Notes on a slur


Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.

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61 Responses

  1. Avatar Damon says:

    Not one of Alex’s best moments and I’ve always thought he was a bit of an ass, but a thought occurs, which bears on this event.

    When I was growing up, it was a common occurrence to call a guy (a male heterosexual) a “fag” as an insult to his “manliness” by other guys. Kind of the ultimate put down. I would put this in the same box as calling a woman a “dyke” after she rebuffed an advance from a guy.

    So, assume Alex called this guy what he did for the above reason, not because he hates gays. Is that less offensive, or more, or the same, or neither? Bear in mind, regardless of why he said what he said, I agree it was pretty damn offensive.Report

    • 1) If the Venn diagram that includes “negative attitudes regarding gays” and “negative connotations associated with slur” has a lot of overlap, I am not comforted when a person tries to place himself in the outlying crescent.

      2) The modifier I discuss at some length in the OP makes the “I wasn’t really saying the dude is gay (not that there’s anything wrong with that)” defense… unconvincing.Report

  2. Avatar Kazzy says:

    I got into it once on a different blog about a reality television participant’s use of the phrase “suck my cock” to denigrate his opponents. I found it simultaneously homophobic and misogynistic. My opponent’s argument was that it had nothing to do with sexual orientation or gender and that telling someone to “suck my cock” was simply a way to establish dominance over them. “Sucking cock” was the act of an inferior. When I pointed out that pretty much everyone who sucks cock is either gay or a woman, he was unmoved. When I pointed out the ugliness of asserting universally that a particular sex act had implications about individual self worth, he was unmoved.

    It was not a fun conversation.

    Generally speaking, I’ve scrubbed most uses of sexual-acts-as-slurs from my vocab, because they pretty much all seem insulting to one group or another (usually either gays or women). The lone exception is probably “Go fish yourself.” Though I’m open to critiques of that as well.Report

    • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

      telling someone to “suck my cock” was simply a way to establish dominance over them

      So why do these same folks never think that men who engage in cunnilingus are being dominated?Report

      • Avatar Roger says:

        “So why do these same folks never think that men who engage in cunnilingus are being dominated?”

        Sounds like the next great OT topic of the week. We should start asking now for guest posts.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        This came up in Jimmy Breslin’s The Gang Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight. The various mafiosi all did this to please their girlfriends, because alternatives like kindness or loving behavior were impossible for such violent, egotistical jerks. But they would never admit it because having to be nice to a woman seemed weak.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        @mike-schilling I think it was also a minor plot point in a Sopranos episode (or two)Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:


        There are certain circles wherein cunnilingus is seen as weak.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:


        Really? Where I grew up it was treated as sort of an ultimate masculine accomplishment. I’ve known, and still know, guys who wear shirts or patches proudly proclaiming themselves muff divers and vagitarians. And these are very much macho type guys. You Northeasterners never fail to puzzle me. 😉Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        Kazzy, are you connected?Report

      • Not to go full-on Millicent, but perhaps the conversation has taken a wee bit more of a turn from decorum than I’d prefer.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        I would count black men and Italian men among those circles where it is seen as weak. Those were two of the more prominent circles in my upbringing. But there are certainly circles where the opposite is true.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        I discussed oral sex in the context of a novel, so Letitia’s cool with it.Report

      • Avatar J@m3z Aitch says:

        I’ll go back to the stacks and read quietly now.Report

      • Avatar Reformed Republican says:

        So why do these same folks never think that men who engage in cunnilingus are being dominated?

        I remember an entire Soprano’s episode where Tony was worried about seeming like less of a man because it got out that he went down on his wife. It seems like that must be an issue in some circles.Report

    • Avatar dhex says:

      what about telling someone to “go eat a bowl of dicks”?Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        If you mean this, then you’re OK.

        In fact, if the person you told fails to comply, then they are homophobic and/or misandrist.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        See, that’s funny because it’s a pun. “Penne” is pronounced the same way…

        Oh, you all probably figured that out all on your owns.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        I will sometimes say, “So-and-so can go eat a dick.” To me, that is less mocking a sex act and more of a dalliance in the absurd. I suppose that “eating dick” can be a double entendre for a sex act, but is not as explicitly so as the phrase Baldwin uttered. I can only think of one person who actually ate a dick. And he was German, so…

        Of course, should this be a source of offense, I can probably restrain myself.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        If you really want to be mean-hearted, say that they eat stuffing and cornbread.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        Q. What did Jeffery Dahmer say to Lorena Bobbit?

