" or "mouth breather."
    posted by Joseph Gurl at 4:38 AM on September 13, 2010


    Ok, so how much skin off your back is it to stop using the word 'racist'? I'm asking for my client, the Devil.
    posted by doublehappy at 5:10 AM on September 13, 2010


    About a pound. Of flesh, you anti-Semite.
    posted by Joseph Gurl at 5:35 AM on September 13, 2010


    It would depend on how advanced your psoriasis is.
    posted by gman at 5:35 AM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


    >Actually, he sounds exactly like my mother. She raised 3 children as asingle mother on a secretary's salary in the Sixties, put herself through university at night, and taught all of us to actively oppose racism, misogyny, homophobia, bigotry, and intolerance of any kind. She took us to peace rallies, was a founding member of Greenpeace, and worked tirelessly to repeal the Indian Act. She mocked political correctness as meaningless, lightweight, posturing then; and she did so till the day she died. What she taught all of was that it was actions that count, not symbols.

    Then she probably didn't say things like:

    Also, I lived with a mouth breather for almost a year, and he was dumb as shit. That's bad luck about your deviated septum, but I now hold a probably unfair stereotype in my head about mouth breathers. It's too much work to maintain accurate perceptions and to ensure that I'm not unfairly stereotyping people.

    Because that's not "actions that count, not symbols." It's quite the opposite.
    posted by Joseph Gurl at 5:37 AM on September 13, 2010


    Both forms of the metaphor have currency

    They aren't forms of the same metaphor, they are two entirely different metaphors.
    posted by ninebelow at 6:49 AM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


    Plus, it is pretty moronic to think that a carrot is a good reward, or that a stick is a meaningful punishment.

    Spoken like someone who's never been hit with a stick. I am willing to satisfy all your being-hit-with-a-stick needs—for a fee.
    posted by Mister_A at 6:50 AM on September 13, 2010


    Yeah. I've been caned. It is pretty motivating. Just sayin'.
    posted by kalessin at 6:56 AM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


    Also spoken like someone who's never met a horse who really liked carrots as treats. My folks own a few who'll happily shove you about on the off-chance you'll feed them some.
    posted by Drastic at 7:05 AM on September 13, 2010


    They aren't forms of the same metaphor, they are two entirely different metaphors.

    Granted on the first point (lazy writing in my bleary middle-of-the-night visit to the site): I should have said "both metaphors" or "both variations", not "both forms of the metaphor".

    But I'm not sure the latter point is a reasonable statement. They are slightly different metaphors, not entirely different. They are brothers, cousins maybe, what I'm inclined to look at as divergent strains of the same basic complex of notions: carrot-as-reward, stick-as-tool, exploitation/inducement-as-motive. I think, in fact, that there would be less grousing about which version is correct if they were more starkly unrelated; as is, it is (setting aside the so far as I've seen uncited assertions of the correctness of one or the other) mostly an argument about different shades of meaning that one or the other variation produces.

    That said, if anyone actually has some good background on the development of either or both of those carrot-stick metaphors, I'd love to see it. I keep meaning to back and look harder myself but never get around to it.
    posted by cortex (staff) at 7:10 AM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


    Bunnies are motivated by carrots in the same way Santa Claus is motivated by cookies. Sticks you use to hit with. Makes perfect sense to me. I don't know anything about mules.

    Wait, what was the question?

    (This conversation reminds me of Walter Sobchak saying: "Also, Dude, chinaman is not the preferred nomenclature. Asian-American, please.")
    posted by artlung at 7:10 AM on September 13, 2010


    Don't know. Either way, "mouth-breather" clearly means "retard."

    WHAT? Where did you get that conclusion from?
    posted by 1000monkeys at 11:11 PM on September 11



    I don't have a dog in this fight, but....

    Oddly enough, I've met a lot of disabled people who breathed primarily through their mouths, often because of their disability.
    posted by koeselitz at 6:03 PM on September 1


    Speaking as someone who has mentally retarded relatives, I'm in the same boat as koeselitz. I've met many mentally retarded people who breathed through their mouths. So many, in fact, that I assumed that's how the insult "mouth-breather" originated. Like koeselitz, I took the term as a synonym for "retard", so I don't use it. It's a bit of a shock to find out that for most posters here, it's not.
    posted by magstheaxe at 7:14 AM on September 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


    The word "nigger" is an interesting case, for example, because it's been at least a generation since almost anybody was willing to even think of using the word in public as an insult. As a result, I have never actually met a black person who's heard it as an insulting term aimed at them.

    posted by koeselitz at 6:30 PM on September 1


    As a result, I have never actually met a black person who's heard it as an insulting term aimed at them.

    Hi.
    posted by nomadicink at 8:35 PM on September 11



    Yeah, and allow me to introduce myself, too.

    Now you know two.
    posted by magstheaxe at 7:17 AM on September 13, 2010


    Another mouth breather here, checking in, sorry I'm late.
    posted by desjardins at 7:20 AM on September 13, 2010


    gjc: “How many people do you know who say "supposibly" or think that it is "carrot and the stick" and not "carrot on a stick", or any other manner of getting shit wrong? ... The idiom means to continually move the goal, like a farmer riding a mule who holds a carrot in front of the mule on a stick. Every step the mule takes closer to the carrot, it also moves a step forward. Which is actually a meaner connotation than the incorrect carrot=reward, stick=punishment. Because you are comparing someone to a mule. Plus, it is pretty moronic to think that a carrot is a good reward, or that a stick is a meaningful punishment.”

    That's actually a perfect example, but unfortunately not in the way you intended, I think. There aren't many linguists who believe this matter is settled, and both usages ("carrot on a stick" and "carrot and the stick") have been around for about the same amount of time. It's really a chicken and egg problem trying to determine which one came first.

    So not only can we say that neither "the carrot on a stick" nor "the carrot and the stick" is correct; we can't even say which came first. If you can prove that your version came first, you are welcome to it; but as cortex notes above, if you're able to do that, you'll be besting a good number of linguists who finally threw their hands up and decided the matter couldn't be resolved. Moreover, people on both sides of the issue are frequently given to lecturing the public about the fact that everybody is always 'getting it wrong,' and declaiming at length on the fact that people frequently 'make the mistake' of using the other side's expression.

    I think the only thing we can know here is that neither side is wrong. There's no 'correct' expression. It's very similar, in my mind, to the situation with the phrase 'it begs the question,' which once upon a time may well have had a more technical logical sense, but now pretty much means 'it makes you wonder.' We can correct people until we're blue in the face; they're going to use language however they like in the end.

    For what it's worth, here's the first reference to a carrot/stick metaphor logged by the OED, from The Economist [Dec 11, 1948]:

    “The material shrinking of rewards and lightening of penalties, the whittling away of stick and carrot.”

    That's a nice little puzzle in itself. I have no idea, personally, which version of the metaphor is being used here; it seems distinctly as though they're referring to both. Confusing.
    posted by koeselitz at 7:25 AM on September 13, 2010


    "Supposably" is also a perfectly cromulent word.
    posted by Gator at 7:30 AM on September 13, 2010 [4 favorites]


    Drastic: "who'll happily shove you about on the off-chance..."

    Just wanted to point out English is quirky cool.
    posted by iamkimiam at 7:31 AM on September 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


    Most of the points I would make have already been made above, but who do you people hang out with (outside of metafilter) that they use insults like mouthbreather? I have never heard anyone use it offline and I really don't think everyone is walking on eggshells around me.
    posted by desjardins at 7:33 AM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


    The word "nigger" is an interesting case, for example, because it's been at least a generation since almost anybody was willing to even think of using the word in public as an insult. As a result, I have never actually met a black person who's heard it as an insulting term aimed at them.

    Really? Maybe they just didn't happen to tell you, kemosabe.
    posted by jonmc at 7:39 AM on September 13, 2010


    me: “I have never actually met a black person who's heard [the n-word] as an insulting term aimed at them.”

    magstheaxe: “Now you know two.”

    I said this earlier, but I really don't want confusion on this point, so I should say it again: that was a particularly clueless thing to say on my part. In fact, the experience of you and nomadicink (and the testimony of just about everybody else in this thread) just about goes to show that it pretty much can't possibly be true; I'll bet if I actually asked the black people I know if they'd heard this, they'd answer in the affirmative.

    The gist of my general point – that the word itself isn't the insult, and that other words can take its place as insulting examples of racism – is really neither here nor there are this point. My position was jumbled and confused by the way I made it: through a number of mistaken and mildly ridiculous assertions (like the one you point out) and through unthinking repetition of a word that any thoughtful person in my place should know would be painful and jarring enough to make my argument less than coherent.

    In other words: yeah, that was nuts for me to say. And what's more, I'm really sorry I kept saying that word. I know you didn't specifically bring up my usage of the n-word, but I want to be clear on this. This is still something people face – as easy as it may be for white liberals from rural parts of Western states like myself to forget it.
    posted by koeselitz at 7:45 AM on September 13, 2010


    jonmc: “Maybe they just didn't happen to tell you, kemosabe.”

    Maybe I wasn't really listening.
    posted by koeselitz at 7:45 AM on September 13, 2010


    This thread is starting to make me feel truculent.
    posted by kalessin at 7:48 AM on September 13, 2010


    I'll give back the truculent me, then.
    posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:54 AM on September 13, 2010


    i mean, hey, we're at the bad pun point for this thread, right?
    posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:56 AM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


    For all intensive purposes, yeah.
    posted by koeselitz at 8:02 AM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


    ...but who do you people hang out with (outside of metafilter) that they use insults like mouthbreather?

    Liberals and progressives. Various other colorful euphemisms are also employed, most of which would 'cause a shit storm on Metafilter, but of course it's a different context (hence me not mentioning them now).

    ...that was a particularly clueless thing to say on my part

    No biggie, we all do it from time to time. Thanks for apologizing though.
    posted by nomadicink at 8:14 AM on September 13, 2010


    1. I could care less

    2. I think now would be a good time to make koeselitz into our escape goat

    3. It's a doggy dog world, after all

    and 4. nobody's really here anymore, so it's probably a mute point.
    posted by Joseph Gurl at 8:19 AM on September 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


    Now that that's settled, this recent acquisition makes me so happy.
    posted by jonmc at 8:21 AM on September 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


    (sidenote: I discovered the thread that includes almost only people likely to irritate me. It's like my own little blacklist.)
    posted by Joseph Gurl at 8:22 AM on September 13, 2010


    iamkimiam: Just wanted to point out English is quirky cool"

    I do want "on-chance" to gain accepted use. It'll add symmetry when agents can act off of the on-chances.
    posted by Drastic at 8:29 AM on September 13, 2010


    So fart-knocker is still OK, right?
    posted by Mister_A at 8:43 AM on September 13, 2010


    ...that was a particularly clueless thing to say on my part. In fact, the experience of you and nomadicink (and the testimony of just about everybody else in this thread) just about goes to show that it pretty much can't possibly be true; I'll bet if I actually asked the black people I know if they'd heard this, they'd answer in the affirmative.

    posted by koeselitz at 10:45 AM on September 13


    Thanks, koeselitz.
    posted by magstheaxe at 8:48 AM on September 13, 2010


    It's like my own little blacklist

    :-\
    posted by nomadicink at 9:09 AM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


    4. nobody's really here anymore, so it's probably a mute point.

    One of my favorite moments from Friends is when Joey calls something a "moo" point and goes on to explain that "It's like a cow's opinion - it doesn't matter. It's moo."
    posted by sonika at 9:42 AM on September 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


    One of my favorite moments from Friends is when Joey calls something a "moo" point and goes on to explain that "It's like a cow's opinion - it doesn't matter. It's moo."

    ♫ Oh the cow in the meadow goes 'moo.'
    ♫ Oh the cow in the meadow goes 'moo.'
    Then the farmer hits him on the head and grinds him up and that's how we get hamburger. ♬
    posted by zarq at 9:47 AM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


    What the fuck's an escape goat?
    posted by kalessin at 10:04 AM on September 13, 2010


    Es-capay? That's funny, it's spelled just like the word "escape."
    posted by zamboni at 10:16 AM on September 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


    What the fuck's an escape goat?

    This question has me on tender hooks.
    posted by Devils Rancher at 10:24 AM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


    Where the fuck's Ane's cape go at?
    posted by iamkimiam at 10:41 AM on September 13, 2010


    What the fuck's an escape goat?

    It's what you ride in a nanny state.
    posted by pracowity at 11:11 AM on September 13, 2010 [4 favorites]


    What the fuck's an escape goat?

    Duh!

    Man you are a fart-knocker.
    posted by Mister_A at 11:11 AM on September 13, 2010


    The carrot and stick dichotomy is hopelessly muddy

    Especially since I'm absolutely certain that, as a child, I saw a Looney Tunes cartoon featuring someone leading a donkey with a carrot baited on a fishing pole.
    posted by electroboy at 11:13 AM on September 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


    "It's like a cow's opinion - it doesn't matter. It's moo."

    mu
    posted by desjardins at 12:44 PM on September 13, 2010


    It's not that it doesn't matter; more like you're stuck on the horns of a dilemma.
    posted by UbuRoivas at 12:49 PM on September 13, 2010


    Yeah, well, that's taken for granite.
    posted by Devils Rancher at 1:13 PM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


    Finally, this thread is going somewhere!
    posted by 1000monkeys at 1:22 PM on September 13, 2010


    A mute point? well, that goes without saying.
    posted by patheral at 1:38 PM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


    Shhhh! Quiet in the liberry!
    posted by 1000monkeys at 2:38 PM on September 13, 2010


    During the 19th century, "guy" came to mean an oddly dressed person.

