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May 24 2006

The Torrid Tale of Ard

My apologies to all who have been offended by the –tard suffix. Let it be known I personally attach no significance to the matrimonial status of anyone’s parents.

As it happens, the great fucktard/bastard/retard debate, tedious though it has been, has prompted a reexamination of the etymology of the word ‘bastard’ here at the Twisty Institute for Neologistic Research. As a result, I am happy to announce that I, ignorant chump that I am, have been getting it wrong all along. No, it’s true! It turns out that –tard is not quite the suffix I thought it was; –ard, in fact, is the appendage for which the word ‘fuck’ has been calling out lo these many years. If only I had listened to its anguished cries! For had I bothered to give it five minutes’ thought, it would have dawned on me that it makes far more sense without the ‘T’. But you show me the spinster aunt who has five minutes to spare for thought, and I’ll show you a spinster aunt with a staff of twelve fawning minions and a red-lining IQ.

Anyway, the story of –ard began life, as has so much eurotrash, in Germany, where it was known as –hart, meaning ‘hardy,’ and formed the ending of dudely personal names (à la ‘Reinhart’). As sands passed through the hourglass, our restless protagonist wandered across borders hither and yon, acquiring a pejorative sense along the way (perhaps an homage to the winning personalities of those German dudes). One fine spring day it landed in France, where it metamorphosed into –ard, and was reborn as a handy way to diss and derogate pretty much anything: couard, canard, vieillard, etc. When it crossed the channel it retained this depreciatory quality, and came to be pretty exclusively deployed as a formative indicating “one who does to excess, or who does what is discreditable.”

As in ‘drunkard’ or ‘sluggard,’ names to which spinster aunts have been known to answer.

As for ‘bastard,’ the epithet’s root derives from the Latin bastum, a sort of pack-saddle used as a bed by ancient travelers. Hence, fils de bast, or pack-saddle-baby.

Note that though ‘bastard’ and ‘retard’ share four letters, their etymology is different. ‘Retard’, from a French word meaning ‘delay’, does not appear to have sprung from the loins of the aforementioned suffix. It hails from the Latin tardus, meaning ‘slow.’ As a term of derision ‘retard’ has existed for fewer than 40 years, mostly in the US.

In conclusion, the word ‘fucktard’, for patriarchy-blaming purposes, is hereby formally expunged, and will in future appear as the more accurate, if markedly geekier, ‘fuckard’, which should soothe the prickled nerve-endings of unwed mother and exceptional citizen alike.

[I cribbed considerably from the indispensable OED for this post]

69 comments

3 pings

  1. Ledasmom

    Gad. I feel all sorta midwifey now.
    “Fuckard” is very good for spitting viciously through the teeth.

  2. Sylvanite

    But will it spread through the internets? Only time will tell!

  3. kathy a

    i had no idea the OED is online! there have been times in life when i thought, “if i ever get rich, i’m going to get that big, beautiful, amazing OED.” then, of course, other stuff interfered.

    a long-ago teacher’s term for hopeless jerks was “re-tread.” that’s usually appropriate, too, since they tend to trot out the old arguments, sometimes with a shiny new surface.

  4. Lara

    Freshly sprung from the loins of Patriarchaeus, they are godbags one and all, whether or not Men of the Book.

  5. hilllady

    Delurking, to produce this critical observation: “-tard” bears such a pleasing resemblance to “turd” that renouncing it may prove a hardship. But don’t mind me, I’m retreating to my lurking den.

  6. SingOut

    Long-time lurker and fan here.

    What a great post! If only Avarosis could have been so open-minded and sensitive.

  7. W.Shore

    Pronunciation? “Fucktard”, while it strikes those of us who have met Jamie on the road to Damascus as hurtful and uncivil, had the attractive two distinct syllables: the victim could be pushed off the high cliff of FUCK and splatter on the rocky shoals of tard. (GODbag is similar.)

    FUCK’-ard seems more of a mutter. Languishing in the throat, it decomposes swiftly into “you-brought-erd-you-fuck-erd” jokes. And “fuck-ARD” seems parodically Gallic.