        A. “Don’t throw that away, I’ll eat it.”Report

  3. Avatar Kolohe says:

    Semi-related, the ‘film actors guild’ joke in Team America has not aged well at all.Report

    • Yeah, the South Park guys are in my file of “dudes who use words they really oughtn’t, merely because they can get away with it on thin artistic pretenses” right next to Tarantino and his obsession with using “nigger” as much as he possibly can.Report

      • Avatar Patrick says:

        There’s a point where making fart jokes about Jesus crosses the line from “satire” to “you’re just being a jackass”.

        This is one of those “I’ll know it when I see it” sorta things. Regardless of the props the South Park guys deserved for their early boundary-taboo dancing, they’ve spent too much time on the “you’re just being a jackass” side of the line.Report

      • Avatar Alan Scott says:

        It’s something they indulge in much more rarely these days, and the quality of the show has significantly improved as a result.Report

  4. Avatar Patrick says:

    Jeeze, Alec.

    Okay, one quick note. I agree in principle with you, Russell, that the use of a epithet that targets minority groups is an indicator that you’ve got some lizard brain stuff going on in there.

    When it comes to epithets we all have to remember that when you’re trying to insult somebody, you’re using words that you think the target of the assault will find insulting, not necessarily words that you yourself find insulting.

    I’m reminded a bit ago when on a friends Facebook page I used the word “bitch” referring to the state of Texas (for which I was reprimanded… and well and duly so).

    Now, this still can be revealing in all sorts of ways in regards to word choice, and it’s not exactly a sign of your progressive attitudes towards LGBT people that you think that some random guy you bump into will be offended by your word choice.

    Nor is it helpful towards the LGBT cause to use homophobic descriptions as slurs (any more than its helpful for women’s issues to use “bitch”).

    Not that this means that he shouldn’t take his lumps for uttering a homophobic outburst, because he should. Nor does it mean that he shouldn’t feel like an ass for doing it, because he should.

    It also doesn’t make Alec Baldwin *not* someone who has some anti-gay bias buried in his lizard brain (just like using “bitch” doesn’t make me someone who doesn’t have some cultural misogyny buried in mine).

    But that’s not exactly the same thing as being a homophobe.Report

    • I see your point, and appreciate your perspective.

      But man, does that specific phrase he uttered really grind my gears. That it was the thing he, in the heat of anger, came up with as the most degrading and insulting thing he could think of makes me feel less than rosy about him as the beacon of progressive thought he clearly wants us to consider him.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        I don’t know about “beacon of progressive thought”, but over the course of 30 Rock I developed a lot of respect for him as a comedic actor (hey, comedy’s hard).

        Unfortunately, the more I see of him in the press, the less I like him, because homophobe or not, he sure seems like a person with anger management issues.Report

      • I understand why he would be intensely angry, though you’d think maybe he’d have developed a better strategy for dealing with it by now. This is not a new sort of problem for him.

        That said, I do feel somewhat similarly about him as I did when Jodie Foster made that ghastly speech at the Golden Globes last year. (God, that speech was wretched.) If you don’t like the well-demonstrated downsides of being a mega-famous actor, then stop. If the perks like associating with the most glamorous people in the world and having access to the very finest and most exclusive luxuries aren’t enough for you to tolerate the incursion of assholes into your personal space (and having once been in the presence of a crowd of paparazzi at a movie premier, they do seem like genuinely loathsome people), then stop. Just like having to answer calls at 2 AM is an annoying part of my job, dealing with photogs who want capture your every last private moment is part of his.

        Deal, Alec. (But dude is, legit, a very talented actor.)Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        My understanding is that Jack Donaghy was supposed to be an over-the-top ogre that was largely kept offstage, but Baldwin was so funny that they kept giving him more to do, and before long made him the second lead, leading to moments like this.

        It is a damned shame that in real life he’s such an inexcusable jerkass.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        Yeah, but this is just the most recent incident. There was the airline incident and the voicemail thing. One or two incidents, you think, hey, they were having a bad day.

        But at some point they just seem a little unstable (though I wouldn’t put it past paparazzi to intentionally goad someone to anger, in hopes of a gossip story).Report

      • @glyph 1) I have no doubt that the paparazzi most certainly goad him.

        2) This kind of behavior on Baldwin’s part goes way, way back.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        Oh, I forgot about that one.

        Maybe he should talk to Sean Penn’s therapist.Report

      • Avatar Patrick says:

        But man, does that specific phrase he uttered really grind my gears.