    I'm just sayin'.
    posted by From the Fortress at 2:57 PM on September 13, 2010


    Yeah, to be clear I think this particular callout is silly, but some people late in the thread got on their soapboxes and drunkenly belched their renegade status...

    posted by Burhanistan at 4:14 AM on September 13


    "Drunkenly belched"? You have some evidence these people were drunk?

    I'm not someone who cares a fig about insulting words on the internet, but I do wonder why you - and quite a few others - think that one acceptable way of dealing with opinions you don't like is to suggest the person posting them musty be drunk or trolling.
    posted by Decani at 3:11 PM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


    I do wonder why you - and quite a few others - think that one acceptable way of dealing with opinions you don't like is to suggest the person posting them musty be drunk or trolling.

    I can speak only for myself, but we've gotten enough morning-after emails from people saying "Oh man, I was a complete and total asshole last night. Had too much to drink, sorry." [or people who admit themselves that they've been drinking that evening] that it is definitely on the short list of possible reasons why someone who is usually strongly opinionated but not a total dick turns into a raging fighty asshole.

    I'm sure there are other reasons, but I feel like it's less about opinions one doesn't like as approaches that are not only unlikeable but out of character for the particular poster. Burhanistan can obviously speak to this himself as well, but we've definitely seen the alcohol+internet=asshole combo enough times here for it to at least come to mind when you're thinking "why is this person being more dickish that usual? Any idea?"
    posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:22 PM on September 13, 2010


    For the record, I don't drink (other than the odd glass of wine with a meal). So I'm either blunt or an asshole, depending on your point of view :) Tra la la.
    posted by 1000monkeys at 4:00 PM on September 13, 2010


    "why is this person being more dickish that usual? Any idea?"

    Maybe they just think they're the cock of the walk.
    posted by UbuRoivas at 4:04 PM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


    Maybe they just think they're the cock of the walk.

    Is this a saying? Can I use it? Because it rocks.
    posted by vincele at 4:18 PM on September 13, 2010


    Then she probably didn't say things like:

    Also, I lived with a mouth breather for almost a year, and he was dumb as shit. That's bad luck about your deviated septum, but I now hold a probably unfair stereotype in my head about mouth breathers. It's too much work to maintain accurate perceptions and to ensure that I'm not unfairly stereotyping people.


    Quite correct. She became an English teacher, and was instrumental in the development of the early standards for TEASL in B.C. .

    What she would likely would have said would probably been along the lines of ...

    " You are confused. This is quite understandable, however. English can be a tricky language, which is part of its beauty. In point of fact , this particular idiom actually has nothing to do with deviated septums at all. You can look it up, if you like. Now that we have cleared up that little misconception, let's move onto something more productive. Please submit a 500 word essay on the why the usage 'chink in the armour' isn't actually racist."
    posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 4:29 PM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


    I can speak only for myself, but we've gotten enough morning-after emails from people saying "Oh man, I was a complete and total asshole last night. Had too much to drink, sorry."
    posted by jessamyn at 11:22 PM on September 13


    I dare say. And then you have evidence that the person was drunk, don't you? What I notice far too often - not least because I have been on the receiving end of it - is that there are people here who simply assume a person who posts in a style they don't like, or with opinions they don't like, is drunk or trolling. And it seems this is acceptable: to question someone's sincerity or sobriety with no actual evidence that either should be doubted. So this is why I asked Burhanistan what evidence he had that the targets of his scorn were drunk. If we're going to have 400-comment threads about how offensive the use of a term like "mouth breather" might be perhaps we need one about how offensive it is to call people drunks without evidence.

    Of course, we don't really want that. I know that. These recreational outrage threads are tiresome and silly, but so is inconsistent offence-taking, as several people here have tried to illustrate by direct and indirect means. For me and quite a few others, the most important thing to take away from this thread is that we should just let this stuff go a hell of a lot more than we do.
    posted by Decani at 4:47 PM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


    Is this a saying? Can I use it? Because it rocks.

    Yes, although it's as rare as hens' teats.
    posted by UbuRoivas at 4:48 PM on September 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


    What I notice far too often - not least because I have been on the receiving end of it - is that there are people here who simply assume a person who posts in a style they don't like, or with opinions they don't like, is drunk or trolling.

    People sometimes react uncharitably to behavior that they think sucks. I don't think it's great to call someone a drunk in any situation other than that person asking if people think they have a drinking problem. I'm annoyed at the sometimes loose use of "troll" as a response to objectionable or disagreeable behavior.

    That said: we have actual people doing shit like drunk posting, or posting while high, or posting while exhausted or angry or otherwise badly emotionally compromised, on a regular basis, your apparent suspicion of the verifiability of that fact notwithstanding. We have people being intentionally combative or pushing buttons or starting or prolonguing fights on the site for no clearly good-faith reason on a regular basis as well. People see that, become frustrated by that, lose patience with dealing with it.

    And while we as mods are pretty much stuck trying to be fairly compassionate and patient about that kind of thing whnever we can even as goddam annoying as it can be to deal with, not everybody on the site is going to make that effort, and while I prefer for folks to try their best to get along it is at a certain point incumbent on the people whose behavior sucks in the first place to try and make an effort to change those habits if they don't want other users calling them on their bullshit in an unfriendly or ungenerous way.
    posted by cortex (staff) at 5:00 PM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


    why the usage 'chink in the armour' isn't actually racist.

    It's because of that extra "u," isn't it?
    posted by Forktine at 5:15 PM on September 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


    That said: we have actual people doing shit like drunk posting, or posting while high, or posting while exhausted or angry or otherwise badly emotionally compromised, on a regular basis, your apparent suspicion of the verifiability of that fact notwithstanding. We have people being intentionally combative or pushing buttons or starting or prolonguing fights on the site for no clearly good-faith reason on a regular basis as well. People see that, become frustrated by that, lose patience with dealing with it.

    I am someone that appears, to some members, to be intentionally combative. On a number of occasions I have posted advice in good faith on Ask (and comments on MetaFilter) and been called out as a troll because that advice didn't necessarily fit the moral or social framework that other members appreciate. Sometimes I am careful to pad out my advice with disclaimers. Other times I just post my immediate response without too much editing. Sometimes Often, my genuine, strongly held opinions are offensive to some (both online and in real life). As long as I'm not breaking any laws, or being ridiculous (ie repeating the same comment over and over slightly reworded, or relentlessly attacking another member, or whatever, you know what I'm talking about)... sorta lost control of this sentence... as long as I'm posting in good faith at my end, if someone sees that, becomes frustrated by that, and loses patience with dealing with it, then they should be the ones to step back and let the rest of us continue our discussion.

    NB: I'm not defending my own comment upthread - I don't think there's much to defend except the writing style, which is, admittedly, LiveJournalesque, and has a lot of commas, much like this sentence; or that anyone's really called me out on it except to say I'm an asshole, which, well, yeah, that's probably fair. I'm just using my own comment pattern as an example because it's the only one I know well enough.

    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    Someone said something upthread about people getting on their soapbox late in the thread, and how that's an undesirable thing. Personally, I'd rather there were more people expressing opinions, however strongly, late in the thread than people exchanging in-jokes and recipes. The structure of MetaFilter affords soapboxing. Everyone gets a comment field inviting them to leave comments. Those comments necessarily consist of opinions or information that the user wants to communicate. I don't mind when people dismiss my ideas as stupid or ignorant or chauvinistic or racist or whatever (I mean, I do mind, but I don't), but when they dismiss the comment entirely as a misuse of the medium I'm at a complete loss. What should I have said instead? Should I have just refrained from expressing my thoughts because other people had lost interest in the thread earlier, or because I live in a different timezone?

    I don't spend enough time on MetaFilter to perfectly calibrate my comments to the prevailing comment wind. Perhaps we should have a different background colour for when it's appropriate to leave strongly held opinions?

    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    I just feel like any time spent arguing about the words we're using to discuss something is time we could have spent arguing about the thing itself. Words are the tools for discussion, not the goal.
    posted by doublehappy at 5:53 PM on September 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


    I just feel like any time spent arguing about the words we're using to discuss something is time we could have spent arguing about the thing itself. Words are the tools for discussion, not the goal.

    No matter what is posted at the top of the page, an insult is not a really a germane comment, is it? It's not really about the words. It's about the content and meaning. If "the thing itself" that is being discussed is merely an accusation that someone is an idiot/rogue/bad egg/villain/whatever, what's the point of the discussion?
    posted by The World Famous at 6:17 PM on September 13, 2010


    Weird callouts like these are an intrical part of metatalk.
    posted by electroboy at 6:22 PM on September 13, 2010


    None the less, most people today have dropped terms like "to Jew" or "to Gyp someone", they no longer describe others as "Indian givers", and they don't describe someone with Down's Syndrome as being a Mongol or mongoloid. I like it better this way.

    And all the same, people call gypsies Roma here as if that were correct. It's not. Not all gypsies are Roma; that's just the factually incorrect PC term. Plenty of gypsies aren't Roma .... but we're supposed to call them Roma because that's what educated people do now. Wrong.

    There is an anti-Judaic term "to jew down" meaning to bargain or something more offensive, but I haven't seen it on mefi.

    "Indian givers" is something I am aware of but rarely see in the wild, and when I do I'm not particularly offended, although I wish I knew the origin of the term since the Americans fucked the natives out of so much and it seems like it should be the reverse.

    We've already established that it's irrelevant if I'm part/whole (x), (y), or (z), so I have left all of that out.

    Good luck finding derogatory terms that don't offend someone, somewhere. Here's a hint .. at some point you've got to suck it up and tell people they're being ridiculous for being offended. It's easier if they haven't been meaningfully oppressed with the term for hundreds of years.

    good luck and may divinity, if you believe in such, bless. it's going to be hard for you.
    posted by cucumber at 6:23 PM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


    Had the complaint at the top simply said something along the lines of: "Can we avoid ad hominem attacks and name calling? I think we're (for the most part) better than that" and linked to the mouthbreather name-calling as simply an example, I doubt there would have been so much consternation.
    posted by 1000monkeys at 6:26 PM on September 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


    (the PC term around here for gypsies is Roma. That's factually ignorant. enough said. that says volumes.)
    posted by cucumber at 6:27 PM on September 13, 2010


    The problem with PC terms is that it's often total bull. In my (admittedly personal anecdotal) experience, those very same people that say "you can't say that" and get all huffy about it are almost always the same people that will use those same offensive terms in their own living rooms. Publicly they can say that they are so sensitive/"tolerant"/progressive/whatever but in private, they will often hypocritically crack the same "off colour" jokes and make the same "offensive" remarks.
    posted by 1000monkeys at 6:31 PM on September 13, 2010


    the PC term around here for gypsies is Roma. That's factually ignorant. enough said. that says volumes.

    I sort of feel like you haven't been here much. If someone starts saying "Please can be not use the word Gyp, it's ofensive to gypsies" we'll usually say some variant of what we said above "if there are people who are actually personally offended by the term, let's talk about it, otherwise being offended in other people's stead doesn't really work out here"

    Getting overcomplicated about which gypsies are or aren't Roma doesn't really negate the fact that the term gypsy is a casual term that many people think is a slur (speaking as someone who used to live in Transylvania, but whatever, everyone has their bona fides). Sort of like Eskimo.

    That said, there's no reason to have that confrontation with someone who you assume is trying to use the term in good faith to explain something else. Jumping on people either for being offensive or being offended is still jumping on people and we could stand to have less of it.

    those very same people that say "you can't say that" and get all huffy about it are almost always the same people that will use those same offensive terms in their own living rooms.

    That has not, at all, been my experience.
    posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:41 PM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


    That has not, at all, been my experience.

    Unfortunately, it's been mine. Perhaps it's just the area I live in, but I have often witnessed people I work with or friends act all "PFLAG" at work or in a more formal setting whenever someone else makes some remark or calls something "gay" but then in private, they'll say the "fag" word--forgetting for a moment that I happen to be gay--and then getting all flustered and acting like it was a reappropriation of the word sort of thing (like the word "queer") and try to laugh it off.
    posted by 1000monkeys at 6:49 PM on September 13, 2010


    Insults, shminsults. I'm still trying to figure out if I am allowed to be FUNNY around here.
    posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:22 PM on September 13, 2010


    Depends on who you ask, doesn't it?
    posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:24 PM on September 13, 2010


    Oh dude, look out, the fun police are here.
    posted by iamabot at 8:07 PM on September 13, 2010


    I'm still trying to figure out if I am allowed to be FUNNY around here.

    Trying to recall any incidents of your being funny in the past...




    Nah, I got nothin'.

    i'm sure i just missed it, though... ;-)
    posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:12 PM on September 13, 2010


    I'm still trying to figure out if I am allowed to be FUNNY around here.

    Funny haha or funny peculiar?
    posted by unSane at 9:02 PM on September 13, 2010


    cucumber: “the PC term around here for gypsies is Roma. That's factually ignorant. enough said. that says volumes.”

    I'm interested. What do you mean? You know these people? They prefer to be called "gypsies?"
    posted by koeselitz at 9:12 PM on September 13, 2010


    I'm interested. What do you mean? You know these people? They prefer to be called "gypsies?"