    So: how to speak the “fuckard” these fuckards so richly deserve?

  8. Ms Kate

    Interesting post, Twisty. I’d always assumed that “fucktard” was a combo of “fucker” and “retard”, not “bastard”, so I wouldn’t have gone hunting those bugs (oops, that’s entimology).

    Anyway, can we start calling your disgraced Texas politician “Tom Retard” now?

  9. cto

    I’m with Ms Kate; I always took it as an intentional combination of “fucker” and “retard”, aspersing the harshest sense of both in one formidable new word. On the other hand, I very *very* much like the new form. “Fuckard.” I shall start tarring my squire with this epithet with all speed.

    And as long as we’re changing meanings and usages, and speaking of “retard”, I wish we could just get over it’s original meaning and admit it into polite speech. That is, since nobody *really* uses “retard” or “retarded” in this day and age to refer to fellow humans who are mentally challenged, it should become allowable with it’s more recent meaning, i.e., gross stupidity.

    And if we can’t accomplish that, well, that’s retarded.

  10. MissPrism

    I agree with W. Shore – perhaps it’s just my accent, but I find “fucktard” far more pleasingly plosive.
    Also, “one who fucks to excess” ill-describes the people I would previously have called fucktards. Is there a suffix that means the precise opposite?

    “Smuggard” and “bloggard” are pleasing though.

  11. acm

    what benefit does “fuckard” offer that, say, “fucker” doesn’t already have? the beauty of “fucktard” (in addition to the extra internal consonant for emphasis) is the combined expression of contempt for both the assholery and idiothood of the recipient . . .

    just my two cents.

  12. bitchphd

    I have never been a fan of “fucktard,” not because I find it offensive, but just because I find it kinda silly and sophomoric.

    “Fuckard,” however, with its immediate and obvious linguistic propriety, is clearly the juvenile insult of the playful yet highly educated, and as such I approve it wholeheartedly.

  13. Sara

    It’s sad that this is true, because the “-tard” suffix adds a delightful element of percussion seemingly perfectly designed for expressing yet another level of distaste. But it takes a mighty big spinster aunt to acknowledge when she has been wrong and then, not just reform her own ways, but educate others. Thank you for that.

    Meanwhile, I do prefer what W. Shore referred to as the “Gallic” pronunciation, rhyming “fuck-ARD” with, say, “Jean Luc Pi-CARD.” I can hear myself saying it, though probably not to or about a fictional character: “You, sir, are a fuckARD, about to be hoist by your own peTARD.”

    Nice.

  14. paris

    As someone with a somewhat southern langure to my diction, fucktard provides a consonant at the beginning of that second syllable, which provides my audience a helpful emphatic marker that I have finally arrived there. Fuckard, since it lacks that syllable, obliges me to appropriate the k. What with kard sounding suspciously like card, I fear my audience might misunderstand me.

    But it’s your world Twisty, I just live in it.

  15. Brooklynite

    CTO writes:

    since nobody *really* uses “retard” or “retarded” in this day and age to refer to fellow humans who are mentally challenged, it should become allowable with it’s more recent meaning, i.e., gross stupidity.

    Plenty of people still use “retard” and “retarded” against people with cognitive disabilities. Folks who use such slurs casually should know that lots of us cringe every time we hear them.

    Kudos to Twisty for seeing the light.

  16. Puffin

    cto, I think the American Association on Mental Retardation and the Journal on Mental Retardation might disagree with you there. “Retardation” is still very much in use in research, treatment, and advocacy to describe the broad spectrum of mental disabilities experienced by adults and children. It is used by professionals and lay people alike and has a relevant and widely accepted meaning that has nothing at all to do with ridicule.

    Sorry to disappoint, as you seem so eager to co-opt an insult most often used by 13-year-olds to make fun of each other’s hair.

    Seriously folks, there are dozens of synonyms for “stupid,” most of which are creative and appropriate and roll off the tongue without marginalizing an entire group of human beings. Why this love of “retard?”

