Should offensive language be allowed through the keepers? April 22, 2011 4:53 PM   Subscribe

All of the discourse about his TRULY TRULY TRULY offensive language and questionable behaviour aside.... would it have been better for the community if the mods had refused to publish this question? I wonder if they would have let it through if it had been a racial epithet...

Maybe it's different in the US but that word is every bit as bad as your worst racial slur, in Australia. I would suggest editing with moderator comment inserted, or the whole post removed (less than ideal).

As a general theory, what do you all think of that? I believe allowing that kind of language reflects very badly on Metafilter.

posted by taff to Etiquette/Policy at 4:53 PM (425 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

Which question?
posted by SpacemanStix at 4:54 PM on April 22, 2011


Oops... where did the link go???
here
posted by taff at 4:54 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


What word are you talking about?
posted by dflemingecon at 5:00 PM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


This may be a cultural thing. To me whore is a not-awesome-way of saying prostitute which is a sort of industry standard way of saying sex worker. We pretty much don't edit questions and we definitely don't edit them for language reasons unless we think someone has made a mistake [i.e. I've seen people accidentally use words they didn't know were racial slurs]. So again, this may be my tone deafness or a cultural thing but the word "whore" in the US, I am assuming that's what you're talking about, doesn't have the same implications. It's not a nice thing to say about someone, certainly, but it's not like calling someone a racial epithet, to my mind.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:01 PM on April 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


Are you talking about the term "Sugar Daddy"? or "whore"?

Either way, it's up to you to handle any offense you take on the Internet. You can't expect everyone to know (let alone respect) whatever offends you.
posted by carsonb at 5:01 PM on April 22, 2011 [12 favorites]


friday night MeTa posts do not go so well. Besides, the guy is getting an upbraiding in the thread, what more do we need?
posted by Think_Long at 5:02 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


The standard advice is to flag the post, and if clarification is needed you can also use the contact form to articulate the problem.
posted by idiopath at 5:02 PM on April 22, 2011


I'm loathe to repeat it but if it's not obvious, sorry. It's "whore".
posted by taff at 5:02 PM on April 22, 2011


err, friday night in the US I mean.
posted by Think_Long at 5:03 PM on April 22, 2011


Yeah, no. You are overreacting. The guy sounds a bit thick-headed, but that's about the extent of it.
posted by booknerd at 5:03 PM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Do we really need a MeTa here? I mean, are we going to have to do this every time somebody displays a poor choice of words or a hint of ignorance on this site?

I can understand bringing it to MeTa if we have an out of control thread on our hands, but this just seems like useless hand-wringing to me.
posted by TrialByMedia at 5:03 PM on April 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


I think plenty of people commented in the thread (including myself) and let the OP know that that word is not okay.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 5:04 PM on April 22, 2011 [7 favorites]


"what more do we need?" Beer and snacks.
posted by arse_hat at 5:05 PM on April 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


And yeah there are a few people in the thread mentioning the same thing in ways that are more-or-less decent [one less decent, one more decent] and that really seemed to do it from my perspective.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:05 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think that it's better to publish the question and then address the language used. I have been chastised, online, for language I've used that had wider cultural implications that I was simply not aware of, and I've learned from those instances. If my comments had been disappeared then I wouldn't have that opportunity.
posted by lekvar at 5:06 PM on April 22, 2011 [8 favorites]


at least he didn't use the word awesome
posted by mannequito at 5:07 PM on April 22, 2011 [21 favorites]


I found it really weird when Gob used in on this Arrested Development intro. It was used casually on cable TV like the word had no baggage, which makes me wonder if there are people out there that thing the word is simply a term used for a person who sells sex for money and nothing more.
posted by dflemingecon at 5:08 PM on April 22, 2011


makes me wonder if there are people out there that thing the word is simply a term used for a person who sells sex for money and nothing more.


That's exactly it - there are.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 5:10 PM on April 22, 2011 [22 favorites]


Although it's not a nice word, I think the fundamental difference between "whore" and a racial epithet is that one is based on something that one does vs. the other is based on an immutable characteristic than one is born with.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:11 PM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Um, I was talking as a policy.... not specifically about that question, although I used it as my example. Jessamyn has answered that that word is not as bad in the US as it is here...so as it's an American site, I accept that.

But in Australia, it doesn't get much worse. You wouldn't be allowed to say it before 9.30pm on tv.

And yeah, it's a cold wet Saturday morning down here.
posted by taff at 5:12 PM on April 22, 2011


makes me wonder if there are people out there that thing the word is simply a term used for a person who sells sex for money and nothing more.

This must be some major cultural misunderstandings here, because that is exactly what the term means in the US. Not a respectful term, but there it is.
posted by Think_Long at 5:12 PM on April 22, 2011 [23 favorites]


It was used casually on cable TV like the word had no baggage, which makes me wonder if there are people out there that thing the word is simply a term used for a person who sells sex for money and nothing more.

I think in other English-language areas that's closer to how the word is used. I know there are other meanings attached to the word, but it seems that people prefer sex worker or prostitute for euphemism's sake rather than anything else. This is honestly the first time I've heard of whore being equated on a level of offensiveness with a racial insult.
posted by Jehan at 5:13 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sex worker is not a euphemism, it acknowledges that men and women can legitimately, and legally, sell sex as a profession...without judgement.
posted by taff at 5:17 PM on April 22, 2011 [14 favorites]


I couldn't tell if he was just kind of clueless or was trolling, so I answered it seriously. Assuming you mean the word "whore," I think of it as a medium-nasty word, not nearly as bad as some others, but not sweet and gentle, either.

I hadn't known that it was much more pejorative in Australia. Interesting.
posted by Forktine at 5:17 PM on April 22, 2011


Australia's "whore" is America's "cunt". You learn something new every day.
posted by Diablevert at 5:20 PM on April 22, 2011 [18 favorites]


Here is another casual usage example (warning: NSF-before-9:30pm in Australia) from the show Firefly, which was on broadcast television in the U.S. Although Mal sometimes used the word to deliberately irritate Inara, in the scene I linked he's just using it as a plain-spoken, single-syllable word for "women who sell sex for money."
posted by Jacqueline at 5:20 PM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm so shocked that this is the case in the States. Interesting. I thought yours was the land where folk didn't say hell or damn in polite company!

We also don't use the word slut in front of nice people. It's a very pejorative word...but differently to the US, is a pretty bad swear/curse word.
posted by taff at 5:22 PM on April 22, 2011


MetaFilter is not polite company. Are you new here? :D
posted by Jacqueline at 5:24 PM on April 22, 2011 [21 favorites]


Sex worker is not a euphemism, it acknowledges that men and women can legitimately, and legally, sell sex as a profession...without judgement.

I understand that it has a political meaning, but that doesn't prevent its use as a euphemism.
posted by Jehan at 5:24 PM on April 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


"Whore" does not simply mean "a person who sells sex for money" and nothing more.

First of all, it is overwhelmingly used for sex workers who are women or trans-women, and not so much for men.

Second, it is sometimes used against women who are not in fact sex workers, to devalue them and their humanity.

And yes, it has some very "not nice" connotations. It certainly hasn't communicated respect any time I've heard it used. It is often used in the context of devaluing sex work and sex workers, for example, in the phrase, "just a whore". It is used to make it seem like the person it is used against or about does not matter, and is not as important as other people.

Taff, maybe it is even worse in Australia, but frankly I think some folks are being obtuse here. It doesn't not simply mean the same thing as prostitute or sex worker here, as some people are saying.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 5:25 PM on April 22, 2011 [30 favorites]


I thought yours was the land where folk didn't say hell or damn in polite company!

You may be confusing us with Canada?
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:25 PM on April 22, 2011 [69 favorites]


We also don't use the word slut in front of nice people. It's a very pejorative word...but differently to the US, is a pretty bad swear/curse word.

Oh, don't get us (Americans) wrong. We don't use "whore," "slut," "hell," or "damn" in polite company, either. It's just that they're not really "swear" words, either. That said, I don't think I've ever heard "sex worker" used in polite company.
posted by The World Famous at 5:26 PM on April 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Of course it doesn't mean the same as "prostitute". It's more offensive than that...and it was meant to be. Dude is potentially angry at having been set up.
posted by DU at 5:27 PM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh cunt isn't acceptable with many, many people...in fact most here. But a small minority...including myself, have tried to reclaim it as a feminist issue. Some other folk who use it are just plain horrible people....so it gets a bit complicated. I think it's like African-American people reclaiming their racial slurs. Some white-supremacists still use the words and it all gets murky.

But "cunt" could get you arrested here, for sure....if used in front if the police, in public.
posted by taff at 5:27 PM on April 22, 2011


I'm so shocked that this is the case in the States. Interesting. I thought yours was the land where folk didn't say hell or damn in polite company!

Define "polite company." There are certainly subcultures where swearing is regarded with more gravity, but among most of the people I know in the northeast, to swear among one's peers is completely normal, to swear in front of one's parent's and vice-versa is maybe 50-50 (half the people I know would do that without qualm, half would be embarrassed or reluctant), to swear at work also a mixed bag depending on workplace culture. I would say most people would be reluctant to swear in front of their grandparents, a religious figure, or a small child. But among other adults, fairly normal.
posted by Diablevert at 5:28 PM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Get you arrested? Really? Under what charge?
posted by gingerbeer at 5:28 PM on April 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


You may be confusing us with Canada?

I'm not just from Canada, I'm from the east coast of Canada, which is supposed to be logarithmically more polite than even regular Canada.

The filth that I hear walking to work every day would probably make your ears bleed, taff. We are awfully nice when there are strangers around, but oh, when the lights go down...
posted by dflemingecon at 5:29 PM on April 22, 2011 [8 favorites]


I totally thought this would be about the Asian ceiling thread.
posted by lalex at 5:30 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


It still may be.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:30 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


This may indeed be cultural, taff. I'm also Australian, and agree that the word 'whore' is more offensive to Australians than Americans (I too prefer the neutral term 'sex worker'). To an Australian ear, 'whore' connotes degradation, filth and sub-human attributes.

Having said that, some people are addressing the OP's use of the word in the AskMe thread, so I'm not sure anything can be accomplished here.
posted by hot soup girl at 5:31 PM on April 22, 2011


> makes me wonder if there are people out there that thing the word is simply a term used for a person who sells sex for money and nothing more

Hi there! That's what it means to me. It sounds old fashioned and disapproving, along the lines of "marijuana cigarette" or "born out of wedlock," but that's all.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:31 PM on April 22, 2011 [10 favorites]


What about if people in the thread used the term "hooker" instead?
posted by birdherder at 5:33 PM on April 22, 2011


"It still may be."

I'm bored. Make it so. :D
posted by Jacqueline at 5:33 PM on April 22, 2011


I wouldn't use it myself, I should point out. I'd probably go with "prostitute," or "hooker" if I'm being flip. "Sex worker" was probably what I said when I was in college.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:33 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm with you, taff, I was shocked and I'm not usually easily shocked. It coloured my view of the OP, bigtime, and not in a good way. Good to learn that it is just a cultural difference though.

I'm an Aussie, in Australia, and I was called a lying whore by someone who professed to love me last year. I would have preferred he called me a lying cunt, funnily enough. I didn't lie to him anyway, but cunt is much less offensive to me than whore.

gingerbeer: indecent language. I believe that's the same charge used when police are called pigs. (I could be wrong.)
posted by malibustacey9999 at 5:34 PM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


The charge would be something like , "offensive language" or something. You just can't have folk running around and swearing in front of kids on the street. You can say what you like, largely wherever you like here, but you have to check your language.
posted by taff at 5:34 PM on April 22, 2011


If you're curious about America's "no-no words", Carlin's seven dirty words might be worth checking out.
posted by P.o.B. at 5:34 PM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


What about if people in the thread used the term "hooker" instead?

Hm. That's sort of complicated by the whole Bill Shatner association. Better to avoid the confusion.
posted by The World Famous at 5:34 PM on April 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


Asian ceiling thread

Link?
posted by andoatnp at 5:40 PM on April 22, 2011


I'm really glad this ended up in MeTa, because I like to think I'm somewhat well-versed in English-speaking cultural differences, and I had never, ever heard this one. So thanks for that, it's fascinating and good to know.
posted by Errant at 5:41 PM on April 22, 2011 [10 favorites]


I'm surprised there's a place where whore is such a serious insult that this thread would result. Using whore to actually describe prostitutes seems kind of quaint and old fashioned, like we're in an episode of Deadwood or something. Might as well call them courtesans or trollops or ladies of the evening.

Mostly, I hear it used jokingly in phrases of the form noun-whore, as derived from crackwhore, but with a much lighter meaning. I've often described myself as too much of a carb-whore to go on Atkins, as an example. Much like describing someone as a grammar nazi doesn't really imply that they're a member of a fascist organization that seeks to dictate the use of commas, being a carb-whore doesn't mean I'll blow you in an alley for a baguette. See also: shoe-whore, label-whore, etc.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:41 PM on April 22, 2011 [26 favorites]


I think hooker is more of an American word...I've heard it here...it's offensive but not a swear word, I guess.
posted by taff at 5:42 PM on April 22, 2011


Thanks, taff, for bringing this to my attention. I had no idea the word was so offensive to Australians. It's not a word I use in that context, but could you tell us if it is more offensive than we realize to use the term "attention whore," or to refer to myself as a "whore" in regards to my job?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:42 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Granted, I don't have a graduate degree in gender studies or something, but I would think that in a forum such as this one the word "prostitute" should probably suffice most of those on the spectrum between both those who think prostitution should be kept illegal and those who think it should just be called "sex work" and regarded as any other legitimate profession.
posted by Burhanistan at 5:43 PM on April 22, 2011


Or in the contexts that jacquilynne lists? I'd like to be more careful if this is a problem I was unaware of. Edgy can be fun, but I usually try not to actually offend with my bullshit.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:44 PM on April 22, 2011


'whore' is used continually in HOUSE, for example
posted by unSane at 5:44 PM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


HEY! YOU JUST SAID BULL-ESSS!
posted by P.o.B. at 5:45 PM on April 22, 2011


@jacquilynne (whoa I feel like I'm talking to myself): YES! on the Deadwood reference. After my husband and I watched that show we spent several months walking around the house randomly shouting "WHORE!" and "COCKSUCKER!" at each other all day.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:45 PM on April 22, 2011 [11 favorites]


those who think it should just be called "sex work" and regarded as any other legitimate profession.

Isn't "sex work" a general descriptor of a much, much broader category of employment than just prostitution?
posted by The World Famous at 5:48 PM on April 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


The charge would be something like , "offensive language" or something. You just can't have folk running around and swearing in front of kids on the street.

Wait wait wait. In Australia you can get arrested for swearing in front of children?

Whatever happened to "entirely peopled by criminals".
posted by DU at 5:49 PM on April 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


"Whore" is in the bible about 80 times. Are you going to take my fucking bible from me now?
posted by found missing at 5:49 PM on April 22, 2011 [7 favorites]


Whatever happened to "entirely peopled by criminals".

See US, Congress.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:50 PM on April 22, 2011 [15 favorites]


I'm on the west coast of the US, and I'd say "whore" is about as gross an insult as "cocksucker." Maybe a little less, somewhere between "bitch" and "cocksucker." It's hardly a polite term, and it definitely carries a derisive slant, but it's a word I've used towards my best friend when she deployed a 78-point word in Scrabble, for example.
posted by KathrynT at 5:51 PM on April 22, 2011 [8 favorites]


Whatever happened to "entirely peopled by criminals".

If swearing is a crime, then wouldn't that be technically correct?
posted by The World Famous at 5:54 PM on April 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


OK, so what's the Australian version of "attention whore", then? Or do they just go ahead and say "attention whore" and it is really much more insulting than in America?
posted by rkent at 5:57 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Dingo flasher"
posted by Burhanistan at 6:00 PM on April 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


Is this before or after it eats your baby?
posted by Jacqueline at 6:01 PM on April 22, 2011


And is the dingo in blackface?
posted by fleacircus at 6:02 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


To my Canadian ears, the various terms for "person (usually a woman) who sells sex" have pretty different connotations. "Sex worker" feels respectful and almost clinical, "prostitute" is neutral, "hooker" was that Dutch lady who wrote all those books, but "whore" used in modern conversation, not read in the Bible or nineteenth century literature, is usually used in when the speaker wants to communicate anger, contempt or disgust. To my ears, it's generally more insulting than "prostitute", and is usually coupled with adjectives like "dirty" or "fucking".

But OTOH, as jacquilynne mentioned above, neologisms like "shoe-whore" don't carry the same weight. It only feels like an awful word in the specific context of selling sex. Weird.
posted by maudlin at 6:02 PM on April 22, 2011 [7 favorites]


Another USian chiming in here. I'll easily agree that "whore" isn't a nice thing to call someone, and that "prostitute" is a more polite term, but I had absolutely no idea that it was downright obscene in Australia. When speaking casually, I use it often to refer to anyone, of any gender, who sells his or her dignity or integrity, such as a politician whoring himself to corporations. Also see terms like "attention whore" or "camwhore"-- rude, yes, but not obscene. And indeed, musical theater companies regularly revive The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.

I'll try to remember not to use the word around any Australians from now on, but I don't think you're going to make much headway in eliminating it from MetaFilter.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:03 PM on April 22, 2011


I'm truly offended. The proper spelling is 'ho.'
posted by jonmc at 6:03 PM on April 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


> could you tell us if it is more offensive than we realize to use the term "attention whore," or to refer to myself as a "whore" in regards to my job?

I can't claim to speak for all Australians, but I would say so, yes. Using the word in a non-sexual context dulls its offensiveness, but it still makes me wince. I don't think I know any Australians who use the word in a jokey way—except for some very camp men of my acquaintance whose humour lies in being as offensive as possible. I'm sure there are Australians who use the term 'attention-whore', but I can't imagine it coming out of the mouths of any of my friends: I suppose I tolerate the word when used by Americans, but would look askance at an Australian who did.
posted by hot soup girl at 6:04 PM on April 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


I wouldn't blow anyone for a baguette either. A croissant, however...
posted by dobbs at 6:07 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I am in Australia, though a New Zealander by birth. I have lived here for nearly 10 years. I had no idea the word whore was so offensive. I wouldn't use it myself, but to me it is totally not on the same level as a racial slur. And to me, cunt is much much worse. I am surprised to find whore is not allowed on TV before 9:30, or that people are especially careful to not say it around children, while I would not be surprised to find that about cunt or racial slurs. So either there is a great deal of variation in people's acceptance of the word even at this end of the world, or it is different in NZ and I hadn't picked up the Australian view of the word yet.
posted by lollusc at 6:08 PM on April 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


Thanks, hot soup girl. I'll try to remember to avoid it's use here. This is so interesting! Seriously.

Okay - have to go drive home. (But if any of you could hear me swearing at the other drivers, it would be the gallows for me!!! Profanity is my true calling.)
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 6:08 PM on April 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm finding it surprising that you can offend an Australian with language, but that may have everything to do with the Australians I hung out with when I was there.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 6:10 PM on April 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


Native Aussie here - I'm normally pretty blase about swearing (and have worked with a pack of ... fellows... who were equally nonchalant), but in thinking about it, 'whore' does seem to be packed with more vitriol than many other words. I certainly wouldn't use it in casual jest (especially about women - 'man-whore' would probably fly).

If someone used 'whore' to refer to a prostitute, I would read a lot more judgement into the statement.
posted by twirlypen at 6:14 PM on April 22, 2011


All the Australians I've even known were drunk 20-somethings staying at youth hostels, and as I recall their use of language was...

as I recall...

...um...

...shit, those nights are all a blur.

Australians are a bad influence.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:15 PM on April 22, 2011 [9 favorites]


I'm from the West Coast of the U.S., and I consider both "whore" and "prostitute" to be offensive. I get the impression that I consider the term "whore" to be as offensive as the Australians who have commented in this thread feel about it. "Prostitute" does come across as slightly less offensive, but it is derogatory.

I also use the term "sex worker" a word that doesn't designate gender, doesn't imply insults, and doesn't limit itself to one kind of sex work.
posted by aniola at 6:17 PM on April 22, 2011


I vividly remember being scandalised the first time I heard an Australian television continuity announcer say 'Coming up next, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas'. I couldn't believe he was allowed to say those words out loud.
posted by hot soup girl at 6:18 PM on April 22, 2011


The World Famous: Oh, don't get us (Americans) wrong. We don't use "whore," "slut," "hell," or "damn" in polite company, either."

Not "slut" or "whore," I'll grant you, but I can't imagine going a day without hearing/saying "hell" or "damn" or other non-gendered curse words all day long: at work, at home, at dinner with friends, at the movies (before the movie starts, naturally), etc.

I don't think we'll ever be able to stick a pin in a map, because I think this kind of thing is much more dependent on social group or workplace atmosphere than on geographical location, but I swear all the damn time.
posted by tzikeh at 6:19 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I also use the term "sex worker" a word that doesn't designate gender, doesn't imply insults, and doesn't limit itself to one kind of sex work.

What word do you use to indicate that someone is the prostitution kind of sex work?
posted by The World Famous at 6:20 PM on April 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


Not "slut" or "whore," I'll grant you, but I can't imagine going a day without hearing/saying "hell" or "damn" or other non-gendered curse words all day long: at work, at home, at dinner with friends, at the movies (before the movie starts, naturally), etc.

Well you're not in polite company, then, are you? I hear those words all the time, too. But there's a difference between what people say in the courthouse hallway and what they say in front of the judge.
posted by The World Famous at 6:21 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


"It still may be."

Well it's certainly not going to happen if y'all are patrolling it so closely and deleting even the most hilariously on-topic tongue-in-cheek jabs from the thread. :P

God, it's almost as if you guys have something better to do on a Friday night than sit around on MetaFilter putting out fires all night! ;)

ok I'll be good now
posted by Jacqueline at 6:26 PM on April 22, 2011


"Remain seated, please. Bring me some tacos and a whore."

Sorry. Yeah, I grew up in LA. Every time I hear the word "whore" the above Disneyland in-joke gets stuck in my head on loop. Actually, it sounds like they might have a much better Spanish speaker on the recording now. The old school version was atrociously gringo.
posted by loquacious at 6:30 PM on April 22, 2011


Hi! I'm new. I'm paying LOTS of attention.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 6:31 PM on April 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


Um... so when do you get off duty? Just, um, curious.

;D
posted by Jacqueline at 6:36 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I know you were just joking, Jacqueline, but the "ironic racism ha ha" came off a bit icky to me. Just as a data point for your future reference.
posted by Errant at 6:36 PM on April 22, 2011


is usually used in when the speaker wants to communicate anger, contempt or disgust. To my ears, it's generally more insulting than "prostitute", and is usually coupled with adjectives like "dirty" or "fucking".

I was thinking about this when I was jogging just now and I think that, in my experience of the USian context, "whore" is most insulting when applied against a woman who is not, in fact, having sex for money. A key part of why it's insulting* is the implication that she has sex so readily with such a variety of men that she's distributing her favors in a mercenary way. Whore's got the short, blunt Anglo-Saxon thing going for it, that's let's-get-down-to-brass-tacks thing, whereas "sex worker" is a reclaiming, "lady of the evening" is euphemism, "hooker" is slang, and "prostitute" is a legalism. So when you're using it as a angry insult, it's about two shades grayer than slut. Pro vs. semi-pro. But at the same time, because it is the most basic word to describe the world's oldest profession, it is actually less loaded when used it other contexts, more apt to be applied playfully or as hyperbole, as in attention whore, etc.



*when used by people, not the present commentator, who judge a woman's worth by her chastity, etc., etc., fuck the patriarchy, amen.
posted by Diablevert at 6:38 PM on April 22, 2011 [7 favorites]


OK, so ironic racism bad, but all the genuine racism expressed in that thread is fine. Got it.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:38 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Can we talk about how "USian" is offensive to me as a Merkin?
posted by found missing at 6:42 PM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'd rather not make this thread into that thread, but the genuine racism wasn't posted purely for effect. And in context, the humor very much fails to come through.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 6:42 PM on April 22, 2011


"whore" used in modern conversation, not read in the Bible or nineteenth century literature, is usually used in when the speaker wants to communicate anger, contempt or disgust. [...]

But OTOH, as jacquilynne mentioned above, neologisms like "shoe-whore" don't carry the same weight. It only feels like an awful word in the specific context of selling sex. Weird.


Favourites aficionado!
Just looking for one more click before they call it a night :)
posted by Chuckles at 6:44 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm going to presume you didn't actually read anything I wrote in that thread and leave it there.
posted by Errant at 6:44 PM on April 22, 2011


Meta-Go-Round
posted by Burhanistan at 6:44 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


*throws shoe at Chuckles*
posted by maudlin at 6:46 PM on April 22, 2011


Which is a very strange way of saying I agree with maudlin. I'm the farthest thing from a language sensor, honest, but whore used like this question just sounds pretty damn bad. It isn't a canonical slur, but..
posted by Chuckles at 6:46 PM on April 22, 2011


I'm going to presume you didn't actually read anything I wrote in that thread and leave it there.

Wait, people read the threads?
posted by found missing at 6:46 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh hey I just realized...

"It still may be."

SUCCESS!