    I think the point was that there is no single "these people," and that the term "Roma" only accurately applies to a subset of "Gypsies." As I understand it (and maybe my understanding is flawed), it's a bit like using the term "African-American" to refer to non-Americans.
    posted by The World Famous at 9:24 PM on September 13, 2010


    I'm interested. What do you mean? You know these people? They prefer to be called "gypsies?"

    I don't give a shit about this fight and I still find this comment highly obnoxious. You're not interested, you're deliberately being a smart-ass.
    posted by Dasein at 9:33 PM on September 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


    You know, I never made the connection between the verb "to gyp" and the word "gypsy".

    I also suck at parsing personalised plates.
    posted by doublehappy at 10:03 PM on September 13, 2010


    Likewise - the connection between the verb "to tip" and the word "tipsy"
    posted by UbuRoivas at 10:40 PM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


    Dasein: “I don't give a shit about this fight and I still find this comment highly obnoxious. You're not interested, you're deliberately being a smart-ass.”

    So you found that question obnoxious, but you didn't mind being told by cucumber that you, me, and everybody else "around here" is an idiot?

    In all honesty, I mean the question seriously, by the way. I'm an American. What the fuck do I know about this? It's not like I get a whole lot of exposure to the issue. It's not like I meet Roma (or whatever name they ought to be called) every day and get to ask them how they'd like to be referred to. I wasn't being facetious – it's not a question I can answer well myself. But I'll confess that cucumber's casual way of insulting everybody here by saying that it "speaks volumes" that we use a term that's "factually ignorant" got under my skin a bit, and that made my question a bit more forthright than it would have been otherwise.

    If cucumber thinks we're "factually ignorant" here, then what cucumber ought to do is tell us precisely how we're factually ignorant so that we can correct it. That's the only fair thing to do when you make a grand, sweeping statement about a whole bunch of people.
    posted by koeselitz at 11:19 PM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


    I agree, cucumber's comment was haughtily phrased. But the idea that you need to know every member of a group in order to comment on what that group should be called is ridiculous. I also thought that cucumber was making an important point - that sometimes the PC police come out and try to ban a factually descriptive word just because some people use it uncharitably, and that that should be resisted. For instance, where I'm from people are taught that Eskimo is a pejorative, whereas in fact that are people who are properly called Eskimo, not Inuit. This tendency towards unthinking PC-ification of the language should be resisted, and that's a valid point.

    Now, your comment was the equivalent of saying to me: "You say that I shouldn't be calling them Inuit? What, have you talked to all of these indigenous Alaskan people yourself? No, really, that's a serious question." No it bloody isn't, and it's really obnoxious to try to tell people that they can't correct a statement like that unless they've personally canvassed the groups discussed. What the fuck is the point of reading if you can't share knowledge you've acquired through text without someone shitting on you when you correct a common fallacy?
    posted by Dasein at 11:33 PM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


    You know, I never made the connection between the verb "to gyp" and the word "gypsy".

    I'm pretty wary of it's providence as an anti-gypsy word. I tend to categorise it as words which didn't start off as being offensive, but now (due to misunderstanding) are. c.f. niggardly & nitty gritty. This is in contrast to words like moron and idiot.

    I do tend to agree with the sentiment that etymology has little place in this fight. Either it upsets as a word or it doesn't. What the word originally meant is neither here nor there.
    posted by seanyboy at 12:24 AM on September 14, 2010


    provenance

    (former antiques worker largely uninterested in larger mechanisms of fate)

    posted by Wolof at 12:55 AM on September 14, 2010


    Heh! I just did the thing everyone is talking about.
    posted by seanyboy at 12:57 AM on September 14, 2010


    Divine provenance - the dealer is trying to sell you either a piece of the true cross, or a wig once owned by a fat 80s drag queen.
    posted by UbuRoivas at 1:12 AM on September 14, 2010


    I've been to Provence, and it really is divine.
    posted by The World Famous at 1:13 AM on September 14, 2010


    Intrical?
    posted by pracowity at 1:50 AM on September 14, 2010


    (10:16) Forgot what debate was about. Medals of bravery awarded to all parties.
    posted by doublehappy at 4:41 AM on September 14, 2010


    Intrical?

    You get a gold star!
    posted by electroboy at 6:15 AM on September 14, 2010


    Gold star for robot boy, well that's OK.
    posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:34 AM on September 14, 2010


    So not only can we say that neither "the carrot on a stick" nor "the carrot and the stick" is correct; we can't even say which came first. If you can prove that your version came first, you are welcome to it; but as cortex notes above, if you're able to do that, you'll be besting a good number of linguists who finally threw their hands up and decided the matter couldn't be resolved. Moreover, people on both sides of the issue are frequently given to lecturing the public about the fact that everybody is always 'getting it wrong,' and declaiming at length on the fact that people frequently 'make the mistake' of using the other side's expression.

    Those linguists are being lazy. As someone else mentioned, the "on a stick" version surely existed earlier in a Looney Tunes cartoon, and there is a folklore of someone using it far earlier. Dismissed by a linguist. Folklore or not, it still existed.

    The Economist has been wrong before...

    (Another one is "could care less" and "couldn't care less". Morons!)
    posted by gjc at 6:35 AM on September 14, 2010


    Dear Americans...
    posted by seanyboy at 7:00 AM on September 14, 2010


    I just want to state, for the record, that I am not giving up the word niggardly. I'll happily stop using actual offensive words. I will not stop using words because some people are idiots and don't know what they mean.
    posted by wierdo at 7:01 AM on September 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


    Those linguists are being lazy. As someone else mentioned, the "on a stick" version surely existed earlier in a Looney Tunes cartoon, and there is a folklore of someone using it far earlier. Dismissed by a linguist. Folklore or not, it still existed.

    Again, do you have any kind of cite for this? Because, again, I have the same preference in usage as you do on this one, but I have actually gone specifically looking for what linguists have managed to find on the subject and come up wanting. Please, please, go find and date these sources. I would genuinely appreciate it.

    Beyond which, I don't know where you got the idea that actual linguists are incurious, dismissive people who shrug off pop culture resources as beneath notice; antedating word nerds tend to be quite happy to find evidence of earlier usage anywhere they can. It's a bizarre assertion.

    I just want to state, for the record, that I am not giving up the word niggardly. I'll happily stop using actual offensive words. I will not stop using words because some people are idiots and don't know what they mean.

    No one is telling you to stop using the word. Plenty of people are making fairly reasonable arguments that e.g. pointedly using the word because it's not inherently offensive is maybe kind of a foolish and stuntish way to be.
    posted by cortex (staff) at 7:13 AM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


    Some people just want to be stuntish. With luck, they'll grow out of it.
    posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:22 AM on September 14, 2010


    I haven't finished reading this thread, but I'd like to quickly make the point that metafilter might be dying. A culture of hypersensitivity has been, um, cultivated. Hothouse flowers have been encouraged. Fucking hell, as a working class shithead I struggle to imagine how some of the people currently being enabled by this climate of lameness can wipe their own arses without running into issues of class and privilege. But at least it's hilarious.
    posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 7:24 AM on September 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


    I think you reconstructed my argument backwards, cortex. (my fault for not being more clear) I'm just saying that, like all the other words I use, I will use it if it comes into my head as appropriately descriptive and passes through the "not offensive" filter. I agree that it would be pretty stupid of me to use it purely to get a rise out of idiots. That's not conducive to a useful dialogue. I am not, however, going to be ashamed to use it because some knuckle dragger might happen along at a later date and think I was making some veiled reference to black people.

    You seem to think that I would use it for the purpose of getting a rise out of people, as opposed to using it because it's a descriptive word. It's all part of knowing your audience. I assume until demonstrated otherwise that people on MeFi are not idiots.
    posted by wierdo at 7:30 AM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


    gjc: “Those linguists are being lazy. As someone else mentioned, the "on a stick" version surely existed earlier in a Looney Tunes cartoon, and there is a folklore of someone using it far earlier. Dismissed by a linguist. Folklore or not, it still existed.”

    They're not being 'lazy' at all. And in this case we're not talking about a nebulous bunch of 'linguists'; we're talking about the Oxford English Dictionary, which frankly is the gold standard for thoroughness.

    Moreover, it doesn't really matter if there are attestations of Looney Tunes cartoons, because (a) a carrot on a stick isn't exactly a usage of a phrase, so it tells us nothing about how the phrase is typically used; and (b) the appearance of the image of a carrot tied to a stick doesn't mean that the image of a carrot and a stick didn't appear earlier.

    I think ultimately you'll have to admit that nobody's 'wrong' on this.
    posted by koeselitz at 7:31 AM on September 14, 2010


    Metafilter has been allegedly dying, and mefites allegedly oversensitive these days, since about 2001. People have been taking kind of shitty, self-satisfied dumps on other people's sensitivities for at least that long as well. Everything old is new again, Netcraft confirms it, &c.
    posted by cortex (staff) at 7:31 AM on September 14, 2010 [6 favorites]


    Do you often find that there is no other reasonable option than "niggardly?" Is your vocabulary that, uhh, what's the word... is it that lacking, maybe? Perhaps you feel there is a dearth of options to convey your sentiment? Is the English language frugal even unto stinginess with regard to synonyms for "niggardly," or is it the meanness of your education and upbringing that results in such an ungenerous array of options?




    OR ARE YOU A DICK?
    posted by Mister_A at 7:31 AM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


    "People have been taking kind of shitty, self-satisfied dumps on other people's sensitivities for at least that long as well."

    It's the 'self-satisfied' bit that hurts the most. Can we agree to not accuse people of being self-satisfied? It's very othering.
    posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 7:38 AM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


    I think you reconstructed my argument backwards, cortex. (my fault for not being more clear) I'm just saying that, like all the other words I use, I will use it if it comes into my head as appropriately descriptive and passes through the "not offensive" filter.

    Sorry, I took your meaning and I didn't meant to be specifically picking on you about this. But statements about what one shall and shall not allow others to proscribe them from don't exist in a vacuum; if this were a thread where someone had stridently declared that no one can ever say "niggardly" again, standing up for your right to use niggardly would make perfect sense. As it is, this is a thread where someone, probably too-stridently as I acknowledged three days and several hundred comments ago, requested some thoughtfulness from other folks about a term that they are bothered by that they felt like other people may not have considered.

    In the ensuing discussion, essentially no one as far as I have seen has come out with blanket condemnation for ever using contextually-tricky non-slur words; no mod has said anything that would even sneeze at a policy change toward restricting the use of contextually-tricky language; and a whole lot of people have staked out various positions on where and why the tricky stuff is tricky and maybe deserves thought.

    In that context, staking out the right to use a word that no one has tried to ban here and no one would succeed at banning here even if they tried comes off a little like a declaration to no one in particular, and so it seems a little gratuitous and like it's fighting a fight that isn't really extant.

    And to some extent I think I just get tired sometimes of that whole phenomenon, people choosing whatever venue is convenient to talk big about their ability to say things that might offend other people but by god they've still got that right, as if practically speaking there's any argument on that front here. And to some extent I think I'm just bummed at the weird pall of aggro and bad mood that seems to be around on the site the last week or so in particular. And that's not your fault and so, again, I apologize if that came off as about you weirdo. It's a general feeling, and your comment just brought a response to mind this morning.
    posted by cortex (staff) at 7:43 AM on September 14, 2010


    I guess wierdo that you should also give up on using words like "moron" and "idiot" for exactly the same reasons you've mentioned. You shouldn't start using these words just because some idiots don't realise what they mean.

    Gamien Boffenburg: Naaah. We've been doing this for years.
    posted by seanyboy at 8:22 AM on September 14, 2010


    gjc: “Another one is "could care less" and "couldn't care less". Morons!”

    Estricta lógica en la idioma no se le importa a nadie, y igualar la exactitud con la sabiduría y es se deje engañar.
    posted by koeselitz at 8:50 AM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


    y
    posted by koeselitz at 8:50 AM on September 14, 2010


    > We've been doing this for years.

    Good god, I'd totally forgotten about that thread (in which I posted with my usual assertiveness), and just recently I made an LH post about the same thing, in which I learned that in fact there are actual Gypsies/Roma who are actually offended by "gyp," so I decided to toss it in the trash bin along with the other ethnic insults. Live and learn.
    posted by languagehat at 9:22 AM on September 14, 2010


    es
    posted by kuujjuarapik at 9:29 AM on September 14, 2010


    cortex, to clarify further, I was responding to seanyboy's statement that niggardly is now offensive.

    seanyboy, I fail to understand your last post. Perhaps you could try again?
    posted by wierdo at 12:11 PM on September 14, 2010


    Do you often find that there is no other reasonable option than "niggardly?" Is your vocabulary that, uhh, what's the word... is it that lacking, maybe?

    posted by Mister_A at 3:31 PM on September 14


    I'm sorry, objecting to use of a perfectly fine word simply because it shares syllables with an offensive one is exactly the kind of barking excess that I simply will not bow before. And yes, I think that being told by the ignorant and the hypersensitive that we should not use such words (or should try not to) is indeed a reason in itself to start deliberately using those words. Why? Because stupidity and ignorance is something I l believe should be actively resisted.

    Shall we start asking people to say "nation" instead of "country", because the first syllable of the latter word is the same as "cunt"? Must we resist referring to our Maine Coon cats by breed name? I'm sorry, objecting to "niggardly" is just flat-out ridiculous. Utterly bloody inane. The sort of beyond-parody cartoon PC foolishness even the Daily Mail wouldn't dare make up.