    Great post, Twisty, btw. It’s so rare that genius is not sullied by hubris. Thanks so much for all your great work here, you make it look a lot easier than I am sure it is.

  17. Ms Kate

    Seriously folks, there are dozens of synonyms for “stupid,” most of which are creative and appropriate and roll off the tongue without marginalizing an entire group of human beings. Why this love of “retard?”

    I think it all lies in what you grew up with.

    Retarded was originally brought in because it is far more appropriately descriptive than the once-used clinical appelations of “imbicile” and “feeble-minded” and the like. Yes, those were once the diagnoses for different levels of cognitive challenge. Once retard came along, those became the polite insults for stupidity and “retard” started to move toward the perjorative. Kids in schools I went to used the term “MR” to insult one another, while my husbands chums preferred ‘tard. Once that happened, the scions of stigma smashing devised and used other terms, notably “special”. I’ve heard kids use that like “why’d you do that? Are you “special” or something?” or “oh look, Johnny’s special”. Ditto for “developmentally delayed”.

    A moving target never stops I guess.

  18. Puffin

    Yeah, and I think key to your explanation there Ms Kate is that you’re talking about children.

    Perhaps I should have clarified what I intended to be a rhetorical question anyhow (and I am more than aware of what retarded describes and how mental disability has been categorized in the past, but you couldn’t have known that). Why do adults feel entitled to use word the word “retard” as in insult given that adults can appreciate its inappropriateness and the harm it causes?

    And again, that’s more of a rhetorical question than anything. I know why some people insist upon their “right” to use the word. I just don’t find it very justifiable, especially given that I’ve seen the face of a woman who is mentally retarded when she hears it used in such a derogatory way.

    And that’s all I’ll say about it here. By all means, cto and Ms Kate, if you see the need to drop R-bombs, don’t let me stop you.

  19. Kaethe

    Howdy, Twisty, and thanks. I’m a big fan of the OED myself. Excellant coinage. “Fuh-KARD”is how I’m planning to pronounce it.

    Wow, this and godbag. What else have you got?

  20. kathy a

    i’m with brooklynite and puffin. the primary use of “retard” is as a perjorative, dehumanizing insult, which is linked to perceived inherent traits of an individual. it is enormously hurtful to people with developmental disabilities [and their families], and unfairly slapped on other people [people who are shy, speak slowly, etc.]. a person with mental retardation is a still a person; a retard is not.

    there are other kinds of insults that don’t refer to inherent characteristics of an individual — alien, bottom-feeder, etc., probably millions of them. i don’t have much trouble with that because these are hyperbolic or analogies as applied to anyone, and they are in a different class from “inherent trait” insults [based on race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.].

    “special” is also used for teasing, but it carries other meanings as well. all FBI agents are “special” agents, on account of how special their assignments are. special events may be really delightful to some participants. etc.

  21. Amber

    Why do adults feel entitled to use word the word “retard” as in insult given that adults can appreciate its inappropriateness and the harm it causes?

    Same reason adults use the words bitch & cunt as insults, I assume.

  22. kathy a

    just by way of some background, as an adult i have heard some firsthand stories from developmentally disabled folks about the pain of being called “retard” or “retard-o” or “moron” throughout childhood. my first cousin is not mentally retarded, but suffered oxygen deprivation at birth and has very uneven abilities — he has struggled quite a lot, although my wonderful aunt was an excellent advocate for him. some of the most excellent parents i know also have developmentally challenged children.

    “retard” and “idiot” and their ilk are so commonly used, and sometimes terms like that still slip off my tongue involuntarily. it is just that the more i’ve thought about it, the less it seems necessary or justifiable.

    and yes, i *am* that mother who stopped the car every time some middle-schooler in the back seat started making “gay” jokes. if i have to be the driver, may as well take advantage and make ‘em think.

  23. ryan

    cto, I’m halfway with you. The word “retard” used to mean slow or delayed, and I’d love to use it that way. But like “gay” it’s been ruined by its common pejorative use for generations to come. You won’t call someone “gay” and expect people to understand you mean “cheery,” so you can’t expect any different result using “retard.” Communication relies on a shared understanding of words and symbols – even when you regret some part of that understanding.