Two MeTas for the price of one! :D

Anyhow, I should probably go find something more productive to do with my time than annoy the new mod. I commend your attentiveness and vigilance, restless_nomad, since apparently not everyone finds me as funny as I find me (my husband tries to tell me this all the time, BTW) -- keep up the good work!
posted by Jacqueline at 6:46 PM on April 22, 2011


Racism? Are we now talking about another thread?
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 6:47 PM on April 22, 2011


OK, so ironic racism bad, but all the genuine racism expressed in that thread is fine. Got it.

If you want to make this thread about this, by all means go ahead, but we've definitely had the "This is why ironic racism is truly toxic and we'd appreciate you not do it here" discussion.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:47 PM on April 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


What word do you use to indicate that someone is the prostitution kind of sex work?

That very much depends on how you define prostitution.
posted by aniola at 6:50 PM on April 22, 2011


Well, aniola, you said you like the fact that "sex worker" "doesn't limit itself to one kind of sex work." In other words, it's a vague term; it covers different kinds of jobs. But sometimes people don't want to be so vague. Sometimes people specifically want to refer to prostitutes, and I think we all know what that means. Is there any other term you would recommend?
posted by John Cohen at 7:03 PM on April 22, 2011


Chiming in as an Australian in Australia, I can't say I agree with the premise of this post. Perhaps it's a regional thing? Whilst not a nice word, I wouldn't say that "whore" was as offensive as "cunt". I've also heard "attention-whore" used a lot, by people of both sexes.

So... datapoint, I guess?
posted by coriolisdave at 7:10 PM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


I only lived for four years in Australia, but I'm going to call bullshit on this. There's no way that you can generalize that all or even most Australians are horrified by the word 'whore'. That's ludicrous.

This person might wish that to be the case to protect their own delicate sensitivities, but it is not.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:11 PM on April 22, 2011 [8 favorites]


NZ'er here.
General Australian acceptance of racial epithets is a lot higher, and by New Zealand and American standards a lot more racist.
I'd never really thought about it til now, but I guess that leaves a bit of a vacuum at the top, and therefore a bit of a 'swear shuffle'. Where racial epithets would be in NZ or US, you'd get things like whore, or cocksucker.

Cunt <> Whore Switch
Also, in Australia, and NZ to a lesser extent, you might say that someone (more generally a GUY), is 'a good Cunt'. Which just means a 'good bloke' 'good guy/friend' etc.

Interesting!
posted by Elysum at 7:12 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Kickass. I can now add "whore" to the list of words someone on metafilter would rather we not use.

Im my mind whore is only negative if your are imply that someone is that isn't. On the other hand if they charge the same as in town it's just a label and about as damning as being called a weatherman.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:14 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


man, your are no bill ayers.
posted by clavdivs at 7:16 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Stavros, are you completely serious? Are you trying to wind me up? Delicate delicate sensitivities? I'm not the only Australian saying this. But I am a feminist. And that's not about being "delicate" as you, so obnoxiously and sexistly, put it.

The word is misogynistic and a swear word in Australia. I ask you to point to any example of it's use in Australian media.
posted by taff at 7:19 PM on April 22, 2011


Whore Potty type is potty type unless it's art, then it is about critque. Would Hemingway or Rosa Parks toss that word about, never mind ernest because it fits, he would not have. Henry Miller, different, he was uncouth.
posted by clavdivs at 7:21 PM on April 22, 2011


Man-whore, too. That's a not-uncommon usage I've observed here.
posted by coriolisdave at 7:22 PM on April 22, 2011


Just to continue fleshing out the impression of the word:

"Whore" is definitely, to me, the big label I'd be most stricken by receiving, and though I don't balk at "labelwhore" or other such comical appropriations of the idea of the whore, the label is still untouchable in its power to upset. I think the pure misogynistic vitriol of "cunt" would neutralize the effect somewhat, or be in address of something value-neutral about me, if it were volleyed at me. "Whore," on the other hand, has such a deep morality behind it. Unlik "cunt," it's more directly attached to the idea of a person's moral dissolution being tautological with their worth and objectively determinable. It's more vaguely defined than "prostitute," too, so if someone calls you a whore, you can't really even say "no, I'm not..." It's like the gray area between slut and useless despicable piece of shit.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 7:23 PM on April 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


I ask you to point to any example of it's use in Australian media.

far be it stav for me
but by media do you mean movies and books?
posted by clavdivs at 7:23 PM on April 22, 2011


Yes, I too don't understand the premise of this post. Is the word "whore" really not used on TV here before 9:30? Well, even if it is, that's the watershed after which Aussie TV uses everything up to and including the word "cunt", so I don't think that is a criterion for making the word more offensive. Personally, I don't think whore is anywhere near as bad as a racial epithet - although I'm very particular about not using either in my general vocabulary.
posted by crossoverman at 7:27 PM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


since apparently not everyone finds me as funny as I find me (my husband tries to tell me this all the time, BTW)

You should listen to your husband.

;D
posted by MaryDellamorte at 7:30 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think what people are missing is that the OP used the term "whore" not in some quaint, old-timey way to denote sex worker, but in an angry, misogynistic manner. For fuck's sake, you can't remove the word entirely from the context in which it is used.
posted by Felicity Rilke at 7:31 PM on April 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


taff:I ask you to point to any example of it's use in Australian media.

I'll go first. How about "The Whore Whisperer: Confessions of a Madam" by the (admittedly barely amusing) Mishel Laurie?
posted by coriolisdave at 7:31 PM on April 22, 2011


You know what other word is racist? "USian". It's true!
posted by P.o.B. at 7:33 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Didn't bother me at all. Huh.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:34 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Forgive me, I wasn't specific. I meant news/magazines/radio not literature or film.
posted by taff at 7:34 PM on April 22, 2011


But "cunt" could get you arrested here, for sure....if used in front if the police, in public.

Huh? 20something in Australia here and even in my fairly progressive circles I've heard it used as a general description or a compliment, e.g. 'he's a mad cunt' (he's a good guy). note that it's gender neutral, I think. I could be wrong.

I didn't realize 'whore' was so offensive, and now I feel horrible if I've used it front of people without realizing that. Like others I assumed Aussies didn't put much limits on languge.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:36 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


A brief google of the SMH, and ABC sites shows multiple hits for "whore", usually referring to a title or quote but not in at least one instance from JJJ. Also, apparently actual prostitutes don't mind using it themselves.
posted by coriolisdave at 7:37 PM on April 22, 2011


"I had absolutely no idea that it was downright obscene in Australia."

Neither did I, & I'm born and bred.

Maybe it's a regional thing, but more likely it's a contextual thing. My gf, who despite being a high school teacher falls a bit on the prissy side of what passes for normal here, has no qualms in occasionally referring to various people as "attention whores" or "man-whores". I know several women who would be outraged and offended to being called a whore even in jest amongst friends, but happily use it in cases where I'd probably choose 'skank' or 'slut' for. And amongst everybody I know, male and female, using "whore" for "prostitute" is no problem at all.

So, frankly, the level of outrage of the OP & others puzzles me a little bit - though I can certainly see where they're coming from, and will happily accept that they find it extremely offensive. I just don't think it's as cut and dried as being "every bit as bad as your worst racial slur, in Australia"
posted by Pinback at 7:39 PM on April 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


Well, aniola, you said you like the fact that "sex worker" "doesn't limit itself to one kind of sex work." In other words, it's a vague term; it covers different kinds of jobs. But sometimes people don't want to be so vague. Sometimes people specifically want to refer to prostitutes, and I think we all know what that means. Is there any other term you would recommend?

I'm sorry, I really don't know what "prostitute" means. I have a native English speaker's understanding of the term, but I can't define it. And I can't answer the question because there are a lot of conflicting definitions for "prostitute."

If a prostitute is simply "a woman who has sex for money" (leaving alone questions of what it means to be a woman or to have sex), then the term "male prostitute" is an oxymoron.
posted by aniola at 7:39 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


if there are people out there that thing the word is simply a term used for a person who sells sex for money and nothing more.

When I was growing up the word basically meant a woman who slept around, period. Whether she was paid for it or not was immaterial.

It's really not a word I hear much at all anymore. Part of it is I think that sexual mores have changed drastically.

I do note that the words slut and skank seem to be way more frequently used. Not sure why.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:39 PM on April 22, 2011


Another Australian weighing in to say that I don't think it's so profoundly offensive to us. I would say its use is roughly similar to its use in the USA. It's not a polite word, and its use can vary, but to say it's as offensive as "cunt" makes no sense to me.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 7:41 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Curious that some of you think the appropriate response to a person telling you that a word is offensive is to repeat the word over and over again, and while you're at it, toss in as many other offensive words as you can in the process.
posted by crunchland at 7:44 PM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


You know what other word is racist? "USian". It's true!

Aussies have actually invented a racist term for Americans, such is their dedication to offensiveness. 'Seppo' is a weird bit of rhyming slang. Seppo - septic tank - Yank

Really.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:45 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the closest term that is as precise as "prostitute" would be "escort," but "escort" is always legally (to my understanding) a "no sex for money" arrangement.
posted by aniola at 7:48 PM on April 22, 2011


coriolisdave, I googled "International Whores Day" and found this page from the Scarlet Alliance, which is a group of Australian sex workers who consistently refer to themselves as sex workers throughout the site. They join sex workers in many countries who mark the day, and elsewhere in the site they explain why they use the word "whore" in this specific context:
International Whores Day commemorates the 1975 take over of a church in Lyon, France by sex workers complaining about lack of action by police when sex workers reported crime. The date is recognised by some as the beginning of the contemporary rights movement.

We use the word whore here to reclaim use of the word and to remove its power as a word used against us. Note that this does not give non sex workers the right to use this word against us. Sex worker is the term we recognise and appreciate.
See also: SlutWalk Toronto.
posted by maudlin at 7:48 PM on April 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


My general rule is not to say anything on the internet that I wouldn't say in front of my (now dearly departed) grandmother. I'm pretty sure I've said "whore" in front of my grandma.

(Regarding the asker in the thread, my Grandma also had a saying about just having falling off the turnip truck this morning, and I'm pretty sure it applies.)
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 7:58 PM on April 22, 2011


This is probably me de-railing my own point...but I'm rather curious about the Australians saying that this is not such an offensive term. Are any of you men? And would you have ever heard our two least feminist prime ministers...Howard or Hawke say it? Bob Katter? Pauline Hanson? Alan Jones? John Laws? Kerry O'Brien?

It's just not acceptable language here, any way you say it.

The attention-whore thing is much, much more mild. It's not something my social group would say but it's a very effective and concise description of a specific behaviour we all recognise...I really don't know what to say about it.

It would also not be something you would hear said in polite company.... nor in progressive workplaces.
posted by taff at 8:00 PM on April 22, 2011


Remember, business first. Then the whores.
posted by arse_hat at 8:02 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


point to any example of it's use in Australian media

Well, this book was available on the shelves of otherwise wholesome, family bookshops for a while.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 8:03 PM on April 22, 2011


Huh. I'm in the US (West coast) and am a little baffled by suggestions that it's an inoffensive, quaint word for prostitute here. When used against a woman (whether a sex worker or not, generally not), its meant pretty viciously. I wouldn't put it up there with racial epithets, but it's certainly not a nice word where I come from. Even stuff like "attention whore" makes me cringe a bit and I swear like a fucking sailor.

This must be a regional thing. Maybe calling a woman a whore as an insult is just more prevalent in some areas so carries more nastiness.
posted by cj_ at 8:06 PM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


[folks, we don't do the "bring people's personal information over" thing here. If you want to argue about what someone has posted on their blog it might be best to MeMail them or speak in generalities, thanks.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:09 PM on April 22, 2011


> I think what people are missing is that the OP used the term "whore" not in some quaint, old-timey way to denote sex worker, but in an angry, misogynistic manner

Good point. I'm one of the people who said it's not a big deal, but in this specific context it's highly unpleasant.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:10 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


> I only lived for four years in Australia, but I'm going to call bullshit on this.

You may certainly disagree, stavrosthewonderchicken, or say your impressions have been different, but surely there's no need to 'call bullshit' on someone's reflections on their own culture. Personally, as an Australian, I have noticed that the word 'whore' carries more of a charge among my native friends and acquaintances; I can't definitively claim this is representative of the wider society, and indeed other some Australians here in this thread do feel otherwise. It's possibly a demographic thing: I have lived in the inner city areas of Perth and Melbourne, and my social circle tends include a lot of feminists of both sexes. (And before you make a claim for 'delicate sensitivities': these are feminists who swear like sailors and use the word 'cunt' like it's going out of fashion.)

For what it's worth, I used the word 'attention-whore' recently in a conversation with a male British friend and immediately apologised—I'd never said the word out loud before and wanted to see how it felt. It felt wrong, and my friend's reaction was one of mild revulsion.

I'd like to think this is an interesting conversation about cultural difference (I'm fascinated by the reactions of other Australians in this thread) and not merely an opportunity to accuse people of being prissy and humourless.
posted by hot soup girl at 8:11 PM on April 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


Yeah, it's quite vicious to me when used as an insult, but I use it with my friends off-the-cuff all the time. Like, OK. If my husband called me a whore, I'd fucking pack a bag and go stay at a friend's house for a while. But when playing poker, when someone pulls out trips to beat my two pair, I might roar "you WHORE!" while laughing and downing my drink. I would use "bitch" this way, too, but never . . . gah, I can't even type the c-word.
posted by KathrynT at 8:12 PM on April 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Huh. I'm in the US (West coast) and am a little baffled by suggestions that it's an inoffensive, quaint word for prostitute here. When used against a woman (whether a sex worker or not, generally not), its meant pretty viciously. I wouldn't put it up there with racial epithets, but it's certainly not a nice word where I come from. Even stuff like "attention whore" makes me cringe a bit and I swear like a fucking sailor.

My inclination is that it's entirely context-dependent. I can see it being used as a somewhat vulgar/impolite, but not particularly offensive, word for prostitute, but also hear it in clearly misogynistic uses. However, I can't, unlike some other people, tell which was meant in the original post.

What does completely baffle me is the offensiveness of 'cunt'. It's simply not in my vocabulary, but I don't think of it as offensive (perhaps because I've never said it). Seemingly, everyone, save for New Zealand and perhaps some Australians, finds it deeply offensive. I have a vague idea that it's considered more offensive in the US than in Britain, but the only time I've heard people talking about its offensiveness was on Football Weekly.
posted by hoyland at 8:15 PM on April 22, 2011


If a prostitute is simply "a woman who has sex for money" (leaving alone questions of what it means to be a woman or to have sex), then the term "male prostitute" is an oxymoron.

The very first return on your search, aniola, says: "sell one's body; exchange sex for money."

There you go. Doesn't matter if you're a man or a woman. Pretty simple definition of "prostitute."

In U.S. fiction, esp crime fiction (fwiw), "whore" pretty much means hooker or prostitute. Nothing more or less denigrating. Personally I wouldn't want to be called by any of those terms, but it's not like it would but worse to be called a whore than a prostitute. Both terms just mean "selling yourself," either literally or figuratively.

And they are unlike "cunt," because you can't be a literal cunt. That term just means "jerk" in an offensive way; it has to do only with what half of us have, not what we choose to do.
posted by torticat at 8:17 PM on April 22, 2011


Chiming in as an Australian in Australia, I can't say I agree with the premise of this post. Perhaps it's a regional thing? Whilst not a nice word, I wouldn't say that "whore" was as offensive as "cunt". I've also heard "attention-whore" used a lot, by people of both sexes.

So... datapoint, I guess?
posted by coriolisdave at 7:10 PM on April 22 [+] [!]


And what Stavros, Pinback and AmbroseChapel said.

I'm in Perth, not ensconced in an inner city feminist environment, and tend to think that while the word certainly isn't a nice neutral descriptor for prostitutes or other sex workers, it gives nowhere near the same level of offence as just about any racial epithet I can think of. Amongst the people I know, whore regularly gets used with respect to people who aren't sex workers (male or female) in a casual, joking or bantering fashion to imply unorthodox sexual morals or practices. Much as slut does. As long as you smile while you say it, no-one's gonna hit ya.

It is fundamentally not a swear word of an order that might invite the police to start throwing offensive language or disorderly conduct charges around. Said loudly and aggressively enough in public, fuck and cunt could both get you arrested, but unless you were aiming whore straight at a female copper (or her grandmother), I think you'd generally be safe.

As others are saying, it's one of those words where context and intent are everything.
posted by Ahab at 8:20 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the question of whether "whore" is really super bad, just kind of bad, or not bad at all to Australians, non-Australians, or sometime Australians isn't the issue at hand. taff's post asked: should this word be scrubbed by the mods before questions are posted?

The answer to that question is: no. Metafilter doesn't sanitize posts for your protection, and I'm glad of that. I think Mr. "What, me, a john?" used the word in an offensive manner, but I don't expect or desire that one of the admins fix that so I can read the question. In fact, I'd rather it was left, so those answering the question can provide the asker with a little enlightenment.
posted by donnagirl at 8:22 PM on April 22, 2011 [11 favorites]


I need an atlas that tells me where I can say whore, cunt, spaz, republican, etc. without offending anyone.
posted by sanko at 8:24 PM on April 22, 2011


I need an atlas that tells me where I can say whore, cunt, spaz, republican, etc. without offending anyone.

At home. Not caring about offending people is also an option. HTH HAND.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:28 PM on April 22, 2011 [9 favorites]


My house.
posted by Errant at 8:28 PM on April 22, 2011


Um, it seems I said something on my defunct blog that makes me hypocritical. I missed what was posted and by who. If anyone has access to that comment and my gaff, I'd really like to read it. I would hate to be a hypocrit without knowing it. Memail me if you like. Thanks.
posted by taff at 8:28 PM on April 22, 2011


Or- to elaborate on a traditionally-eloquent and better reply by jessamyn- I'll say those things around my house and my friends, and I will be more careful around a larger and less-known group. To me, that seems like courtesy. It's not mandatory by any means, but it doesn't take me a ton of effort and seems to be appreciated by more people than my lack of sauciness offends.
posted by Errant at 8:35 PM on April 22, 2011


In U.S. fiction, esp crime fiction (fwiw), "whore" pretty much means hooker or prostitute. Nothing more or less denigrating.

Really? To me that word choice would definitely be more denigrating than either "prostitute" or even "hooker". I would say that in my mind there is a sort of hierarchy where "hooker" implies a streetwalker level where "call girl" would be more genteel, almost an escort.

It's funny, I would never actually say the word, "whore" at all, really. But then, I actually swear more in writing than I would ever do in speech. I was brought up to be, I guess, "prissy". Women in my family don't really swear. If you were to ever hear me do so, and you knew me (and we weren't having sex or something) you would realize something was really amiss.

But just today I typed "fuck" without even blushing!
posted by misha at 8:42 PM on April 22, 2011


I need an atlas that tells me where I can say whore, cunt, spaz, republican, etc. without offending anyone.

I might be concerned on someone else's behalf by some of these, but the only one that would bother me personally is if you called me a republican. Them's fightin' words.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 8:55 PM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


I might be concerned on someone else's behalf by some of these, but the only one that would bother me personally is if you called me a republican.

Well it's not as bad as being called a banker.
posted by shothotbot at 8:57 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


A theory: the word "whore" is more offensive the less rhotic the pronunciation of it is. Discuss.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:07 PM on April 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Echoing stavros etcetera, I'm Australian, live in the inner city, count plenty of Arts graduates as friends, and we toss around 'whore' without any real concern. I don't dispute the validity of taff's discomfort, but it's a bit rich to claim to be taking offence on behalf of all Australians. Certainly, the comparison to racist language is completely absurd.
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 9:16 PM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


I need an atlas that tells me where I can say whore, cunt, spaz, republican, etc. without offending anyone.

In Australia, 'republican' is someone who supports removing us from the monarchy. But if you call someone a 'liberal', that's like caling them a Republican. Or something.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:19 PM on April 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


surely there's no need to 'call bullshit' on someone's reflections on their own culture.

Shrug. 'Bullshit' is the least offensive term I could come up with after several tries. The mode of this thread, like so many we've seen before, is not 'someone reflecting on their culture', it's someone using their possibly spurious perception of their possibly very specific language culture attempting to suggest that the norms of that language culture should be globally applied.

We've been through this I-find-a-word-offensive-so-nobody-else-should-use-it merry-go-round a dozen times before. I understand the issues, I am sympathetic with both sides of the argument. I'm not going to bother getting into it again.

At home. Not caring about offending people is also an option. HTH HAND.

jessamyn, I understand what you're doing here (although I don't know what HTH HAND means), and that's all good, and your job and probably, from what I know of you, reflective of your personal convictions. But we are all adults here and most of us understand that there is a broad middle ground between 'not caring about offending people' and living in constant fear that someone will be offended at our choice of words and self-censoring as a consequence. Neither is an optimal state of affairs.

I can't remember what the last word that somebody got upset about was, but insisting that because some (and clearly, it seems, by no means all) Australians are offended by the word 'whore' (which can be used, like many other words, to be pejorative and hurtful or merely descriptive) then that word should be eschewed entirely by all users of Metafilter?

I personally think that's ludicrous. I have no more desire to offend than I do to have my word choices as an aware adult using language in good faith to be legislated by others. We have to live in the complex tension between those things, and be aware that there are people who are mean, who are sexist, who are [whateverist] and they will use words that offend us in mean and sexist and offensive ways.

That's life. And barring everyone, or attempting to do so, from using the words that some will inevitably use in hurtful ways is a Bad Idea, I think.

Aside: I can't remember the last time I used the word 'whore', except when talking about advertising. And I will continue to do so, because I don't believe that calling a person a whore and saying, for example, that 'musicians who sell their songs for TV ads are whoring themselves out' are equivalent. I do not do the first; I do do the second. If that then offended you, I would apologize for that, because to offend would not be my intention, but I would not stop using the word.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:29 PM on April 22, 2011 [25 favorites]


Lovecraft, I think that's where the capital and small L becomes relevant.
posted by taff at 9:30 PM on April 22, 2011


Let me clarify: if someone actually does take money in return for sexual intercourse, regardless of their gender, I would describe them as a whore, without even the slightest pejorative intention on my part. I believe it is an accurate description for the vendor in that transaction.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:37 PM on April 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


... although I don't know what HTH HAND means ...

From the context, my guess would be "Hope that help[ed|s]. Have a nice day."
posted by Bruce H. at 9:39 PM on April 22, 2011


Late to the thread, but I couldn't help but think of this scene from Curb Your Enthusiasm while reading the discussion. FWIW, I'm not convinced that the card players' reaction would be typical in the USA, at least not where I am in the Midwest (though you'd be considered pretty crude-- plenty of people hate the word "cunt" here).

Anyhow, I'd be very interested in seeing a similar scene, from a non-US TV show/film, that highlights "no-no" words specific to that culture.
posted by Rykey at 9:39 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Australian psychobilly band Zombie Ghost Train use the phrase 'psychotic little whore' in their song 'Devil Woman'. Always struck me as a bit nasty, but they're a psychobilly band....
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:47 PM on April 22, 2011


I can't remember what the last word that somebody got upset about was

Believe me, it was awesome.
posted by nickmark at 9:48 PM on April 22, 2011 [19 favorites]


Ok Stavros, I get where you are coming from. But Australian women are saying it's a very bad word
in Australia, a few men had no idea.

Where would you draw the line? What anti-woman language is acceptable here on Metafilter? What is not?

Would you think the mods should delete/modify racial slurs?
posted by taff at 9:48 PM on April 22, 2011


Would you think the mods should delete/modify racial slurs?

Depends on the context. As a blanket rule of course not.
posted by Justinian at 9:55 PM on April 22, 2011


Stavros, and I hope you know I have a world of respect for you, no one needs your help to understand that life is full of mean and nasty things. I think the point of these discussions is to say, "look, this is offensive to me for these reasons." Knowing that, I can now make word choices with a more full and more educated understanding of how I will be received by saying the things I do. I find it useful to gain that understanding. I may or may not change how I approach language due to it, but more information is always better.

(Happy To Help. Have A Nice Day.)
posted by Errant at 9:55 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Taff, you clearly don't get where Stavros is coming from, and you're misrepresenting what Australian men (including myself) have said in this thread. It's not about having no idea, it's about find the word perfectly acceptable in many contexts.

As for this:

Um, it seems I said something on my defunct blog that makes me hypocritical. I missed what was posted and by who. If anyone has access to that comment and my gaff, I'd really like to read it. I would hate to be a hypocrit without knowing it. Memail me if you like. Thanks.
posted by taff at 8:28 PM on April 22 [+] [!]


If you didn't see the deleted comment, how do you know it was an accusation of hypocrisy? Why did the link to your blog get deleted from your profile page? How long has your blog been "defunct"?

While agreeing wholeheartedly that the deleted comment shouldn't have been made, and should have been taken down, your response to it and its removal is just plain disingenuous.

"If anyone has access to that commment and my gaff".. is bad faith argument (you know they now don't) and thus bullshit. Seriously.
posted by Ahab at 9:56 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, I don't think the mods should modify something for content under almost any circumstance. Moving something inside a fold or whatever, sure, but actually modifying for content? That's a pretty serious no-on.
posted by Justinian at 9:57 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hang on, hang on Ahab. I didn't see it. I saw a quote that someone made in italics, asking if this was my blog. That has also mow been deleted. My blog link had not been changed in my profile so I no idea what you are talking about....unless aid did that. And I'm almost certain they wouldn't. It was last used September last year.

