Insult

Insult

[v. in-suhlt; n. in-suhlt]
An insult (also called putdown) is an expression, statement or behavior that is considered degrading. Insults may be intentional or accidental. An example of the latter is a well-intended simple explanation, which in fact is superfluous, but is given due to underestimating intelligence or knowledge of the other. This practice is also called flouting.

Whether speech or behavior is insulting, in practice and sometimes by the terms of local assault statutes, is often a product of the subjective sense of the person insulted. But insults to one person who might not mind the derogatory speech may indirectly insult others. Many states and local municipalities enforce prohibitions against rude, offensive or insulting speech, leaving citizens, law enforcement officers and courts to decide what is and what is not an insult. The concept of fighting words as a form of prohibited speech has developed in the jurisprudence of U.S. constitutional law concerning terms of disparagement. However, the fighting words exclusion is construed in an extraordinarily narrow manner, and only insulting speech that is "meaningless" can be suppressed; speech that contains significant literary, artistic, political, or scientific significance cannot be suppressed, even if wantonly and maliciously insulting, demeaning, or even inciting of racial, ethnic, religious, or sexual hatred; there is no "right not to be offended" in the United States. For example, a vocal creationist might be insulted by being called a "troglodyte" for dismissing the Darwinian theory of evolution; however, this is political and scientific speech, and as such, is fully protected by the laws; the same would go for a creationist who calls a Darwinian an "apostate heathen" or such. Insults offered as satire in an artistic venue, such as a novel, a film or a song, are especially considered protected speech, especially in the United States.

The role of insults in the social sense may be better understood by an appreciation of how the term is used in a medical setting. Though a popular idiom refers to "adding insult to injury," in a medical context they are the same. Physicians examine injuries resulting from an insult to flesh and bones, caused by various traumatic events. In speech and in social settings, insults are words that tend to injure the psyche. In humor, insults may be exchanged in much the way fighters exchange blows in training, to develop a resistance to the pain of mild injuries, or to spar with no real intention of seriously injuring the other.

Types of insults

Behavioral insults

Insults are not limited to words. Behavioral expectations create boundaries that, when crossed, can be the substance of insults. A guest who wears casual clothing to a formal event might offend the host of a party. At times the casual wearing of military garb has been seen or intended as an insult to the uniform. The deliberate adoption of some affectation, mannerism, or clothing may be used as a deliberate insult. Misuse of flags, especially burning a national flag, can be used as an insult (but can also be a political statement).

Verbal insults

Profanity is frequently used as part of insults to strengthen their emotional impact. Some body parts, although useful, may be of low esteem; the word may then be used as insult. For example, the word asshole (or arsehole) is used to imply disapproval for the behavior or morals of another, but tends to imply the behavior resulted from a character flaw.

The examination of insulting language reveals the tensions between social classes and ethnic groups in modern society, where expectations are sometimes viewed as insulting by some and failure to comply with those expectations being seen as insulting by others.

Categories of insults

Higher level insults (or: The art of verbal abuse)

Disguised insult

E.g. as an apology after a previous insult: "I'm sorry Sir, I didn't think you could be insulted."

This implies that you're thinking that no matter how bad a thing anyone could say to him, surely it would not be an insult to him. Thus this apology constitutes in effect an insult.

Perceptions of insults

Sociologists suggest insults are often an indicator of flawed reasoning about the character or motivation of others. Though insults are common, and often used in jest, a fundamental axiom of sociology recognizes that derogatory forms of speech make erroneous attributions about the motivation of a person. Scholars classify the erroneous assumptions as the fundamental attribution error.

Cultural perceptions

Perceptions of insulting language often vary, and often depend on the context and persons involved as much as the actual words. For example, in 21st century America, African American descendants of former slaves hold mixed views of the term "nigger", sometimes using it as a rugged form of mutual affection in popular culture, but resenting the term when used in pejorative sense, especially when spoken by members of other ethnic groups. Other African-Americans take offense at any use of the term even between friends, holding that even though it is shared affectionately perhaps as a sign of strength, it acts as a term of mutual degradation, and inevitably serves to degrade African-Americans in general. Another example would be reference (even in a joke) to stereotypical aspects of a person, for example jokingly linking a person's Jewishness with a joke about money, a person's Pole nationality with their intelligence, or making a joke about how feminine or "gay" someone is with a French joke.

See also

External links and references

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