        Yeah, and I certainly can’t blame you for that (in fact, I endorse gear grinding over that particular phrase). As someone who has had pretty much zero stereotyped pejoratives leveled at him in anger I have very little ground to tell anybody how they ought to feel about this sort of thing, and in particular to this case being pissed at Mr. Baldwin seems pretty low on the “uncharitable” bar.

        I’m not really offering apologetics, here.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        “As someone who has had pretty much zero stereotyped pejoratives leveled at him in anger…”

        Yea, but that is because you take being called a “blogger” as a compliment.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

        Without defending Baldwin—with 30 Rock over, he’s useless to me—I don’t think that calling a straight man’s sexuality into question necessarily implies hatred of homosexuals or belief in their inferiority. Many people take pride in being good at their own sexual orientation, and calling that into question can be hurtful. I don’t have a problem with gay people, but I wouldn’t want to be perceived as gay.

        Are there gay men who take offense at being accused of acting/looking too straight? Are there gay men who insult other gay men in that manner? I kind of assumed that that would be a thing.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Many people take pride in being good at their own sexual orientation

        Is it hard to be good at your own sexual orientation? What does that even entail? I mean, all I did today was wake up and come to work. Did I do this in a way that makes me good at being straight?

        This is possibly the strangest defense of the use of “gay” as an insult that I’ve ever heard.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Judging by the straight guy I know, who has everyone either convinced he is gay, or “he will be” (what folks say when he says “but I’m not gay!”)… it can actually be difficult.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

        Do you want to be perceived as gay, Chris?Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        I’m a skinny, unmarried white dude in my late 30s who is at this moment listening to disco… in 2013. I get perceived as gay all the time. I could not care less.Report

      • Avatar Patrick says:

        I’ve never (much) cared about how other people perceive me, generally.Report

      • @brandon-berg You ask:

        Are there gay men who take offense at being accused of acting/looking too straight? Are there gay men who insult other gay men in that manner?


      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        I have often been mistaken for or assumed to be gay. I have never been offended by this. What has offended me is the worldview that leads someone to this conclusion.

        “He works with children… must be gay.” There is so much silliness wrapped up in that little bit of immensely flawed logic.

        Perhaps another forum would be better, but I’d be curious to hear @russell-saunders opinion on the idea of “gay-dar”. It often seems that when people invoke this term — even people who lay claim to being gay allies — there is something offensive about it. “Have you seen his shoes? Of course he is gay! I can’t wait to go shopping with him.” Ugh. However, I also think there ways to tell that are not explicit. They tend to be subtle… often forms of covering behavior… and as such are hard to see as conclusive. More, “He always shifts the conversation when we discuss significant others… it’s curious,” than the shoe comment. I wonder how this is seen and/or practiced within the gay community.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:


        Really, not even jokingly using “straight” to mean “boring”, the way that if you tell me your favorite sandwich is Kraft Singles and mayonnaise on white bread I’d say “Geez, you’re such a goy.”?

        That surprises me.Report

      • @mike-schilling Being perceived as “straight-acting” is an attractive quality to many gay guys, and there really isn’t any kind of down-side associated with seeming straight. I suppose one could note a gay guy who didn’t do certain stereotypically gay things well that he, say, danced or dressed like a straight guy. (I am not particularly tidy, and back when I lived in New York I had a preposterously messy apartment. I got a few comments from visiting friends along the lines of “they’re going to take away your gay card, you know.”) But using “seems straight” as a put-down among gays just isn’t a thing, at least so far as I know.

        @kazzy Well, the whole notion of “gaydar” is both kind of silly and yet also something I think lots of gay guys do themselves. I have, myself, commented on a guy’s outfit when asked if I thought he might be gay that no self-respecting gay man would put certain items together. It does play on stereotypes, but it doesn’t really bother me all that much.Report

      • Avatar Pyre says:


        A while back, during the discussion of the MRM movement:

        BlaiseP said “Yet women are still the niggers of the world, not that you have any meaningful proposal to integrate them into your vision of a just world.” At the time, whether or not he’s quoting Yoko Ono or not, I found this to be an incredibly and insultingly white privilege thing to say (as well as confusing when you take into account that there are women who are also black. What does that make them? ) for many of the same reasons that Alec Baldwin’s phrase grinds your gears.

        Now Alec Baldwin has a history of making these outbursts to the point that any defense of his words rings a bit hollow. In fact, I would imagine that your assessment of his motivations are probably on target. However, I would ask where the line, if there is one, is drawn between someone unintentionally blurting out a thoughtless comment and someone making a comment that is revealing towards his actual attitudes.Report

  5. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    What about saying that something “sucks”? To my understanding, that phrase is derivative from Baldwin’s slur, although it omits a description of what exactly is being sucked. But that seems to have entered common, after-8:00 network TV parlance.