I have no idea if there is a way to see deleted comments throw a grease inlet script, I'm not computer literate enough. I know deleted threads can be seen.

There is absolutely no need to be mean and nasty here. Seriously, I just asked a question and you're being quite horrid.
posted by taff at 10:04 PM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Crikey, autocorrect fail. ...Deleted by a mod...and grease monkey script. Apologies.
posted by taff at 10:08 PM on April 22, 2011


Stavros, and I hope you know I have a world of respect for you, no one needs your help to understand that life is full of mean and nasty things. I think the point of these discussions is to say, "look, this is offensive to me for these reasons." Knowing that, I can now make word choices with a more full and more educated understanding of how I will be received by saying the things I do. I find it useful to gain that understanding. I may or may not change how I approach language due to it, but more information is always better.

That's cool. I just worry sometimes about the fine line between making one's feelings known and leveraging those declared feelings as a kind of HVAC pump to create a chilling effect.

It's a complicated matter, of course, as these things always are.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:08 PM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


> Seriously, I just asked a question and you're being quite horrid.

Not nearly as horrid as that blog post, though.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:09 PM on April 22, 2011


I've learned something from this thread. Namely, I would never, ever call a woman a 'whore' unless I hated her and wanted to paste the ultimate insult on her. However, I am perfectly comfortable calling my cat an 'attention whore,' because she is.

I don't mean this to be flippant. I have a double standard, and I don't quite understand it.

Carry on.
posted by mudpuppie at 10:10 PM on April 22, 2011


Ok, Burhanistan, that's not the point here. Please email me your exact problem with it.
posted by taff at 10:11 PM on April 22, 2011


The blog post: I probably shouldn't have brought it up. If I crossed a line, I apologize. We're in contact via memail now. No worries (hopefully.)
posted by MrFTBN at 10:12 PM on April 22, 2011


> I can't remember the last time I used the word 'whore', except when talking about advertising. And I will continue to do so, because I don't believe that calling a person a whore and saying, for example, that 'musicians who sell their songs for TV ads are whoring themselves out' are equivalent. I do not do the first; I do do the second. If that then offended you, I would apologize for that, because to offend would not be my intention, but I would not stop using the word.

No, Stavros, it wouldn't offend me, and I, for one, am not asking you to stop using the word. I can't speak for anyone else in this thread, but personally I'm only interested in the 'Hey, isn't it interesting when a previously invisible cultural difference suddenly makes itself apparent!' elements of this discussion; I'm not even really making a value judgement. I was surprised by your fightiness.

I agree with taff in that I find the word offensive, but I don't think it's helpful here to make an equivalency with racism. I don't use the word 'whore' for the same reasons I don't say 'bitch' or 'slut'—because they're words that have been used, historically, to shame and disenfranchise women—but I'm not advocating censorship. I think editing rude words out of posts is a bad idea and one that I can't imagine the mods would get behind in any case. In this particular example, I did feel that the OP's use of the word 'whore' gave his question an unpleasant flavour, but a flavour that was perhaps an accurate representation of his take on the situation. I'm glad people gave him advice about that in the thread.
posted by hot soup girl at 10:18 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ok, Burhanistan, that's not the point here. Please email me your exact problem with it.

It is precisely the bloody point. It totally eludes me why your words (which others were construing as racist) should be free from public discussion, while you insist on a debate about censoring words that many of us consider mild and inoffensive because you feel they're akin to racism.

I don't think your words should be free from public scrutiny and debate in this case, and I don't think you (who raised the censorship issue here) should get to argue from behind a screen of "If anyone actually saw it, hahaha.." coyness.

If that makes me horrid, I am completely content to be so.
posted by Ahab at 10:33 PM on April 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Stavros: I totally agree that it's complicated. For myself, I view metatalk threads as a place to hash out community norms and opinions, without an attendant implicit prohibition on discourse. Not every thread carries the sense of "the mods must crack down", but it doesn't have to for us to talk about what bothers us, without that talk carrying implicitly the burden of adjustment.
posted by Errant at 10:35 PM on April 22, 2011


is usually coupled with adjectives like "dirty" or "fucking".

Or sometimes even both together.

I also think that modifying or deleting potentially offensive content is bad, and to my knowledge it doesn't happen here.
posted by pickinganameismuchharderthanihadanticipated at 10:39 PM on April 22, 2011


meh
content=language

Obviously stuff gets deleted.
posted by pickinganameismuchharderthanihadanticipated at 10:41 PM on April 22, 2011


Errant, you're right that not every thread carries the sense of requesting a mod crack-down, but this one explicitly does. I think that's where some of the ire is coming from; it's certainly making me feel prickly. taff's suggestion is:

I would suggest editing with moderator comment inserted, or the whole post removed (less than ideal).

taff's (admittedly "less than ideal") reaction to seeing the word "whore" was to think the entire post should be scrapped. I feel like that's a startling overreaction, and completely out of realm of Metafilter as I know it to be.
posted by donnagirl at 10:44 PM on April 22, 2011 [7 favorites]


I'm Aussie, and I don't find the word "whore" particularly offensive. Tactless maybe, but not offensive.
posted by chmmr at 10:54 PM on April 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Not every thread carries the sense of "the mods must crack down", but it doesn't have to for us to talk about what bothers us, without that talk carrying implicitly the burden of adjustment.

For the record, the title of this thread is "Should offensive language be allowed through the keepers?" I agree with donnagirl that this particular thread was, indeed, an explicit request for deletion/editing/bannination of the w-word (taff also clarified later, "Um, I was talking about policy....").
posted by dialetheia at 11:05 PM on April 22, 2011


In middle school I head the word "whore" thrown around a lot as an insult, and it was only used against women, but in a sort of non-contextualized way, like "fat" is sometimes, where they just use it to apply to anyone female they don't like, so it actually took me a few years to figure out that what they were saying was a separate word from "horror". I thought they were saying "horror" kind of fast, so it became a single syllable. That seemed like a pretty good insult to me, so I didn't question it.

I don't remember when exactly I figured out the difference-- I probably saw it written somewhere and made the connection or looked it up on Altavista or something.
posted by NoraReed at 11:12 PM on April 22, 2011


Yeah, I did think about that too, and I totally grant that this OP specifically called for mod action. Still, the OP recanted about ten comments in, and the conversation continued, so I don't think I'm out of line to suggest that where we are now is not a place where we're discussing hardline policy.
posted by Errant at 11:14 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Frankly, that thread could have ended after about 12 comments, and really, after the second.

"Whore" is much more malleable than "cunt." I would use "whore" to describe my bicycle, but "cunt" hardly ever applies to anything. "The c-word," as I would typically term it in the third-person, may only come up in the rest of my life if I have a girlfriend who explicitly asks for it in a role-playing kind of way, or maybe if I ever have a "Boondock Saints" Halloween costume. Somewhat of a niche, to be sure. "Whore," to me, is somewhat archaic and slightly less pointed thereby.

I don't know about everybody else, but it's really hard not to take a dump in the middle of this thread with a "does this mean [worse-word] is out, too?" I try not to be an Ugly American, but it's in my genes.
posted by rhizome at 11:21 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Another aussie datapoint: I've lived in QLD, ACT, Melbourne, and NSW, in country and city.

a) I would call a man a whore, or use attention-whore etc, but I would never call a woman a whore, under any circumstances. I personally feel it's a misogynist insult aimed at degrading women and their sexuality. I feel like it's an insult to both women, and women who are sex workers. This feeling is not uncommon in many of the circles I have moved in.


b) The circles where people commonly use the term whore in Australia - at least, the circles I have moved in where it was commonly used - do indeed use racial epithets regularly and fairly comfortably.
posted by smoke at 11:25 PM on April 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


So the take home message is that this specific word is not a huge, huge issue in many places. We didn't get in to what would constitute a word that was so offensive that the moderators would delete or modify... I'm hoping there is at least one.

Feel free to create another thread about that another day, someone.

As for my blog, thanks to those that privately wrote to me. Each one had an interesting and helpful perspective. I'm a work in progress myself.

(Ahab , there was no coyness nor laughing. It feels like you've just about skirted into ad hominem. It's disappointing that you felt the need to do that.)
posted by taff at 11:33 PM on April 22, 2011


Though I think it's a vicious word to use in a description of a sex worker, I don't think that's any justification for editing or deleting a post. It gave us a bit of an insight into the mindset of the poster, and also allowed for a bit of education about what words may be more respectful.
posted by twirlypen at 11:37 PM on April 22, 2011


The proper spelling is 'ho.'

My mother insisted it was 'hoo-er'.

As in 'Where do you think you're going dressed like that, you dirty little hoo-er?'
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:56 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Would you think the mods should delete/modify racial slurs?

I know! They could disemvowel them!
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:07 AM on April 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


In London up to the Nineteenth century, the boatmen who carried passengers up and down the Thames would ply for custom with their traditional cry of "Oars! Oars!"

Countrywomen in London for the first time would sometimes misinterpret this cry and get very offended...
posted by TheophileEscargot at 12:07 AM on April 23, 2011


'Tis pity...
posted by Abiezer at 12:16 AM on April 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


So the take home message is that this specific word is not a huge, huge issue in many places. We didn't get in to what would constitute a word that was so offensive that the moderators would delete or modify... I'm hoping there is at least one.

Feel free to create another thread about that another day, someone.


I c-word you did there.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:24 AM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


We didn't get in to what would constitute a word that was so offensive that the moderators would delete or modify... I'm hoping there is at least one.

Modify: basically never, ever, ever. If it's problematic enough that it needs to go, we'll delete the post or comment. We're not going to bowlderize a goddam thing if we can help it; this is a community of adults who can grapple, sometimes through lengthy and energetic conversation, with borderline cases of ugly expression as part of the relatively free-form communicative dynamic that is Metafilter and Metatalk.

There are no hard and fast rules here, though there are certainly some general degrees-of-problematicness that have come out of a mix of common understanding (notably e.g. various commonly-understood-to-be-fucked-up racial epithets) and community discussion for stuff where there's a mix of serious offense and circumstantial blind spots or culture clash stuff. Whether or not something on the border zones of the offensive will be nixed or allowed to stand will depend a lot on the context, and given the varying feelings different members of the site have about the limits of permissiveness in language on the site I don't think everyone will ever be happy with any of the handling of those weird edge cases. That's what makes them edge cases.

But that's why we have metatalk: so at least, when folks are unhappy, we can talk about it and be unhappy together as a community.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:34 AM on April 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


[redacted]
posted by The World Famous at 12:35 AM on April 23, 2011


I know! They could disemvowel them!

The day I leave metafilter for good, you mean.

Not that there's a chance in hell of it happening.
posted by Justinian at 12:39 AM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Just saw this post. Get a grip, OP. Metafilter is for the thick-skinned. If a word offends you, go elsewhere. If the mods are unwilling to heavily moderate NSFW posts to accommodate those who read the site at work, why would they ever moderate to accommodate the easily offended residing in Australia?
posted by Happydaz at 1:02 AM on April 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


We didn't get in to what would constitute a word that was so offensive that the moderators would delete or modify... I'm hoping there is at least one.

Absolutely. The C-word is met with extreme vengeance because it is so offensive in the US, although not in other parts, and which has extremely variable meaning depending on context even where it is generally acceptable.

To wit: in the facebook threads about big Casey who upended that little bully, Casey was lauded as being a "mad c***" or a "sick c***" (both good things) whereas the bully was "the weedy little c***" or simply "that c***"
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:02 AM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]



"Whore" is much more malleable than "cunt." I would use "whore" to describe my bicycle, but "cunt" hardly ever applies to anything. "The c-word," as I would typically term it in the third-person, may only come up in the rest of my life if I have a girlfriend who explicitly asks for it in a role-playing kind of way, or maybe if I ever have a "Boondock Saints" Halloween costume. Somewhat of a niche, to be sure. "Whore," to me, is somewhat archaic and slightly less pointed thereby.


Nah, the c-word is pretty mallable in Australia, as Ubu points out.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 1:06 AM on April 23, 2011


You made a call-out because some guy referred to a prostitute as a whore? Seriously? A call-out?

Come off it.
posted by Decani at 1:14 AM on April 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


Seriously yes Decani. As you might not have read the entire thread....in Australia, by many, many folk, it is considered as offensive as racial slurs. Really.

The larger point is about where the mods draw the line.

I was hoping Ubu would pop in for this. I'm really not a hysterical wilting flower, as Ubu will attest.

I got the cultural nuance explained by Jessamyn very quickly, and Josh gave more policy advice just now so there isn't a lot more to be said.

Again, in Australia it is largely considered outrageously sexist, offensive language and would not be broadcast before 9.30pm on tv.

So there it is. A cultural difference. I hope you can appreciate that it is better to have said something than nothing at all.

If I had seen racially offensive language, I'd have done the same...and to a fair chunk of Australia, this language is not much different.
posted by taff at 1:36 AM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I attest that taff is not a hysterical wilting flower.

(you owe me a slab for that. Coopers red, please)

But yeah, probably "whore" is on the more offensive end of the scale, when used to describe a woman in a sexual context. "Attention whore" or "favourites whore" are obviously different matters.
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:42 AM on April 23, 2011


(you owe me a slab for that. Coopers red, please)

Total MeTa-support-*****....
posted by pompomtom at 1:51 AM on April 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


In five years you'll be having a furious Metatalk pile on some evil stupid guy who's used the utterly verboten phrase 'sex worker' instead of the currently acceptable term of 'freelance pleasure therapist'. I've been in Australia five years and seen no evidence that the word 'whore' is worse here than anywhere else, it's a derogatory term for women who sell sex for money like it is everywhere else in the English speaking world. Carlin's 7 words may be losing their impact through overuse but other words are being shunned in turn to replace them. Thus there's always 7 words which are effectively banned in polite company, but what those 7 words actually are keeps changing. We're no less hung up about language than the Victorians were, we just spend the rest of the time patting ourselves on the back for being so much more enlightened.
posted by joannemullen at 2:05 AM on April 23, 2011 [6 favorites]


Okay, can we all just take a deep breath and agree that the W word offends some of us while others aren't offended at all?

As I said upthread, I didn't realise that there is a cultural difference but I was fairly horrified by the use of the W word in the original Askme. I also didn't know that some Aussies aren't offended by it. You learn something new each day (and that's why I hang around here, I like to learn stuff).

Can't we all just agree to disagree, so those who use the W word with carefree abandon understand that some really really really don't like it, and those who are offended by the W word understand that it's not so offensive to others?

Don't make me invoke Kamahl.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 2:22 AM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Go on, you know you want to Stacey.
posted by taff at 2:24 AM on April 23, 2011


Why are mefites so unkind?
posted by pompomtom at 2:25 AM on April 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=euLDjrvI9tw

Walks off, whistling innocently...
posted by malibustacey9999 at 2:38 AM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is it halal to say "booger"?
posted by Meatbomb at 2:54 AM on April 23, 2011


Yes. It is not kosher to eat them, however.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 2:58 AM on April 23, 2011


Any time anyone asks about offensive language, slurs, etc., some people become very, very heated in defense of the term or expression. The person asking is almost always attacked, often quite viciously. "Delicate flower" (or similar) will always be invoked. It will always be implied that we are teetering on the brink of Nanny Stateism.

I feel like many of the people who are most hostile and reactive to the idea of curbing or examining demeaning language are people who are not typically targets of attacks using those terms, and feel that it's their own best self-interest to preserve the widest possible range of expression at any cost. Specifically, the cost here would be to limit the actively participating user base if there were no community (as in membership) sanctions about terms like "fag," "cunt" etc., and if it was A-okay to turn every post with a woman as a subject into a running commentary about if she was hot enough to "do" or "hit," or whether she was too ugly to have an opinion or be noted for her achievement.

Whatever Scott Adams thinks, we are not a internet cesspool, precisely because we've been willing to discuss these issues. God, it was painful, and God, did some people not fight tooth and nail to the ragged bloody nub to retain their right to sexist (especially) language and commentary.

But as a community, we've rejected some language and behavior, and it's made us better and more diverse, and I'm very glad that we have a way to discuss and work through such questions. I'm glad people are willing to ask the questions. I'm also glad when the questions are rationally challenged, because ideally we will be an intelligent adult community that relies neither on mindless slurs nor doorstop rulebooks in order to communicate.
posted by taz at 3:13 AM on April 23, 2011 [28 favorites]


Chill out on accusing taff of being disingenuous wrt the blog post. She saw my comment quoting a portion of the original comment, but not the comment itself. Both are deleted now. Nothing to see here.
posted by cj_ at 3:14 AM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm a female in Australia though admittedly a NZer by birth. I thought the use of 'whore' in that question was a little tasteless but I have difficulty taking it seriously as an offensive term. I hear it all the time, and it always strikes me as more immature than anything else (perhaps because it was the insult of choice during my early high school years.) Also, I don't see being a prostitute as a bad thing, so there's that, too.

But I will never get used to how casually Australians toss around 'cunt'. I have a childhood friend whose father lost visitation rights in large part because his new girlfriend called my friend's mother a cunt in my friend's hearing, and the particular word used definitely factored into it.
posted by lwb at 4:34 AM on April 23, 2011


DU: Dude is potentially angry at having been set up.

This is the funny part, for me - as far as I can tell, the guy pays a woman just before having sex with her, has sex with her and is then, like, OH NOES HAVE I BEEN DECEIVED BY A WHORE? I mean, what the hell, guy? Where's the setup? Was there a conspiracy to get him to a country where the dollar goes further in purchasing sex? Like the apartment building in Rosemary's Baby?
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:18 AM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


20c, same as in village.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:42 AM on April 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is the funny part, for me - as far as I can tell, the guy pays a woman just before having sex with her, has sex with her and is then, like, OH NOES HAVE I BEEN DECEIVED BY A WHORE? I mean, what the hell, guy? Where's the setup? Was there a conspiracy to get him to a country where the dollar goes further in purchasing sex? Like the apartment building in Rosemary's Baby?

He seems extremely naïve. It doesn't shock me that someone who isn't savvy to this process feels like they were railroaded at its conclusion. He thought they were college age women interested in him. It's a little weird for a 40-something to not know the score, yeah, but not unbelievable. Not everyone has the same life experience.
posted by cj_ at 6:01 AM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I feel like this is all a bit like poking one lunatic in defence of another, but I'm going to chime back in anyway.

The claim that the word "whore" can't be used on Australian TV before 9.30pm has been bandied about a bit above. It's another sense in which there is either some very mistaken baggage being brought to this discussion, or people are being outright dishonest.

Here's a breakdown of Australian television ratings, and times that programs bearing those ratings may be shown. Times for M and MA15+ are relevant here. (Sourced from Wikipedia, but here's the full industry code of practice in .pdf form if you feel the need to check.)

The body in charge of television ratings and investigations into breaches of the industry code of practice is the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

There are only two ACMA investigations I can find in which use of the word whore is cited as relevant to a decision.

The first (.pdf) relates to an episode of Family Guy which repeatedly depicted pornography, prostitution and bestiality. The phrase "high class whore" is used once, and the phrase "filthy whore" once. The ACMA considered that "while it is accepted that the references occurred in the context of an animated program, and that most individual depictions were brief, the frequent verbal references to sexual behaviour and the pervasive adult nature of the content placed the material beyond what is acceptable for the PG classification."

Significant to this discussion is the fact that the decision was not made on the basis of coarse language, but on the basis of excessive sexual content. There is no discussion in the judgement of the word whore being considered especially offensive, but it is considered to be one of too many pieces of sexual content. As a consequence, the episode of Family Guy involved had its rating upgraded to M. In other words, it's recommended for mature audiences, but it can be broadcast between 12.00 and 3.00pm on schooldays, or between 8.30pm and 5.00am.

The second (.pdf) instance in which the ACMA has dealt with a complaint involving the use of the word whore is almost infamous in Australian television circles. It was an episode of Underbelly that allegedly involved very frequent coarse language, gratuitous nudity, violent sex scenes and intravenous drug use. Despite all of that there was only one complaint that went all the way through to an ACMA investigation.

In dealing with the matter of coarse language the ACMA stated:

"A scene at approximately 34 minutes depicts Danielle McGuire telling Nik Radev, that their relationship is over. Radev replies by smashing a bottle of liquor on the ground, and he starts yelling at her, “You don’t give me fucking present! ...Who the fuck you think you are? Who the fuck you think you are?” The scene then intercuts a flashback to the implied non-consensual sexual activity in the apartment (described below) and Radev yelling at McGuire, “You are fucking nothing....You are fucking hairdresser... You’re fucking nothing! Fucking whore!” The outburst contains an inherent threat of violence which is made explicit in the flashbacks to the scene of non-consensual sexual activity. It is considered that shots of McGurie’s face also emphasises McGuire’s distressed reaction to the tirade.

ACMA does not accept the Nine Network’s assertion that the language in this scene is not very aggressive and the implication that the coarse language was unconnected to threats of violence and harm. The language is delivered in a very aggressive and intimidating manner and is intercut with images of implied non-consensual sexual activity. ACMA therefore considers that this use of coarse language amounts to very aggressive use, and that it therefore cannot be accommodated in an M-classified program."

and

"However, as stated above, the depiction of intimate sexual behaviour which was not restrained in the scene at 51 minutes and the use of very aggressive coarse language in the scene at 34 minutes exceed the M classification requirements and therefore ACMA considers that the program was incorrectly classified."

Again, it's really worth noting that the decision did not hinge on the use of the word whore, but it's use in an extremely violent and aggressive context. She's called a whore in the midst of a torrent of abuse and flashbacks to a rape scene. That's quite explicit in the judgement.

As a result the rating of the program was upgraded to MA15+. In other words it can be shown on broadcast television between 9.00pm and 5.00am. If screened in a cinema, kids under 15 would be allowed to watch it accompanied by an adult.

Finally, House M.D. got mentioned above. Yes, we do get it here. It screens at 8.30pm. It has the same content as in the USA - ie lots and lots of uses of the word whore. It carries an M rating. Just like Family Guy.

Insofar as regulation of television ever reflects a community's standards, there are our standards on a plate. We don't ban the use of the word whore before 9.30pm, but nor do we particularly recommend its repeated use in front of our kids.

It is, unless placed in an aggravating context, a mildly offensive word here. To suggest otherwise, and claim the general support of all Australians for your personal crusade.. No..
posted by Ahab at 6:25 AM on April 23, 2011 [14 favorites]


He seems extremely naïve. It doesn't shock me that someone who isn't savvy to this process feels like they were railroaded at its conclusion.

But he wasn't railroaded at the conclusion - in fact, as picking up a woman for transactional sex secured at a clip joint goes, he did pretty well. No hidden charges, no second location, no "angry husband" bursting in and demanding further payment, apparently no overpriced drinks (or the overpricing is sufficiently contextual as to be unnoticeable). The woman proposed and was paid an acceptable fee in exchange for sex, had sex, left.

I guess it's possible that the combined business/pleasure trip was a Mormon mission, in which case the naïveté is understandable, and probably also the rather biblical misogyny of the choice of terminology.
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:43 AM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


But as a community, we've rejected some language and behavior, and it's made us better and more diverse, and I'm very glad that we have a way to discuss and work through such questions. I'm glad people are willing to ask the questions. I'm also glad when the questions are rationally challenged, because ideally we will be an intelligent adult community that relies neither on mindless slurs nor doorstop rulebooks in order to communicate.

I'm somebody who cares about language, a lot. The careful (if occasionally heated) discussions about language and community norms are a significant factor in what makes this community great. Not the answers (and there often aren't clear answers) -- it is the discussions themselves, the introspection and conversation and analysis, that make the impact.

There are a gazillion forums and blogs and discussion sites where you can go for casual lulz and crappy writing. This is one of the much rarer places where the quality of the writing and the thinking behind it really matter. It makes it a pleasure to read here, and I like how my preconceptions get challenged and changed so often.
posted by Forktine at 6:49 AM on April 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


A theory: the word "whore" is more offensive the less rhotic the pronunciation of it is. Discuss.

Not in New England. But then I've mostly heard it used in relation to a stubborn piece of machinery or large furniture like a fold-out couch, especially when you try to move it. Something that doesn't behave like you wish it did. Usually modified by the word 'fuckin'. When applied to a person it's not very nice if you mean it, but as a joke it's harmless.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 6:54 AM on April 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


Better to avoid the confusion.

Relax.

Have a tart.


I do not think the range of reactions to the word in question are determined by either geography or by culture. I think they are largely a function of how you were brought up. In other words, your attitudes are shaped by your family and friends. Attempting to apply those attitudes to people brought up differently inevitably leads to frustration; they are no more willing to surrender their ingrained attitudes than you are.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:58 AM on April 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


When I was at high school slut, whore and mole aka moll were used pretty much indiscriminately; they were all meant as heinous insults to do with a woman's sexuality. Pretty much the same way cunt has been/is used/is perceived by many in America and to some extent here, although cunt is used across the board here as a nasty thing to say and not just reserved for women.

Now that I'm older I couldn't give a fuck about those words because I know that they are bullshit - a woman's sexuality does not define her or her worth.

I still remember the sting of being called those words but it's not enough for me to automatically assume that anyone using them is beyond the pale and I certainly don't think that Metafilter should ever rule a word out of bounds. It's all about context.