    OR ARE YOU A DICK?
    posted by Mister_A at 3:31 PM on September 14


    Nice to see such consistency in the desire not to offend. This is, in fact, a great illustration of just why being over-sensitive about words is pretty much always a shot to one's own foot.
    posted by Decani at 12:37 PM on September 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


    Decani: “I'm sorry, objecting to use of a perfectly fine word simply because it shares syllables with an offensive one is exactly the kind of barking excess that I simply will not bow before. And yes, I think that being told by the ignorant and the hypersensitive that we should not use such words (or should try not to) is indeed a reason in itself to start deliberately using those words. Why? Because stupidity and ignorance is something I l believe should be actively resisted.”

    Misunderstanding about the provenance of a particular word isn't exactly the sort of "stupidity and ignorance" that plagues the world and causes the deaths of thousands. I have a strong suspicion, in fact, that if everyone in the world were educated about their respective languages and forced to learn exactly where the words they were using came from, not only would the worst things in the world not be eliminated; they would increase.

    Besides, I think you're missing Mister_A's (humorously expressed) point. The point isn't that 'niggardly' is offensive and awful, or that it's racist or terrible or even insensitive to use it, or that people ought to be more careful or thoughtful or cautious about the word or anything like that.

    The point, I think, was that most of the people who insist on using it as much as they can are the kinds of people who do so with a giddy self-satisfied pleasure in setting a trap for everybody else, just hoping and praying that someone is going to be shocked or ask them how they could use that word; because then, these people will gleefully trot out their explanation of the etymology of the word "niggardly," and ponderously inform anyone who'll listen that the word is in fact not derived from the same root as the n-word and therefore in fact is not offensive at all! And having explained this, these sorts of people usually stomp off in triumph to seek another venue for their lectures on linguistic nuances. They're the kind of people who usually take great pains to explain to all of us that we're using phrases like "it begs the question" wrong.

    It would be different, admittedly, if 'niggardly' were a word that I found myself in need of constantly. But, as Mister_A points out, nobody does; there are at least a dozen words that mean the same thing in common parlance. I hardly ever find myself in a situation where I need the word. So I am not going to alter my daily speech and writing merely in order to insert a frankly unnecessary and archaic-sounding word (its 'offensiveness' aside) artificially into my sentences, merely so that I can crow haughtily at people who misunderstand me.
    posted by koeselitz at 1:09 PM on September 14, 2010 [8 favorites]


    3 day long SOMEONE IS WRONG ON THE INTERNET metas are awesome.
    posted by iamabot at 1:13 PM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


    Wow, koeselitz, that's a great straw man. Have you noticed anybody here going out of their way to use the word niggardly? I know I didn't, other than to respond to the idea that there is something wrong with the word.

    Why don't you search my posts and see how many you find that use it..perhaps then you would be disabused of the notion that people want to keep words because they are colorful and add to one's prose, rather than in some attempt to..whatever the hell it is you were saying.
    posted by wierdo at 1:51 PM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


    Hell yes, that's my point precisely, koeselitz. I wish I'd have made it as well and clearly as you did.
    posted by Mister_A at 1:54 PM on September 14, 2010


    Popping back here to say something. Seriously, this time.

    The whole basis for discussing these words is the fact that some terms in some situations hurt and offend people.

    I'd like to posit that it isn't usually the mindless use of a particular idiom that might be offensive that is the real problem. The real problem-at least here-is our willingness to be nasty to each other. You can use perfectly politically correct language and still at the same time be totally cutting and cruel to another human being. The problem is in the heart, not just the syllable.

    I daresay if we are kind to each other that is what really matters-because people who desire to be kind to each other will try to remember not to offend others and will be happy to change a word here and there if they are informed the word is bothersome.
    posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 2:05 PM on September 14, 2010


    Happily jumping in the mud pit:

    > The point, I think, was that most of the people who insist on using it as much as they can are the kinds of people who do so with a giddy self-satisfied pleasure in setting a trap for everybody else, just hoping and praying that someone is going to be shocked or ask them how they could use that word


    It's probably a bit much to assume this motivation on the part of most people trotting out this word. At least, it seems so to me.

    > I sincerely don't give a shit whether an epithet can be seen as offensive. What I care about is whether it is intended to be offensive and whether it is taken as offensive.

    It is true that offense has to be both given and taken for the equation to become whole. In my book that doesn't mean we get to get away, again, with blaming the victim and putting all of the responsibility on the target for having the temerity to be offended.

    If you happen to unintentionally offend someone with your phrasings, please be a responsible adult, take responsibility and favor the offended with an apology.


    Yes! People, please learn this faster than I did.

    Your words can hurt people. Sometimes, you had every right to expect they would. Others, it's not clear cut. There's even times where you can't for the life of you figure out why someone would be hurt by what you said.

    It took me a long time to realize that an apology is The Right Thing To Do in all these situations, and your intentions have little to nothing to do with that fact.
    posted by RikiTikiTavi at 2:30 PM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


    You know, it's not the worst thing in the world to be offended.
    posted by unSane at 2:53 PM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


    So I am not going to alter my daily speech and writing merely in order to insert a frankly unnecessary and archaic-sounding word (its 'offensiveness' aside) artificially into my sentences, merely so that I can crow haughtily at people who misunderstand me

    You really shouldn't be so niggardly in your use of archaic words.
    posted by dersins at 3:19 PM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


    wierdo: “Wow, koeselitz, that's a great straw man. Have you noticed anybody here going out of their way to use the word niggardly? I know I didn't, other than to respond to the idea that there is something wrong with the word.”

    Yeah, I should say: didn't mean you, weirdo. Seriously. Nor Decani, who hasn't done that either. I haven't seen anybody do it on metafilter; we're all an easygoing bunch, generally.

    It's just something I've seen a lot elsewhere, and it's really annoying. That's all. I know this guy who 'caught' me using the phrase "that begs the question" in the 'wrong' way about half a dozen times, and I finally just told him: language is what it is. Let people use it how they want, and don't make a huge deal out of proving that you're right about this or that.

    That was sort of a personal rant, not directed much at anybody here.
    posted by koeselitz at 3:21 PM on September 14, 2010


    OR ARE YOU A DICK?
    posted by Mister_A at 7:31 AM on September 14 [+] [!]


    My co-worker, Richard , who is reading this thread, finds your use of his nick-name in such a degrading manner truly offensive.

    They're not being 'lazy' at all. And in this case we're not talking about a nebulous bunch of 'linguists'; we're talking about the Oxford English Dictionary, which frankly is the gold standard for thoroughness.

    Richard's surname is Silverstein; and he also resents this use of the term gold standard, with its implication that silver is second-rate.
    posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 3:31 PM on September 14, 2010


    with its implication that silver is second-rate.

    "Gold standard" does not imply that silver is second-rate. It merely implies that anything other than gold is non-standard.
    posted by The World Famous at 3:33 PM on September 14, 2010


    ...or you could just educate yourself in your own language and learn the proper use of the phrase "begs the question". It's not that difficult to learn something, you know.


    :-P
    posted by 1000monkeys at 3:34 PM on September 14, 2010


    Above was in response to koeselitz's post at 3:21PM
    posted by 1000monkeys at 3:34 PM on September 14, 2010


    ...or you could just educate yourself in your own language and learn the proper use of the phrase "begs the question". It's not that difficult to learn something, you know.

    There are a whole lot of people out there who are both (a) aware of the history of the phrase and it's Latin origin as petitio principii and (b) not fucking hung up on pretending that the English language stopped evolving back when Latin was still bothered with by anyone other than academics.

    It's not an either/or thing, much as a lot of pedants seem to want to believe otherwise.
    posted by cortex (staff) at 3:46 PM on September 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


    "Gold standard" does not imply that silver is second-rate. It merely implies that anything other than gold is non-standard.

    NO! Things don't mean what they mean, they mean what some random stranger thinks they mean, dammit!
    posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 3:46 PM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


    NO! Things don't mean what they mean, they mean what some random stranger thinks they mean, dammit!

    I may be a stranger. But I am most certainly not random. I have been very carefully selected. And I am outraged at your name-calling.
    posted by The World Famous at 3:49 PM on September 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


    language is what it is. Let people use it how they want,

    That is the stupidest thing I've ever read. Because I've decided that stupid now means brilliant, consider this post a glowing compliment.
    posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 3:58 PM on September 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


    It's not an either/or thing, much as a lot of pedants seem to want to believe otherwise.

    It is if you don't want to sound like an idiot who uses words and phrases that they don't even understand.
    posted by 1000monkeys at 4:22 PM on September 14, 2010


    What's that you say? Only 27 days until this thread is closed to new comments?
    posted by gman at 4:38 PM on September 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


    I'm of the opinion that language is inherently imprecise, so my only problem with people misusing a term like "begs the question" is that I am sometimes confused as to what it is they mean. Context often provides a clue as to what they meant, but not always.
    posted by wierdo at 4:39 PM on September 14, 2010


    You know, it's not the worst thing in the world to be offended.
    posted by unSane at 10:53 PM on September 14


    This. Again, and again, and again.

    The perverse and twisted idea that seems to have taken hold here at MeFi 2010 is that all it takes is for some precious soul to say "This word/phrase/suggestion/opinion/tone offends me", and the accepted standard should be that we all fall arse over tit promising never to do that again. Because someone has been offended, and therefore the rest of the world must adjust and correct

    No. This is arrant bollocks. It's like we've forgotten that sometimes the person being a dick can be the person bawling offence every damned time someone looks at them in a funny way. That it can be really, really lousy, anti-social, non-community-minded behaviour to be the whining, thin-skinned, shrinking and shrieking violet who demands that their particular set of quivering sensibilities be endlessly and unquestioningly respected and tiptoed around. I am not attacking any individual here and certainly not the OP who, interestingly, seems to have made this a hit and run post. I am questioning what I consider to be a thoroughly wrong-headed and thoroughly one-sided behaviour.
    posted by Decani at 4:56 PM on September 14, 2010 [7 favorites]


    The point, I think, was that most of the people who insist on using it as much as they can are the kinds of people who do so with a giddy self-satisfied pleasure in setting a trap for everybody else, just hoping and praying that someone is going to be shocked or ask them how they could use that word; because then, these people will gleefully trot out their explanation of the etymology of the word "niggardly"

    posted by koeselitz at 9:09 PM on September 14


    I have no idea how you got that from what he actually wrote. What he wrote suggested that one should avoid using the word niggardly and substitute other words instead (including, apparently, words like 'frugal' which don't even mean the same thing), and that if you didn't do so perhaps YOU MIGHT BE A DICK.
    posted by Decani at 5:05 PM on September 14, 2010


    1000monkeys: &ldquo:...or you could just educate yourself in your own language and learn the proper use of the phrase "begs the question". It's not that difficult to learn something, you know.”

    But that begs the question: what is proper? Who judges?
    posted by koeselitz at 5:08 PM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


    Brilliant! Correct in both uses!
    posted by wierdo at 5:12 PM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


    Common sense would be a good place to start...

    Reading a dictionary never hurt anybody either (since most decent dictionaries are, in fact, updated regularly and actually tend to reflect (correct) usage).
    posted by 1000monkeys at 5:16 PM on September 14, 2010


    Decani: “I have no idea how you got that from what he actually wrote. What he wrote suggested that one should avoid using the word niggardly and substitute other words instead (including, apparently, words like 'frugal' which don't even mean the same thing), and that if you didn't do so perhaps YOU MIGHT BE A DICK.”

    Hmm. Well, what I got from what he was saying was something like: 'do you really need that word so much? Or are you just using it to be a dick?' It's kind of an in-your-face way to put it, but that sort of made sense to me – not because it's accepted and polite to avoid the word, but because it's just not really a word most people find themselves having to avoid. And I guess this is my own personal and anecdotal experience, but it seems like an archaic word with lots of synonyms or near-synonyms. I mean, niggardly is different from frugal, it's true, largely because (I think) frugal tends to carry a positive implication, whereas niggardly is generally a negative quality. But then in those cases we usually just use a word like "stingy" or "possessive" or "hoarding" or something like that.

    When you think about it, I guess "niggardly" is a funny case, because its whole difficulty pretty much rests in the fact that it's so archaic. If it were a word people used all the time, everybody would know that it's not derived from the same root as the n-word. Nobody gets upset when you say "niggling" or "nagger" or anything like that; they're words we know. But "niggardly" is an odd and archaic term. In fact, I have a feeling that old-timey association is part of why people feel like there must be something wrong with it.

    For whatever reason, though, it's just not a word people use any more. I don't think that's because of 'political correctness;' like I said above, the word was already archaic when political correctness came on the scene – that's why there was all this confusion about it. The net result is, I really don't have to go out of my way to not use the word 'niggardly.' Maybe other people do – and I don't begrudge them this word, nor will I be offended when they use it – but personally, I would actually have to go out of my way to use the word niggardly in everyday speech.

