Part 62: What the Fuck?

Hello, and welcome back to The Autistic Writer. Thanks for being here. How the fuck are you? And, why am I swearing? All will be revealed… But let’s have a catch-up, first. I’ve now completed my second full week in my new flat, and it still feels like there’s loads to do. I seem inordinately busy all the time, and in truth, I’ve just been reacting to stuff, and haven’t been able to impose my routine on anything. I’ve done most of the admin that comes with moving home, now, but there’s still a pile of documentation I need to look at later today. I think things will settle down over the next couple of weeks. I really hope so, because I haven’t done any work on my fiction writing in weeks. I’m not beating myself up about that; when your marriage falls apart, and you are under pressure to find a new place to live, and you’re dealing with various health issues, something has to give. But I’m desperate to get back into it. I’d originally planned on an autumn release for my next novel, Aberrations, after a third and final polishing draft. It’s looking more likely to be a December release, which I guess could be good timing with Christmas looming. At least I now have WI-FI!

Due to all the increased physical activity that’s come with the house move, I’ve been getting intermittent pain in the long-term-problem areas of my back and shoulder. Added to that, I’ve had to have a CT scan to check out an issue in my sinus area that was picked up on a routine dental appointment. I’m still unsure what the problem is, and where it’s going. These little health niggles just keep on coming. Ah, well… fuck it, let’s talk about swearing. Profanity. Cuss words…

Over the years, I’ve used a lot of so-called bad language. I was raised in a culture in which pretty much everyone swore a lot. It was normal. And I’ve often said I enjoy swearing; I’ve described it as colourful language. Using the word fucking as an intensifier can be impactful, funny, sad, or a host of other things depending on the context. Profanity can be used ironically to great effect. But bad language is also often used aggressively, particularly when deliberately deployed to offend or upset. What I’m talking about here are insults. Some time ago, I started thinking more carefully about swearing, and the more I thought about it, the more uncomfortable I got… with some words more than others. As a writer, I’ve often trotted out one of my favourite mantras; words have power. Some of the power of words comes from eloquence, timing, and context. Some of it comes from understanding less obvious connotations, and the historical roots and meanings of words. And I’m not talking about the heavy academic study of etymology, nothing so dry. Some of the connotations of the words we use can be understood with a little logical thought, if you care to engage that way. Swear words don’t exist in their own little pocket language universe; they relate to all areas of language, and to the ideas that are propagated by language, and so the way they are deployed and the ideas people attach to them can be very revealing about people’s attitudes and beliefs. When we get thinking about profane language used to insult, and what that means, there’s no escaping the link with other kinds of insults, and so today’s blog won’t only cover swear words, but some other terms that are used to insult, specifically those related to mental functioning. If you’re likely to be offended or upset or in any way triggered by these insults, you might want to skip this blog. I’m not going to redact any of the words under discussion; I’m putting them out there for anyone to read. It’s not possible for me to cover all swear words; there are just too many, but I’m going to cover a few of the more familiar ones to make my point. So, without further preamble, let’s get fucking started…