I think the sound of the word whore is nasty but I don't think I've ever associated it only with sex workers. I usually try to counter any use of the word slut with 'you say that like it's a bad thing' and mole just sounds silly to me nowadays. I think minge is a horrible sounding word but luckily no-one has ever thrown that one at me so it mostly just elicits an internal 'ew'.

I'm not offended by any word although aesthetically some just sound awful to me - it's the intent of use that will or won't cause my hackles to rise.

As for the askme in question, I don't think the asker was attempting to be any more insulting in using the word 'whore' than he would have been if he'd used prostitute or hooker or sex worker. I think he was merely using it as a description. How he feels about women who provide sex for money can't be judged purely by the use of that word.
posted by h00py at 7:26 AM on April 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Stavros, and others who would describe people who sell sex for money as "whores", I, for one, am asking you to stop using the word "whore", in the way you described. Obviously, I am not trying to "force" you to use it, because, well, I really have no way of doing that. I do think that having the mods delete or alter uses of it would be too much. That would be an example of forcing people to stop using it, and I think that would be a bad thing for Metafilter. I think that as (mostly) mature adults, we can deal with things like this as a community, and if someone has a problem with another's behavior, we can call each other out. Well, Stavros, I am doing that. I don't think people should use the word whore to describe people who have sex or perform sexual acts for money, or to describe people who have sex with an arbitrarily defined large number of people, or to describe people one just doesn't like. Things like "attention-whore", "label-whore", and the like aren't as bad to me, though I try to avoid saying things like that, because I think to some people, whore is a very, very powerful word. Also, if you wanna call people you know well and care about "whores" particularly if you mostly don't do that around a bunch of other people who don't understand the dynamic between you and that person, obviously that's fine.

Obviously, I'm not saying you can't use the word whore. You certainly can. And I can tell you I think it's offensive. And you can ignore me, rebut, agree, or whatever. So just in case you were gonna go there, please don't insinuate that I'm being some kind of authoritarian. I'm not trying to force you to do anything. I can't force you to do anything, really, unless I can get the mods to agree to take some action against you.

I think there are plenty of examples in this thread already of how the word "whore" does convey a lot of power, and can be quite offensive. You don't call a woman (and it usually is a woman) who you feel is too promiscuous a "prostitute". You call her a whore. When a woman who sells sex for money is murdered, raped, or assaulted, you aren't as likely to hear someone say "well what did the prostitute expect?" When a man is beating his wife, you're not likely to hear the word "prostitute" spew vitriolically out of his mouth. When a sex trafficker, or pimp, is trying to extract money out of a they control, you probably won't hear them refer to put down their prostitute by calling them than. You'll probably hear words like "bitch", "cunt", and, yes, "whore", and often surrounded by other words like "lying", "fucking", "stealing", "god-damn", etc.

I choose to mostly avoid using words that are used to convey and reinforce power over others in that way, even if that's not what I'm trying to do. I try not to use words that can be used pretty much interchangeably with other words like "bitch" or "cunt". I hope you will too.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 7:45 AM on April 23, 2011 [12 favorites]


AskMe is a place on the internet where people can can go to get perspective on things and get help soring their issues out. People like the OP.
posted by Daddy-O at 8:15 AM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


This thread is whore-able! I cunt believe someone hasn't made a tasteless pun yet!
posted by fuq at 8:42 AM on April 23, 2011 [6 favorites]


soap, SOAP, for the crowd.
posted by clavdivs at 9:03 AM on April 23, 2011


METAFILTER: would not be broadcast before 9.30pm on tv.
posted by philip-random at 9:06 AM on April 23, 2011


I'm really surprised at the reaction to this word. Prostitute, sex worker, call girl, whore, ho, fluffer, stripper, etc same difference. To demonstrate let me ask you a few questions about your mom and you give me your emotional reaction to the question:

Is your mom a computer programmer?
Is your mom a doctor?
Is your mom a sales representative?
Is your mom a sex worker?
Is your mom a whore?
posted by humanfont at 9:14 AM on April 23, 2011


fluffer is not a whore per say.
I demand a retraction.
posted by clavdivs at 9:19 AM on April 23, 2011


Not in New England.

Yeah, as a native Bostonian, I realized that Sully and Murph and their "dude, Denise is a wicked hooah" shot holes in my theory as soon as I formulated it, but it was so tempting, I had to post it.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:20 AM on April 23, 2011


Prostitute, sex worker, call girl, whore, ho, fluffer, stripper, etc same difference.

No, those are mostly different jobs.
posted by box at 9:25 AM on April 23, 2011


I'm really surprised at the reaction to this word.

I don't think that most people are saying it's a nice thing to call people, rather they're trying to determine if it's a bad word like "asshole" or a bad word like "cunt." This stuff is, of course, culturally determined to a certain extent. Taff put forward the argument that in Australia whore is a lot more offensive than in the US, sort of like how in the UK cunt is a not-nice word but it's not a pretty nasty slur the way it seems to be in the US. People are offering their interpretations.

There's a wide range between things that you'd call your mother (or someone else's mother) and things that are okay to say on the internet. People are welcome to ignore this discussion entirely if they don't find this sort of thing interesting, and we've explained policy stuff pretty much already [no we're not going to delete or edit posts that use the word whore]. Everything else is language nerdery.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:25 AM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]




(SLYT)
posted by running order squabble fest at 9:31 AM on April 23, 2011


Prostitute, sex worker, call girl, whore, ho, fluffer, stripper, etc same difference.

You need to write a more specific job posting. A jack of all trades is a master of none.
posted by 26.2 at 9:31 AM on April 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


My general routine is to avoid doing X if X offends a large number of people (or a small number of people who are dear to me), whether or not I am personally offended by X.

There are limits, of course. If you're offended by the fact that I wear white socks, you're probably going to go on being offended. I'm not willing to throw all my socks away and buy new ones.

On the other hand, if you cringe every time I say "cookie monster," it's not too hard for me to avoid saying it, so I probably will, even if I'm baffled by your sensibilities. I guess I'm at that age where I'd rather keep the peace than provoke.

So please remember, as you read forward, that if you tell me you're offended by a word, I will probably refrain from saying it -- simply because I'd rather not offend you.

That said, I am confused-by and curious-about the phenomenon of "being offended by words." I can't relate to it. I've never in my life been offended by a word. I guess this is because I was raised by "foul-mouthed" people. They taught me not to say certain words at school, but there was always a sense of "you should follow their arbitrary conventions so you don't get in trouble, but home you can say whatever you want -- now pass the fucking butter."

(Personally, I would be really sad to lose 'cunt' and 'whore.' The are such sharp, amazing-sounding words. I also really like -- just as a word -- the n-word, which I won't write, even in a sentence where I hope it's clear I'm just talking about SOUNDS, because I forget what the MeFi rules are about it.)

I am genuinely curious about what people mean by "I am offended by the word 'whore.'" I'm sure different people mean different things by it, but I'm wondering if there's a general idea -- shared by many people -- as to what they mean when they say something like that. I am not trying to poke holes in anyone's logic or make fun of anyone. I really want to understand. And I think that if a few people could clarify why they're offended, it might help conversations like this. We're never going to all agree, but we CAN come to a better understanding of each other.

Is it... ?

1. "I am aware that, HISTORICALLY, people used the n-word to wound a disenfranchised group. Intellectually, I recognize that a word is just a collection of sounds and that various people mean differing things by those sounds, and that you might not mean what those historical bastards meant, but I can't separate the history and the word in my mind. So when you say the word -- even if your intent isn't to offend -- it calls up all sorts of horrible associates in my mind. It makes me feel bad, and I don't want to feel bad."

(A similar version is "When I was a kid, bullies called me that word specifically to hurt me. Sorry, but I can't separate that word from the bullying. Your intent doesn't matter. I hear the word and the feeling of being tormented comes flooding back to me. So know that regardless of your intent, that's the effect your choice of words is going to have on me.")

2. "I believe that words have power, kind of like magic spells. When you say certain words, 'bad energy' gets transferred from you to other people.' You are sending negativity out into the universe."

3. "The c-word is offensive because of the intent of the person who uses it. If you say that word, you mean to offend. Full stop. If you claim your goal isn't to offend, you're lying. So the word bothers me because, when you say it, I KNOW that your goal is to hurt people's feelings."

4. "I realize that, in theory, words are arbitrary sounds and that anyone can mean anything by any word. So -- aslo in theory -- if you say the n-word, I know you might not mean anything offensive by it. But lots and lots of people DO mean offensive things by it. And life is short. I can't afford to spend time figuring out your motives and whether you happen to differ from all the assholes who use that word as a weapon. So -- sorry -- I'm just going to assume you are using it as such, even if you're not."

5. "Look, I personally don't care what words you use. They don't offend me. But they DO have an affect on lots of other people. And you KNOW that. Yet you purposefully use those words, even though you know using them is going to cause trouble. And THAT'S what offends me. I'm offended that you knowingly choose to rock the boat."

6. "It's political. Choosing to not use those words shows what 'side' you're on. Saying the c-word is like wearing a cross to an atheist convention. Maybe you don't wear the cross because you're religious. Maybe you wear it because your grandmother gave it to you, but no one knows that. So show some team spirit and follow the rituals of the group you're part of!"

7. "I don't know why I'm offended. I just AM."

8. "Grumblebee, stop navel gazing. Some words simply ARE offensive. You know it. We all know it. So stop the bullshit 'philosophizing.'"

9. ____________________________.
posted by grumblebee at 10:24 AM on April 23, 2011 [9 favorites]


grumblebee, this old comment of mine (in a similarly-themed but way more contentious thread) might be of some use to you.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 10:38 AM on April 23, 2011


Attention sex worker just doesn't have the same zing as the original.
posted by y2karl at 10:42 AM on April 23, 2011


Thanks restless_nomad. I pulled this from your comment:

"But when I hear someone call her a "bitch" or a "whore" or a "cunt," my first thought is "Huh, when I do something that this dude doesn't like he's probably going to call me one of those nasty words." This makes me not want to hang around that person, because I piss everyone off every now and then and I don't much like being called a cunt. I think we've amply demonstrated here that this is a not-uncommon opinion among women.

If enough people do stuff like call women "cunts," women won't want to hang around here at all. This is usually the intent of what people are calling "hate speech"
[Emphasis added.]

So, based on that, would you say that you pretty much fall into this category, from my post, above?

4. "I realize that, in theory, words are arbitrary sounds and that anyone can mean anything by any word. So -- aslo in theory -- if you say the n-word, I know you might not mean anything offensive by it. But lots and lots of people DO mean offensive things by it. And life is short. I can't afford to spend time figuring out your motives and whether you happen to differ from all the assholes who use that word as a weapon. So -- sorry -- I'm just going to assume you are using it as such, even if you're not." [Emphasis added.]
posted by grumblebee at 10:43 AM on April 23, 2011


Grumblebee, thank you for your comment. It is very useful.

Personally, what I mean when I say I am offended by the word "whore" is largely #s 1, 4, and 5, which I think you describe quite well.

I would add that some words, like the n-word especially, and "whore", are associated with violence, and can even be substituted for violence. Historically, and even today, they can be used to remind a person that "I am part of a privileged group, and you are part of a subjugated group, and if I commit violence upon you, I stand a good chance of getting away with it". So, #2 can be one reason why people are offended by some words, but they can also have power in a much more literal sense.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 10:46 AM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]




On a side tangent, HOAR in all caps was the usual misspelling in Idaho graffiti when I was growing up. It still reads as a dirty word to me when I see it nowadays. The proper spelling, however, does not.
posted by y2karl at 10:48 AM on April 23, 2011


And, noble signior,
If virtue no delighted beauty lack,
Your son-in-law is far more fair than black.'


Good enough for Shakespeare.
posted by grumblebee at 10:50 AM on April 23, 2011


No, it's really #5 for me. I've been moderating discussion for long enough that "Doesn't he/she know that this is going to end badly?" is pretty much my default reaction to everything. I personalized my linked comment for rhetorical effect, mostly, although I certainly do avoid the company of people who are content to use words like "cunt" and, in certain contexts, "whore" in casual conversation. I'd much rather spend time with people who have a better theory of mind than that - or just aren't assholes.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 10:53 AM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Personally, what I mean when I say I am offended by the word "whore" is largely #s 1, 4, and 5, which I think you describe quite well.

I would add that some words, like the n-word especially, and "whore", are associated with violence, and can even be substituted for violence. Historically, and even today, they can be used to remind a person that "I am part of a privileged group, and you are part of a subjugated group, and if I commit violence upon you, I stand a good chance of getting away with it". So, #2 can be one reason why people are offended by some words, but they can also have power in a much more literal sense.


Eh, I'd say that extending that reasoning to "and therefore, we should discourage the use of such words on metafilter and in our daily live, pace your comment to stavros, is pure #6.
posted by Diablevert at 11:06 AM on April 23, 2011


I would add that some words, like the n-word especially, and "whore", are associated with violence

restless-nomad, thanks so much for taking the time to answer my question. I'm going to nit-pick (sorry) the bit I quoted above, not because I think it's especially wrong-headed, but because it's fairly typical of the sort of thing people say in these discussions.

My beef is with your passive construction "are associated with." I don't mean to play the pedantic school master, but the problem with such phrases is that they don't provide enough information. HOW are they "associated with," and TO WHOM are they "associated with"?

I am also concerned, because people often use passive constructions politically (e.g. dishonestly), though I doubt that's your intent here (I'm just using your phrase as an example). Whenever I read something like "the c-word is intended as a put down," I at least fleetingly think, "the person saying that hasn't told us is doing the intending because he doesn't know -- but he wants us to think he knows." Same with "it's generally agreed that..." and "there's a school of thought that suggests..."

"The American flag symbolizes..." SOUNDS like a profound statement, as if the speaker has figured out a cosmic law. But all he has done is made a vague statement. "Symbolizes" to WHOM? And, often, such statements get compounded by the speaker saying them over and over, each time more vehemently:

"The American flag symbolizes ___________"

"No it doesn't, it symbolizes the opposite of that!"

"You're WRONG! As I said, THE AMERICAN FLAG SYMBOLIZES _________, and you KNOW it!"

(When I call these phrases "passive," I don't mean they're literally written in the (grammatical) passive voice, though they may be. What I mean is, however they're phrased, it is unclear who the human agent is in the sentence. WHO is doing WHAT to WHOM?)

Why am I going on and on about this? Because this thread -- and EVERY thread like this I've ever read -- is rife with such statements:

that is exactly what the term means in the US [To whom? To all US Citizens? To most of them?]

his TRULY TRULY TRULY offensive language [To whom? Offensive how?]

"Whore" does not simply mean "a person who sells sex for money" and nothing more. [To Whom?]

it has some very "not nice" connotations. [To whom? What connotations?]

Etc., etc., etc.

All of these phrases and sentences are possibly meaningful, but they lack context. It's REALLY useful, if we're going to learn anything here, other than just the fact that some people are angry and others are baffled, for folks to fill in the contextual blanks.

Unless you believe in magic words, nothing just "is offensive." A word of phrase can only be offensive (or not) to particular people in a particular cultural context -- and for specific reasons. However obvious you think that context is, it's worth spelling it out. What's obvious to you isn't necessarily obvious to me.

And a reasonable response to "that IS offensive" is "not it's NOT." And a reasonable response to that is "yes it IS," which leaves us on the schoolyard saying "nuh-UH!" and "uh-HUH!"
posted by grumblebee at 11:39 AM on April 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


You know who else was TRULY TRULY TRULY outrageous?
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:41 AM on April 23, 2011 [6 favorites]


Grumblebee, I think the reason why you're seeing so many "are associated with"'s and "this is what the term means in the US"'s is because we're talking about a cultural phenomenon. We "know" a certain term is bad, because we're steeping in the culture that tells us so. That culture can differ from place to place (where I was brought up, we were taught not to say the "n" word because it is a "bad" word, not because it might offend the person it labels, for example) and that doesn't mean we can't discuss why using the word is truly bad or not, but it will make citation difficult.
posted by santaslittlehelper at 11:47 AM on April 23, 2011


Well, the answer to most of those questions is "to me." (Or "by me" or whatever makes grammatical sense.)

For my actual statement, those are words that I associate with violence. Since I'm not black, the n-word doesn't have a direct personal association, but I've certainly seen lots of movies where its use directly preceded a beating, lynching, rock-throwing, or something else. Likewise "whore" - I've never had someone use it immediately before taking a swing at me, but I certainly have that picture in my mind. They are words that I associate with threats, anger, and, yes, violence. And I know that I'm not alone in associating them - certainly all those filmmakers made the same association.

(This would be the place to go on a long tangent about "othering," but I suspect you can just run that lecture in your head and we'll end up in the same place :) )

If I say "That is offensive," I am saying, in perhaps not the most useful language, "That is offensive to me." I am probably also saying "That is offensive to many people I personally know" and "That is something that is commonly accepted as offensive by people of this particular class" but at the heart of it, it's something that offends me, even if it's only offending my sense of appropriate discourse and not something that I personally have a fear reaction to.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 11:50 AM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


(Hah! I can fix my own borked HTML now!)
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 11:51 AM on April 23, 2011


santaslittlehelper, I understand that. I didn't mean to imply that just people people didn't give the context, they think whatever they're saying is universal. I'm sure most people here are smart enough to know that's not true. But without giving ANY context, it's unclear what they're claiming.

"'whore' is an offensive word" could mean "to me," "to the people I hang out with," "to most people in my region/country," "to most people of a certain economic/educational class," "according to the dictionary," "to most people on this site," "to a vocal minority of people on this site," "historically," etc.

If your goal is to get into a DISCUSSION with me, and you make a statement like "X is offensive," it's hard for me to respond without either ASKING you for context (which you could have given me in the first place) or doing the "nuh-UH" playground thing.

This is an exaggeration, but "everything offends someone," so -- unfortunately -- one must do mental calculus to decide whether to say a word or not. Is it okay to say "fuck"? Personally, I love the word for its sound and umph, and if it's only going to offend a few of people here, I'm probably going to go on using it (though I may apologize to those people), but if I discovered that a HUGE number of MeFites got upset each time I used it, I would probably stop.
posted by grumblebee at 11:57 AM on April 23, 2011


I always try to be sensitive to the feelings of others by offering a quick apology for offense given.

You whore! (I'll exclaim when bested at cards.) Pardon my french. (I'll add.)
posted by found missing at 11:57 AM on April 23, 2011


Well, the answer to most of those questions is "to me."

...

For my actual statement, those are words that I associate with violence. ...If I say "That is offensive," I am saying, in perhaps not the most useful language, "That is offensive to me."


And I would suggest that "to me" is almost ALWAYS more powerful that "is offensive." I think people assume the opposite. They assume if they write "I'm offended by," people won't take them as seriously as if they write "is offensive," because the former sounds like a personal quirk and the latter sounds like a universal law.

But the former ignites my empathy. I don't really care about "causing offense" in some nebulous fashion. But I DO care about offending YOU -- an actual person I'm relating to.
posted by grumblebee at 12:01 PM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, that's true in some cases. But witness the many, many reactions of "Why should I care if I offend people?" and it makes sense why people don't want to personally put themselves out there, particularly when it involves a strong and very personal emotional response. It's painting a target on yourself for the benefit of bullies.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 12:04 PM on April 23, 2011


Yeah, I understand that. But then -- personally -- I would just opt out of the discussion. In my experience, "is offensive" just doesn't work very well as a rhetorical tactic. It takes a certain amount of bravery to participate (usefully) in these discussions, unless your goal is to vent.
posted by grumblebee at 12:08 PM on April 23, 2011


But aren't most people, at least in this thread, saying, "this word is offensive where I live in Australia" or "actually, the people in my circle say it all the time"? I think in this discussion people are trying to give context to their feeling about the word (and I find it pretty interesting).

And I don't give a fuck about the use of fuck, to me it is fine.
posted by santaslittlehelper at 12:16 PM on April 23, 2011


Some are and some aren't. The "in Australia" comments were useful, because people were able to respond to them in specific ways, e.g. "not in the part of Australia where I live."
posted by grumblebee at 12:20 PM on April 23, 2011


Totally. I think I actually misunderstood what you were saying initially, sorry about that.
posted by santaslittlehelper at 12:22 PM on April 23, 2011


Here's a thread where you can see how "whore" is used in "in the wild," in the not-hyperbolic jokes, serious context of judging women sexworkers. It's clearly the most derrogatory term available.

Google searching metafilter for "whore," mostly what comes up is hyperbolic joking, to our credit, a la "I am a total bacon whore" etc. and the occasional clumsy crossover into serious judgmental nastiness (Ann Coulter threads have this a lot).
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:32 PM on April 23, 2011


JEM!?
posted by schyler523 at 12:34 PM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ambrosai Voyeur, can you translate "Ann Counter is a whore" into what you suspect it means Again, I'm not trying to catch you out. I'm just trying to get things really clear.

I had a friend who used "gay" to mean "stupid," as in "that's a really gay way to peel an orange." I'm not saying that it was meaningless when I chastised her with "that's offensive," but it probably would have been more useful if I'd been clearer:

"I'm offended because you're claiming that gay people are stupid. You are using a term for homosexuals as a negative label. Which must mean that 'being homosexual' is a negative thing to you"

or

"I'm offended because, though you're not saying anything about homosexuals, you are associated a label for them with a label for stupidity."

or

"I am offended because I suspect you're just using a term you've learned without thinking about the fact that it hearts people's feelings." (In the case of my friend, I think this was likely the truth. She used "gay" in this way simply because she'd heard other people use it that way. She had no image of gay people in her head. But she causing offense out of thoughtlessness, not malice.)

When I hear "Ann Coulter is a whore," the first message I get (and maybe this is because I'm male) is "I don't like Ann Coulter."

I feel the whiff of a secondary message -- something along the lines of "she's a horrible/silly/bad WOMAN," and that's mildly offensive to me, because it's gratuitously bringing up her gender. Gratuitously, because why does her gender matter? Why bring up her womanhood? How is it important that she's a stupid woman and not just a stupid person.

But I'm only mildly offended by this secondary meaning (which I have to remember is in my head -- I don't know whether or not the writer intended it), because I'm only mildly offended by "Ann coulter is a horrible woman." Yes, maybe "horrible person" is better -- it less of a whiff of prejudice -- but most of us can't imagine a genderless person (at least I can't), so "he's a stupid man" and "she's a stupid woman" get translated, in my brain, to pretty much "he/she is an idiot."

In the same vein, my DEFAULT state is to not get too offended by "she's a bitch," unless I have reason to believe the speaker is a misogynist. It could be just a gendered part of the language for that particular speaker. He'd no more say "Ann Coulter is a basterd" than he's say "I ran into Mary, today, and gave HIM a DVD to watch."

It might be the case that these gender differences, which are, for some speakers, embedded in the structure of the language, are harmfull to society -- that they make our culture more sexist. But that's a far cry from the speaker being a woman hater. (I am sure that plenty of "Ann Coulter is a whore" people ARE women haters, but I'm skeptical that all or even most are. I suspect many aren't even especially sexist. They're just not choosing their words carefully.)

I get a third message -- maybe an "association" would be a better term -- connected to the fact that, historically, men have degraded woman (in a definitely sexist way) by calling them "whores." But I feel very dodgy about connecting that to any sort of intention of the speaker/writer, unless I know more about his attitudes in general.

Which isn't to say we should stand for sexist language. But it's not helpful to say some form of "stop degrading women," when that might not have been the person's intent. Even if "intent isn't what matters," it DOES matter if you don't want to just get a defensive responde. It matters if your goal is rational discourse. I will respond much better to "that term historically has been used..." or "bullies called me that when..." than to "you are being sexist!" (even if I AM being sexist).
posted by grumblebee at 1:02 PM on April 23, 2011


Hmm, upon reflection, perhaps, in grumblebee's list, there should be a number for the words when spoken, rather than when written. Either word always grates when I hear them, cunt being by far the worse as it is almost always used as a word of derogation. But then much resides in the way they are spoken or written. Personal derogation of someone present or not present but known in common being the worst when heard, and so on down the degrees of separation to complete unknown and then abstraction. I know I find it a surprise and an embarrassment when people with whom I am acquainted speak either out loud in public and usually feel personally disappointed in the persons saying them.
posted by y2karl at 1:04 PM on April 23, 2011


I can't find an Australian one...but generally I would have figured we are very similar to the Brits and New Zealanders...and they both have lists of offensive words.

Here is the NZ one, sorry it's a PDF here

And here is the British one here

Sorry to everyone about the 9.30pm thing. I think it looks like 8.30. My mistake.

And Grumblebee, you're quit right, I didn't want to make this about me. I genuinely believe/d that that word is outrageously offensive to just about everyone in Australia.

I'm really quite devastated to read that so many Australian men here dont see it that way at all.

In retrospect, I should have said "to me".... but I believe it to be as bad as a racial slur, and I would really like to think that would be deleted.

And yes, I did get a target painted on me, and it was starting to feel like bullying till a moderator cleaned up. ...sigh.

But largely I think we all learned a lot about each others norms today. And I finally got an answer to a question that I've been thinking about since I joined almost five years ago. So that's good.
posted by taff at 1:09 PM on April 23, 2011


And I finally got an answer to a question that I've been thinking about since I joined almost five years ago. So that's good.