    That's what I think Mister_A meant: he was saying 'do you really find that word so wonderful, even though nobody's really used it for decades? Or are you going out of your way to prove a point?'
    posted by koeselitz at 5:24 PM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


    Niggardly isn't archaic, it's a perfectly normal word which has an entirely useful meaning and innocent etymology. If you're stupid enough to be offended by its use, tough. You won't die.
    posted by unSane at 5:36 PM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


    Yes. Yes, I will die. I WILL DIE.
    posted by koeselitz at 5:41 PM on September 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


    Wow, way to turn this thread into a massive downer, Koeselitz.
    posted by Joe in Australia at 5:45 PM on September 14, 2010


    After the last four hundred comments or so, I figured that'd be an upper for most of you. Heh.
    posted by koeselitz at 5:52 PM on September 14, 2010


    teehee
    posted by 1000monkeys at 6:02 PM on September 14, 2010


    The perverse and twisted idea that seems to have taken hold here at MeFi 2010 is that all it takes is for some precious soul to say "This word/phrase/suggestion/opinion/tone offends me", and the accepted standard should be that we all fall arse over tit promising never to do that again. Because someone has been offended, and therefore the rest of the world must adjust and correct

    Which is a ridiculously blindered reading of how these discussions actually tend to go. If you have a beef with one or another specific outlier hardliner user's unrelenting "you must desist with anything possibly offensive to anyone" stricture—if those users actually exist—then address those arguments substantially and in place. Painting the whole site as collectively demanding that no offense ever be risked or such is just silly bullshit.

    People here have conversations about this sort of thing. At length and with a huge variety of opinion. If there's any actual consensus, or at least something close to it, it's along the lines of "it's generally good when people are thoughtful and try not to cause offense to one another", which is far from bollocks and something that the vast majority of people here seem to get along with okay. Even with the understanding that sometimes offense is going to be taken despite reasonable efforts, and with the understanding that trying to be civil even when offended is pretty much the expectation.

    Anybody who wants to never be offended is out of luck. Anybody who wants carte blanche regarding the offense they might cause, likewise. Everybody else is pretty much going to get along, and talkers that we are we end up talking about a lot of the bumpy bits. If that bothers you, it bothers you.
    posted by cortex (staff) at 6:16 PM on September 14, 2010 [5 favorites]


    LOL @ koeselitz

    Seriously, one of the problems with this kind of word-policing is there is very often not unanimity among the people-who-are-supposed-to-be-offended. I did several years of work with folk who had been in and out of psychiatric hospitals and at the time there was all sorts of pussyfooting around what they should be called to avoid labelling... 'people with identified mental health problems' and so on. If you said so-and-so was 'mad' or 'crazy' you would have committed a mortal sin in the eyes of the mental health professionals and voluntary agencies.

    And yet.. and yet... there were plenty of people I met who much preferred being thought of as 'mad' or 'crazy' to being called 'schizophrenic' or 'psychotic' (if they had to be described as anything other than just 'people'). 'Mad' carried the sense of anger and power and did not medicalize them -- something which many strongly, strongly resisted (often due to horrible experiences with psychotropic medication or ECT).

    Much the same as 'queer', I guess, in another context.

    I suppose what I am saying is that getting offended on other people's behalf is not always as simple as it sounds.
    posted by unSane at 6:18 PM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


    Daaaaaaaamn. Shit just got REAL.
    posted by pecanpies at 6:36 PM on September 14, 2010


    @ koeselitz
    posted by pecanpies at 6:36 PM on September 14, 2010


    This has turned into the single most depressing, dispiriting, optimism-sucking thread I've ever read on MetaFilter. I despair of us. I despair of us.
    posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:41 PM on September 14, 2010


    If it makes you feel any better, I watched James Ellroy give a reading tonight. He kicked ass and he would consider this whole thread fatuous. Then I went and got popcorn shrimp at Popeye's and some Rasberry Lemonade Joose.
    posted by jonmc at 6:51 PM on September 14, 2010


    "No. This is arrant bollocks. It's like we've forgotten that sometimes the person being a dick can be the person bawling offence every damned time someone looks at them in a funny way. That it can be really, really lousy, anti-social, non-community-minded behaviour to be the whining, thin-skinned, shrinking and shrieking violet who demands that their particular set of quivering sensibilities be endlessly and unquestioningly respected and tiptoed around. I am not attacking any individual here and certainly not the OP who, interestingly, seems to have made this a hit and run post. I am questioning what I consider to be a thoroughly wrong-headed and thoroughly one-sided behaviour."

    I defend being a dick all the time. However, you ignore two points: Defending regular conversation from those who see dickery in every other person doesn't give license to be an unmitigated dick (even if you think that your dickery is of a particularly clever sort), and that if a lot of other people around you consistently say that you're acting like a dick, the problem isn't everyone else being oversensitive, it's that you're coming across like a dick. By listening to what people say, even if you think they're oversensitive, you can both know how you're coming across and make your own decision on whether or not you want to seem like a dick when you're around them.

    But I'm really just passing on the accumulated knowledge of having a variation of this exact same conversation here on Metafilter some eighty, ninety times.
    posted by klangklangston at 6:59 PM on September 14, 2010


    Remember, 'being a dick' is the Unforgivable Sin on Metafilter. Once someone calls you a dick it's all over. No matter what happened in the thread previously, or how undeserved the epithet is, there will be a pile-on. Strangely, calling someone a dick is never called out as dickish behavior, nor is it frowned on in the same way as calling someone a cunt. Which of course, automatically makes you a dick.

    No one was ever called a dick for being skullcrushingly dull, parroting received wisdom, praising DFW, referencing XKCD or sucking up to a mod, so you should be safe if you just obey those simple rules. I, however, am a dick.
    posted by unSane at 7:08 PM on September 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


    It's interesting to note that "bollocks" and "being a dick" are A-OK, whereas in certain cultures, c--- is strictly verboten because of supposed antifeminist implications (which don't exist in the anglo-antipodean world).
    posted by UbuRoivas at 7:12 PM on September 14, 2010


    No one was ever called a dick for being skullcrushingly dull, parroting received wisdom, praising DFW, referencing XKCD or sucking up to a mod, so you should be safe if you just obey those simple rules.

    While I'm not willing to speak out against most of the things on that list, I will take care of one of them:

    Praising DFW. Seriously, people, that airport sucks and anyone who praises it is a dick.
    posted by The World Famous at 7:24 PM on September 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


    Joseph Gurl: “This has turned into the single most depressing, dispiriting, optimism-sucking thread I've ever read on MetaFilter. I despair of us. I despair of us.”

    That's terrible, Joe. You're feeling dispirited? Listen, how about you and me go get a beer – just des pair of us – and we can talk it over.

    UbuRoivas: “It's interesting to note that "bollocks" and "being a dick" are A-OK, whereas in certain cultures, c--- is strictly verboten because of supposed antifeminist implications (which don't exist in the anglo-antipodean world).”

    We haven't even started on "spastic." Which, honestly, I had no idea about. I haven't used it much in years, but only because it's sort of in the same class as "boogers" for me; it's just always seemed kinda childish. However, until six months ago – when I was thirty years old, and I'm being totally honest here – I believed that "spastic" was an adjective that meant "shaking" or "rattling," and that it was a physical description that had nothing to do with a class of people or a disability. And I'd like to think I'm a pretty well-read and cosmopolitan guy; anyway, I have a strong suspicion that a vast majority of Americans are in the same boat as me. And then, on a whim, I google around a little and discover that four years ago (before he had, well, larger tabloid problems) Tiger Woods caused a major stir in the UK because he referred to his putting on one hole by saying "as soon as I got on the green I was a spaz." He had to apologize and everything – I had no idea. And the most lenient and forgiving opinion pieces about it were still saying things like "he's American, and didn't mean anything, but he really should've known better." I get the feeling people in the UK don't realize just how foreign the word is to us; there have never been schools or hospitals or foundations or anything like that for "spastics" (as I now discover there were some time ago in the UK) so we've simply never associated the term with disability in any way.

    There's an interesting piece in Language Log about it.
    posted by koeselitz at 8:13 PM on September 14, 2010


    Listen, how about you and me go get a beer – just des pair of us – and we can talk it over.

    Next time you find yourself in Seoul, man, beer's on me.
    posted by Joseph Gurl at 8:34 PM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


    koeselitz: I'm guessing that "spastic as a term of abuse" causes the same cognitive dissonance to Americans that "cunt as a term of abuse for women" causes to the Brits. Which may be useful information for everyone. We may have a common tongue, but there are huge differences in language.

    Anyway - I'm still caught in a loop on the main point. On the one hand, I don't want to be upsetting people unnecessarily, but on the other hand, I'm worried that idiots will use perceived upset as an excuse to limit the number of hackneyed insults I like to throw around.

    But. I would like to think that we could reach a consensus based on something more inclusive than "You can't say retard, but you can say mouthbreather". That's where I have a problem. It just seems so arbitrary.

    Anyway - Question. We've done niggardly to death. Can anyone tell me if "nitty gritty" is taboo in the US. Is this just a UK thing?
    posted by seanyboy at 12:40 AM on September 15, 2010


    Next time you find yourself in Seoul, man, beer's on me.
    God Damned monkeys. :-)
    posted by seanyboy at 12:42 AM on September 15, 2010


    Here's another thing that just struck me. It would appear that there are two camps in this argument, and neither are seeing the others point of view.

    On the one hand, you've got people rightly reporting when a specific phrase offends. They're not asking for the word to be banned, they're just saying "This word upsets me, and it would help me if you didn't use it."

    On the other side, you've got people who have been happily using a word without prejudice or any extra meaning, and now feel that they've been branded as "bad people". Or they feel that they're going to (at some point in the future) be put in a situation where, because most insults are in some way offensive, they insult someone and then get put in a "Jennifer Aniston just said retard and must publicly apologise" type situation.

    I have sympathy for both sides, and I do believe there is a middle ground. I just don't know where that middle ground is, or how it can be achieved without the consensual framework being abused by either prudes or dicks.
    posted by seanyboy at 1:02 AM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


    ...by either prudes or dicks.

    Or pricks or dudes.
    posted by flapjax at midnite at 1:33 AM on September 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


    You're absolutely right. But, on the other hand, if I raped somebody at Halo, I didn't really sexually assault them. That retarded YouTube video wasn't really developmentally delayed. When I gypped that carny, I wasn't speaking Roma. And Sarah Palin's a bitch, but she doesn't walk on four legs and chase squirrels.

    Like much of Mefi these days, your self-righteousness is not amusing in the least.
    posted by IvoShandor at 1:44 AM on September 15, 2010


    That Language Log thing is interesting. It also explains why I spent a significant part of playtime in the early '80s limping around slurring "Joey!!" at my schoolmates in a mock disabled voice.

    The BBC attributes the British resurgence of the epithet to publicity in the early '80s surrounding a man with cerebral palsy named Joey Deacon, particularly his appearance on the children's television show Blue Peter in 1981.
    posted by seanyboy at 1:58 AM on September 15, 2010


    Can anyone tell me if "nitty gritty" is taboo in the US.

    Seems unlikely.
    posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:35 AM on September 15, 2010


    Or they feel that they're going to (at some point in the future) be put in a situation where, because most insults are in some way offensive, they insult someone and then get put in a "Jennifer Aniston just said retard and must publicly apologise" type situation.

    No. If it ever comes to that, I personally am content to say "fuck off" and be thought of as an unfeeling asshole who kicks puppies.

    The term "mouth breather" is hardly an insult meant to offend people with a deviate septum. Attempting to sooth every single person's hurt feelings over ever societies word choices is not productive or helpful to anyone.
    posted by nomadicink at 4:26 AM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


    seanboy- I doubt it.
    posted by gjc at 5:12 AM on September 15, 2010


    Seems like we're more offended by smug self righteousness than anything else.
    posted by doublehappy at 5:20 AM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


    There's an interesting piece in Language Log about ["spaz"]

    Interesting, indeed. Not the least of which because of the final footnote:

    "Update #4: The blogger Interrobang, who has cerebral palsy, shares an anecdote similar to Chris Brew's at The Interroblog."
    posted by UbuRoivas at 5:27 AM on September 15, 2010


    Just to be clear, I think it's silly to try to blacklist "mouth breather." My response, including the "dick" portion, was my way of pointing out that there are innumerable ways of expressing concepts synonymous to or tangentially related to "niggardly"—it's an antiquated word and it's bad form to use it unless you're deliberately trying to sound antiquated and clueless, honestly.

    Here's why I included the "DICK" portion of my comment (note that it was in ALLCAPS, a MetaFilter convention that marks it as fake ire. I will make no judgment as to the mental faculties of any here who failed to read this as I intended).

    I will not stop using words because some people are idiots and don't know what they mean. -Wierdo

    This reads to me as deliberately provocative stunt use of the word. Wierdo acknowledges that some people will misunderstand the word, but dismisses them as "idiots" who are not worthy of any consideration. He/she knows some people are going to hear or read "nigger" in that word, but wierdo's OK with that because "niggardly" is just such a dandy word! That, to me, is not just passive insensitivity, but more along the lines of what koeselitz said, a deliberate provocation and dismissal of other people's concerns. If what wierdo intended was that, there may come a time and place where "niggardly" is the best way to express something, that's fine, but it's hard to see that in the strident, "Give-me-niggardly-or-give-me-death" language he used in the original comment.
    posted by Mister_A at 5:34 AM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


    All things aside, it is interesting to see the push and pull over the word 'niggardly'. It's kinda like watching an evolution, really neat on one level. Everyone seems aware of how some view it as offensive, but some insist on using it or least retaining the option to use it, citing the word's original as inoffensive.
    posted by nomadicink at 7:03 AM on September 15, 2010


    word's ORGIN, yeah that's it!
    posted by nomadicink at 7:03 AM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


    Can anyone tell me if "nitty gritty" is taboo in the US. Is this just a UK thing?

    Like a couple other people have suggested, I've never encountered a taboo about in the US either.