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Fuck. This is probably the best word to start with, along with its derivatives, fucking, fucker, fuck off, fuck this, fuck that, fuck you, fucked-up, fucking hell, what the fuck, and motherfucker, to name a few. It really is remarkable how much profanity stems from sexual language, and you have to wonder why and how sexual language became profane. It’s widely accepted that the word fuck has a long history, probably emerging in Germanic language several hundred years ago, popularly recognised as Anglo-Saxon, and the word is usually taken to mean the act of sexual intercourse. So, fucking is really one of the most natural activities in the world, and yet we use the so-called f-bomb to shock (fuck you), insult (you fucker), threaten/intimidate (fuck off), or ironically amuse (ironically when used casually despite its common deployment as insult of threat, etc). How does something as simple and inoffensive as a word for the act of procreation become socially profane? There is absolutely going to be more than one answer to this question, and the answers are not mutually exclusive. Different forces are constantly at work shaping our language norms. The one I’m interested in here is the understanding that at some point, the natural act of sexual coupling became dirty. It wasn’t always that way. Go back far enough in our species’ evolutionary journey (probably not that far), and like any other animals, we were probably fucking casually out in the open, and no one batted an eyelid. I’m not saying that is how we should still be – far from it. We have evolved culture, and complex ways of interacting, including mental and emotional barriers around sex. Sex has all too often become about power, especially between the traditional male-female genders. Where there is power play, there is exploitation of the oppressed and vulnerable, and so we have laws that protect us against sexual exploitation and abuse. Lots of people find sexual coupling inextricably linked to emotional connection (I certainly do) and so bad behaviour in sexual activity can lead to severe unhappiness. These problematic aspects of sex within a complex culture are part of the reason sex began to be seen as something to be controlled and subdued and hidden away. There is also a religious aspect. Right there in the book of Genesis in the Bible, we have Adam and Eve covering their nakedness in shame. Nakedness is linked to sex, because nakedness puts the sexual organs on view. Religions have formalised the repression of sexual behaviour, because religions are about control; religions have rules or commandments; they tell you what you can and can’t do, sexually and otherwise, to be holy. Religions have throughout history interfaced with other social control structures (kings, emperors, presidents, and so on) to control activity related to sex, commonly through the institution of marriage, and so-called decency laws. Historically, marriages were about money, and wives were often seen as the property of husbands, with marriages having to be formally consummated with the sexual act – the formal fuck, if you will – to be legally valid. Religion and wealth-based power combined to formalise fucking, and to use their power structures to oppress women. To maintain the power, complex rules and social norms were put in place, and transgressions punished. This made carefree, love-based or casual sex, naughty, forbidden, and so for many, all the more alluring. This meant the language around sex became repressed. It was no longer polite to talk about sex. And so the word fuck emerges as a naughty, forbidden, profane word. Remember, when you tell someone to fuck off, there is a weight of historical and social significance behind it, much of it unhappy. But things get far worse with some of the other words we’re coming to…


Bastard. Seeing as we mentioned marriage just now, let’s talk about the word bastard as an insult. Incidentally, anyone from my background will recognise the colourful term, fucking bastard, as a common insult. Why does bastard have such negative connotations? While we use bastard as an insult meaning someone is not a nice person, usually someone who doesn’t care much about how other people feel, and is ruthless in their behaviour, the more traditional meaning is very different, and has some disturbing undertones. Historically, a bastard was a person born outside the formal institution of marriage. As we already know, marriage was traditionally about wealth and power, and children born in marriage were legitimately entitled to be heirs to their fathers’ estates. Bastards had no such legal entitlement, and were thus considered illegitimate. Amazingly, in the UK, this situation was only changed as recently as 1926, via the Legitimacy Act, and then again in 1959. There are other complexities around so-called legitimacy, such as nationality, but these are generally being addressed by updated legislation. For most people, the notion of legal legitimacy of a child born out of wedlock is now simply irrelevant. No one cares any more, or at least most people don’t care. I never married the mother of my son, but no one is stopping me naming him in my will. Many couples choose to either have a civil partnership, or no formal arrangement at all, and still have children. The world has changed. Legitimacy in this sense is a purely legal concept, and an outmoded one at that. If someone is technically legally illegitimate, that does not mean they are not legitimate as a human being; they are not less of a person. And yet some people who choose to not think this through properly still see a stigma; they conflate and confuse historical legal legitimacy with current moral legitimacy, whatever that means. Some time ago, I had a conversation with a female friend who was going through a divorce. There were children from the marriage. My friend explained to me that the only reason she’d got married in the first place was that she wanted kids, and didn’t want them to be illegitimate. I asked her in what way she thought her children would not be legitimate if she had not married. Here response, if I remember correctly, was a puzzled look, and the words, “Well, they’d be born out of wedlock, wouldn’t they?” When I replied, “So what?” she muttered something about not being that type of person, and embarrassment. It was ridiculous. Anyway, it seems that the notion of illegitimacy has become intertwined in parts of the social consciousness with shame, and in some way being a lesser person. And this is part of the reason why the term bastard is being perpetuated as an insult. Words and definitions change over time, and if you look up a definition of bastard now, you’re likely to see it defined as a nasty or ruthless person. But it’s worthwhile remembering where it came from, and how even now the notion of illegitimacy remains in the minds of people too lazy to think it through. If you think that’s bad, have a look at this shit…