    Tangentially, misspelling doesn’t help. Trying to pass “ghey” doesn’t make any sense at all. Just like you’re trying to hold on to the pejorative meaning of “retard” (stupidity) while throwing away the rudeness, “ghey” still means “gay” in a bad way.

  24. Ms Kate

    Sorry Puffin, I had simply assumed that the term “retarded” had been retired as a label, much the same as moron and imbicile are no longer in professional use.

    Sounds like the academic community has not kept pace with the social services community in that regard. Yes, the state still has a department of mental retardation, but all the studies and materials I have seen lately refer to ‘cognitive challenge’ and ‘developmental delay’, which are really far more encompassing of the complex difficulties people encounter. Perhaps that reflects a more recent understanding of the wide array of ways in which our abilities to learn and to think may vary.

  25. robin

    Vive “Fuckard”!

    and, Puffin says it so well:
    ” It’s so rare that genius is not sullied by hubris. Thanks so much for all your great work here, you make it look a lot easier than I am sure it is.”

    I will be pronouncing it with equal stress on both syllables, the “ard” as in “aardvark”.

  26. alphabitch

    Twisty: At first it was just the patriarchy-blaming and biting commentary, but then I started coming here for the recipe ideas, and the photos of bugs and food and Bertie, and then the whole Holga thing, and — well, and everything. But now etymology too?

    Truly, I am helpless in your charms. They are without number.

    Cripes, I’m blushing.

  27. justtesting

    I realize the readership here will be mostly American, but in common usage retard is very derogatory offensive here in the UK as well.

    I also assumed that fucktard was derived from retard, in a similar way to fuckwit: from “fucking half-wit”.

    Although half-wit was originally used in a derogatory way to those with learning problems, it’s uncommon to hear it nowadays and perhaps for that it’s not considered as harsh as the retard/retarded version.

  28. thebewilderness

    Kaethe,
    She’s got a million of ‘em. Check the archives, but a cautionary note, no fluid intake while reading Twisty. Fluid will hurt you and destroy your electronics when you spit it.

  29. yankee transplant

    A Twisty Classic! I finally had to sign up. I’ve been lurking since the new site, and religiously so. But for this, I had to sign in. Long Live Twisty! Etymology and Blaming in one blog. I’m breathless.

  30. Christopher

    “I have never been a fan of “fucktard,” not because I find it offensive, but just because I find it kinda silly and sophomoric.”

    Amen to that.

    I feel the same way about “asshat”. Really, what does that even mean?

    It sounds stupid and sophmoric and only internet nerds would ever use it.

    CTO: Part of the problem with divorcing the term “retard” from its social baggage is that it had been used as a way to insult developmentally diasabled people into very recent history. I’d guess that it fell out of favor as a perjoritive even more recently then “nigger” did. People still alive today, who aren’t even to middle age, have heard it used to berate them.

    In time, it may become an emotionally neutral insult like “bastard”, but it’ll have to be a while from now.

  31. annbartow

    “Fuckard” may prove a nice change of pace from the usual epithets. Also, a fairly classy way to handle all this, I must say, Twisty. Props to y’all.

  32. mel

    I, too, like the tard-turd connection, but I am willing to open my mind. Fuckard does kind of sound like fuck hard (or is it pronounced like “fuckerd”?), which I don’t know if I like, but I am a subject of Twisty’s so I will abide by her rules.

    Just so long as “enpussification” doesn’t get changed. If that happens I’ll have to find a new spinster aunt to pay homage to. And that would be awful because there aren’t many around, especially ones who drink fizzy wine out of pink cans. Life would be dreary, indeed.

  33. saltyC

    I guess everyone is just peachy about the word “Fuck”.

    Yay Fuck Yay Fuck!

    Let’s conflate sex and hate!

    No way is that confusing to young people trying to understand what sex is about.

    No way does putting people down in sexual terms contribute to how we use sex, and how sex can be used.

    Who does the fucking? Who gets fucked?

    Who’s on top? Who’s on the bottom?