And that was How many of these people can act like an asshole on the drop of a dime ?
posted by y2karl at 1:17 PM on April 23, 2011


I'm really quite devastated to read that so many Australian men here dont see it that way at all.

And women. At least one Australian woman, probably more, has already weighed in to say that in their experience, this isn't the show-stopper/racist word that has been claimed. I wish you would stop implying that only horrible sexist people aren't mortally offended by the word, that's part of the disconnect and why people were so defensive toward you.

And yes, I did get a target painted on me, and it was starting to feel like bullying till a moderator cleaned up. ...sigh.

Sadly, that is what usually happens when you try to censor and proscribe the language of 10,000 strangers (and more generally, a common side effect of all MeTa posts). The idea of deleting/editing posts for swear words is totally against MeFi norms, so I'm in no way surprised to see the pushback against your suggestions for our "keepers."
posted by dialetheia at 1:22 PM on April 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think taff meant "keepers" in the sense of "goalkeepers", rather than in the sense of "zookeepers".
posted by found missing at 1:25 PM on April 23, 2011


I feel the whiff of a secondary message -- something along the lines of "she's a horrible/silly/bad WOMAN," and that's mildly offensive to me, because it's gratuitously bringing up her gender. Gratuitously, because why does her gender matter? Why bring up her womanhood? How is it important that she's a stupid woman and not just a stupid person.

Yes, this is a huge part of it. Why bring up her gender? Why use language that implies disapproval of her fitting properly into female gender roles? It is totally gratuitous. We don't even have words for men that quite carry similar connotations. There's bastard (which also brings the mother into play), and SOB (again with the mother), motherfucker (yet again), ass hole (which I think is used more for men, but doesn't really imply, to me, that the man its used against is being a bad MAN, but more just a bad PERSON).

So, in other words, when you call someone a whore, it's not just bad because its mean to that woman, it's mean because it perpetuates a sexist culture. It's mean to all women.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 1:26 PM on April 23, 2011 [7 favorites]


I grew up on the East Coast, went to school in the 80s in the neighborhood where Saturday Night Fever was set/filmed. "Whore" and "Slut" were used somewhat interchangeably.

But "whore" definitely had the connotation of selling something beyond price (i.e. her sexuality that should be saved for her husband) for mere money. This was definitely the attitude of "Whores/sluts are for fucking, Madonnas bear and raise your children" kind of masculinity/cultural norm. Slut & whore were used semi-interchangeably, because to be a woman who slept around was almost as bad as being one who slept around for money.

But "whore" absolutely carried the implicit accepted money for something that should not be sold. I have in the past described myself as a "corporate whore", working at a soul-killing, life-draining desk job I hated simply for the paycheck.

By those standards, to refer to a prostitute as a whore is technically correct, but also explicitly insulting and conveying a low opinion of prostitutes. To call someone who isn't selling sex a "whore" is to cast aspersions on what they have given up for the sake of money/attention/[UNWORTHY COMPENSATION]. To call a woman a "whore" is to be generally insulting by way of saying you're the kind of woman who would spread her legs for money.

Learning about cultural norms from Australia has been quite illuminating.

Something else from the Firefly episode; When Mal refers to Inara's friends as "Companions" (given his use repeated of the word "whore" disapprovingly), Inara comes back with "No, they're whores", meaning they sold sex but weren't part of the elevated traditions and social-stature of her and her temple-educated class. They were merely fucked strangers for money.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 1:41 PM on April 23, 2011


Just as a data point, if I were to call Ann Coulter a whore, it would not be because she's a woman but because I think she says all kinds of shit she doesn't actually believe just so that she can get more attention and make more money. To me (American, Pac NW), the essence of the word "whore" is about being gratuitously inauthentic in exchange for money/power/personal gain, not so much about being a woman or being sexually promiscuous (hence uses like karma-whore). I would call Glenn Beck a whore in the same way.
posted by dialetheia at 1:41 PM on April 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


Have you ever called Ann Coulter a whore in that way? Have you ever called Glenn Beck a whore in the same way? Do you think people (whatever people you would actually say this around) would understand your meaning, denotatively and connotatively, if you just said "Glenn Beck/Ann Coulter is a whore" and didn't explain further. Have you ever come across anyone calling Glenn Beck a whore in that way? Did you understand what they meant?
posted by gauchodaspampas at 1:46 PM on April 23, 2011


Have you ever come across anyone calling Glenn Beck a whore in that way?

In my experience, that's pretty common -- meant exactly in the sense dialetheia is talking about. Meant that way, a "whore" is someone who degrades himself (in any sense) for a payoff, e.g. an "attention whore."

Company "yes men" are often "whores for their organization."
posted by grumblebee at 1:51 PM on April 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


Have you ever called Glenn Beck a whore in the same way?

Yes, e.g. "Glenn Beck was weeping and gnashing his teeth about the imminent downfall of the Federal Reserve, then he just happened to cut to a hyperbolic ad for overpriced gold coins. What a whore!"
posted by dialetheia at 1:59 PM on April 23, 2011


I've never that I recall heard anyone say something like "Glenn Beck is a whore (full stop)". Attention-whore, media-whore, or controversy-whore maybe. I'm pretty sure I have heard (or read) people say "Ann Coulter is a whore". I know I've heard her called a bitch. Many times.

If you heard someone call a yes-woman a "whore for their organization", would you interpret it the same way as if they said a yes-man was a "whore for their organization".
posted by gauchodaspampas at 2:01 PM on April 23, 2011


We have many examples here in thread already that people can call someone else, of any gender, a whore, especially a *blank*-whore, with little or any connotation about their sexual activities or adherence to gender roles. We also have a lot of examples of calling a woman a whore with definite connotations about their sexual activities and/or adherence to gender roles. And sure, you could call a man a whore, with connotations about his sexual experience or adherence to gender roles, but it's not as common, and usually has to be man-whore. And not prefixed with man- it's usually used against non-heterosexual men.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 2:07 PM on April 23, 2011


Yes, I meant goal keepers.

And if a racial slur is worthy of deletion....I think that's what I understand would happen....why, THEORETICALLY, would a THEORETICALLY heinous misogynistic, hate-word not elicit the same response?

That was my question. About where the mods would draw the line.

As for who in Australia would use that word...I'm reluctant to say it, but I feel it must be said, I believe that ignorance is not a defense.


There isn't a lot more to it. I realise now that a whole chunk of people don't see it as a hate-word, nor intend it as one. But I believe, like the worst racial or homophobic slur, it vilifies and degrades and is also a swear word (not really caring about that though).... and is pretty universally awful to, and for, women. And that is, in my opinion, worthy of the discussion.

It might interest some of the word nerds that the word slut is considered by myself and my circle *nods to Grumblebee* to be also a very terrible word. It is a swear word here, I'm pretty certain most folk would agree on that. Although.....
posted by taff at 2:15 PM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think taff meant "keepers" in the sense of "goalkeepers", rather than in the sense of "zookeepers".

Wicketkeepers, most likely.

Allowing something to go "through to the keeper" is a reasonably common idiom in everyday language, meaning to ignore something or let it pass.

It comes from a play in which the batsman decides that a ball bowled at him is no threat, so he chooses not to swing at it, but instead lets it fly on by & be caught by the wicketkeeper. That play ends & the batsman survives to face the next ball.

In contrast, it makes no sense whatsoever to talk of whether or not a soccer goalkeeper should let something through or not. He's supposed to stop the balls from landing in the net; that's his main purpose.

The confusion here comes from the fact that, being a sheila, taff has made a balls-up of a simple sporting metaphor. If she had included that all-important "to" it would have made sense.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:21 PM on April 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think taff meant "keepers" in the sense of "goalkeepers", rather than in the sense of "zookeepers".

Ah, fair enough! I missed that nuance. Still disagree with the request, but that usage is nowhere near as condescending as what I thought was implied. Sorry, taff.

And sure, you could call a man a whore, with connotations about his sexual experience or adherence to gender roles, but it's not as common, and usually has to be man-whore. And not prefixed with man- it's usually used against non-heterosexual men.

I guess we will have to agree to disagree about what is "usual," then, because that doesn't fit my experience at all. I have definitely heard people describe heterosexual men as whores for being promiscuous, maybe this is another geographical/generational thing?

Incidentally, and not that this proves anything, but a google search for "Glenn Beck is a whore" actually returns about 5,000 more hits than "Ann Coulter is a whore."
posted by dialetheia at 2:21 PM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


citation: scroll down to "let (it) through to the keeper" in this handy list of cricketing metaphors.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:33 PM on April 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


If you heard someone call a yes-woman a "whore for their organization", would you interpret it the same way as if they said a yes-man was a "whore for their organization".

I can't think of men and women as "just people." I'm not especially sexist, but I can't vanquish gender from my mind (and generally, I wouldn't want to do so). I don't always think about it, but as soon as I hear "Fred," my brain instantly thinks to pick "he" as the pronoun and not "she." I know most people don't think of pronouns as sexist, since there's no negative connotation to them (for most people), but they show how instantly my mind genderizes people.

If my goal is to say "Fred is a ________," and the blank is something insulting, I'm going to immediately think bastard and not bitch. And the opposite for Mary. And that IS because Mary is a woman, but it's also kind of like "black and _____," "up and ______," "Big Mac and _______." We've been primed that certain words just "go together."

If you're implying that when hearing "Mary is a whore for our company," I think "sex worker" or anything to do with sex, you're wrong. If I thought that, I'd march to straight to HR and report it. I assume (hopefully rightly) that Microsoft and Toyota and AT&T don't have sex workers on their payrolls, but I'm sure they have plenty of "whores," both male and female.

Here's where I think sexism is more likely to creep in: when you call a man a whore, are you (in addition to anything else you're doing) calling him a sissy? Are you saying that he's somehow "like a woman"?

Even if this IS what you're doing, it's complex in that it might mean "Glenn Beck is like a woman -- and being like-a-woman is intrinsically a bad (or inferior) thing" or it might mean "Glenn Beck is like a woman, which is a bad thing to be like IF you're a man. (It's a good thing to be like if you're a woman."

If you yell at a football player "you're running the wrong way, idiot!" it doesn't mean you think running that way is intrinsically bad. It's bad for someone on his team.

Both of those meanings are offensive, but in different ways. The first claims that woman are inferior to men. The second claims that there should be clear gender boundaries, and while neither gender is superior to the other, it's a bad thing to be one gender and act like the other.

But even if there's a sexist taint to "Mary is a bitch," I suggest it's useful to tackle that problem in a different way than "Mary should be doing the cooking!" Both are problematic, but in different ways. It's not useful (in terms of fixing the problem) to lump them both into the "how dare you make a sexist remark!" category, even if they are both sexist remarks. I'm not suggesting we pretend that "bitch" isn't sexist. I'm suggesting we get a bit more granular in our discussion.
posted by grumblebee at 2:40 PM on April 23, 2011


Oops. I did mean wicket keeper. All sport is a bit of magic about which I am completely ignorant. As a rampant cricket buff, MrTaff would be horrified that I ignored the difference. Perhaps we won't tell him.
posted by taff at 2:43 PM on April 23, 2011


I didn't bring up Ann Coulter as an example of what calling someone a whore means. Rather, in google-searching Mefi for hyperbolic uses of the word versus literal ones, I found figures like her to be edge cases. That is, people slip from using "whore" to hyperbolically label her as a horrible person, or a moral sellout, to actually demeaning her as embodied waste. Talking about her, people do sometimes go overboard and get weird and sexist in their hate parades. Whore is a rhetorical term that is often useful in bridging that divide from "object of cultural critique" to "victim of hate crime." I think the word can be anywhere on a spectrum from a very misogynistic and totalizing usage, to an absurd and harmless one. But that it slips back and forth is what makes it tricky to use. And I think to deny that it has that occasional, extreme power is foolish.

To illustrate, perhaps this comment from Dee Extrovert (whom I respect a lot an who I am in no way calling out, but who has simply illustrated the disctinction I am drawing in a casual, acceptable, native-to-mefi comment. between "there are whores and then there are WHORES") will suffice.

So, if we understand what someone means if they say something like "there are fame whores and then there are whore whores" OR "there are sex workers and then there are whores," don't we understand that the specific emphasis within "whore," when used in earnest and not absurdly, is the debasement of individual's worth because of some intractable, inborn moral inadequacy on their part?

That's how I take it, anyway.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 2:46 PM on April 23, 2011


Oh, and that "being a sheila" jab was silly & unnecessary on my part. Sorry about that. For reference, nobody but nobody actually uses the term "sheila" but tongue-in-cheek faux-sexism has no place in a thread about sexist language.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:54 PM on April 23, 2011


This is a bit speculative, but I suggest that we need sharp, one-syllable words to use as insults. By "need" I mean that we'll be unsuccessful if we try to stop people from saying the words they're used to saying without giving them alternatives.

And -- to make things even more difficult -- I doubt it will work to give them obscure alternatives. If you want to replace bitch, cunt and whore, you need to give folks COMMON words that pack just as much punch.

Again, I'm not talking about "what's right" or what people should or shouldn't do. I'm just talking about what I think is achievable in a practical sense. I suspect people have an innate (or close-to-innate) need to say "you are a GRAK," except instead of GRAK, they're going to grab a common short sharp word like shit, bitch or cunt.

Sometimes two-syllable words are effective (e.g. the n-word), but not as often (and I bet most of that word's umph comes from it's first syllable). Which is one of the reasons why bitch is more powerful than bastard or asshole. When I'm really angry at someone (who just happens to be female), I don't want to call her an asshole. I'd rather not call her a bitch, whore or cunt, either, because I realize how that sounds, but ... I'm frustrated ... because I need a GRAK word. What can I use? Nave? too old. Shit? Too ... British?

Speaking of the Brits, I suggest that if you want to rob cunt of its sexist sting, you go the U.K. route and KEEP the word but de-genderize it. "Fred is a right cunt!" is common in England, and it packs a greater wallop than "Fred is a right bastard!"

I also suggest that you merely keep in mind how powerful it is to speak a one-syllable curse with some punchy consonants in it. I'm sorry... I'm not trying to be sexist, but cunt is one of the best words in the English language. If I tried to invent the perfect curse -- just in terms of sound -- I couldn't do better. It's going to be very, very hard to get people to give it up. On the other hand, let me call men cunts, too? Awesome!
posted by grumblebee at 2:54 PM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, you're venturing into that "We need to have a long conversation about othering" territory again. Worth a google.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 2:56 PM on April 23, 2011


Grumblebee, I've heard of an actual peer reviewed article about that specifically. I can't really recall the details, but something about the evolution of insults, and I know cunt is specifically mentioned, and how it evolved the way it is because it's so sharp and harsh. Someone should find it...
posted by gauchodaspampas at 2:59 PM on April 23, 2011


It also was specifically about sexism, as I recall, and I think said that English indeed evolved the way it did in some instances due to the sexism of society.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 3:00 PM on April 23, 2011


(When I was a theatre student, there was this student actor in my class who was doing a scene from a Sam Shepherd play. He was embarrassed by the c-word and kept mumbling "cun'" instead of fully enunciating the word. The voice-and-speech teacher (a woman, as it happens -- a generally "kindly" quiet old lady) finally couldn't take it any more, stopped the scene and yelled "It's CUNT! CUNT! C-U-N-T CUNT! For God's sake, SAY it don't SWALLOW it!"

I don't bring this up to make a point. It was just a funny moment I'll always remember. And when I meet up with alumns, we always say "SAY it! Don't SWALLOW it!")
posted by grumblebee at 3:05 PM on April 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


is the debasement of individual's worth because of some intractable, inborn moral inadequacy on their part?

No, it's an insult based on behavior, not something intractable or inborn. Whore used as an insult can be a very loaded word. But it's not applied based on an inborn quality, but on how the person acts. Irrespective of one's feelings about the underlying cultural attitudes that make a phase meaning "woman who sleeps around for mercenary reasons" a strong insult, it's an insult based on what the person's doing. "Whore" used more metaphorically, by extension "person who sells something that ought not to be sold for merecenary reasons" is also an insult based on behavior.

"Ann Coulter/Glenn Beck is a whore" is an interesting case, in a way, in the sense that I'd argue that whore is being used there simply as a word meaning "someone who is vile and despicable." In that sense it's a kind of call-back to the premise that selling sex for money is vile and despicable, "whore" as metonymy, if you will. But I wouldn't necessarily presume that a speaker using the word in the latter case meant anything in particular vis-a-vis sexual attitudes. It's a bit like the sixth-grade use of "gay" meaning "lame, dorky." It's a callback to a certain attitude, a shorthand reference, rather than a direct expression of it. Some people feel like such usages should be disdained even as a shorthand, because to understand "gay" or "whore" as metaphorically insulting you have to first understand their literal meanings and disapprove of them, but for myself I don't find them that bothersome.
posted by Diablevert at 3:09 PM on April 23, 2011


Whore used as an insult can be a very loaded word. But it's not applied based on an inborn quality, but on how the person acts.

You can easily flip it by saying "all women are whores."

Of course, you can do that with anything, e.g. "All Jews are stingy."
posted by grumblebee at 3:16 PM on April 23, 2011


Grumblebee, I really like everything that you've written here. I think it's insightful, and I appreciate the tone.

So I'm curious what are your thoughts regarding the other side of the equation: the offense many people take when asked not to use a certain word. I wish that I could say I would happily stop saying "cookie monster" in other people's company if requested to, but I'm not sure I would.

Actually, that's probably not a good example, because maybe it's so absurd that I wouldn't mind. Here's a better one: despite what some people have said in this thread, I have no intention to stop using the word "prostitute" and only use the word "sex worker" instead. In fact, the suggestion that I do so kind of makes me roll my eyes (sorry, "prostitute"-offendees-- I'm not sure that my response is fair, and I kind of want to hear what GB has to say about it).
posted by nathan v at 3:26 PM on April 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


You can easily flip it by saying "all women are whores."

If every single individual member of a given class exhibits a particular behavior, it suggests that the behavior is an inborn trait and not an individual characteristic, yes.
posted by Diablevert at 3:33 PM on April 23, 2011


> No, it's an insult based on behavior, not something intractable or inborn.

Inborn may be inaccurate, though I think grumbebee's "all women are whores" example is telling indeed as to the misogynistic tautological potential that always accompanies "whore," but intractable I'll stand by. The historical and biblical usages indicate that once you're deemed a whore, it's a label that sticks. There's a threat of permanence to the effects of doing something that marks you as a whore. It's not like there aren't loads of literary and contemporary cultural examples to back that up. Whole cultures view whoredom as worthy of just ending women's lives over and cutting their losses.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 3:34 PM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, and it's important to note that the "behavior" is entirely subjective and usually judged by those in power, and those are usually not women, so it's pretty well-defended as misogynistic paradigms go, the whore-deeming.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 3:35 PM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


>Sorry to everyone about the 9.30pm thing. I think it looks like 8.30. My mistake.

Did you even read what Ahab posted? It didn't move your argument about the word being "outrageously offensive" and subject to censorship back by one hour, it totally blew it away.

Bless you, Ahab, for doing the research and bringing some empirical evidence to this rather strange conversation about Australia.


taff, please stop speaking for an entire country. And making up facts about its content-classification system.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 3:36 PM on April 23, 2011 [6 favorites]


Grumblebee, I really like everything that you've written here. I think it's insightful, and I appreciate the tone.

So I'm curious what are your thoughts regarding the other side of the equation: the offense many people take when asked not to use a certain word. I wish that I could say I would happily stop saying "cookie monster" in other people's company if requested to, but I'm not sure I would.


I would find it intolerable to have to ALWAYS curtail my language -- "always" being the key word. I know it's not a big deal to some people ("Why do you feel the need to say certain words?"), but it would take the fun out of life for me to never be able to say, for instance, the n-word. The more taboo a word is, the more I want to say it. Which is why that word -- and cunt -- are so thrilling to me. Childish? Sure. But there it is.

But it's not a problem for me. It was a problem when I was younger -- when I confused my-desire-to-say-certain-words with the-political-agenda-of-pushing-people-to-accept-those-words-as-okay. I have let that go and no longer care about it.

And I have worked to surround myself with friends that I trust. I 100% trust that they KNOW I'm not racist or sexist. And I know THEY aren't racist or sexist. I'm sure that if lots of people here dropped in on our conversations, they'd be horrified. Be WE know that we are just playing. (By the way, my friends are a pretty healthy mixture of black, white and various races.) It's so freeing. I'm never going to be branded a bad person, no matter what words I use.

Which frees me to NOT use those words here, at work, and in "polite company." I guess I'm a closet curser. I'm happy to keep on cursing in the closet, because it's such a fun closet.

Except for fuck. I reserve the right to say fuck almost anywhere. I guess I wouldn't say it around a bunch of grandmas or whatever. (Sorry if that's offensive to grandmas.) How can one live without saying fuck? It's such a splendid word.

"Let's fuck! I'll fuck anything that moves!" -- Frank "Blue Velvet"
posted by grumblebee at 3:37 PM on April 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Inborn may be inaccurate, though I think grumbebee's "all women are whores" example is telling indeed as to the misogynistic tautological potential that always accompanies "whore," but intractable I'll stand by.

That wasn't exactly what grumblebee meant. I don't think "misogynistic tautological potential always accompanies" any word.

My point was turn almost any insult into the suggestion that a group has inborn negative traits:

"All women are evil."

"All Jews are motherfuckers."

"All Asians are whores."

Etc.
posted by grumblebee at 3:41 PM on April 23, 2011


Great, well, I conclude you all don't much value this woman's perspective on the cultural heft of an epithet most harmfully directed toward one of her class.

Really, I find the arguments I'm now facing here to show a disheartening lack of effort to understandingly interpret and I'm disinterested in sticking around to be The Dissident, when your arguments are only pedantic anyway and there is not much at stake in talking you out of their limitations.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 3:47 PM on April 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


AV, was that "you all don't value" at all directed at me? I DO value your perspective on what the word means to you. I just don't value ANYONE'S perspective on what a word means "in general," because I don't think words have general meanings.

But I don't value your perspective less than anyone else's. Sorry if I made it seem like I did.
posted by grumblebee at 3:50 PM on April 23, 2011


I thought the main issue was the guy was out of order, paying for sex - then he has the absolute cheek to talk as though he's been 'played' by those shifty foreigners.
posted by sgt.serenity at 3:53 PM on April 23, 2011


Oh, and it's important to note that the "behavior" is entirely subjective and usually judged by those in power, and those are usually not women, so it's pretty well-defended as misogynistic paradigms go, the whore-deeming.

Well, I kind of don't know how to answer you, here. We were discussing --- or at least I thought we were discussing --- what it means when someone says something like "Anne Coulter is a whore," in the context of a thread about whether it's ever okay to use the word whore or whether it's such a loaded term it should be struck from the blue. The example you plucked from Dee was from a thread about a woman who apparently accepted a job in a harem for $20,000*. Dee's comment, from what I can tell, was an acid critique of the harem girl's attempt to contextualize her experience as part of the international sex slavery crisis.

So....Dee seems to be using whore in the most loaded way possible, to insult and demean a woman whose behavior she finds loathsome. I do not know whether you consider Dee to be "in power" and personally I'm not 100% sure if she's a woman or not, so I don't know if you consider Dee's usage to be an example of the reasons why whore should never be used or not. But Dee was also using whore quite literally, and I'm not sure how that fits in with the use of whore metaphorically, just to mean "someone I find vile." You say "behavior is subjective," and while that is often so, Dee's comment was in reference to someone who was quite literally selling sexual access to her body. This seems to meet the literal defintion no matter how you slice it.

*haven't read every link in the old thread, perhaps I misconstrue
posted by Diablevert at 3:59 PM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


taff: "I would have figured we are very similar to the Brits and New Zealanders...and they both have lists of offensive words. Here is the NZ one …"

Which in the case of the word in question notes "a statistically significant decrease in the proportion who find these words unacceptable" and "indicates a continuing trend of softening of attitudes to the use of certain swear words in broadcasting, particularly to those words that are less contentious".

It also says "Acceptability of many other words varies according to context, with most variation in relation to the words Retard, Whore and Bitch". The figures for whore, for example, are 28% "unacceptable in all scenarios", 58% "depends on the scenario", and %14 "totally acceptable in all scenarios".

In short, (in NZ) it's far more acceptable than the racial epithets tested, more acceptable than all but the milder sexual epithets tested, and highly dependent on context. Which is pretty much what everyone who's been disagreeing with you - Australian or non-Australian, male or female - has been saying.
posted by Pinback at 4:05 PM on April 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


All this and no reference to Ralphie from the Sopranos?
posted by geoff. at 4:07 PM on April 23, 2011


28% is not a small part of the population Pinback, and that attitudes to the word are changing in New Zealand, or anywhere....contradicts me how exactly?
posted by taff at 4:10 PM on April 23, 2011


This may be delving one level too deep, but I'll add that if "whore" is a bad thing to call a woman, it must be at least due to an attitude that selling-one's-body is a shameful activity. It's similar to why it's bad to say "those shoes are so GAY!" If no one thought homosexuality was bad, "so GAY!" wouldn't work. No one says "those shoes are so giraffe" as an insult, because no one thinks giraffes are bad.

(Yes, I know being-gay isn't a choice and being-a-prostitue is. But it's not a given that it's a shameful choice.)