Shit. We’ll take a detour from sexually-related profanity to have a look at the word shit. This is fairly straightforward, but has implications for sexually-based insults. We all know what shit is. Poop. Crap. Kaka. Fecal matter. Waste product. But we do like to use the word as a bit of profanity. I can deploy the term to denote shock or annoyance (Oh, shit!) or to communicate displeasure (That’s shit!) or sometimes just as a plain insult (You absolute shit, you piece of shit, etc). For most people, shit is not nice. We don’t like to appearance or smell of it. Our mainly negative reactions to it are partly due to social conditioning, and partly due to an evolved response; shit can be detrimental to our health. We hide it away. We poop in private, and toilet accidents are felt to be embarrassing or shameful. To call someone a shit is to say they are worthless, unlikeable, something to be ashamed of, waste matter, something to be got rid of, ignored, and not even mentioned in polite company. Toilet training infants is seen as a big deal socially, and new parents can get stressed about it. In many generations, children were scolded or shamed for toilet training accidents. It’s interesting that we tend to use words that have a connection with personal shame to insult other people, rather like the use of fuck in the context of the shaming aspect of sex discussed above, and as we shall see, the use of sexual organ names as insults. If you really must aim profane insults at someone, and decide to go with calling them a shit, you might want to ask yourself what is going through your mind, and what has happened in your social conditioning, for you to want to use a term denoting a pretty basic biological function to do it.


Interlude: A brief message

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Wanker. Yes, here we go with the sexual language again. Wanking is another term for masturbation; sexual self-stimulation. If you’re from my generation or older, you might have been told as a kid that wanking will send you blind. This was an extremely common warning given to young boys, and I believe it was generally accepted or pretended in those generations that females didn’t masturbate, and that it might even be impossible. Things are a lot more sensible and open these days, and the chances are that most people you know will masturbate to some degree of frequency. You can buy sex toys to aid masturbation on the high street or from your favourite online retailers, and the porn industry turns over billions annually. Basically, most of you are at it a lot of the time, you dirty little wankers. Not me, I don’t go in for that disgusting behaviour. And even if I did, I wouldn’t admit it to you wankers. Why? Because despite all the progress to sexual openness we’ve made in society, most of us still feel that masturbation is a bit… icky, a bit sad, a bit embarrassing, or a bit naughty. We might meet our friends or family and say, “Oh, I watched a great movie last night,” or, “I had a fabulous dinner last night,” but we don’t turned up and say, “I’ve just cranked out my best wank this week.” I’m not suggesting that we should be quite that open, don’t get me wrong. But I would like to point out that we do still use the word, wanker, as a profane insult. We have other terms for it, too, like tosser. It’s quite possible that the insult, jerk, has the same root meaning, as a shortened version of jerk-off. Because jerking off is, you know, rubbing one out. insulting someone by referring to their perceived proclivity for solitary sexual stimulation is an odd one, because it means you think there is something wrong or bad about masturbation. Something shameful, even. This is becoming a recurring theme, isn’t it? So the next time you call someone a wanker, you might want to check your browser history first.


