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10 October, 2012

"Bitch" is not the new "N" word

Certain bloggers and forum lurkers have compared words like "bitch" and "cunt" to racial and homophobic slurs. It's a terrible analogy and here's why.

Language changes. The meanings of words change. For example, resentment was once used to describe something someone thought of fondly. "Bitch" and "cunt" are no different.

While "Bitch" was once a derogatory term for women, the general meaning of the word has changed over time. In fact, its original meaning was innocuous, describing a female dog. In certain contexts, the term can still be used against women, but often the term is applied to men, too. In US English, "bitch" is the equivalent of a shady person undeserving of respect, no matter what their gender. It can also be someone who complains about things that are trivial, ("don't be such a bitch about it").

"Cunt" is another one. In US English it has been a particularly cutting and insulting word with a great taboo placed upon it. This made the term more powerful when used, (frequency of use does affect how we view words). In European English-speaking countries this word has not had the same effect. They use "cunt" as often as we use "asshole" over here. In fact, in French, the term that translates to "asshole" is "con" or "connard," which, a hundred years ago, was the word for a woman's vagina.

Internet forums demanding those two terms be treated like racial and homophobic slurs are actually giving those terms more power than they have or deserve.

The "N" word was once used to describe an entire people who were oppressed, murdered and sold into slavery.

The "F" word was once a term used to compare gay people to the bundle of kindling lit by the fires they would use to burn these people. It's come to my attention that the origin of "faggot" is unclear. Regardless, it's been used in a much broader sense to oppress gay people than "bitch" or "cunt" has to oppress women. In fact, "woman" is used more as a stereotypical marker to enforce strict gender roles than any other word. With it comes much more baggage than "bitch." I'm not saying we need to change what word we use, I'm just pointing out that women's history of cultural oppression and that of minorities are different.

Bitch was used to insult a woman who wasn't following the rules of lady hood and respectability. There are some major differences there.

The "F" and "N" words are still used in much the same way they used to be. "Bitch" has undergone a lot of changes and has a lot of different meanings. Perhaps we should instead focus on the way we talk to each other and disagree about things rather than the words themselves.


  1. It is true we use the word differently, in the UK at least.
    To be fair, I don't know whether I have ever called a woman a 'cunt'. The 'rules of engagement' in my culture are such that robust language that is acceptable between male friends would be seen as poor manners if expressed to a female friend.
    No-one would bat an eyelid if i greeted a male friend with the line 'Now then you cunt, good to see you!', so it can even be used as a term of endearment!!
    As far as insults go, to another guy I would usually go with: cunt, twat, dick, prick, wanker; to a woman I would prefer bitch or cow.

    Jim (np99)

    1. That's very interesting. Among peers over here, it's often not as important for men to watch their mouths in front of women, depending on the situation. If the woman is older, the filter is more readily out on, but I'd argue that it would apply to older men as well. Being able to hang with the boys and follow low-brow humor is looked on favorably by a lot of people. Women who don't like hearing cuss words are treated as "prissy," "stuck up," or too politically correct.

  2. If insults based on reference to female genitalia are to be termed misogynistic then would it not follow that insults such as 'dick', 'prick' and 'knob' based on male genitalia should be termed misandrist?

    It sounds as though the 'certain bloggers and forum lurkers' of which you speak are simply engaging in a little special pleading in order to bolster their devotion to their victimhood.

    1. I didn't mention it in this blog, but I have noticed before that a favorite of that particular group is "douchebag." A douche in English is a very specific product. How that one escapes their misogyny meter is beyond me.

    2. On the off-chance I get referred to as such I'll make a point of referencing the utility of douchebags to women's well-being :-)

    3. A couple of more or less random observations:

      1. Richard Carrier justifies his frequent use of "douche" on the grounds that douche is allegedly harmful to women. This is also Rebecca Watson's shtick. Prior to Elevatorgate it was all she ever talked about.

      2. The belief that "faggot" comes from "bundle of kindling for burning gays at the stake", though widespread, appears to be unsubstantiated.

      3. A faggot is a food item in parts of Britain.

      4. In Ireland I once saw a sign that said "Private property, no dogs or bitches." My guess is that the landowner had someone get legalistic on him and claim that "dogs" only referred to males, so he wrote the sign to cover all bases.

    4. Thanks for pointing that out! I will add a note.