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Insults in the English Language

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  • Insults in the English Language

    It is interesting to check back into history on how it came about that there are so many insults for women in the English language.

    It is also interesting why there are so many people on that get involved in discussions that deal with use of words and their meaning. I found this morning an interesting discussion on insults used in England for women.

    Here it is:

    You Won't Believe Who Cussed In Public

    If you think everyday language--from the playground to the TV sitcom--has fallen into the gutter, you ain't heard nothin', baby! The foul language and public name-calling hurled around on the streets of Elizabethan England from 1500 to 1700 was far worse than anything we hear today.

    According to new research from a University of Warwick historian, the language used then was brimming with offensive sexual insults that were considerably more lewd than anything heard on today's broadcast media. In fact, the exchanges were so entertaining and bawdy, they were dubbed "street theater."

    Women were the worst offenders. Why? It gave them power.

    Gossipmongering and heated public exchanges were weapons used by women to wield power and influence in a male-dominated society where they were often excluded, according to University of Warwick history professor Bernard Capp who has traced the history of Elizabethan street theater in a book called "When Gossips Meet." He says that public name-calling by women was used to demoralize an adversary, trigger damaging gossip throughout the neighborhood, and turn public opinion against the alleged offender.

    The No. 1 insult: Calling a woman a whore. Such a charge of prostitution undermined a woman's social and moral standing. Says Capp, "Massive overuse inevitably weakened the impact of 'whore' as a term of abuse, but speakers were able to draw on a rich lexicon of synonyms, such as jade, quean, baggage, harlot, drab, filth, flirt, gill, trull, dirtyheels, draggletail, flap, naughty-pack, slut, squirt, and strumpet, generally heightened by adjectives such as arrant, base, brazenfaced, or scurvy."

    Another favorite taunt was to imply that the other woman was afflicted with a venereal disease, especially syphilis or "the pox" as it was called. This quote was found in church court papers from the 17th century: "At Bury St Edmunds Faith Wilson told her neighbour in 1619 to 'pull up your muffler higher and hide your pocky face, and go home and scrape your mangy arse.'"

    Capp says Elizabethan women always hurled their insults in public before numerous witnesses as a way of maintaining social control. When a person was the subject of gossip, it restricted her behavior. This gave the gossiper some control over straying husbands, abusive employers, or sexually disreputable women. In addition, women would form gossip groups or networks of close friends, which allowed them to establish a social identity outside the home and provide emotional and practical support during disputes with husbands and neighbors.

    Now, does that mean that we can have some social control by regulating the insults?


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