Prick. What, even more sexual insults? Oh, yes. Prick is a colloquial term for penis. We have other variations, such as cock, dick, helmet, and tool, for example; all references to the penis. When we use such an insult, we are generally saying that someone is not nice. It tends to be less vehement than calling someone a bastard, and usually means you are calling someone a fool, or saying they are mildly nasty, possibly through incompetence. Referring to a person as simply a sexual organ is to reduce them to less than a person. Maybe this has some relationship to describing some men as “thinking with their prick”, which means pursuing sexual liaisons at any cost, and despite any risk, with complete disregard for consequences. This might be more about the disapproval of cheating on a partner or spouse, but nevertheless, it relates to seeing sex as something bad and potentially shameful. Of course, it’s not only male sexual organs that get used as insults…


Tit. Every now and again, I come across someone calling someone else a tit. It’s usually done with a snigger, or mild annoyance. Generally, calling someone a tit is seen as a lesser profanity, mild even. Which is a bit worrying. Tit is a colloquial word for breast. The female breast is not a sexual organ, but has powerful sexual connotations. But the breast is much more than that; it is a part of the body that is emblematic of motherhood, and the nurturing of babies. The sexualisation of the breast; some might say the hypersexualisation of it, in popular culture and media is rife. The sexual objectification of women is often centred on images of the breast. This is in stark contrast to the almost spiritual connection of mother to baby via the breast. So to call someone a tit as a sexual insult is absolutely not mild or light-hearted at all. Like calling someone a prick, the intent is to reduce someone to less than a person by equating them with a sexual body part. The fact that this insult is seen as casual, mild, and even funny, is an indicator of how entrenched misogynistic attitudes are in our culture. it gets worse…


Twat. If you are from my background and age group, you will probably remember the first time you dared ask someone what this word, twat, meant, only to be told with a rolling of eyes that it was the term for a pregnant goldfish (google it). It seems to be for this reason; the silliness of the pregnant goldfish myth, that the word twat is seen as a more or less acceptable insult to use, which is worrying, because the true definition of the word is a woman’s genitals. Why is it worrying? Well, we all know, I’m sure, the other word for a woman’s genitals that is also used as an insult, and which I’m going to discuss next. The only reason I’m giving the word twat its own mention here is because of the strange acceptability it appears to have (quite possibly as a result of the silly pregnant goldfish myth) in comparison to the other word which has traditionally been seen as more shocking and taboo. I am talking about the word…


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Cunt. This is a word I have used on occasion, when I’ve been drastically triggered. I still find the word shocking, as do many people. For a long time, this word was seen as the last resort of swearing. It was the word you would turn to when looking for the most denigrating, shocking, profane insult you could find. And yet somehow, the word has started to become trendy, with people even using it as an ironic term of endearment or friendship. Whereas its deployment used to result in gasps of horror and dismay, not many people hardly raise an eyebrow when they hear it. And to be honest, I’m finding that problematic. The word cunt has all the problems associated with other sexual profanity, but more, too. It’s about as bad as sexual insults can get, and it warrants a discussion. So here goes.

I’ve talked so far (briefly, as the blog allows) about how some of our profane language has developed through the shaming of sexual language. I’ve also talked about the institution of marriage, and how historically this has been used to treat women as possessions of men, of how the sexual act between a husband and wife was formalised as a financial ritual to validate a marriage contract, and enable the production of “legitimate” offspring. Aside from wives, who were used as objects of sexual satisfaction for men and/or possessions, men would use mistresses or prostitutes for sexual gratification. Society has throughout the overwhelming majority of our known history been dominated by men, who have relegated women to subservient and sexual roles. This inequality and dehumanisation of women has been ingrained into society, helped along by the major religions who identify their gods as male, and position women as inferior and sinful, defined only by their relationships to the males. Religious assent has acted as an enabler for all kinds of legislation and social norms that have kept women downtrodden, from having to fight for the right to vote, to struggling for equal pay and opportunities in the workplace, and countless other issues that women are much more qualified to point out than I am from my privileged male position. To put it bluntly, misogyny is a default norm in our society. And a powerful indicator of this widespread misogyny is the deployment of the word cunt as an insult.