    "...The blogger Interrobang, who has cerebral palsy, shares an anecdote similar to Chris Brew's at The Interroblog."

    Not our interrobang, fwiw. He's Kansan, not Canadian.
    posted by cortex (staff) at 7:12 AM on September 15, 2010


    Meh, I prefer parsimonious.
    posted by electroboy at 7:26 AM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


    That, to me, is not just passive insensitivity, but more along the lines of what koeselitz said, a deliberate provocation and dismissal of other people's concerns.

    Gah, this is just such utter bullshit. I despair. Back to your bowdlerized books with you.
    posted by unSane at 7:32 AM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


    Mister_A wrote: "That, to me, is not just passive insensitivity, but more along the lines of what koeselitz said, a deliberate provocation and dismissal of other people's concerns. If what wierdo intended was that, there may come a time and place where "niggardly" is the best way to express something, that's fine, but it's hard to see that in the strident, "Give-me-niggardly-or-give-me-death" language he used in the original comment."

    You gravely misinterpreted my comment, but that's OK, I left it open to widely varying interpretation. That said, I think that you're really far off base about it being dickish to use a word when there are people in the world who don't know what it means. Would it be reasonable for me to get upset when a Spanish speaker uses the word "negro?" What if I don't know what it means in their language?

    I think that would be patently ridiculous. Similarly, if someone doesn't know what the word "niggardly" means, they would do much better in life if, prior to taking offense, they inquired as to the meaning of the word.

    This needless restriction of vocabulary makes our language a much less interesting one. The use of uncommon words both enlightens the reader/listener when they learn their meaning and removes much of the droll repetitiveness associated with a limited choice of words. I don't think it's incumbent on me to restrict my writing to a 10th grade reading level unless I'm specifically targeting my writing at high school kids. It's a good think that we have a variety of adjectives to call upon whenever the need arises.
    posted by wierdo at 7:36 AM on September 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


    Or a good thing, even.
    posted by wierdo at 7:36 AM on September 15, 2010


    That said, I think that you're really far off base about it being dickish to use a word when there are people in the world who don't know what it means.

    Had that been what I was getting at, had I been going on about how you shouldn't use "misanthrope" or "calliope" because some people don't know those words, you would be correct in your assessment. I am talking about one particular word that sounds and looks an awful lot like a grave racial slur, a word that is likely to be misinterpreted as such by many if not most English speakers, a word for which there are plentiful synonyms, and a word whose use is several orders of magnitude more infrequent (at least in the United States) than its nefarious sound-alike(s).

    For those reasons, I don't think it's a good idea to use "niggardly." You're going on about restrictive language and repetitiveness and dumbing down, but really, I'm just suggesting that you reconsider your attachment to this one particular word, "niggardly."
    posted by Mister_A at 8:00 AM on September 15, 2010


    This needless restriction of vocabulary makes our language a much less interesting one. The use of uncommon words both enlightens the reader/listener when they learn their meaning and removes much of the droll repetitiveness associated with a limited choice of words. I don't think it's incumbent on me to restrict my writing to a 10th grade reading level unless I'm specifically targeting my writing at high school kids. It's a good think that we have a variety of adjectives to call upon whenever the need arises.

    Well, but in the case of people thinking "niggardly" is an unfortunate nexus of obscurity and phonetic similarity to a deeply offensive slur, we're talking about showing some good sense and compromise around the use of a single word. There's no grand metonymy here, no plausible case in which acknowledging that because of an odd chance of fate "niggardly" is a bit damned leads to the restricting of vocabulary in any significant way.

    In short: if your vocabulary would be restricted to a 10th grade level by the decision to disfavor "niggardly" in doubtful contexts, you have a 10th grade vocabulary and you know one fancy word, and you picked your fancy word kind of badly.

    I'm certain that is not the case, however. Niggardly is not some line in the sand, some lynchpin to expressive and thoughtful speech. It's an oddity, a perfectly nice word that happens to (a) not be in any real common currency at this point and which (b) sounds rather like an awful slur. That doesn't make it a bad word, that doesn't mean that people who knowingly object to its use in unambiguously (and that's the tricky qualification, there) inoffensive contexts aren't being obnoxious in their own right. But it does make it a word that is much of the time maybe not worth the effort because of that odd set of non-linguistic circumstances.

    I remember reading a nice name for these words, in a post at Language Log, but I can't recall the exact phrase. It was something like "jinxed words", but jinx was not the label they used. Essentially conveying that circumstances, not any fault of the word itself, made it such that trying to use it in general contexts was probably not a great idea.

    And, again: this is one word. One not-terribly-vital word, out of a wonderful, sprawling language. And I'd contend even at this point that most people who know it well enough to know what it means and when it would be useful in neutral expressive terms also know already that it's a subject of this sort of debate. The number of people genuinely blindsided by misunderstanding responses to a naive use of "niggardly" at this point in history has to be something close to nil. Arguing about the word and the right to use it and the right to be offended at other people's potential offense at it is a grand tradition in conversations about taboos, but it's hardly a fight with any stakes.
    posted by cortex (staff) at 8:04 AM on September 15, 2010 [4 favorites]


    cortex, thank you, honestly, for that level-headed and perfectly sensical comment.
    posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:13 AM on September 15, 2010


    All things aside, it is interesting to see the push and pull over the word 'niggardly'. It's kinda like watching an evolution, really neat on one level. Everyone seems aware of how some view it as offensive, but some insist on using it or least retaining the option to use it, citing the word's original as inoffensive.

    Are they wrong? The word is still relatively inoffensive and its meaning has still not somehow been transformed into an expression of bigotry.

    I'm sensitive to people's feelings about the "n" word. I never use it. For that matter, I never use "niggardly" in conversation.

    Is it reasonable to be offended solely because "niggardly" *sounds like* an epithet? The word is not an expression of racism. Wouldn't that be similar to my getting upset because "bike" sounds like "kike," or asking for the word "country" to be banned because it becomes a nasty epithet when you remove "ry"?

    Is "it sounds like something bad, but isn't" a reasonable justification for censorship? I don't believe it should be.

    You know, when I weighed in at the start of this thread, it was in reaction to the folks who were mocking kanewai for daring to speak out about something that was bothering him. IMO, we shouldn't be attacking people who ask us to consider their feelings. Posing a question to or making a request of the community shouldn't be an excuse for people to be nasty to each other. We're adults. We should be capable of discussing this stuff rationally, without attacking each other, or making sweeping, inaccurate generalizations about Metafilter and its members. Some of the comments here made me wonder if people were reading the same thread I was, or just carrying their personal baggage from thread to thread.

    Ah well. I also think it would be nice if people would do their best to assume good faith around here. I'm trying to do so myself. But perhaps that's not a realistic expectation on my part.
    posted by zarq at 8:20 AM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


    "Remember, 'being a dick' is the Unforgivable Sin on Metafilter.

    Right. Which is why you're banned, and we're not having this conversation.

    Once someone calls you a dick it's all over. No matter what happened in the thread previously, or how undeserved the epithet is, there will be a pile-on.

    I can't tell—is this supposed to be a paranoiac satire?

    Strangely, calling someone a dick is never called out as dickish behavior, nor is it frowned on in the same way as calling someone a cunt. Which of course, automatically makes you a dick.

    Yeah, that's totally strange and hasn't been explained thirty million goddamn times. It's so strange because there's absolutely no difference in social context for "cunt" and "dick."

    No one was ever called a dick for being skullcrushingly dull, parroting received wisdom, praising DFW, referencing XKCD or sucking up to a mod, so you should be safe if you just obey those simple rules. I, however, am a dick.

    Yeah, see, the thing is, while the general guideline of "Don't be an asshole" uses a slightly different word, not being a dick is pretty functionally equivalent (even if it implies a bit more petulant intention). This is especially true of being a dick to other members here.

    So, you're a dick. Do you want a cookie for that or something? Because really, everyone would probably prefer that you just not be a dick here rather than wearing some sort of dick pride t-shirt.
    posted by klangklangston at 8:21 AM on September 15, 2010


    cortex, that was very well put. Thank you.
    posted by zarq at 8:21 AM on September 15, 2010


    Hey, klangklangston, I'm here on your lawn. Yoohoo!
    posted by unSane at 8:29 AM on September 15, 2010


    Is it reasonable to be offended solely because "niggardly" *sounds like* an epithet? The word is not an expression of racism. Wouldn't that be similar to my getting upset because "bike" sounds like "kike," or asking for the word "country" to be banned because it becomes a nasty epithet when you remove "ry"?

    That's the fascinating part, niggardly is more or less having its meaning altered by changing society. That's kinda neat to see in action.

    Niggling seems to be relatively safe, but I wouldn't be surprised if that started being a problem. The n-word has just become that ugly in American society.

    Bike vs Kike doesn't really match, as there's nothing bad associated with bike. Country and the c-word (yeah, i'm not comfortable writing in general society) probably won't be associated because they're spelled slightly differently and again, there's no strong negative association the word country. Hell even the c-word has some positive or at least not so negative uses in certain contexts or countries. Niggardly sounds negative all by itself. Add that association with the n-word and it's just interesting to see the former become affected by the latter, particularly since black people are seen as being miserly or stingy per se. Yet niggardly is still getting a bad rap. Oh language, you fickle beast!
    posted by nomadicink at 8:43 AM on September 15, 2010


    That's the fascinating part, niggardly is more or less having its meaning altered by changing society. That's kinda neat to see in action.

    I wonder if the meaning of the word has really changed at all or if it's just the meta-meaning. Not so much a "stingy -> hateful slur" evolution in actual denotation—though I'd be curious to see citations of people actually adopting this use from context somehow—as a "stingy -> stingy but famously sounds a lot like a hateful slur" overloading. But in any case, yeah, it's interesting watching the force of culture operate on the machinery of common language.
    posted by cortex (staff) at 8:53 AM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


    It is fascinating to see how language shapes and is shaped by culture. In this case, I tend to agree with cortex — it's just that most people have only ever heard those first two syllables as a racial slur, and alarm bells go off when they hear 'em.
    posted by Mister_A at 9:06 AM on September 15, 2010


    Niggardly, please.
    posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:22 AM on September 15, 2010


    Anybody who wants to never be offended is out of luck. Anybody who wants carte blanche regarding the offense they might cause, likewise. (cortex, above)

    Yeah, the point is this: you get to choose where to draw your own line when it comes to not offending people. Some try to offend a lot of people (or don't care), others tiptoe around carefully. We've already established that offense may be taken regardless of the offense-giver's intentions, so what do we have left? You can choose to take that input of "I offended someone" and do something with it, and be more careful--or decide it's not worth the effort.

    For most people, this line does not exist in the extremes, so they will, as a result, offend people (occasionally, or perhaps more often). This is part of dealing with other people. It should not come as a surprise if, after deciding to conduct oneself in a manner that may cause offense, people end up offended. Note that *anything*, to someone, may cause offense.

    But accepting that people can be offended, and that you're willing to take the chance on behavior X, doesn't mean that you can't be a nice person and apologize if you end up offending someone. This, too, is a choice of course, but again, you have to be prepared to deal with the consequences if you fail to do so, and it's not *their* fault if you aren't willing to take your lumps.

    And, it's not necessarily *your* fault in that maybe it was completely unforeseen, unreasonable, whatever. Maybe it wasn't. But it is your fault in that something you did caused someone to be upset, and accepting that and dealing with that can be difficult but rewarding.
    posted by RikiTikiTavi at 9:31 AM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


    cortex wrote: "Well, but in the case of people thinking "niggardly" is an unfortunate nexus of obscurity and phonetic similarity to a deeply offensive slur, we're talking about showing some good sense and compromise around the use of a single word. There's no grand metonymy here, no plausible case in which acknowledging that because of an odd chance of fate "niggardly" is a bit damned leads to the restricting of vocabulary in any significant way.

    In short: if your vocabulary would be restricted to a 10th grade level by the decision to disfavor "niggardly" in doubtful contexts, you have a 10th grade vocabulary and you know one fancy word, and you picked your fancy word kind of badly.
    "

    I guess what I'm trying to get at, poorly, is that it's not particularly about niggard(ly). I latched on to that particular word because it was mentioned in the thread. I have a philosophical objection to the dumbing down of language, and that's what I see happening.

    If I happen to know that a particular person takes offense to a normally inoffensive word, I'll probably not use that word in their presence, presuming I don't forget about their preference. I'm just a nice guy that way. But to excise it completely from my vocabulary? That strikes me as taking it too far, while choosing to either use very sparingly or not use at all words which have actually been used as racial slurs does not. Every use of a word of that nature necessarily invokes the baggage associated with the word.
    posted by wierdo at 9:37 AM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


    > This reads to me as deliberately provocative stunt use of the word.

    If someone ever decides I must apologize for saying "scopulate" or "formicate" because they think they know what these words mean and it's things they consider offensive, you may be certain there will be pushback from me. And that pushback will very likely sound provocative. If "either learn what they actually mean or shut up and MYOB" is provocative.
    posted by jfuller at 9:50 AM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


    ... it's just that most people have only ever heard those first two syllables as a racial slur...

    Actually, *most people*, at this particular red hot moment in history, have probably mostly heard those first two syllables in rap music, from the mouths of black comedians, and in movies and TV shows like The Wire. "Most people" will (one hopes) be aware of the word's origin as an ugly and violent racial slur, but will not have heard it hurled in hatred from the mouths of white people toward black people in any actual verbal denigration or display of overt racial hatred, outside of dramas or historical footage from the civil rights era and so forth.