    No, I will never use the F-word. (except for this post to observe what it really means.)

    And Christopher, yes bastard still means bastard. Someone called my child one.

    I think there are plenty of powerful ways to irritate people without using dominator language.

  34. KMTBERRY

    I BELIEVE we can start calling him TOM RETARD immediately!!!

  35. Becker

    Christopher:

    So’s you know, an asshat is properly a pair of tighty whities, which fit so snugly they are a hat for your ass. The internal rhyme makes it more satisfying, to me, than the absurd assclown, but we all make our choices in life.

  36. Mandalay

    Why say “fucktard” or “fuckard” when “dumbass” serves the same purpose and isn’t taken as such a slur?

    Interesting this topic was brought up–today at my job one of my young underlings asked me what a mongoloid was. “Mongoloid” was a favorite epithet of my peer group circa 1977, and for many years before Dr. Down put his name on it that’s how people with Down’s syndrome were described, even in medical textbooks. I hadn’t heard the word in years, and my underling was puzzled as to why I was suddenly biting back giggles as fifth grade came back in a rush. Kids these days.

  37. emjay

    Since a woman with a grasp of etymology will turn my head every time, I must say that I love this post and Twisty’s new word. I prefer to save “fuck” for when I really mean it (though I’ve been cranky lately and have been meaning it more than usual). Bottom-feeder, as Kathy A suggested, is quite nice. I imagine the recipient of the insult as a crayfish eating slime off of rocks and I smile.

  38. Sabre

    Okay, being a fan of the word “fucktard” and not having ever actually realized that it was “fucker” and “retard”, not “bastard” I am now feeling guilt for having so carelessly used it.

    I blame the patriarchy. Fuck you, you fucking fuckers.

  39. cto

    For the record, here’s where I was coming from, and all I meant: I thought “retarded” was no longer acceptable in any context. Shows what I know! It being included in the name of the associations Puffin named was a real head-slapper, for example.

    Anyway, I never would have – and probably still won’t, honestly – refer to or call someone who is mentally retarded, “retarded”. So in my parochial worldview, I thought it had changed as I described: totally off-limits for its original meaning, and becoming another phrase for something stupid (such as a 13-year-old’s hair).

    I stand corrected, and elucidated, and am happy to have the non-”-tard”-based “fuckard”. It’s not every day a hand-crafted new obscenity comes along.

  40. witchy-woo

    Oh for fuck’s sake! Why don’t we just say ‘man’?

    That is, after all, what we generally mean, isn’t it… and we are reclaiming language here, aren’t we?

    I vote we coin a term for those ‘special’ men who don’t (usually) fall into the ‘man’ term and call them….da-daaaaaaaa

    people.

    Sorry. I’m squiffy.
    And in England.

  41. thebewilderness

    Asshat is a fabulous word if it describes a person with their head so far up their butt they are wearing their ass for a hat. If, on the other hand, it has to do with tighty tidy whities I shall be forced to give it up entirely.

  42. Pinko Punko

    Sluggard is a good ‘ard.

    I think the train of language expungement can be classified as runaway. While I realize that ‘tard has a questionable derivation, by removing it and putting it on something else, is it possible that something new can be created? Fucktard is something fun to say. Are we bound by the conservative notion that there can be no evolution?

  43. AoT

    ” guess everyone is just peachy about the word “Fuck”.

    Yay Fuck Yay Fuck!

    Let’s conflate sex and hate!

    No way is that confusing to young people trying to understand what sex is about.

    No way does putting people down in sexual terms contribute to how we use sex, and how sex can be used.

    Who does the fucking? Who gets fucked?

    Who’s on top? Who’s on the bottom?

    No, I will never use the F-word. (except for this post to observe what it really means.)

    And Christopher, yes bastard still means bastard. Someone called my child one.

    I think there are plenty of powerful ways to irritate people without using dominator language. ”

    I understand where you’re coming from here. And I think that you’re right, why is it that insults have to be based on domination?

    But if you look at it, and I mean really look at it, then *all* insults are based on domination of some sort. You can’t insult someone without implying that you are better than them; that is the basis for insults.