To call someone a cunt is to equate them with female genitals, rather than identify them as a whole, valid human being. It’s highly likely that the use of the term cunt to identify a person started by being directed at women only. The idea would have been to make a woman feel that her only worth in the male-dominated world was as a tool for male sexual gratification, or procreation. Described only as a cunt, the woman would be diminished, identified as less than a whole person, whose value was only in one part of her biology. Over time, the deployment of cunt as an insult has widened to include men. For a person to call a man a cunt is to not only diminish the man, but to add further insult to women, by making the severest insult one that says a man is less than a man, less than a woman, and only equivalent to the tools of misogyny; misogynistic attitude to female genitals. As an insult, the word is horrific in how it encapsulates literally thousands of years of misogyny in one short syllable.


Of course, sweary fucking insults far beyond the tiny sample I’ve discussed here. Closely related are the various homophobic terms used as insults both against gay and straight people. And as I said earlier, there are insults deployed that are not seen as profane or swear words, but operate in exactly the same way; by applying shame to something that is not shameful, and then using the term as an insult. Think about terms like idiot, moron, cretin and retard; the ableist’s aggression and anger at people they don’t understand, reconfigured as shameful, and deployed as verbal weaponry. I have spoken to other autistic people who have regularly come up against the term retard directed at them. Sometimes, the aggressors will try to justify the use of the word by saying it’s a valid medical term. Well, you know, bastard still has a definition in relation to legal legitimacy, but if you call someone a bastard and they pull you up on it, are you really going to say, “actually, it’s fine, I was just questioning whether you are legally entitled to a share of your father’s estate”? Maybe, but only if you want to get called a wanker. It’s not just what you say, but what you mean, or indeed what you fail to understand, when you say it. In all honesty, if someone calls me a wanker, I’m going to jokingly ask them if they’ve hacked my computer. But if someone calls me a retard, the reaction will be far less pleasant. I’ve started thinking really hard about the ableist language I use. It’s difficult. My whole background and upbringing was filled with casual ableism, and I’m not alone in that. To use slurs such as retard or moron is incredibly ableist, misleading, inaccurate, unfair, cruel and plain fucking horrible. I’m even becoming reluctant to use the word stupid, which I think is a word most people would deploy without a second thought. If someone refuses to try to think clearly, or fact check, or apply a bit of logic, and this is done simply because of laziness, I’ve started calling it wilful stupidity, but I need a new term to describe that.

I’m a fan of language. I like words. The English language is a beautiful, sexy monster. But the more I learn and develop as a human being, the more conscious I become of the power of the words I use; power to help or harm. Sometimes the harm can be immediate and direct, other times, more insidious just by helping to perpetuate problematic turns of phrase. It’s a fucking minefield, and sooner or later, we’re all going to step in the shit, if I may mix my fucking metaphors. The key is to be aware the mines are there, and do your best to avoid them.


And finally… I had my third covid jab, and of course, I had to tell Twitter about it…

That’s all for this week. Until next time, take care, be good, stay proud.

Darren


Why Do I Write This Blog?

When I first found out I was autistic, I was a middle-aged adult and I knew nothing about autism.  I quickly learned that there was a serious shortage of information and resources for adults in my situation.  With this blog, I aim to inform about autism and autism-related issues as I learn, hopefully helping people who are on a similar journey of discovery.  Like anyone who writes a blog, I want to reach as many readers as possible; if you like what I’m doing, please share it with your friends and followers.  I will never hide this blog behind a paywall, but running the website does incur costs. If you would like to support, feel free to make a small contribution at BuyMeACoffee.Com.

You might also be interested in David Scothern’s blog, Mortgage Advisor on FIRE, which covers a range of topics including mental health issues and financial independence.


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