"Glenn Beck is a whore," even when meant metaphorically, relies on the connection of prostitution with something dishonorable.

Granted, many, many people think prostitution IS dishonorable, and even those of us who don't might make use of the fact that other people do. In other words, if YOU'RE a homophobe, I might say "your shoes are so GAY!" to you, even if I'm not anti-gay. I might say it because I know, given your prejudice, it will get a rise out of you.

But ...

... I don't think selling one's body is bad or dishonorable (if we're talking about consenting adults, etc). I've had a couple of friends who were whores (at least one of them used that term). If I had a body worth selling, and if I wasn't scared of jail, I would definitely consider selling it.

So I can imagine this (somewhat absurd) argument:

Fred: you whore!

Mary: how dare you imply I'm a sex worker!

Prostitute: how dare YOU imply that prostitution is an ignoble profession!
posted by grumblebee at 4:12 PM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


For the record, without teasing out the question for nuances, I would be in the 58% myself.
posted by taff at 4:12 PM on April 23, 2011


In that case, you might retract at least one of the TRULYs.
posted by found missing at 4:20 PM on April 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Kinda off the subject of whether "offensive language" should "be allowed through the keepers" here (um, *boggle*), but any discussion of the use of the word "whore" in Firefly should include the scene where Mal and Inara first meet (wait for her exit line) and the scene where Inara is first introduced to Shepherd Book.

Why yes, someone did indeed compile all instances of the use of "whore" in Firefly and post them to Youtube. Is that weird?
posted by mediareport at 4:26 PM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


If no one thought homosexuality was bad, "so GAY!" wouldn't work.

I don't fully agree with this. Maybe if nobody had ever thought homosexuality was bad. But words split and change. There are gay people who at least claim to not loathe themselves who use "that's gay" in the sense of "that's stupid."

I think a good example of this is maybe in the etymology of "punk," which is interesting because it links both homosexuality and sex work (oh my, it worked on me after all). Punk's still used pejoratively by many people, without having much to do with heterosexism or judgment of sex work (although frequently by people who, maybe coincidentally, are heterosexist and view sex work negatively).
posted by nathan v at 4:27 PM on April 23, 2011


Ok, ok, that *boggle* was unfair. "Faggot" isn't allowed through and I'm glad of it.
posted by mediareport at 4:27 PM on April 23, 2011


I am also concerned, because people often use passive constructions politically (e.g. dishonestly), though I doubt that's your intent here

I'm not saying Barack Obama is a Muslim. I'm not saying that.

But he is a Muslim.
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:28 PM on April 23, 2011


Found missing, can we negotiate it down to 2.5?
posted by taff at 4:43 PM on April 23, 2011


American mefites reading these sorts of threads are going to go to England thinking 'cunt' is a perfectly acceptable term, drop it into a conversation to appear all hip and matey during their first visit to a pub and get their face slapped or nose broken. Seriously, say it to a friend in Britain and you're risking that friendship, say it to a stranger and you're risking physical harm. The British mefites saying it's all fine and dandy among their gang are about as representative of the whole population as the American one is here e.g. not representative at all. On the other hand, regarding the playground use of 'gay' and 'whore' and all that stuff, reading this thread just makes me want to use them next time I'm buying a loaf of bread.
posted by joannemullen at 4:51 PM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I am watching the Rhys-Davies - The Book that Changed the World KJB, I shall keep everyone informed as to this matter.
posted by clavdivs at 4:52 PM on April 23, 2011


American mefites reading these sorts of threads are going to go to England thinking 'cunt' is a perfectly acceptable term, drop it into a conversation to appear all hip and matey during their first visit to a pub and get their face slapped or nose broken.

NOW you tell me. And, after I just mailed a wedding card: "Many happy returns of the day, you lucky cunts!"
posted by found missing at 4:55 PM on April 23, 2011 [7 favorites]


American mefites reading these sorts of threads are going to go to England thinking 'cunt' is a perfectly acceptable term, drop it into a conversation to appear all hip and matey during their first visit to a pub and get their face slapped or nose broken

My old boss moved to England to take over our London office. He was the kind of guy that didn't approve of what he called "barroom talk" in the office and he would scold me for saying damn or hell. So he goes out for drinks his first week there and keeps hearing the word twat. He thought it was some kind of cute britishism. So later in the week he has his first staff meeting and opens with "all right you twats let's get started"
posted by Ad hominem at 5:10 PM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


taff: "For the record, without teasing out the question for nuances, I would be in the 58% myself."

Then we're pretty much in agreement - except for where our interpretations on the question's nuances make us draw the line.

My previous comment was more to point out that
  1. The NZ PDF you cited isn't a list of offensive words (it's a study on the acceptability of words in broadcasting),
  2. Your allusion that the document backs up your original claim (later tempered, I admit) that whore is "is every bit as bad as your worst racial slur, in Australia" is incorrect (over the 10 years studied it's always been considerably less offensive than the racial slurs tested),
  3. Its offensiveness has been continually decreasing over that time (and over the 3 surveys, it's always fallen roughly between "cock" and "wanker"), and
  4. The study in fact reinforces the general belief that its offensiveness is contextual, rather than your (previous) blanket assertion that it's just flat out offensive to all Australians.
That's how the citation source you chose "contradicts me how exactly?"

Look, as I said previously I'll "happily accept that they find it extremely offensive". I'm also torn slightly, because I think Metafilter needs to have a bigger debate on the different attitudes and outcomes of an American finding something offensive vs a non-American finding something offensive. If and when that debate comes along, I'd likely be right alongside you. But this ain't it.
posted by Pinback at 5:21 PM on April 23, 2011 [6 favorites]


Slightly more seriously, there are some really interesting points here about the difficulty of being white, straight and male in modern western society. Perhaps the most difficult thing is lacking a recent history of oppression. As a result, there aren't really any handles for people to grab in order to reach back to a fairly recent - or indeed ongoing - period where pejorative terms for whiteness, straightness or maleness were part of a raft of experiences including the absence of voting rights, police persecution, hate crimes, not being able to get a cab in New York, being blamed for being sexually assaulted, and so on and so forth. Without that distracting layer, one has to grapple with the real issues.

So I'm curious what are your thoughts regarding the other side of the equation: the offense many people take when asked not to use a certain word.

What could be more offensive, after all, than being asked not to use a word?

And I have worked to surround myself with friends that I trust. I 100% trust that they KNOW I'm not racist or sexist. And I know THEY aren't racist or sexist. I'm sure that if lots of people here dropped in on our conversations, they'd be horrified. Be [sic] WE know that we are just playing. (By the way, my friends are a pretty healthy mixture of black, white and various races.) It's so freeing. I'm never going to be branded a bad person, no matter what words I use.

This sums up a really important point. I am not racist, therefore if I call someone a racist term, or use a racist term, people who react badly to that just don't know me well enough. Of course, the corollary of that is that if you genuinely don't like hearing racist language, you still know that the condition for being part of my circle of eminently non-racist friends is not to make a fuss. Because there's nothing racist about me, or my friends. If you do object, you're not really a good friend, and you are probably a racist.

That's how non-racist group dynamics work. That's what not being racist means. Right?

None of this is really related to the rather weird opening to this thread, and it certainly isn't a suggestion that anyone should be prevented from saying whatever they want on the Internet. It's just a little reminder about the real issues, and the real stakes, here.
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:37 PM on April 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


This thread has been fascinating.

I knew that 'whore' is (obviously) highly insulting when applied to a woman outside of the context of actual prostitution.

Count me among the men who had absolutely no idea at all that the word 'whore' was also found offensive by anyone when applied in the context of the OP - a woman who actually was charging money for sex, in a story about that transaction.

I have learned something.

Also, it's not just an Australian thing - I just asked my girlfriend about this (we're both British) and she agreed that the word 'whore' is always insulting in any context, including the context of the OP.
posted by motty at 5:40 PM on April 23, 2011


Me: And I have worked to surround myself with friends that I trust. I 100% trust that they KNOW I'm not racist or sexist. And I know THEY aren't racist or sexist. I'm sure that if lots of people here dropped in on our conversations, they'd be horrified. Be [sic] WE know that we are just playing. (By the way, my friends are a pretty healthy mixture of black, white and various races.) It's so freeing. I'm never going to be branded a bad person, no matter what words I use.

running order squabble fest: This sums up a really important point. I am not racist, therefore if I call someone a racist term, or use a racist term, people who react badly to that just don't know me well enough.

It may be an "important point," but it's not my point, even though you quoted me as if it was. I guess I wasn't clear. Sorry.

If I called someone -- a stranger or ANYONE who isn't in on the "code" of my little group of friends -- a racist term, then I'd be an asshole. Which is why I don't do that. And for an meaningful purposes, I WOULD be a racist. But I don't do that, so I'm not.

(By the way, I said that the more taboo a word was, the more I have an immature yearning to say it. If the world was rid of racism tomorrow, and the n-word stopped being taboo, I would lose all interest in the word. I have no desire to say racist words. I like saying taboo words.)

Although it seems silly to you, it does make me unhappy and stressed to have to watch my words all the time. It doesn't upset me to have to do it at work, around strangers, etc. I just can't abide NEVER having an outlet where I can cut loose and say any words I want without being chastised. And many of my friends feel the same.

I get that, to you, we're stupid or privileged or whatever (although actually I'm not a stranger to being bullied. I was bulled CONTINUALLY for a decade of my childhood. I was called certain horrible words over and over, throughout my childhood, by people using those words specifically to wound me. I now enjoy saying those words, myself. As a joke with my friends. I'm also a Jew who lost family members in the Holocaust. And yet, strange as it may seem to YOU, when I'm around close close friends, and ONLY when I'm around them, I enjoy making childish Jew and Holocaust jokes.)

Childish or stupid or privileged or whatever, it's a need I feel. And I recognize that I'd be a terrible person if I met that need in a way that hurt other people, so I don't. And I don't think people who might not understand me -- if I said something offensive in public -- are "unenlightened." I just think they aren't hip to the particular injokes of my group of friends -- just as I'm not hip to the injokes of them and their friends.

And if I did ever say something racist or whatever in public, that would be 100% my problem. It would make me a racist, regardless of my intent.

Is that clear?
posted by grumblebee at 6:09 PM on April 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


I surrender. I'm tired.

I find the word very offensive.

Everything I say is seeming more and more idiotic. I havent been able to devote the time to this that it deserved. My language was possibly hyperbolic, I didn't believe so at the time. I'm sorry for wasting everybody's time.
posted by taff at 6:15 PM on April 23, 2011


Is that clear?

I think so - within your circle, saying e.g. the n-word is like... dressing up in a cartoon dinosaur suit with the crotch cut out might be for a plushie, say?

It's something that excites you, and gives you a sense of release, and it's something which it would be upsetting for you not to be able to do among people who understand and want to join in. So, you have a community which understands your desire to dress as a dinosaur, and who also like to dress up as cartoon characters in order to experience arousal and deal with the stresses of not being able to dress as cartoon characters in their everyday lives, and within that community you can be yourself. However (to extend the metaphor), you aren't going to go out shopping in the crotchless cartoon dinosaur suit, because you understand it would upset people.

I think where the difference between using racist epithets and dressing in a crotchless dinosaur suit lies is that people are put under social pressure all the time not to cause a fuss or ruin the party when somebody uses a racial, sexist or homophobic epithet. That kind of social pressure doesn't exist when it comes to crotchless stuffed animal outfits. If you turn up to work in one of those, depending on your line of work, relatively few people are going to argue that anyone objecting is making an unnecessary scene, ruining a good man's career, maliciously shaming a family man or similar.

If your social circle is picked as carefully as a crotchless stuffed animal suit-based social circle might be - if it is made clear that you are organised around a love of saying taboo words - taboo because related to long and ongoing histories of oppression and violence, then fair enough. YKIOK.
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:39 PM on April 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Not a waste of time to me taff. At least I know I'm not crazily sensitive (nor am I an inner city feminist Australian). I think the word is aggressive and it's a nasty word. I was surprised that anyone could think it's a neutral term, but I appreciate the education on that.
posted by Danila at 6:45 PM on April 23, 2011


Curious-is it offensive because it is judgemental or is it offensive for other reasons? (Obviously I am not suggesting it's NOT an offensive word because clearly, it is.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:20 PM on April 23, 2011


Aussie woman from Perth, as feminist as they get. To me, whore isn't a swear word, but it does indicate hateful misogyny and I think people who use it are shitty people. I don't know if it's better or worse than racial slurs, but I tend to hear them from the same shitty people. My friends don't use it casually or ironically, but I have pretty right-on "PC" friends.

Taff, you were right to bring the discussion here, but it's a bit much to expect MeFi to remove all instances of any word as a resolution to the problem. It prevents us from educating someone in AskMe, or legitimate yet unusual cases where the word isn't intended to offend. And only deleting some instances leaves the mods a) with too much work and b) open to accusations of bias in their enforcement of the rule. And there are 22 million people in Australia, it's a bit weird to speak for all of us.

Alia, I find it offensive because it's either applied solely to one person in a two-person transaction, which is a double-standard (as in the AskMe in question), or it's applied to women as a group as a display of contempt and hatred.
posted by harriet vane at 7:39 PM on April 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well, that was soul-destroying.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:44 PM on April 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


^ Attention Seeker!
posted by schyler523 at 7:47 PM on April 23, 2011


running order squabble fest, if I understand your analogy -- and how you say it differs from my situation -- you're saying that I'm taking a specific kind of risk: some of these "understanding" friends of mine might actually be uncomfortable or offended, but they may feel social pressure to not speak up about it. If they did, they might be accused of "not having a sense of humor" or "ruining the party." Is that right?

I would agree that if I am, in fact, putting people (especially dear friends of mine) in that position, then I am being a bad person. I can't prove that I'm not, so I'll leave it at that. Believe me, I get reminders of what a bad person I (potentially) am (or could be) almost every day.

Let's hope I know my friends (most of whom have been close with me for 30 years or so) well enough to keep that from happening. In general, I can't imagine "being myself" in this sense around anyone that I hadn't known well for at least ten years. So, yes, my "social circle is picked as carefully as a crotchless stuffed animal suit-based social circle might be." Maybe more so.

If I can broaden this beyond me for a minute, I appreciate the source of the sarcasm behind "what could be more offensive, after all, than being asked not to use a word?" Note that I'm not the person who brought up self-censorship in this thread. Someone else asked me about it. I responded as honestly as I could, knowing I'd get flack for it. But that means there's at least one other person here who find it frustrating to always censor himself.

(Let me repeat here, one more time, that though I also have some anguish censoring myself, I have ZERO sympathy for someone who makes racist or sexist remarks in public -- or even in private if there's any reason to believe that someone in the room might get hurt. ZERO.)

Your YKIOK is correct, and I hope you didn't mean it sarcastically or as a tossed-off statement. I hope you really are recognizing that there are people with needs that you'll never understand. But that those needs are just as real to them as yours are to you. And the specific release that I crave -- the one involving being able to say ANYTHING -- isn't rare. I've met many, many people (of all sorts) who have that craving. The don't admit to it, except to each other, because it's considered so evil.
posted by grumblebee at 7:58 PM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


My usual tactic is to ask my wife if anything I wrote/write is offensive but after she and I read this thread, I'm not sure she wants that responsibility anymore.
posted by schyler523 at 7:58 PM on April 23, 2011


In fact, she wants to not be informed of any other "Words that ought not be used threads" in the future...
posted by schyler523 at 8:01 PM on April 23, 2011


So we're done then? Can we do 'cocksucker' next?
posted by joannemullen at 8:10 PM on April 23, 2011


No, no. We need to address the gender disparity of usage of "dick" and "dick-prefixed" pejoratives next.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:12 PM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


What could be more offensive, after all, than being asked not to use a word?

Arrgh!

I don't like that people get offended when they're asked to stop using a word. I don't like that I get offended when I'm asked to stop using a word! But look at this thread, look at any number of similar threads: it fucking happens. Is it somehow something that we'd all prefer to ignore? Is the only reason it happens that we're a bunch of evil fucks? Would it maybe be interesting to figure out what's going on in people's heads and hearts that makes this happen? Because it's a huge fucking part of why these discussions are difficult for people-- difficult for people on both sides.

I think we can manage to talk about the mechanisms involved in this without misrepresenting anybody who's interested in it as thinking it's the biggest, most important thing to talk about. Can't we?
posted by nathan v at 8:22 PM on April 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


So we're done then? Can we do 'cocksucker' next?

I used 'cocksucker' once on MetaFilter & had a number of people criticise me for it right away, as inappropriate & homophobic.

I'd never once stopped to consciously unpack the word, and just lumped it in with words like dickhead or fuckwit, until this was pointed out to me. Don't think I've ever used it since, neither here nor elsewhere.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:45 PM on April 23, 2011


That should probably be either here or elsewhere; it's a double negative otherwise, is it not?
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:46 PM on April 23, 2011


nope
posted by found missing at 8:50 PM on April 23, 2011


I think we can manage to talk about the mechanisms involved in this without misrepresenting anybody who's interested in it as thinking it's the biggest, most important thing to talk about. Can't we?

No, usually not. As I noted before, that is not the Internet Way. One must assume the other person is operating from the most despicable possible motives, demonize the other, then assume the moral high ground, make oneself right by making the other wrong and demand that things be seen in black and white with absolutely no color or shading and, further, demand that everyone, everyone obey a strict one size fits all rule or be cast as an enemy of the people, fit only for sneering condescension and belittlement.
posted by y2karl at 8:50 PM on April 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


Is it somehow something that we'd all prefer to ignore? Is the only reason it happens that we're a bunch of evil fucks? Would it maybe be interesting to figure out what's going on in people's heads and hearts that makes this happen? Because it's a huge fucking part of why these discussions are difficult for people-- difficult for people on both sides.

I think we can manage to talk about the mechanisms involved in this without misrepresenting anybody who's interested in it as thinking it's the biggest, most important thing to talk about. Can't we?


I believe that the human race faces two huge problems. All other problems pale in comparison, as-far-as I'm concerned.

1. Global Warming.
2. Racism and Sexism -- really any "ism" that posits one group is inferior to another.

The first step in solving these problems is TOTAL HONESTY and ENCOURAGEMENT OF TOTAL HONESTY. And we're very, very, very, very far from taking that first step. Total honesty does not mean total acceptance. I am not saying we should accept (or worse endorse) the views of racists. I'm saying we should get all the cards on the table. Only THEN can we know what we're dealing with.

(By the way, as-far-as "tolerance," goes, we need to have ZERO acceptance of racism and sexism. That includes so-called reverse-racism and reverse-sexism. It is NEVER okay to belittle members of a race or gender. Never. That includes when it's people on that race or gender who have subjugated people in your race or gender. That's too bad, because it's empowering to diss the people who oppressed you. But it's not okay. We need a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to racism and sexism. No exceptions.)

These threads are fucking painful. I don't enjoy outing myself as a closet n-word sayer, but I'd be a major coward if I didn't. Yes, I say words that would be incredibly painful to co-workers (etc.) if they heard me say them. Knowing that, I say them anyway. If I didn't admit to that here, I'd be part of the problem. Maybe I'm part of the problem because I say the n-word. But I'm also part of the problem if I do that and don't admit to doing that.

All those people in the thread who say they don't want a target on their backs... I totally understand. I sympathize. But you are part of the problem.

All the "PC" people who jump down the throats of anyone who utters a tiny -- possibly -- racist sentence or who say "I don't want to hear about it" or whatever ... you are also part of the problem.

All the people who have the odd racist and sexist thought but won't admit it here... I sympathize with you, too. I really do. But you are part of the problem.

Why are we hundreds of responses into a thread about offensive words and seeing the same old cards on the table? We have lots of "HOW DARE YOU" cards and lots of "YOU'RE WRONG. THOSE WORDS AREN'T OFFENSIVE" cards.

We have zero people admitting to sometimes purposefully using sexist or racist language.

We have zero people admitting to doing it accidentally -- but later realizing that they did it because they had some unexplored anger towards race X or gender Y.

We have zero people saying "Maybe I sometimes read racism/sexism into more neutral comments."

We have ALMOST zero people saying "I have a hard time coping when people silence me."

A lot of the cards aren't on the table, and of course they're not, because we send a strong message of "put those cards on the table and we'll tell you you're a terrible person."

Well, screw that. Put your cards on the table.

When I put mine on the table, I knew someone would react the way running order squabble fest did. But I fucking put them on the table, anyway. I am not a brave person. But these problems are dire. I understand why running order squabble fest responded the way he did, and I don't blame him. But it was still hard to hear. That's MY problem. It's my job to put my cards on the table, anyway, even if it's not fun.
posted by grumblebee at 8:51 PM on April 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'll just leave this here.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:56 PM on April 23, 2011


For example...
posted by y2karl at 8:57 PM on April 23, 2011


The corollary to the rule that one must make oneself right by making the other wrong is to never ever admit to any fault or weakness lest one be fell upon by everyone else in the same manner as how all the chickens in a henhouse will fall upon on any sick fellow chicken and peck it to death. Never admit fault -- that is also the Internet Way.
posted by y2karl at 9:05 PM on April 23, 2011


And never ever give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Walk in their shoes, see through their eyes, admit they have any point at all ? Forget about it. They are totally wrong and deserve only contempt. To err is subhuman, to forgive is to be despised.
posted by y2karl at 9:27 PM on April 23, 2011


In Syria right now ordinary people are rising up against a brutal dictatorship whose henchmen are not only mowing down men, women and children with automatic gunfire at protests, but shooting the mourners at the funerals of the people they slaughtered yesterday. I'm pretty sure their problems don't pale before those of sexism, racism or even global warming grumblebee. All this PC handwringing can look terribly self indulgent sometimes.
posted by joannemullen at 9:36 PM on April 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


The problems in Syria are in my second category:

2. Racism and Sexism -- really any "ism" that posits one group is inferior to another.

Dictators believe they have rights that other people don't.

I am not wringing my hands. I stand by my statement suspicion that if the human race is destroyed, it will either be by environmental matters or by groups fighting with other groups for dominance.

Is that really such a controversial statement?
posted by grumblebee at 9:48 PM on April 23, 2011


And these are our biggest problems, because they're the ones most rooted in our biology and history: the need and desire to consume resources and to reproduce brings on most of the environmental issues we face; the natural urge to be part of a clan -- and to champion that clan against other clans (couple with limited resources) -- brings on racism. It's very hard but imperative that we counter those urges.
posted by grumblebee at 9:52 PM on April 23, 2011


taff, stop representing yourself as the language ambassador of the Antipodes. You're received wisdom about how everyone in your country things is wrong, and if you were right, you wouldn't need to make up a couple millon allies. My anecdotal data on Australian language sensitivities (they'd laugh at how precious this thread is) is equally as meaningless as yours.

Secondly, for every capitalized "TRULY" is a person's statement, the odds that the statement is untrue increases significantly. But hey, you're not the person upthread now claiming that prostitute is now offensive, so you've got that going for you.
posted by spaltavian at 10:34 PM on April 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


... you are also part of the problem.

Well as my dad liked to point out (usually in not so many words), we're all part of the problem and there ain't no hope of solution until we fess up to it.
posted by philip-random at 10:40 PM on April 23, 2011


Many of the prostitutes that I've known personally look down on women who don't sell sex. They regard what they do as a job so they do it professionally and always wearing a condom. They tend to consider women who give it away for free to be contemptible, disease-transmitting sluts.

I used 'cocksucker' once on MetaFilter & had a number of people criticise me for it right away, as inappropriate & homophobic.

You should have prefaced the term with the words 'San Francisco'. Mefites will always give you a pass for a Deadwood reference.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:59 PM on April 23, 2011


Good enough for Shakespeare.

Yeah, I tried that one with cunt and Geoffrey Chaucer.

Didn't play though.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:01 PM on April 23, 2011


Really?? 'Cause it worked perfectly with John Milton and "douchenozzle."
posted by Sys Rq at 12:06 AM on April 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Mad cunt alert.

Most bogans would use slut over whore. Whore sounds too upper class.
posted by Duke999R at 2:25 AM on April 24, 2011


joannemullen: In Syria right now ordinary people are rising up against a brutal dictatorship whose henchmen are not only mowing down men, women and children with automatic gunfire at protests, but shooting the mourners at the funerals of the people they slaughtered yesterday. I'm pretty sure their problems don't pale before those of sexism, racism or even global warming grumblebee. All this PC handwringing can look terribly self indulgent sometimes.

Furthermore, there are starving children in Africa who would love to have those vegetables.

Do we need to put all the problems of the world into a list and not think about any of them below the top line until it's resolved? I'm not even sure how one goes about that list, given that the idea that nobody gets hurt because of sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia or indeed the way societies often push sex workers into dangerous situations by criminalising their work and undervaluing their lives is a little odd.

grumblebee: Your YKIOK is correct, and I hope you didn't mean it sarcastically or as a tossed-off statement. I hope you really are recognizing that there are people with needs that you'll never understand. But that those needs are just as real to them as yours are to you. And the specific release that I crave -- the one involving being able to say ANYTHING -- isn't rare. I've met many, many people (of all sorts) who have that craving. The don't admit to it, except to each other, because it's considered so evil.

Well, I don't know about evil - but certainly embarrassing. Evil sounds a bit melodramatic, TBH.