    I don’t think this means that we must necessarilly give up insults, only that we must look closer at them.

    P.S. As a “Bastard”, as I mentioned in the previous post here, I think that the term bastard should *never* reflect negatively on the mother. And perhaps I grew up in a different time and situation than you did, but I never knew anyone that thought twice about me being a bastard.

    P.S.S. It is a little wierd to call myself a bastard so often in one sitting.

  44. Twisty

    Well, if we agree that –tard means ‘slow,’ what good is sticking ‘fuck’ on the front of it? ‘Fuckslow’ is no kind of decent insult.

  45. AoT

    “Well, if we agree that –tard means ’slow,’ what good is sticking ‘fuck’ on the front of it? ‘Fuckslow’ is no kind of decent insult.”

    I know plenty of people that would disagree.

  46. alphabitch

    I’m personally looking forward to using other forms of ‘fuckard,’ as in ‘fuckardly godbag’ or in reference to someone’s unrelenting fuckardice.

    But I am more than a little bit persuaded by the arguments above against equating badness and sex. The old Lenny Bruce thing comes to mind, wherein he advocates the use of e.g. ‘fuck you’ as a positive thing you’d say to someone you loved and admired and upon whom you wanted to heap blessings.

    On the other hand, I also like the powerful negative connotations of the word ‘fuck.’ I wonder if it’s possible, here in the patriarchy, to have one without the other.

  47. jc.

    I liked fucktard. I foolishly enough just assumed that it was some sort of truck stop femininsm term for those times when you just gotta kick (metaphoricaly) some neanderthal in the nuts and stomp his give away cap flat. For those descripitive moments when you got to let some rabid disdain satisfyingly loose and let the propriety fall where it may.
    I admit also that the term fit well with my own prejudiced fantasy picture of Twisty loose in Texas and taking no prisoners on any linguistic level.
    Fuckard seems too nice, logical and refined.
    But I´m just a bystander.

  48. Pinko Punko

    I had about a 10,000 word extended thought on this topic, but I was worried that if there is somwhow a finite number of words in the universe I don’t want to use them all up.

    A couple of things: if in “fucktard” the implied speech is “fucking retard” then that is super bad.

    If the thought is that someone is deserving of blame, perhaps even patriarchically so, because they have some sort of block to their ability to reject or blame patriarchy, and they can be said to be a “fucktard” because of their being a “fuck” is some sort of hindrance on their advancement toward some higher state, then I’m all for it. Nobody would call someone with Downs Syndrome a “fucktard” and while I understand the very unfortunate etymology of the word is linked to developmental syndromes, it seems pretty clear that that is not what it means. I tend to use made up insults anyway, but language does evolve, and words mean stuff. And then they mean different stuff. i.e. vagina=scabbard in latin (what can be more patriarchical than that?). Penis means “tail” by the way.

    Anyhoo, I’m not being a smartass, and of course I love the discussion here as always.

  49. Hattie

    What an educational post. I feel so much more knowledgeable now. Not such a ‘tard.

  50. R. Mildred

    Isn’t a “fuckard” the species of duck that mallard filmore is supposed to be?

  51. Sara

    Salty C, you are of course absolutely correct that fucking should not be an obscenity, and it is totally the patriarchy’s fault that it is one, just as it is the patriarchy’s fault that our sex organs are curse words, not to mention such finer distinctions as how “cunt” is somehow a meaner thing to call someone than “prick” or “dick.”

    However, the expletive “fuck” is so splendidly expressive, when separated from any more tender meaning, that once a person starts using the sound this way it is nearly impossible to stop. Substitutions just don’t fill the bill. I don’t know why.

    At least, this has been my experience. Sorry.

  52. Ms Kate

    I’ll have to send this thread to my mom. She always bragged that her ‘brilliant’ trailer trash daughter could “use ‘fuck’ as an adverb”.

    I’ve been outdone!

  53. Ledasmom

    There’s always “pissant”, for those who don’t wish to reference sex in their terms of abuse.
    My favorite bit of invective comes, I think, from one of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe books, in which the eponymous detective refers to something as a “tortile taradiddle”. Great phrase.