    And don't get me wrong, this is not one of those "hey, they say it, so why can't we?" things that you hear from ignorant crackers from time to time. And I'm not saying there aren't old school racists who still use the term when referring to black people. I just don't happen to think "most people" hang around such types of old school racists. I think "most people" at this point will have heard it much more from Chris Rock, Ice Cube, Missy Elliott, etc.

    But anyway, at this point, any white person who would use the word "niggardly" in, say, a discussion with a black person is, well... at the very least, setting up some weirdly awkward vibe, you know?

    There's gotta be some rapper who's done some kinda riff on "niggardly" though. If not, there oughtta be. It could be hilarious, in the hands of a funny and skillful rapper.
    posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:55 AM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


    But to excise it completely from my vocabulary?

    But, again, where has that become an issue? Who suggested you need to surgically remove the word entirely from your vocabulary? If anyone even ever did say as much, who exactly rallied behind them? Your vocabulary is your sovereign domain, and outside far-flung dystopian fiction it will always remain so. Any person who sincerely thinks otherwise is a nut. I have never actually met that person, myself.

    And so you can make the informed choice to use whatever words you like in whatever contexts you like; in some cases, that choice may generate bad feelings or, in extreme circumstances, actual negative consequences for you, and that's part of the bargain. Your freedom to use whatever words you choose stands in counterpoint to other people's freedom to tell you that they think your choice of words sucks for one reason or another, and that's really about as far as any of it goes in the vast, vast majority of plausible scenarios that don't involve some sort of outright bad-faith provocation on one side or the other.

    So here, on Metafilter, where the practical effects of any of this philosophizing would actually come into play, you can say "niggardly", and people can and in a lot of contexts will roll their eyes at your choice to do so, and that's about as far as it goes. Your vocabulary remains intact, unbreached, solely yours to command.

    And I know that you are saying this is not about the one word but rather about the principle, but defending the principle on the basis of one word that is a notorious perfect-storm outlier makes for a badly footed defense. I don't think there is a general case for dangerous or problematic restriction of speech here—I know some folks disagree with the degree to which there is any restriction, or at least as much as there is, but the practical limit on mefi is somewhere in the area of "please don't shout 'cunt' at women you dislike" so we're really not hedging things in all that tightly—and using hypothetical concerns to talk about some vague worry about unmanifested restrictions on speech is not a very clear way to actually practically discuss what actually has and what is actually ever likely to go on here.

    Which is why I find the way these arguments go sometimes fairly frustrating. Framing a defense of some actual specific criticized bit of behavior in terms of how awful it would be if that criticism represented some imagined fascist boot on the face of language or whatever is distracting from an actual locally-pertinent discussion in a community context. The little things that people actually say here matter a lot more for this place than do sweeping generalizations about things that haven't happened and are deeply unlikely to.
    posted by cortex (staff) at 10:12 AM on September 15, 2010 [4 favorites]


    Framing a defense of some actual specific criticized bit of behavior in terms of how awful it would be if that criticism represented some imagined fascist boot on the face of language or whatever is distracting from an actual locally-pertinent discussion in a community context

    Today, Metafilter! September 15th, 210 ... ... this is when it begins! Those language butchers have had their own way for too long! They use your instead of you're, they say literally when they mean figuratively , use lower case punctuation... but no more, Mefi... because starting from today... Storm Saxon is fighting back!

    Oh Storm! Hold me... hold me tight!

    I... Metafilter? What's wrong?

    Behind you, Storm! Look out!

    What th...

    So! dis d Fmos Storm Saxon! ... my O my! who's dis prety lil mixd metaphor?

    You mongrel trash! If you mix it...

    Ull w@, Mr. high-and-mighty S Saxon? Now, Xtnd d metaphor, boyz...

    Leroy! Leroy! l%k ot! d gramA nazi got him a styl manual!!

    Die, you texting cannibal filth! Die! Die! Die!

    ... and you can visit the nightmarish future Internet of Storm Saxon again at five past eight next Tuesday on N.T.V. One.
    posted by nomadicink at 10:42 AM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


    lower case punctuation

    That must be some seriously subversive stuff, since I've never even heard of it.
    posted by Gator at 10:44 AM on September 15, 2010


    The rabbit hole goes that deep!

    NOT HOLIST
    posted by nomadicink at 11:18 AM on September 15, 2010


    There's gotta be some rapper who's done some kinda riff on "niggardly" though.

    Ever since reading "Niggard of question, but of our demands, Most free in his reply." in Hamlet, I thought there should be a hip-hop group called "Niggaz of Question." Evidently, no one else does.
    posted by Greg Nog at 11:32 AM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


    The number of people genuinely blindsided by misunderstanding responses to a naive use of "niggardly" at this point in history has to be something close to nil.

    I only came this across this a little while ago, here on Metatalk, and my reaction was "Wait, what did I miss something?!" and I had to hie myself over to Wikipedia just to double-check. Lest anyone think that this is grist for the mill of their arguments I don't think it proves anything other than I wasn't in the US at the time of the controversies and, more importantly, I had only ever come across it in writing and, given I knew its derivation, I was hardly likely to take offense privately (easy to understand how it might be possible to do so, mistakenly though -- I had to check after all).

    I mention this, mostly, because having re-read the wikipedia page I desperately want to call John Derbyshire something unmentionable. Wikipedia is précis-ing slightly when it says "Derbyshire wrote that although he loved to use words that are sometimes considered obscure, he would not use the word in mixed company, especially among less-educated African Americans...not wanting to make someone feel uncomfortable" but if anything he comes across as worse in the orginal. (I'm sure he felt he was being delightfully arch (I would hope so), he is still being a cunt though).

    It seems apposite as a fine example of just how offensive someone can be under a veneer of well-spoken politesse which renders the need to defend the use of (potentially) offensive words somewhat moot. It also raises the connotations of class in the use of stupidity as an insult which were raised up thread. It has been on my mind for a couple of days since there is a particular irony in the possibility that 'mouth breather' as an insult conflates stupidity class and mental disability.

    I used to work in social care with people with severe learning disabilities at a time when care in the community was a big thing. How mental handicap was traditionally treated in different class communities in the UK was sometime a topic of conversation. There is anecdotal evidence to suggest working class communities traditionally did a much better job of integrating people (if only because they had no choice). At this time I worked with two older women who had been around much longer than the modern care system. One was very much from a middle class, and as far as we could tell was probably not handicapped at all , but institutionalized as a result of being locked up in a mental asylum for a unwed single mother (a particularly middle class fate, since it took a certain amount of influence to make this happen). The other ( a chronic mouth breather as it happens) almost certainly had trisomy 21 (down's syndrome) but had never had a formal diagnosis. She had grown up in the local working class community where the traditional industry of shoe making had persisted until fairly recently and had spent most of her life working in the shoe factories collecting the leather scraps as a job. Not necessarily the most valued job but one which gave her an established and respected role and enabled her to live, without stigma or diagnosis, as a respected member of her community. Food for thought.
    posted by tallus at 12:20 PM on September 15, 2010


    but if anything he comes across as worse in the orginal

    Yeah, but Derbyshire is an unalloyed dickhead, so y'know, you get what you pay for.
    posted by dersins at 12:46 PM on September 15, 2010


    In regards to the posts about the word "niggardly" I think some people are getting really hung up on that particular word, used merely as an example, and are looking at this at the tree level instead of the forest level. The point is not that this word is so great and people use it every day in their speech and they're going to defend it until the day they die, the point is that it represents a whole scheme of words that don't have the meaning that certain sensitive people ascribe to it. Such as....mouthbreather. Yes, it's an insult, but it's not that insult. It doesn't mean anything more than someone who appears stupid, standing with their mouths agape (just visualize the word "duhhhhh" literally, and you can almost picture it).

    At what point do we stop using words simply because people aren't educated enough in their own language to understand the words? Why can't we just simply reply to a complaint like this by saying, you know what? It doesn't mean what you think it means, look it up in a dictionary? Is it so harmful to have to actually look up a word in a dictionary and learn something? I do it almost every day, and I'm no worse for it. (I'm possibly no better for it, but that's neither here nor there). Why do we have to keep dumbing down our language simply because people misunderstand it, or because society as a whole is dumbing down? Maybe if we started to raise our expectations, kids would learn language and grammar again in schools, and society as a whole could benefit...

    But of course, because I'm hoping and expecting that we stop dumbing down our society, I'm being an elitist and not someone with common sense who doesn't want "text-speek" to be accepted as legitimate writing.
    posted by 1000monkeys at 12:48 PM on September 15, 2010


    If we could just stop people being offended on behalf of other people who they imagine might hypothetically be offended, that would be a big start.
    posted by unSane at 12:58 PM on September 15, 2010 [2 favorites]



    If we could just stop people being offended on behalf of other people who they imagine might hypothetically be offended, that would be a big start.
    posted by unSane at 12:58 PM on September 15 [1 favorite -] Favorite added! [!]

    YES! THIS!
    posted by 1000monkeys at 1:01 PM on September 15, 2010


    > YES! THIS!

    I don't know what you're so excited about, since you don't care whether you actually offend people or not (as long as you decide they "aren't educated enough").
    posted by languagehat at 1:11 PM on September 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


    I don't know what you're so excited about, since you don't care whether you actually offend people or not (as long as you decide they "aren't educated enough").

    Yeah, I didn't see that comment coming from a mile away. For the millionth time, I have never said that calling someone a mouthbreather or other name is not offensive or is ever OK. Stop trying to manipulate what I'm saying because it suits your argument to dismiss mine. I'm simply saying that people who see offense where it never existed (c.f. niggardly) or see an extra level of offense that never existed (c.f. mouthbreather) should look up the word and learn more about it instead of acting all offended (especially for the sake of a third person, who never complained about it). And one doesn't have to have ten degrees in linguistics or English or whatever in order to be educated about their own language. They just have to crack open a dictionary (or look it up, since we all have free access to dictionaries seeing as we are able to post online).

    I do care about offending people, of course, but I'm not going to apologize if someone gets offended by something I say/write which never a) was meant to offend AND b) had any offensive connotation to it in the first place. [Note that I wasn't the one calling anybody a mouthbreather.] Why would I apologize for that? "Sorry you don't understand what the word means?"
    posted by 1000monkeys at 1:27 PM on September 15, 2010


    Not our interrobang, fwiw. He's Kansan, not Canadian.

    Learn a new thing every day! I'd always assumed that "interrobang" was a made-up word, but it turns out that it actually exists. It's not clear whether it's upper or lower case punctuation, though.
    posted by UbuRoivas at 1:54 PM on September 15, 2010


    ?!
    posted by 1000monkeys at 2:03 PM on September 15, 2010


    ?!

    I THINK YOU MEANT THIS‽
    posted by dersins at 2:10 PM on September 15, 2010


    OMG HOW DID YOU DO THAT? lol I didn't realize there was an actual character for that on the computer (I figured it was a ! then backspace and ? on the typewriter) :)
    posted by 1000monkeys at 2:16 PM on September 15, 2010


    ¥
    posted by Mister_A at 2:28 PM on September 15, 2010


    OK dudes, we all promise to not do that thing that you think that we're doing even though we're not doing it and never intend to.
    posted by Mister_A at 2:37 PM on September 15, 2010


    Oh Jesus God, it's still going. I've avoided this thread all day because I've been feeling tetchy and I figured that would not be a good mood to come here with. I'll get to the responses when I'm feeling less of a dick. :-)
    posted by Decani at 3:00 PM on September 15, 2010


    Doooo itttttttt!
    posted by 1000monkeys at 3:07 PM on September 15, 2010


    Metafilter: feeling less of a dick
    posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:44 PM on September 15, 2010


    That's what she said?
    posted by found missing at 3:46 PM on September 15, 2010


    I wish I...oh, never mind.
    posted by 1000monkeys at 3:49 PM on September 15, 2010


    Wow, you guys are still here? Look, I gotta mop the floor and turn the chairs up. You should really get home to your wives/dogs/cats. G'night, now!
    posted by heyho at 4:03 PM on September 15, 2010


    You should really get home to your wives/dogs/cats. G'night, now!

    Sexist/Speciesist/Heterocentric bastard/bitch!
    posted by 1000monkeys at 4:07 PM on September 15, 2010


    I'm just here for the recipes.
    posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:08 PM on September 15, 2010


    1 three pound Bunny
    6 small onions, chopped
    1 bay leaf
    ½ cup chopped celery
    2 tsp. salt
    2 cups diced carrots
    3 raw potatoes, cut up
    3 tbs. flour
    1 tbs. chopped parsley

    Clean Bunny and soak in salted water. Drain, disjoint it in pieces for serving and place in a large kettle with onions, bay leaf, celery and salt. Cover with cold water and cook slowly until tender, about two hours. Add chopped carrots and potatoes and continue cooking until these vegetables are done. Smooth flour with a little cold water and add slowly. When thickened, add chopped parsley and serve.
    posted by gman at 5:19 PM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


    Sour Balls

    Ingredients

    2 oz. Scotch
    1 oz. Sweet & Sour Mix (fresh)
    1 can of red bull
    Glassware

    Mix ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake for 10-seconds, strain into an chilled cocktail; serve.
    posted by unSane at 5:25 PM on September 15, 2010


    Red bull and scotch? Kill me now.
    posted by dersins at 5:33 PM on September 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


    Just use a 24yo single malt Islay scotch; it'll taste better that way.
    posted by UbuRoivas at 5:37 PM on September 15, 2010


    Just use a 24yo single malt Islay scotch; it'll taste better that way.
    posted by UbuRoivas at 1:37 AM on September 16


    I wish. Right now all I have is Jameson's. Bloody Irish rubbish. OMG THE DRINK NOT THE PEOPLE.
    posted by Decani at 5:48 PM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


    You're a Spotted Dick

    1/2 cup mixed currants and golden raisins or other assorted dried fruit
    1/2 teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon zest
    Suet pastry dough
    Custard sauce

    Special equipment: 1-quart ceramic pudding mold

    PREPARATION

    Fill a large heavy pot (at least 8 inches across by 6 inches deep, with a tight-fitting lid) with 1 1/2 inches water. Make a platform for pudding by setting metal cookie cutters or egg-poaching rings in bottom of pot. Knead fruit and zest into dough and form dough into a ball. Put into well-buttered pudding mold and flatten top. Top dough with a round of buttered wax paper, buttered side down, and cover top of mold with heavy-duty foil, crimping tightly around edge.