As far as I can tell, your relationship with hateful language is something like the kind of fetish for bodily wastes some people have. The dirtiness and the transgressive thrill are precisely why you're excited by the opportunity to play around with them. You're aware that it's not a desire people in general would approve of. You seem sincere in your belief that nobody who didn't sign up for it is getting poop in their mousse as a direct or indirect result, and presumably have mechanisms in place to ensure this. As such, YKIOK - despite y2karl's "o tempora! o mores! o Internet!" upthread, I think people can understand other people having desires and compulsions they don't share.

That said, all the stuff about people being part of the problem above highlights the sort of iffy rhetorical ground you're on here. Positioning yourself as the Eldridge Cleaver of saying the n-word feels a little ill-judged.
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:30 AM on April 24, 2011 [6 favorites]


All of these comparisons to various fetishists that a lot of folks think it's okay to vilify aren't making you seem like much of a champion of the underclass here.

I believe in assuming the best of folks, but assumptions can't stand unsupported forever.
posted by nathan v at 2:56 AM on April 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Another data point from an Australian female - I think Taff has over-reacted on the whore thing. I do find the word whore offensive, but I don't think it's shocking. I don't think it's on the same level as racial slurs, but I put it whore on the same level as slut, faggot, poofter. They are all derogatory terms i personally find offensive. Actually add in retarded & spastic to that list.

The Anony poster of the question sounded quite naive to me, and Taff's response here also makes me wonder is she isn't a bit sheltered. The poster's choice of words was addressed quite adequately in the thread. We'll never know if he absorbs any of that (unless he outs himself).

My 17yo daughter says that she has heard as much swearing at Melbourne MetaFilter meetups as what she hears at school. Which is a lot. o.O
She says you walk down the hall at school & year 7s are calling each other dickheads, faggots, sluts, etc. She goes to a public school but in a very affluent area surrounded by private schools.
She says no one calls each other whore, because they don't think it's offensive enough!

Also: I don't understand how you can say you are taking back the word cunt for feminist purposes but say that whore is offensive. If you're taking back words, take them all back.
Still, I think we should cut Taff some slack. This is a long and exhausting thread.

As far as use on MeFi goes, I wonder if there have already been precedents. We've had debates over cunt in the past and Jessamyn says "We pretty much don't edit questions and we definitely don't edit them for language reasons unless we think someone has made a mistake" but I think I remember AskMes being edited because a poster has used "retarded" or "spastic" (an obsolete term used to describe people with cerebral palsy) in ways that have sparked community upset.

Also: what time did Ch 10 broadcast Futurama? I think we've established the Australian adult watershed is at 8.30pm (not 9.30) but I thought Futurama was on well earlier than that, and didn't Bender have a bit of a thing for beer & whores? Maybe he was talking about hookers. In this Australian woman's mind, it's the same thing.
posted by goshling at 3:30 AM on April 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


But he wasn't railroaded at the conclusion

I didn't say he was, just that I could understand feeling that way if one were naive enough to take the lead-up at face value (i.e. college girls "interested" in him, etc.). He seemed to genuinely not understand the transaction he was negotiating. I don't think you have to be a Mormon to be that clueless..
posted by cj_ at 3:40 AM on April 24, 2011


Fetishes, Nathan, not fetishists. Big difference.

However, I think you're off on a number of levels. First up, in what sense am I claiming to be a champion of the underclass? Cite, please. Second up, at what point have I made a judgment about any of these people or their tastes? If you think it's OK to vilify these people, go ahead and say so. My position is and has always been that people do things in private which they might not want people outside their enthusiasm group to know about. Personally, I find a desire to dress as a dinosaur a lot less weird than a desire to use racist language, because dinosaurs are awesome and racism isn't, but I can see how both relate to wiring that works differently for different people. YKIOK, as they say.

it's actually quite hard to find a personal preference equivalent to the desire to use racially offensive language, despite being absolutely not a racist, and only doing so in very controlled conditions. As presented, it can't be compared to many forms of non-normative practice, because those practices have advocacy groups and mainstream presence - whereas you could say, for example, that fabric fetishism or restraint are still not things you'd want to talk about your love of at the water cooler, you can't really think they are absolutely outside the mainstream as concepts after seeing a Rihanna video. And you can't compare it to a niche pursuit like home mead brewing or civil war reenactment, because these are not seen as harmful or unacceptable, just unusual. So, my examples have to be drawn from a relatively small circle - those whose desires make them socially abject, and, in some cases, concern the abject - blood, excrement, and indeed the words that are rendered abject in polite society because of their historical use in oppressing the socially abject.

There's a bit more on the abject here, if you need a place to start, but Kristeva's worth looking at as a whole, especially for this kind of conversation - and it also ties in nicely to your interest in punk, expressed earlier, because punk rock is, or at least was, very much a populist form of abject art.

For the purposes of this discussion, the interesting thing is that the mechanisms of the abjection of women, people of color, LGBT people and so on that Kristeva talks about are the same mechanisms that create the transgressive power that makes playing with those mechanisms exciting for Grumblebee. As he says, if a term became socially acceptable, or lost its power to offend, it would stop being a word he would want the freedom to say.
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:46 AM on April 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


Mefites will always give you a pass for a Deadwood reference.

Thanks to metafilter, I felt I had an excellent insider view on Deadwood:

"Hey, did you notice how that innkeeper guy peppers his conversation with the word 'cunt'?"

"I suppose so, what of it?"

"That's super-dooper offensive & taboo in America! This means he's a hardcore bad guy & the show's being ultra-transgressive...every time he says it they put in a pause so the audience can go 'OOOOH DID HE JUST SAY WHAT I THOUGHT HE SAID?!??"

"Bullshit. Stop trying to be such a smart cunt"
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:53 AM on April 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


I have stayed out of this thread because I was scared someone might say "poopyhead". I find it terribly offensive when people compare the human mind to excrement. It's a cultural thing and it hurts me when people don't respect it.

Lord, somebody really needs to disband the MeFi language police. They're getting above themselves.
posted by Decani at 5:48 AM on April 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


Dude, this is how the thread has gone:

Taff: Should the moderators censor the word "whore"? In Australia, it's as bad as the worst racial slurs.
Australians: No, it isn't.
Absolutely everyone: No, they shouldn't.
Mods: No, we should not and would not do that, nor censor any other word, including racial slurs.


Short of actually dismembering Taff, I don't think there's a way to disband the MeFi language police.
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:59 AM on April 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


That's a ridiculous over-simplification of the reactions here, running order. But you probably knew that.

However, this did perk up my eyeballs:

And I have worked to surround myself with friends that I trust. I 100% trust that they KNOW I'm not racist or sexist. And I know THEY aren't racist or sexist.

What a strange way to frame this issue. If I had to do the same, I'd probably go with "I 100% trust that my friends KNOW that we all have racist and sexist pockets of thought within ourselves, and that the best thing to do is acknowledge that and work to overcome them when they arise in discussion," but whatever. I 100% know better than to argue with grumblebee when he's over the 20-comment/thread mark.
posted by mediareport at 6:37 AM on April 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


That said, all the stuff about people being part of the problem above highlights the sort of iffy rhetorical ground you're on here. Positioning yourself as the Eldridge Cleaver of saying the n-word feels a little ill-judged.

My position is that it's impossible (or at least very, very difficult) to solve problems when people are regularly withholding information pertinent to those problems. And it's also impossible to solve problems when there are major aspects of those problems people refuse to discuss.

You disagree with that?

Do we need to put all the problems of the world into a list and not think about any of them below the top line until it's resolved?

Who is doing that? I didn't say we shouldn't think of any problems until the top two are solved. I just listed what I thought of as the top two. That doesn't mean I don't care about the one's below them. In fact, I don't work all that hard to solve 1 and 2, because they're too hard (which makes me part of the problem). I tend to go after lower-hanging fruit.

I freely admit that listing the top-two problems is an arbitrary, not-very-useful exercise. I did it for rhetorical purposes. I was about to claim that most people here -- including myself -- were hurting rather than helping, and that they need to stop hiding things NOW. Why NOW? Why is it so urgent? Because the specific problem we're talking to is so mega, super, duper important.

Even though I agree it's a bit silly to rank problems, I stand by my ranking. If you gave me the magic ability to solve only one problem, I would solve global warming. If you have me two spells, I would solve global warming and prejudice. If you offered me a hundred spells, I wouldn't say, "No thanks. I only need two."

"Starving children" is HORRIBLE. Lot's of problems are horrible, but they don't threaten us with global extinction. If the entire human race gets wiped out, it will -- in my opinion -- likely be due to an environmental disaster. If that doesn't get us, the next likely candidate is prejudice + nukes.

it's actually quite hard to find a personal preference equivalent to the desire to use racially offensive language, despite being absolutely not a racist, and only doing so in very controlled conditions

Well, I think you're trying too hard. We all have SOME kind of relationship with taboos. A taboo is a line in the sand. If someone draws an ACTUAL line in the sand and says "don't cross it," what do you do? That answer is going to be different for each person. Some people enjoy following rules; some people don't enjoy them but follow them anyway; some people like breaking them.

I am driven batshit by arbitrary rules.

Let's say that there's a rule where you live against throwing rocks at people's windows. My guess is that there IS a rule like that where you live.

I have no desire to break people's windows. But imagine a friend and I find ourselves walking past an abandoned building. There's a sign on it that says it's going to be demolished next week. This is a bit of a stretch, but imagine we're sure that no derelicts are inside and no one could be hurt by us breaking a window.

So, just for fun, I pick up a rock and assume the throwing position.

My friend says, "Stop! There's a rule against breaking windows!"

I point out that there's no one around for miles, so there's no way we can get caught. And I also point out that the house is abandoned and scheduled for demolition.

My friend says, "I know, I know. But it's a rule!"

THAT'S the point where I have a screaming desire to break a window. The taboo doesn't make sense in this case. And that drives me crazy.

Now, I know other people who find great comfort in rules being simple. In GENERAL, the rule against breaking windows is a good rule. It's easier to just follow it than spend mental energy judging every edge case. That makes total sense to me. I just don't happen to feel that way.

If a rule makes sense in general, and they get used to following it, it often becomes a sort of aesthetic for some people. In other words, they internalize the rule and it hurts their sensibilities if the rule gets broken. So my friend might have gone beyond "don't break windows because it's destroying someone's property and possibly endangering someone" to "don't break windows because .... it's just WRONG. It FEELS wrong, like a crooked picture." I am not belittling that. I have all sorts of aesthetic feelings. But I tend not to internalize moral rules that way.

If you say, "There's a word you're not supposed to say -- the n-word -- because it hurts people's feelings," that makes total sense to me. But if you say, "Don't say the n-word, even if you're alone on a desert island," that no longer makes sense. (I know you aren't actually telling me to avoid saying n-word on a desert island.)

It's an interesting thought experiment: would you feel totally comfortable saying that word on a desert island? Would you feel comfortable whispering it at home, when you're completely alone?

THAT'S a level of taboo that I feel compelled to challenge. I am not saying that you're nuts if whispering a taboo word (when no one can hear you) bothers you. I am saying that everyone has his own relationship with that kind of taboo. Mine is "I don't get how that can possibly hurt anyone. But I feel pressure to not do it. So I need to do it!"

Now imagine that we shift that taboo a little bit: now me and by best friend are alone in a room. We're both aware that neither of us is racist. (Except in that "everyone is racist" sense. We're not ESPECIALLY racist and saying a word won't make us more or less racist.) We're also aware that no one else is in earshot. Finally, we're aware that neither of us has the sort of sensual relationship with words that means saying "bad words" makes US feel bad. (I can totally understand someone not wanting to say the n-word, even when alone, because doing so brings up bad feelings. I can understand. But I'm not like that.)

My friend and I are now up against an arbitrary taboo. There's a rule. It makes total sense in general. But in this particular instance, it's not useful. In that situation, some people would feel nervous about breaking the rule, anyway; some would feel, "Okay, it wouldn't be a big deal for us to break it, but why bother? It would be more fun to watch a movie or something." My friend and I feel compelled to cross the line in the sand.

I think it's because we truck in words. Most of my friends are writers, obsessed scrabble players and/or classical actors. We talk about words all the time. We play with words. So when someone says "there are words you're NEVER allowed to say -- not even when you're alone," it pushes our buttons.

When I walk into a theatre and I'm totally alone, the first thing I do is whisper "Macbeth."
posted by grumblebee at 6:52 AM on April 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Mediareport: That's a ridiculous over-simplification of the reactions here, running order. But you probably knew that.


Sure, mediareport, it's a ludicrously failure as a summary of the entire thread. But I think it's not a hopeless summary of the reaction specifically relevant to the idea of policing language on MetaFilter, right? The idea that "whore" was a term of abuse on a level with the worst racial slurs in Australia was to a large extent debunked, the proposition that it should be removed from text with a moderator comment left explaining the emendation was unanimously rejected, and cortex made it clear that not only would they not remove the word "whore" from posts or comments, they also wouldn't remove any word from posts or comments, preferring instead to delete the post or comment.

There's a next level down where people talk about their own reactions to the word "whore", and in some cases ask that it not be a go-to word to describe women who sell sex, or women who are promiscuous, or women who are disliked. But that's not really language policing, right?

The thing about the police is that they enforce laws, rather than explaining their feelings about particular crimes and asking people not to commit them, while acknowledging that they cannot stop them from committing crimes and that their attitude to crime may not be universal.

I know that this is a sensitive issue, but sometimes people just look for things to be offended by, and see offensive things - like a language police - where there is nothing there.
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:57 AM on April 24, 2011


What a strange way to frame this issue. If I had to do the same, I'd probably go with "I 100% trust that my friends KNOW that we all have racist and sexist pockets of thought within ourselves, and that the best thing to do is acknowledge that and work to overcome them when they arise in discussion," but whatever.

Sorry, you're right. My and my friends have just as many pockets of racism as anyone else. I just meant we're not especially racist. And we're all horrified by racism. Like I said, even though I revel in Holocaust jokes, I am also very aware I lost family in Auschwitz. I don't believe that making those jokes desensitizes me to the feelings I have about the Holocaust.

I 100% know better than to argue with grumblebee when he's over the 20-comment/thread mark.

Fair enough. I'll quit the thread as a writer but continue to read with interest. I have no desire to outstay my welcome.

Thanks, guys. I've learned a lot.
posted by grumblebee at 6:59 AM on April 24, 2011


There are only two types of people: aware racists who are struggling towards the light, and unaware racists that have not yet begun probing and confronting the wrongness within themselves.
posted by Meatbomb at 7:47 AM on April 24, 2011


Grumblebee: My position is that it's impossible (or at least very, very difficult) to solve problems when people are regularly withholding information pertinent to those problems. And it's also impossible to solve problems when there are major aspects of those problems people refuse to discuss.
You disagree with that?


Not really what I was saying. "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem", the phrase which you were referencing, was popularised by the Black Panther and activist Eldridge Cleaver. I was just amused by the fact that you were using it in defence of being able to call your friends exactly what Eldridge Cleaver was being called when he was advocating armed struggle against white America. I think honest discussion about attitudes to race, gender and sexuality, including language and prejudice, are valuable things, certainly.

Who is doing that? I didn't say we shouldn't think of any problems until the top two are solved.

If you read back, that was a response to joannemullen. That's why I quoted what she had said, and then responded to what she had said below it. So, if you don't mind, I'll skip over that bit of your response, because it relates to a hypothetical critique of a position I didn't think you'd adopted.

So, onto the meat of the matter. I think we are actually almost completely in agreement. I have compared your desire to play with racist language in private, with trusted friends, to the desire some people have to play with bodily waste or dress in dinosaur suits in private, with trusted friends. I think that what you're saying precisely bears that out:

My friend and I are now up against an arbitrary taboo. There's a rule. It makes total sense in general. But in this particular instance, it's not useful. In that situation, some people would feel nervous about breaking the rule, anyway; some would feel, "Okay, it wouldn't be a big deal for us to break it, but why bother? It would be more fun to watch a movie or something." My friend and I feel compelled to cross the line in the sand.

That line in the sand could be about racist language, or crotchless dinosaur suits, or bodily waste. As long as no particles of racism (or bodily waste) are carried out of the room into areas where civil discourse or food is prepared, where's the harm?

In these cases, people are playing around with abjection - saying or doing things that you know you can't say in a space you don't totally control because it would lead to immediate expulsion from the body (pun intended) of civil discourse.

That said, I think there is a difference, which is that there is a far stronger taboo on bodily waste than there is about racist language. I've seen a lot of workplaces where there is pressure to tolerate racist, sexist or homophobic language or behavior - not to rock the boat, not to look for offence, not to ruin a good worker's career because of one slip - but where taking a bathroom break at your desk or turning up in a sexy dinosaur suit would lead to immediate dismissal.

In fact, when you say:
So when someone says "there are words you're NEVER allowed to say -- not even when you're alone," it pushes our buttons.

You are describing a totally fantastic situation, I think. Nobody has said that, I think - certainly not here.

Case in point: recently, I saw Meek's Cutoff. One of the first lines of the movie drops the n-bomb. I can't see that ruining Michelle Williams' or Kelly Eichart's career. Danny Aiello walked away from "Do the Right Thing" with his employability, if anything, radically improved. Dennis Hopper in True Romance? A YouTube legend. Possibly your friends who are classical actors haven't seen these relatively recent films, but I think, again, that while the use of the word certainly adds something to these performances - a sense of historical context, or conflict, or aggression - it's allowed. Whereas our other examples are getting into Cremaster territory at best, when filmed - something for the arthouse or the specialist market.

So, I think racist, sexist and homophobic language is less taboo than bodily waste or sexy dinosaur costumes (a), and it's easier to be sure that bodily waste or dinsoaur costumes have been removed completely before leaving private space (b). Otherwise, what you and your friends are doing in private is pretty much exactly the same as people getting together to have other kinds of taboo-violating parties in private. The taboo makes the activities exciting and desirable, and those participating both feel able to violate them without adverse consequence and feel a compulsion to violate them, but understand the importance of not doing so in public discourse. Personally, I find the idea that this doesn't change one's attitudes or behavior at all somewhat unlikely, but there's no real way to prove or disprove that either way.
posted by running order squabble fest at 8:03 AM on April 24, 2011 [5 favorites]


A couple of years ago, after the then-latest incident of somebody getting caught on camera using offensive slurs and subsequently getting criticized for it, one of my favorite columnists wrote this:
I get so impatient with all those non-apology apologies about racial slurs and gay slurs - "it just slipped out" or whatever. Dude, if you never use the word in your day-to-day conversations, you're not suddenly going to start using it when the cameras are on. You think your crime was not being careful in a public situation; I think your crime was incorporating slurs into your daily discourse. It's not like it's a tough discipline; it has nothing to do with "political correctness." It has to do with simple courtesy, simple respect.
For me, that's a big part of it. I don't want to feel comfortable with using terms that other people (most often the people traditionally targeted by the terms) have said are hurtful or harmful to them. I do want my brain to send that split-second "are you sure you want to say that?" signal before the word hits my tongue. So it seems weird and is a little hard for me to wrap my brain around the idea that the use of these and similar slurs — and most often, the use of these and similar slurs by people who are not the people traditionally targeted by them — is freeing. (Or whatever adjective might better apply. Like I said, I have trouble wrapping my brain around it, so I recognize that I'm likely not understanding what it is that people who use it feel it gives them.)

It's a lot simpler and takes much less vigilance and self-monitoring on my part if I just avoid using terms I'm aware are problematic or hurtful. And since taking a moment to think about what I'm saying and how doesn't impair my ability to express what I want to express (anything but, in fact), I don't consider avoiding such terms an imposition or limitation.
posted by Lexica at 10:18 AM on April 24, 2011 [7 favorites]


My daughter's school recently put on several performances of Les Miserables. The cast list calls for several "whores". My 13-year old daughter (who is well aware what a "whore" is) was a whore for 3 nights and it never crossed my mind that it was such an offensive word in some parts of the world. Here (northern UK) it is literally an alternative to "prostitute" and absolutely no more than that.
posted by NeonSurge at 11:35 AM on April 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


(Incidentally, I have been MeMailed by somebody who thought I shared their feelings about the groups I've been talking about as examples of closely-organised groups violating social taboos in private. I hope that it's clear that in a thread originally dedicated to discussing negative terminology for sex workers that it wasn't my intention to mock or denigrate any sexual subculture, and that anyone paying attention to the discussion would be aware of that.)
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:05 PM on April 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, it's all been pretty interesting – and confusing. Apparently, this is a word with almost no consensus whatever. It's both "taboo" and so common that schoolchildren are cast as "whores" in school plays. For some it's hateful and threatening (here's where I fall in), while others find it quaint and old fashioned.

At any rate, it's at least a literary, film, and television trope that this is what the woman is often called just before she is beaten/murdered/raped, so it's difficult for me to view it as merely a matter-of-fact, mostly neutral word for a sex worker. It's certainly used in anger outside of that context, and if someone called me a whore I'd be frightened. I'd also assume that was the whole point.
posted by taz at 5:33 PM on April 24, 2011


It's a lot simpler and takes much less vigilance and self-monitoring on my part if I just avoid using terms I'm aware are problematic or hurtful.

The problem with this is name the last 5 words people have asked be proscribed. Hint: mouthbreather and gypsy aren't on this list. There is absolutely no way to stay on top of this list. Sometimes the requests are reasonable. Sometimes they might be reasonable in context, but even if you are a linguist specializing in word usage of the world I doubt you'll be able to keep up.
posted by cjorgensen at 6:05 PM on April 24, 2011


Really? 'Cause you seem to have managed to keep up just fine.
posted by Sys Rq at 6:19 PM on April 24, 2011


Sometimes the requests are reasonable. Sometimes they might be reasonable in context, but even if you are a linguist specializing in word usage of the world I doubt you'll be able to keep up.

I fall clearly on one side of this continuum [similar to taz personally, though with my mod hat on I try to encourage people to be more tolerant in both directions] and to me it's easy enough to say "Whoops, sorry didn't mean to offend" when someone gets offended at something I inadvertently said [my worst offender: spaz] and then we can all just move on. I didn't mean to offend someone, even if they're offended for what I think is a weird reason, it doesn't really matter. I am not diminished in the least by saying sorry and moving on. And the problem just basically goes away. Trust me, it really does. I say this even though I'm in a position where basically everything I say online is scrutinized by people who are sometimes irritable and touchy, and occasionally extremely so.

It's easy to say sorry and move on. Someone who is not my boss or my boyfriend or my government telling me that they didn't like something that I said is okay with me. If someone wants to tell people that no one should be able to say something, that's a different issue. I think it's worth encouraging people to have reasonable expectations about the world around them. The reality on MeFi is that people sometimes use words that offend other people and you're expected, on both sides, to try to deal with this graciously and there are about ten or twenty people who don't. Okay.

Given the reality of the situation, then what? As mods we're not making you act differently except in a few instances we've hashed out. I probably won't say whore on the site again, if I ever did in the first place. Other people will probably do the same and other people won't. And we can all go forward knowing a little more about how people communicate.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:41 PM on April 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


I've been called "whore" in anger and it is a killing word, as denigrating as cunt or any other words of that kind. Devastatingly hurtful.

However, I have no trouble hearing the word used as a straightforward synonym for prostitute. It has a fine old pedigree in that sense, and I don't see that the connotations are all that different (i.e. you can whore yourself or prostitute yourself in a figurative way; neither is complimentary, and if that comes with the territory, we need to look at what we think of the territory, not the terminology).

Maybe it's just a word that has two meanings, one a curse word (in effect) and one not?

If U.S. crime fiction is anything to go by, New York's Finest use the term on a regular basis in its technical sense. I think that prostitute is maybe a bit more clinical; but then, whore might be considered friendlier in an odd way.

Just my (U.S.-based) impression.
posted by torticat at 6:56 PM on April 24, 2011


I don't think the problem is people using it normally as a synonym for prostitute, I think the problem is high school girls using it to imply that their (non-prostitute) peers are (what they think is) less than they.

If our marching orders are to stop using the word appropriately, then the word becomes beyond-the-pale, which makes it powerful and devastating, and so will become more hurtful and more attractive to use when you want to hurt someone.

Don't ask us to go down that stupid destructive pointless path. Use the word without pejorative, as so many already do, even if your only motivation is to undermine its power to hurt people.

If someone wants to hurt someone by telling them they're a sex worker, then let them use words that mean only that, and make the insult seem sillier. Don't ask us to give such power to words that their mere sound can make the room gasp and the target burn with mortification and powerlessness. With prostitution increasing legal, the pejorative strength is already diminishing somewhat. If someone wants to hurt someone with words, let them have to go out on a limb and work for it. Or let them make up their own slang to hurt each other with. They can go pee in their own sandbox.
posted by -harlequin- at 9:03 PM on April 24, 2011


I just use it to describe lawyers.
posted by WalterMitty at 12:09 AM on April 25, 2011


The premise of the OP is bullshit - whore is not an offensive word in Australia. You must lead an extraordinarily sheltered life.
posted by awfurby at 2:55 AM on April 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


It's easy to say sorry and move on.