    Or, so-and-so can “suck it”? It’s not as common and there is technically ambiguity about what it is that is to be sucked, but I shouldn’t think that there is a lot of such ambiguity.

    Not wanting to be truly disrespectful, except to people who actually deserve disrespect, how far ought I to excise the pejorative use of derivatives of the word “suck” from my vocabulary?Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:

      Perhaps not:

      I will note that I had not heard this explanation until Googling it just now.Report

      • Avatar aaron david says:

        Yah, the original poster for Full Metal Jacket had that as the tag line “the Vietnam war didn’t blow…”Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Old English sucan, from PIE root *sug-/*suk- of imitative origin (cf. Old Saxon, Old High German sugan, Old Norse suga, Middle Dutch sughen, Dutch zuigen, German saugen “to suck;” Latin sugere “to suck,” succus “juice, sap;” Old Irish sugim, Welsh sugno “to suck”). Meaning “do fellatio” is first recorded 1928. Slang sense of “be contemptible” first attested 1971 (the underlying notion is of fellatio). Related: Sucked; sucking. Suck eggs is from 1906. Suck hind tit “be inferior” is American English slang first recorded 1940.

        Quickly, from the Online Etymology Dictionary. The “suck hind tit” part might suggest that the “it sucks” and “suck it” part might not just be from fellatio, though.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        Suck eggs is from 1906

        I know in the South, an “egg-suckin’ dog” was a useless dog (presumably because he gets in the henhouse?).

        I don’t know if he also won’t hunt.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

        Urban Dictionary is not a reliable source. It’s decent if you want to know how a word is currently used, but as far as etymology goes, people just upvote the stories they like the best.Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      “Sucks” definitely comes from fellatio, but “that sucks” doesn’t really imply a gender doing the sucking. Baldwin’s use is problematic, it seems to me, precisely because he implies a gender doing the sucking, and treats that as the insult.Report

    • I’m inclined to say “suck,” especially in the sense of “that sucks” (but perhaps not so much in the sense of “suck it”), has probably migrated far enough away from whatever origins it might have in describing sexual acts that it really doesn’t feel offensive to me. It actually feels more on the level of “darn” than “damn,” and I tend to be a Ned Flanders type in my speech.* (Of course, along with Patrick above, I’ve had very few pejoratives lobbed at me in anger, so I’m not necessarily speaking for anyone else.)

      *I remember once my circle of grad student friends toyed with the idea of doing a bet, to see who could go longest without using certain swear words. They decided not to do it, because they agreed that I’d probably win.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Your friends have no sense of fun. The fun in a bet like that is seeing how many stupid, boneheaded pranks you can do to the person “targeted” before he swears a mean blue streak.

        [Note: I am not recommending pranks that involve IEDs.]Report

      • Avatar Alan Scott says:

        I’m having a hard time thinking of any words denoting badness that don’t have problematic origins. Those that didn’t evolve from supposedly demeaning sexual acts refer to physical or mental incapacity, poverty, and the like.Report

  6. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    The weird thing about this for me is that, in a moment of sufficient anger, I can totally see myself snapping and using language I would later regret using to express disgust with someone. But the thing is, I can’t see myself using this language, because it accomplishes precisely no derogatory purpose in my mind. It would leave me feeling like I’d called someone “you goddamned safe driver” or something. Completely unfulfilling.

    Generally, I’m inclined to not let any one such momentary failure of self-control define anyone’s overall mental makeup (i.e. think that the minute something like this happens once, the person becomes, retrospectively and prospectively, for all times definitionally, e.g., a homophobe). But this dude clearly has a history of shit like this, and has some fairly serious issues that he doesn’t seem to be really taking any steps to address. It’s not a good look for MSNBC to have given him a show.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew says:

      …Not that the particular language used isn’t crass and insulting. It obviously is. But ultimately, it isn’t really saying anything other than that the person is gay, and again, for me, saying that, even in such language, wouldn’t constitute an insult. It just wouldn’t cross my mind that to cut someone down to size, you’d say that (whether correctly or incorrectly) about them. The language is insulting, yes, but there’s no charge it levies that actually carries any actual insult. If I lost it with someone sufficiently to want to cause harm by insult, I’d go with something that actually has some real derogatory weight to it (which I’m not very good at coming up with in any case…).Report