  54. firefall

    [OT]
    I had about a 10,000 word extended thought on this topic, but I was worried that if there is somwhow a finite number of words in the universe I don’t want to use them all up
    That would be the Big Bang theory of linguistics> … personally I prefer the Steady State theory, that dictates new words are continually being created by the tension of absolute silence …
    [/OT]

  55. Twisty

    “I am more than a little bit persuaded by the arguments above against equating badness and sex. [...] On the other hand, I also like the powerful negative connotations of the word ‘fuck.’ I wonder if it’s possible, here in the patriarchy, to have one without the other.”

    A word, like a spinster aunt, can have facets.

    But “fuck” has never been about sex, any more than the anti-choice right is about human life.

  56. NicaKnit

    Reaching back to my Intro to Linguistics days, I clearly remember learning about the special properties of the word “fuck” in the English language. For example, it is one of the very few words that are permitted as an infix: inserting an affix inside another morpheme (e.g., unbe-fucking-lievable). While certain other languages (and language families) include infixes as a part of their standard grammatical structure (e.g. Tagalog), they are rare in English, and generally limited to expletives.

    See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Expletive_infixation

    Perhaps this is related to why combinations of “fuck” are so much more easily formed as new epithets.

  57. Sara

    Wit, intellect and a diverse vocabulary are all splendid things, but nothing explodes out of the mouth like a good, hearty “FUCK!” From F to K, it’s just one perfect burst of expressed exasperation. In the right circumstances, it’s almost as satisfying — sometimes more satisfying, I daresay — as fucking itself.

    What to do? Oh, what to do?

    This is right up there with quitting smoking. Nothing, not one thing, will ever take the place of cigarettes for me. I often used them in much the same way, for many of the same reasons, e.g., relief from stress and intense physical pleasure. When I finally dumped them, it was only after six months of painful weaning. I still miss them, long for them, hunger for their taste and special tingle, that dizziness from reduced oxygen mixing with the delicate singe of assaulted cilia, but there is no way I can ever start up with them again. They are wrong, and I know this, and yet I am unable to stop at merely a flirtation with them, you know, an occasional drag off someone else’s or a cadge here and there when no one who loves me is looking. Thus I have had to cut all ties, forever.

    My separation from them was painful and protracted and still hurts. I’m just not sure I can go through all that again with something else.

  58. Brooklynite

    I think the train of language expungement can be classified as runaway. While I realize that ‘tard has a questionable derivation, by removing it and putting it on something else, is it possible that something new can be created?

    It’s possible — check back in twenty years, or fifty.

    A couple of generations ago, the word “idiot” used in anger would have made a lot of folks cringe. Today, the word’s clinical meaning is nearly forgotten, so it stings a lot less.

    “Retard” still stings. And because of that, “fucktard” stings. That may change, but there’s not much to be done to hurry the process along.

  59. Kelley

    As a spinster aunt who herself has often answered to the word drunkard, I heartily endorse the change! Now get me another glass of wine, damnit!

  60. saltyC

    “But “fuck” has never been about sex, any more than the anti-choice right is about human life. ”

    Uhhhh.

    How can someone so interested in the English language not see, that Fuck derives its power directly from sex. This is the first time I ever saw someone claim that the word is not about sex.

    No, I won’t be using it, because I wouldn’t want my child picking it up. I’m sure she will, but doesn’t mean I’ll pretend it doesn’t mean what it means. I don’t want to promote the idea of insulting people in sexual terms.

  61. saltyC

    Equally hollow arguments are made in defense of terms such as : “That’s so gay” “He jewed me down”
    “Indian-giver” on and on.

    People pretend words only mean what they are trying to say in that particluar context, but if you look at usage and etymology it doesn’t hold water.

    I can find hundreds of contexts in which fuck means intercourse, anyone would recognize it as such. Additionally, when it is used derogatorally, you can substitute any number of sexual terms for the word and the meaning would not change.