    Bring water in pot to a boil and set mold on platform. Steam pudding, covered, over simmering water 1 1/2 to 2 hours (add more boiling water to pot if necessary), or until golden and puffed. Transfer pudding in mold to a rack and let stand 5 minutes. Discard foil and wax paper and run a thin knife around edge of pudding. Invert a plate over mold, then invert pudding onto plate. Serve immediately with custard sauce.
    posted by unSane at 6:17 PM on September 15, 2010


    @kanewai, I just wanted to say I'm sorry you had to go through that.
    posted by stormpooper at 6:36 PM on September 15, 2010


    Not sure why you feel the need to apologize to someone who started one of the most interesting debates I've ever read on this site, stormpooper. There has been substantial give and take in this discussion, and I haven't witnessed any real hurling of insults amongst the carious camps. One poster even admitted that they were wrong, and outright apologized to the community for a statement which they realized was completely out to lunch. YAY! That is what makes this a worthwhile community. It's not something one often sees online, and I see it here more than I ever have anywhere else.

    Admittedly, some of the comments directed his way in the early going were a bit harsh, but that kinda goes with the territory, especially so when, as it turns out, you are , in fact, completely confused about the actual intent and meaning of the posts you object to.

    Jessamyn and Cortex have offered up their personal and official interpretations of the issues involved, and the considerations they they need to undertake, in their inimitably diplomatic and thoughtful ways; and have helped some other thoughtful contributors lead some of the less patient and tolerant members of this site, ( myself among them ) down a path of more thoughtful respectful interaction.

    Over-all , I'd say that this has been a very illuminating and useful discussion. I had no idea that some people took umbrage with the expression niggardly, as an example. I am absolutely flabbergasted to discover that calling something lame is now considered verboten in some circles. To me, that anyone would argue that erroneous interpretations of words should suddenly be accepted in order to avoid offending the confused simply beggars the imagination. It never occurred to me that intelligent, well-meaning people could fall into such a logic pit.

    ( Wait, can I say say beggars now? Or is that disrespectful toward the homeless , or mentally disturbed? Wait, can I say mentally disturbed?)

    Demonstrably there might me no end to this, but at least a dialogue has been started. As for me, I will attempt to avoid the word niggardly, because so many people are confused about it. I won't use the term mouth breather because I know now that someone finds it offensive, and it doesn't cost me anything to consider that person's feelings when I post.

    As for lame, you'll have to convince me.
    posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 7:33 PM on September 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


    hurling of insults amongst the carious camps

    "Rotten teeth, stinky breath! I hope to God you catch your death!"
    posted by UbuRoivas at 7:56 PM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


    (particularly bad if the person is a mouth breather)
    posted by UbuRoivas at 8:04 PM on September 15, 2010


    OMG THE DRINK NOT THE PEOPLE.

    hahaha that one made me LOL (literally, not like those fake internet LOLs where you type it but don't really mean it).
    posted by 1000monkeys at 8:26 PM on September 15, 2010


    As someone with a penis for a nose, Owen Wilson is offended by dersins comment above.

    FWIW, I am a most-of-the-time mouthbreaker as well, due to lifelong sinus issues (I've avoided and cancelled surgeries to correct this), I can see the offense some people might take, though I can easily see myself using that word and not intending any insult except to the inbred KKK member(s) I am referring to. If a KKK member happens to have a deviated septum or sinus issues, and gets double insulted, superhappyfuntime for me!

    All that being said, people making jokes about psoriasis (and the heartbreak thereof) DO PISS ME OFF. So, yeah, I get the reasons why no one should be using insults directed to uncontrollable personal (genetic/congenital/accidental) situations.
    posted by swimming naked when the tide goes out at 11:01 PM on September 15, 2010


    There are psoriasis jokes? Wow, that must be a very specialized area of comedy...
    posted by 1000monkeys at 11:30 PM on September 15, 2010


    U.S Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer on why "We protect expression that we hate."
    ""We protect expression that we hate," he said. "When you have a country of 300 million different people who think different things, it is helpful. It is helpful to tell everyone, 'You can think what you want.'"
    posted by paulsc at 1:17 AM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


    As someone with a penis for a nose, Owen Wilson is offended by dersins comment above.

    I always thought that too! I thought it was just me.
    posted by Mister_A at 7:07 AM on September 16, 2010


    Politically Correct Dozens:

    Your worldview is so skewed in favor of moneyed interests, it is as though you actively support policies that cause you direct financial harm! Motherfucker!

    WOOOOOOO!
    posted by Mister_A at 7:12 AM on September 16, 2010


    Politically Correct Dozens

    I smell a new Tumblr meme!
    posted by Gator at 7:16 AM on September 16, 2010


    Your mother's nutrient intake is so underleveraged that the concomitant weight gain is causing her serious health problems!
    posted by cortex (staff) at 7:17 AM on September 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


    Not sure why you feel the need to apologize to someone who started one of the most interesting debates I've ever read on this site, stormpooper

    I dont' know, he said he had 14 reconstructive surgeries. Maybe it's called empathy for the person going through a shit load of sugeries?
    posted by stormpooper at 7:39 AM on September 16, 2010


    Sugeries. Ha. I mean surgeries.
    posted by stormpooper at 7:39 AM on September 16, 2010


    Your mother's personal hygiene is so lacking in proper maintenance that she is not considered attractive by conventional Western standards of beauty!
    posted by Gator at 7:47 AM on September 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


    Your mother is so intellectually challenged that, in order to obtain funds for the purchase of gasoline (which she needed in order to convey her automobile to the office of public welfare) she exchanged her automobile for a sum of money which she planned to use for the purchase of gasoline!
    posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:53 AM on September 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


    Your feminine nurturer's abbreviated stature facilitates her capacity to perch her fundament on the periphery of a parchment leaf and synchronously oscillate her posterior forelimbs.
    posted by heyho at 8:38 AM on September 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


    Short stature of women in your nurturer, to oscillate the forearm after her easy to synchronize the basis of her ability and her sit down around the parchment leaves.
    posted by not_on_display at 10:05 AM on September 16, 2010


    Your female progenitor is so excessively corpulent that when she sits around her domicile she literally encircles it.
    posted by found missing at 11:22 AM on September 16, 2010 [8 favorites]


    Your mother's intellectual capacity is so woefully inadequate that an uncouth individual might unfairly correlate her low-functioning cerebral activity with her respiratory system operating through the wrong orifice!
    posted by Gator at 11:40 AM on September 16, 2010 [7 favorites]


    Gator wins, the end.
    posted by 1000monkeys at 12:11 PM on September 16, 2010


    Your maternal lineage comprises females that are so personally distasteful to me that I could make a comparison between them and the depilated hindquarters of my non-human companion animal.
    posted by kuujjuarapik at 1:20 PM on September 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


    Your body odor confers distinct social disadvantages in dealings with potential sexual or other intimate partners! Booooooooy!
    posted by Mister_A at 1:42 PM on September 16, 2010 [4 favorites]


    This opinion was apparently not shared by your mother, as inferred by her behaviour towards your humble interlocutor during the events of the preceding evening.
    posted by UbuRoivas at 2:04 PM on September 16, 2010 [9 favorites]


    If my canine companion had your maternal unit's facial features, I would depilate it's hindquarters and instruct it to permabulate in the opposite of the conventional direction.
    posted by jonmc at 4:53 PM on September 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


    Your female progenitor has the most pulchritudinous facial pili that I have ever witnessed on any human specimen, including those in possession of the Y chromosome.
    posted by 1000monkeys at 6:01 PM on September 16, 2010


    Yo' mama works hard and has gained much respect in a very old profession.
    posted by found missing at 6:08 PM on September 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


    Your mother's tastes are so pedestrian, she thinks Egyptian cotton smells of camels!
    posted by pecanpies at 6:46 PM on September 16, 2010


    The woman who gave birth to you has been observed sporting military footwear. It is our belief that she continues to do so.
    posted by ctmf at 7:09 PM on September 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


    Was talking this through with a friend, and she informed me that she got pulled up for using the phrase "brainstorm". Because epileptic people may be offended by the phrase. Weird.
    posted by seanyboy at 12:34 AM on September 17, 2010


    ... which is strikingly odd, I must say! for a female companion with whom I'd shared a particularly sordid encounter made precisely the same remark – hinting cannily that this was in reference to my own equipage and prowess.
    posted by koeselitz at 1:36 AM on September 17, 2010


    The person who acted as your primary caretaker in childhood has serious issues of self-worth and self-respect, which motivate said person to attempt to seek a temporary reprieve from nagging doubts about his or her value as a person and to gain momentary approbation from others by fucking the Denver Broncos.
    posted by Mister_A at 5:13 AM on September 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


    she got pulled up for using the phrase "brainstorm". Because epileptic people may be offended by the phrase. Weird.

    As an epileptic, "brainstorm" doesn't bother me in the least, but I do really wish people would stop saying "Oh man, I'm such a spaz today." and any variations thereof. But hey, they're probably not going to, so whatever.
    posted by sonika at 5:36 AM on September 17, 2010


    I lose MeTa for dragging this out, but:

    > I do care about offending people, of course, but I'm not going to apologize if someone gets offended by something I say/write which never a) was meant to offend AND b) had any offensive connotation to it in the first place. [Note that I wasn't the one calling anybody a mouthbreather.] Why would I apologize for that? "Sorry you don't understand what the word means?"

    That's what I used to think, too. Heck, I'm not perfect--even now, sometimes. But, you know--I could be wrong! And, if I caused someone offense, I can be sorry about it even if it's because they don't know what the word means. "I'm sorry" doesn't mean "I meant to do that", or even "I'm wrong". It's, "I caused you hurt, and I don't like to do that to people." Whether the ignorance is on one side or the other or neither is beside the point. I just think it's ignorant not to apologize when I hurt someone, not unlike if I accidentally step on someone toes.
    posted by RikiTikiTavi at 6:56 AM on September 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


    One thing I have learned about apologies that I wish I knew in my younger, prideful days—they help heal the giver at least as much as they help the receiver.
    posted by Mister_A at 7:21 AM on September 17, 2010


    Can I suggest 'palm sneezer' instead?

    Because there's just no damn excuse.

    Sneeze into a tissue or your sleeve, or else keep your hands off everything.
    posted by Anything at 3:48 PM on September 17, 2010


    and definitely keep your hands off Anything.
    posted by kuujjuarapik at 9:18 AM on September 18, 2010


    You're all a bunch of pussies.


    :-P
    posted by 1000monkeys at 6:57 PM on September 18, 2010


    Thank you, 1000monkeys. That's very kind of you to say.
    posted by koeselitz at 6:58 PM on September 18, 2010


    Thank you, 1000monkeys. That's very kind of you to say.

    That, kind sir, is a serviceable summation of the words she uttered.
    posted by Joseph Gurl at 1:52 AM on September 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


    Oh shnap, I just realized Darth Vader was a mouthbreather. OMG.
    posted by fuq at 6:06 AM on September 22, 2010


    As a most of the time mouthbreather, I would like to declare that it sucks SO BAD, that it is thoroughly appropriate to use as insult.

    Yeah ok, it's really just used in the same sense as slack jawed yokel, and that expression on your face, but my associations with mouth breathing are so much worse than say, douche nozzle.

    Given my decades of *mouth breathing*, runny noses, frequent minor suffocation waking & sleeping, sahara dreams and horrible tastes in my mouth, mouth breathing is so much TEH SUXXORS, it should be used as an ACTIVE insult - yeah, that's right!

    Next time I tell someone to "Go @#$%-yourself", I'm gonna say, "and mouth breath while you're at it! That's right, see how you like that taste in your mouth!"


    (Not entirely serious. Except where it is. And mouth breathing really does suck. So continue as you were!)
    posted by Elysum at 4:43 PM on September 22, 2010


    *sneaks in*
    *listens*
    ...

    ...

    MOUTHBREATHERS!!!!

    *runs away*

    posted by 1000monkeys at 7:17 PM on September 23, 2010


    WHO SAID THAT?!
    posted by Mister_A at 11:26 AM on September 24, 2010


    *crickets*
    posted by 1000monkeys at 2:49 PM on September 24, 2010


    Really? They don't look like crickets. Too hairy.
    posted by dersins at 4:06 PM on September 24, 2010


    I think they're grasshoppers. Hairy grasshoppers. Hairy, spiracle breathing... oops I crossed a line there.
    posted by not_on_display at 4:37 PM on September 24, 2010


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