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. 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

  2. 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

  3. 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

      • Patrick in reply to Russell Saunders 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

      • Alan Scott in reply to Russell Saunders 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. 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

      • Glyph in reply to Russell Saunders 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

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Russell Saunders 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

      • Glyph in reply to Russell Saunders 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

      • Glyph in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        Oh, I forgot about that one.

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

      • Patrick in reply to Russell Saunders 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

      • Kazzy in reply to Russell Saunders 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

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Russell Saunders 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

      • Chris in reply to Russell Saunders 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

      • Kim in reply to Russell Saunders 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

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Russell Saunders says:

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

      • Chris in reply to Russell Saunders 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

      • Patrick in reply to Russell Saunders 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?


      • Kazzy in reply to Russell Saunders 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

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Russell Saunders 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

      • Pyre in reply to Russell Saunders 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. 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

    • Kazzy in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Perhaps not:

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

      • aaron david in reply to Kazzy says:

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

      • Chris in reply to Kazzy 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

      • Glyph in reply to Kazzy 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

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Kazzy 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

    • Chris in reply to Burt Likko 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

      • Kim in reply to Pierre Corneille 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

      • Alan Scott in reply to Pierre Corneille 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. 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

    • …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