So - can we all assume that the anonymous poster of the AskMe question has said "sorry" and move on? I'm going to remove this thread from my Recent Activity list, because I don't see much of anything new happening here.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:35 AM on April 25, 2011


but that word is every bit as bad as your worst racial slur, in Australia

Sorry.. another (mixed-race) Australian data-point who respectfully disagrees.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 3:44 AM on April 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


Just chiming in to say that 'whore', while not a particularly nice term, is not as offensive to
Australians as the OP is leading you to believe. Honestly. We're much more relaxed than that.
posted by AzzaMcKazza at 7:00 AM on April 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


On swearing in family situations...

Scene: my parents' house, Easter.

Me: [telling a story about something irritating, peppered with profanity]
My mother: "You don't have to swear every other word to make a point."
My father: "Yeah. Where the fuck did you learn to do that?" [laughs]

Then my mom made me watch the new Katy Perry video (I knew their getting high speed internet at long last was going to be a baaaaad idea); I had to hear Kanye say "disrobe" and "probe" in the same sentence, and am now scarred for life).
posted by bitter-girl.com at 7:41 AM on April 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Scene me making dinner chatting with my six year old.

Her: I learned the worst word today
Me: whats that?
Her: Fuck.
Me: You're right, that is the worst word. You will get in trouble if you say it.
Her: Its OK, the grownups are usually too busy talking to hear.
Me: Still, dont say it. I'm serious.
Her: OK.

About fifteen minutes pass uneventfully until the dog takes one of the steaks off the kitchen counter.
Me: FUCK!
Her: daddy said fuck! Daddy said fuck!
posted by shothotbot at 9:06 AM on April 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


ground is covered in hoarfrost. horehound is tasty. also, I have learned a great deal from this thread, much of which is about people's perceptions about how particular words are understood, both within specific cultures and subgroups.
posted by exlotuseater at 10:38 AM on April 25, 2011


> Really? 'Cause you seem to have managed to keep up just fine.

I had to browse back through weeks worth of metas. Is this what people should have to do before commenting? The issue of Here's The Offensive List of Proscribed Words Thou Shall Not Utter is also, admittedly, a pet peeve of mine. Even if everyone in metatalk were to agree, and they obviously aren't, there's no good way to disseminate site wide policy. What are you going to do? Put a banner at the top of every page? Have a censored word list that turns fuck into f**k? Have thread cops use the "Naughty Word" flag to make sure its usage is obliterated and the user warned?

The original premise was should this word be allowed? Just go ahead and put me down firmly on the side of wanting the entire English lexicon available to me, and forgive me if I'm not going to get too excited if someone takes offense where none was intended. I have a whole slew of words I choose not to use, but I'm the one making this decision. I'd resent having it made for me.
posted by cjorgensen at 12:40 PM on April 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Don't misunderstand; I mostly agree with you. I just don't buy the argument that keeping track of a handful of problematic words is all that difficult.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:46 PM on April 25, 2011


....Which thread was it that prompted this? I'm all curious now.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:13 PM on April 25, 2011


...Okay, duh on me, I found it. As you were.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:14 PM on April 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


What are you going to do? Put a banner at the top of every page? Have a censored word list that turns fuck into f**k? Have thread cops use the "Naughty Word" flag to make sure its usage is obliterated and the user warned?


None of those things. cortex has already said what would happen, presumably if something was flagged a lot for offensive language. The post or comment would be deleted. That's... what people are going to do.

Taff is clearly an outlier - she has proposed something that is not going to happen (deletion of offensive words), her opinion of how offensive the word "whore" is in Australia is contested, and she believes not only that people would be arrested for saying "cunt" in the street, but that this is a desirable outcome. The only one of those beliefs that actually affects MetaFilter is the first, which is not going to happen. I've been surprised at the level of aggression directed at her for her belief in the second, probably exacerbated by what may be simple incomprehension but could be read as bad faith. Her opinion has been described as "bullshit" (twice!) and at one point someone appears to have gone to her blog to find incriminating content to use against her here.

I'm surprised that a man on vacation in Africa who paid a young woman for sex and then asked the Internet in bewilderment whether she was a whore and he the victim of a set-up has received far less negative reinforcement for that than Taff has for giving a possibly misleading impression of how offensive the word "whore" is in Australia. I'm guessing that's because the stakes seemed like the potential censorship of MetaFilter (although there never seemed to be any risk of that happening), but it is odd.
posted by running order squabble fest at 1:30 PM on April 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm guessing that's because the stakes seemed like the potential censorship of MetaFilter (although there never seemed to be any risk of that happening), but it is odd.

It's because they belong to two different types of comments on twi different parts of the site. The guy who offhandedly said "whore" in his question--on a part of the site where you are supposed to answer in as non-judgmnetal a fashion as you can--was still told to please not do that. His question was about something else. People answered the question that was asked. This MeTa was specifically about that word with some broad statements of what sort of word it was in a part of the site specifically designed for nitpicking and discussion about topics. If the guy in AskMe had asked "Should I call this woman a whore?" I'm sure he would have gotten many similar responses. If Taff had started out with "Do other people feel the way I do about this word?" instead of suggesting some pretty-out-of-character mod-action suggestions, this thread would have gone very differently.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:41 PM on April 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


I found it odd from the initial call out as well. A man paid a woman —who may or may not have been 20 years old— then had sex with her and the offensive part was what this man called her on the internet? I find the behavior offensive, but the word washed right over me.
posted by cjorgensen at 1:45 PM on April 25, 2011


Some words are simply attention whores. With all their consonants and connotations and whatnot, they will do everything possible to stand out in a crowd. They just love sneaking across borders, pulling down their pants, and basking in the outrage. It is best to ignore them.
posted by found missing at 1:47 PM on April 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, it really is a little weird that someone asked a question about his naive experience with prostitution in Africa and the big fight is about whether or not the word "whore" is ohmygoshtheworstswearwordeveryou'llbearrestedseriously.

That said, I think it's silly to pretend that anyone genuinely believes that the term is wholly inoffensive. And the question of degrees is, frankly, irrelevant.
posted by The World Famous at 1:49 PM on April 25, 2011


And the question of degrees is, frankly, irrelevant.

I'm confused by this. Irrelevant to whom?
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:55 PM on April 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm confused by this. Irrelevant to whom?

To those considering whether or not to use the term. The fact is, it's an offensive term, particularly as applied in certain circumstances. It doesn't matter whether or not taff's characterizations of just how offensive it is in Australia are totally accurate. It matters that it is generally understood that the term gives offense, including and particularly in the sense that it was used in the AskMe question.

Someone genuinely trying not to cause offense should generally avoid calling someone a "whore," regardless of just precisely how offensive the term is. Should the term be censored on MetaFilter? No. Of course not. Should people throw it around like it's nothing? No.

One of the defining characteristics of MetaFilter, in my experience, is a general level of basic dignity and respect for others that rarely exists elsewhere on the internet. Yes, that line is often crossed. But the fact that the community recognizes the importance of that standard is what I appreciate, even if the standard is not always perfectly met.

I feel like there's a general, unwritten rule above nearly all others here that people should avoid being jerks to each other. And I love that.
posted by The World Famous at 2:05 PM on April 25, 2011


I don't use the word "whore", but if people tell me that "prostitute" is too offensive and I should use "sex worker" then I will chuckle and continue using the word "prostitute". Not that I use that word much either, but still.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:08 PM on April 25, 2011


cjorgensen: I found it odd from the initial call out as well. A man paid a woman —who may or may not have been 20 years old— then had sex with her and the offensive part was what this man called her on the internet?

There's a bunch of intersectional stuff there, sure - if you're suggesting she might have been underage, that's obviously very serious, but it wasn't part of the question. Rookie guess, but I'd imagine someone raising the possibility in the comments to the AskMe post would have been derailing. One could certainly talk about the inequalities of power and wealth between a foreign visitor and a native of what one might assume is a relatively impoverished country, and people did talk about the deforming impact of foreign currency on local behavior (in addressing the question asked - whether the woman was a sex worker). But all of those things are outside the question as it was asked on AskMe, and they aren't really things it would make sense to try to ban.

And, specifically, Taff isn't opposed to sex work - she just doesn't like sex workers (or anyone else, presumably) being referred to with that particular word. And "should the moderators remove all reference to prostitution from MetaFilter sites?" would have been, I think, an even bigger outlier.

jessamyn: It's because they belong to two different types of comments on twi different parts of the site.

Sure, understood. But it's been made clear that what taff has requested/suggested isn't going to happen, and would not have happened even if her opinion of the offensiveness of "whore" in Australia had been unanimously supported by other Australians. The policy part of this is all over. However, people are still taking quite forceful issue with taff's opinion and resisting the creation of a list of unacceptable words on MetaFilter - even though her opinion is unimportant, and/because no such list is going to be created or enforced by the moderators. I guess I'm wondering why this is still apparently emotive, when there is no risk of it altering policy. But it may be a question with no answer, or as many answers as there are people in the discussion (self included).
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:15 PM on April 25, 2011


I just don't buy the argument that keeping track of a handful of problematic words is all that difficult.

I think coming to agreement on what words this list contains is problematic. I also think the way these threads are usually raised contributes to the backlash. If someone said, "A lot of people find the word 'mutton' offensive. I want to bring that to your attention." Then I am going to think, "They're right! 'Mutton' is offensive." Or, "They're crazy. 'Mutton's' a perfectly cromulent word, and I am going to keep using it because I don't cater to stupidity" Or, "Ok. Silly, but I'm not picking 'mutton' as the hill to die on." Or, "I already knew 'mutton' was offensive. That's why I was using it, you mutton mouth!"

But the way it's usually raised is, "I'm tired of this word, you're ignorant for not knowing it was offensive, and now you need to stop using it, since I've now educated you. Why aren't you thanking me?"
posted by cjorgensen at 2:18 PM on April 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


Also, I wasn't suggesting she might have been underage. I was suggesting she might not have been as old as she claimed. At best you have a woman half his age. I'm 40, so I know what a woman half my age looks like. Someone once said to me, "If she looks young to you, you look old to her." I'm at that point in my life where a lot of women are starting to look young.
posted by cjorgensen at 2:25 PM on April 25, 2011


mutton mouth

wipe that smile off your face and pop an altoid
posted by found missing at 2:28 PM on April 25, 2011


I have no idea what that means.
posted by found missing at 2:36 PM on April 25, 2011


I do.
posted by arse_hat at 2:38 PM on April 25, 2011


You kids and your euphemisms.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:39 PM on April 25, 2011


Also, I wasn't suggesting she might have been underage. I was suggesting she might not have been as old as she claimed. At best you have a woman half his age.

Sure, potentially - or she might have been claiming to be younger than she was, for that matter. In my experience, straight men not only aren't very good at guessing small age differences but also aren't all that interested, as long as it doesn't cross a personal line or the law of the land.

But either way, unless that possibility led to a response relevant to the situation (for example "whether or not she was a prostitute, if she was below [age] in [country] you have broken the law, and need to consider what to do about that" or "in [country], the age of consent is 18, but soliciting sex for money with a woman under 21 is illegal, so you need to be aware that you may or may not have broken the law", or similar) it wouldn't be appropriate to the AskMe question, as I understand it.
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:48 PM on April 25, 2011


I think it's silly to pretend that anyone genuinely believes that the term is wholly inoffensive.

Until this thread I genuinely had no idea that the term was in any way offensive to anyone, when used - as here - in the context of a woman taking money in return for sex. Others have said much the same.

If someone called me a merchant banker (do not do this in the UK unless you mean it) I would be extremely offended. Since I have never worked in the financial sector, the only context I can be called that is the context of insult. Were I actually a merchant banker by profession, I imagine I'd be judging from context whether or not to understand being referred to as such directly as a deliberate jibe. If the context specifically and clearly involved my work at a merchant bank, it seems likely that I would be wrong to infer that I was being insulted on this occasion.

The clear lesson from this thread is that the fact that merchant bankers are a privileged class, while sex workers are an oppressed class, means that the terms 'whore' and 'merchant banker' operate in entirely different ways. With the former, since it can be an insult, it is always an insult. With the latter, while it can be an insult, it need not necessarily be an insult.

This was genuinely news to me.
posted by motty at 3:04 PM on April 25, 2011


The clear lesson from this thread is that the fact that merchant bankers are a privileged class, while sex workers are an oppressed class, means that the terms 'whore' and 'merchant banker' operate in entirely different ways.

I'm not sure they are the same thing to start off with, though. If you're a merchant banker, that's the name of your job. I mean, you personally might be a VP, Banking Operations, say, but "Merchant Banker" is what you would use to self-describe in a variety of conversations where that level of detail was not required or was counterproductive - identity papers or bar conversation. Unless you're making a joke about the Cockney rhyming slang for "wanker", merchant banker has only ever really been intended as a neutral descriptor of a profession since its coining. Arguably, it's equivalent to "sex worker".

"Whore" as a descriptor for sex workers didn't originate as a neutral descriptor - it emerged in the language at a time when being a sex worker was not generally a socially acceptable profession. John Ford didn't write Tis Pity She's a Merchant Banker, but he did write 'Tis Pity She's a Whore - in which, incidentally, Annabella isn't a sex worker, but does give in to sexual desire in a socially inappropriate fashion. People were called whoresons as an insult because being the son of a prostitute (or a woman with socially inappropriate sex lives) was not a good thing to be, socially. There's a long historical precedent for "whore" being used negatively of sex workers, those who associated with sex workers (e.g. whoremonger) and women who violated sexual propriety codes. Obviously, this is exacerbated by the continuing marginal legal status of sex workers in many countries and states of the US. A merchant banker may metaphorically be a criminal ("all merchant bankers are thieves"), or be a criminal because of a criminal act ("that merchant banker has violated SEC rulings"), but "merchant banker" does not describe a criminalised profession, as the various terms for prostitution do in many parts of the world.

So, I think "whore" and "merchant banker" operate differently - if a friend says "that man over there is a merchant banker" at a party, chances are he is telling you what he does. If you know your friend hates merchant bankers, you can probably intuit that this is not a good thing in your friend's eyes, but that's interpretation - "he is a merchant banker" is a simple true/false statement. Unless it's cockney rhyming slang, but let's assume it isn't.

Whereas if a friend says "that woman over there is a whore", it might mean that she is a sex worker, or it might mean that your friend disapproves of her sexual conduct. Assuming it means that she is a sex worker, it might be how she has introduced herself to your friend, or it might be a way for your friend to communicate his own feelings about sex workers through word choice... and so on.

My culturally specific two cents - "whore" needn't always be an insult. Some sex workers use it in a reclamatory way, as mentioned upthread. Apparently, some sex workers see "prostitute" as an imposed word, and think "whore" is a more honest term, or one that belongs to their own culture. However, "whore" addressed without qualification to women who are not sex workers is almost always a pejorative and intended as such, while "merchant banker" addressed to a man or woman who is not a merchant banker is almost always an error, and not intended as an insult. If you described a sex worker as a whore to me, I would assume that you were communicating negative feelings as well as telling me what she did for a living - as people did in the AskMe post comments. And I don't think "whore" is generally a good word to use when talking to a sex worker about her job, unless she uses it first.
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:30 PM on April 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


"merchant banker" addressed to a man or woman who is not a merchant banker is almost always an error, and not intended as an insult

As my comment parenthetically implied, I'm from the UK. More specifically, I'm a Londoner, from London, and I'm not making a joke about Cockney rhyming slang, I'm using it as an example. This particular bit of slang is, I'm relatively certain, pretty widely understood across the UK; if someone in a pub calls you a merchant banker, you'd be far better off taking it as an insult rather than putting it down to error. Really.

"Whore" as a descriptor for sex workers didn't originate as a neutral descriptor - it emerged in the language at a time when being a sex worker was not generally a socially acceptable profession.

What's odd is that the same blanket taboo and inability to be a neutral descriptor does not apply to the word 'prostitute', which also emerged in the language at a time when being a sex worker was not generally a socially acceptable profession. I've heard 'prostitute' used as an insult as well as a neutral descriptor - yet it retains the same contextual properties as 'merchant banker'. If the original poster had used that word instead of 'whore', I'm not at all sure this thread would exist.
posted by motty at 5:19 PM on April 25, 2011


This particular bit of slang is, I'm relatively certain, pretty widely understood across the UK; if someone in a pub calls you a merchant banker, you'd be far better off taking it as an insult rather than putting it down to error. Really.

If you were riffing throughout on the double meaning of "merchant banker" to mean "a jerk-off (wanker)", then that clouds the issue a bit. Let's substitute "loss adjuster" for "merchant banker". Assuming "loss adjuster" isn't rhyming slang for "total buster", at least.

If the original poster had used [prostitute] instead of 'whore', I'm not at all sure this thread would exist.

I'm pretty sure it wouldn't have - taff clearly had a specific issue with the word "whore", which she (uniquely, I think, or at least unusually) believes to be as offensive as the most offensive racial slurs.

"Prostitute" is interesting, though - it's old, but in its time was a neologistic import, and it's nowhere near as old as "whore", some form of which exists back to Old English. Whore is germanic, prostitute latinate. It's probably considered less rude and more "official" for the same reasons that the neologistic Latin import vagina is generally considered less rude and more clinical than its most famous germanic equivalent - and, like that antecedent, is probably open to the same possibilities for and attempts at reclamation and subversion.
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:59 PM on April 25, 2011


There is at least one very rude word, and maybe two, missing from that last sentence. Thanks, interior censor!
posted by running order squabble fest at 6:33 PM on April 25, 2011


I'm from Canada and I was pretty taken aback by finding that word in the post. I was kind of stunned that it had been left there. I consume a lot of US media and I am, quite honestly, also shocked to find that anyone from the US would think it was a more neutral term.
posted by acoutu at 8:04 PM on April 25, 2011


Whew. Quite the read. Like acouto, I'm from Canada, and do not find the word offensive at all and I'd have been stunned if one of mods had deleted it. It seems a pretty good descriptor, and an effective modifier. I have a strong feeling that those particularly offended by its usage have cultural exposure that influences some aspects their emotional response to it's usage, such as its misogynistic and moral baggage.

That said, it's not the kind of word I'd be likely to use casually about someone, and knowing that it is especially egregious to some members here would likely have me consider some other expression here, even in full-on rant mode. As an example, as much as I despise her, I doubt that I would have used it about Sarah Palin, and upon reflection, can see that such an instinct is probably coloured by the gender of the person to whom the word is directed.

A bit of compromise seems perfectly tolerable to me personally in this regard; if only for the sake of being more inclusive, at little, or no real, cost. However, the idea that it's really really really offensive in all of Australia is demonstrably laughable. One thing that's seems to be a shared trait at both extremes of this ongoing clash is a lack of perspective.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 9:23 PM on April 25, 2011


This particular bit of slang is, I'm relatively certain, pretty widely understood across the UK; if someone in a pub calls you a merchant banker, you'd be far better off taking it as an insult rather than putting it down to error. Really.

motty, what does "merchant banker" mean as an epithet? Just curious; I've never heard that particular insult. I found this definition, but you say you are not talking about rhyming slang?
posted by torticat at 4:27 PM on April 26, 2011


what does "merchant banker" mean as an epithet?

Rhyming slang with a dash of fucked economy?
posted by Sys Rq at 4:51 PM on April 26, 2011


torticat, I never said I wasn't talking about rhyming slang. I said I wasn't joking about it, nor was I attempting to make a joke. I was using it as an example of a usage that has some similarities to that of the word 'whore' but also interesting differences. It may not be familiar to you, but that particular bit of rhyming slang is alive and well and in use in the UK well beyond the earshot of the Bow Bells. I've had it directed at me. It was not 'in error'. Nor pleasant.

'Merchant banker' was also chosen for a particular reason among various other possible rhymes for 'wanker' - obviously that's the origin of it - in a way that causes me to suspect strongly that the meaning goes significantly beyond 'euphemism for wanker'. This is not dissimilar to the way that the fullness of meaning of the word 'whore' - being it is so widely used elsewhere as such a vicious insult - goes beyond the meaning that some continue to wish to ascribe to it - 'simple synonym for prostitute'.

Until I read this thread I genuinely believed that 'whore' could be a simple synonym for prostitute in addition to being an insult. I now know different. Others have commented to the effect that as far as they are concerned there is still nothing wrong with using the word 'whore' in the context of someone performing actual sex work, just as - there seems to be consensus here - the word 'prostitute' itself need not, but can be, an insult.

'Prostitute' would have been a better comparison than 'merchant banker', which is on reflection a bit of a side-track; the thing here is the way in which societal prudishness and the whole fraught situation around sex and sex work over centuries causes language itself to operate in a peculiar way, such that the baggage of insult accumulated around some words makes them actually lose their original meaning before the eyes of those only just coming around to dimly comprehend that baggage of insult.
posted by motty at 5:01 PM on April 26, 2011


Merchant bankers are people who constantly play with their bonds & stocks.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:02 PM on April 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's a Merchant Ivory thing, isn't it? Please tell me it's a Merchant Ivory thing.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:02 PM on April 26, 2011


I said I wasn't joking about it,

My bad--sorry, I misunderstood.

It may not be familiar to you, but that particular bit of rhyming slang is alive and well and in use in the UK well beyond the earshot of the Bow Bells. I've had it directed at me. It was not 'in error'. Nor pleasant.

Right, but I think you misunderstood me too. I'm not questioning whether it's an epithet in current use or whether it's offensive, just asking what the connotation is, as the term is new to me. What do you mean when you say "the meaning goes significantly beyond 'euphemism for wanker'"?

Again, I'm just curious about an expression I'm not familiar with; I'm not defending it or expressing any opinion about it at all.
posted by torticat at 5:26 PM on April 26, 2011


What do you mean when you say "the meaning goes significantly beyond 'euphemism for wanker'"?

The connotation is - or very much can be - somewhere in the vague ballpark of 'I've decided you think you are better than me, better than you should be, and given the chance I will glass you.'

Apologies for derailing.

posted by motty at 5:38 PM on April 26, 2011


Still a derail, but the relation of cockney rhyming slang subjects and objects is interesting - the definition torticat cites implies that the phrase was chosen because of the redevelopment of London's Docklands in the 80s, pricing out the local community to make room for luxury apartments for rich City folk. That may or may not be the case - rhyming slang often picks up on common words or phrases of its day, but not necessarily with a specific connotation of a link between the word and its substituted phrase.

So, it makes sense, after a fashion, that around World War 2 the rhyming slang for "yank" (meaning American) became "Sherman tank". But looking at a similar-sounding word, there's no reason for "J Arthur Rank" to be the rhyming slang for "wank" (the act of masturbation), except that the appearance of Rank's name at the beginning of many British-made films of the period made it a ubiquitous bit of popular culture - just as the music hall star Kate Carney gave her name to the slang for "Army".

You pays your Robin Tunney and takes your James Joyce, as they don't say.
posted by running order squabble fest at 7:32 PM on April 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Could be at least a dash of antisemitism in derision of merchant bankers.
posted by kafziel at 7:34 PM on April 26, 2011


Could be at least a dash of antisemitism in derision of merchant bankers.

My eyes just rolled back in my head, fell out, and trundled across the floor, then bounced down the stairs into the basement. Be back in a mo.

O-kay.

Merchant bankers are hated because they stole billions upon billions of dollars, stuffed them into their pockets, then asked the public to pay off their debts. It's not fucking difficult. There is nothing subtle or dog-whistlish about the hatred for them.

Get a bonus many times the average income when things go well? Check.

Make a guaranteed income many times the average income come rain or shine? Check.

Suffer no consequences when your actions destroy the lives of millions of people? Check

Good tiiiiiimes.
posted by unSane at 7:42 PM on April 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Could be at least a dash of antisemitism in derision of merchant bankers.

That's actually a fair point.

Merchant bankers are hated because they stole billions upon billions of dollars, stuffed them into their pockets, then asked the public to pay off their debts. It's not fucking difficult. There is nothing subtle or dog-whistlish about the hatred for them.

Well, actually, if you read up on your History of Banking, you might find that such rhetoric isn't all that new; from the middle ages right up until the mid-20th Century it was directed rather disproportionately--indeed, often exclusively--at Jews. For a long, long time, "merchant banker" was, in the minds of gentiles, entirely synonymous with "Jew." A hefty percentage of antisemitism stems from that very fact.

All that said, yeah, these days it mostly just rhymes with "wanker."
posted by Sys Rq at 8:48 PM on April 26, 2011


Put it this way: when Alex Jones rants about bankers poisoning our food and water, do you think he's talking about Christians?
posted by kafziel at 11:18 PM on April 26, 2011


around World War 2 the rhyming slang for "yank" (meaning American) became "Sherman tank".

Really? I never heard anything other than "septic tank" - which also plays on the idea that they're usually full of shit.
posted by UbuRoivas at 12:00 AM on April 27, 2011


Could be at least a dash of antisemitism in derision of merchant bankers.

I always thought it was more of a simple anti-yuppie thing...? There's no stereotype of Jewish people here moving into corporate finance that I know of. Wall St might be different; I don't know. I'd guess that The City in London is more of an aspirational middle-class WASP thing, and therefore comes up against English class politics - wealthy neuveau-riche; not classy enough to be Establishment....?
posted by UbuRoivas at 12:22 AM on April 27, 2011


nouveau
posted by UbuRoivas at 12:23 AM on April 27, 2011


Man this thread got weird...
posted by awfurby at 3:37 AM on April 27, 2011


What do you mean got?
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:45 PM on April 27, 2011


nouveau.

Neuveau is the Alsatian spelling.
posted by y2karl at 2:43 PM on May 4, 2011


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