    Illustrative is the old joke of the boy who wondered what the Electrical company did to the town when it “serviced” them. He found out when he climbed a barn wall and saw what a stud bull did to a cow when he “serviced” her. In this context, it does not matter which perjorative you substitute for intercourse, it carries the same meaning.

    This is what we teach new generations: What people do when they have sex is like what they do when they cheat, abuse, or otherwise take advantage of another.

  62. Mandy

    I have to remember not to read Twisty and her coterie when I am at work. I snort and bark at my desk here and everybody says “what’s so funny?” “what are you laughing at?” And, of course, I can’t tell them, at least not shouting across the room. Now all I say is “Twisty” and they know to log on and see what the fuss is about. Thank you Twisty, from yes another spinster aunt who answers to the name drunkard and thank all of you wonderful friends-of-Twisty who make me laugh, teach me things, make me think, feel like my familiars. I think I like Fuckard…I am going to try it out and see what it feels like coming out of my mouth and then decide. I have to admit that I agree a good explosive “FUCK” has been the pinnacle of satisfaction up to now. But I also like pissant. That was my mom’s favorite.

  63. alphabitch

    “But “fuck” has never been about sex, any more than the anti-choice right is about human life.”

    I’m afraid I’m with Twisty on this one. And if that means I have to defy the OED, so be it. On accounta the OED does define the word as “to copulate,” etc. (and notes rather too parenthetically for my taste that when it’s used as a transitive verb it’s rarely used with a female subject – as in chicks can get fucked but we hardly ever get to fuck — to which I say ‘fuck that shit’).

    But I will both disagree and digress a bit here:

    The documented usage and etymology of ‘fuck’(current meaning intact) goes back as far as Middle English and, while the OED does not substantiate any history prior to that, you can follow the word way way back (in a purely speculative manner, of course) to before the 1st Germanic Sound Shift & Grimm’s law & all that to an early Indo-European or even Proto-Indo-European root ancestor (not documented, but reconstructed as pug- (seen nowadays in English in such words as ‘pugnacious’ and ‘impugn’ and ‘pugilist’ (via Latin pugnare or some such).

    Which is to say that the word has deep linguistic roots that suggest fighting, assault, battery, dispute, and so on. Deeply hostile stuff, and some etymologies suggest that it was initially used in one or another of the early Germanic languages as a coarse substitute for some now-obsolete or perhaps more prissy term for copulation, and eventually those older meanings were replaced by the current one.

    Wikipedia covers this ground pretty well here (with links to Grimm’s Law & all that stuff for those who are interested).

    Most definitions and discussions regarding the current usage of the word devote much more space to the deeply hostile and/or otherwise simply negative aspects of the word [e.g. fuckwit: coarse slang (orig. Austral.) (derogatory). A. n. A stupid or contemptible person; an idiot. B. adj. Stupid, idiotic.].

    In my musing last night about whether it’s possible, here in the patriarchy, to have one set of meanings (the sex is good and beautiful facets) without the other (the angry mean hostile facets), I think that I have to say no, it’s neither possible nor particularly desirable. I would argue that each derives its particular power from the other.

    Multifaceted indeed.

    Don’t give it up, Sara. Life is complicated.

    Firefall: Big Bang vs. Steady State linguistics made my coffee come out my nose. Thanks for wrecking my keyboard. I’m more a steady state gal myself.

    Pinko Punko: There are as many words as you want. I promise you won’t run out.

    NicaKnit: if you want further info/conversation about why combinations of “fuck” etc. are so easily used in new epithets, email me at epithets@alphabitch.org – I think I have some old papers on the subject somewhere.

    I can also set you straight on why that usage (e.g. fan-fucking-tastic, etc.) isn’t technically an infix, though it does function like one.

  64. metamanda

    alphabitch, you just made something make sense to me.

    I know about two words in Italian, one of which is “pugnalare”, which means “to stab”.

    seeing how that is etymologically related to “to fuck” really gives me the willies.

  65. AoT

    Pugnare is latin for ‘to fight”

  66. Smiler

    Delurking again!

    (I’ve been giving this new word an unhealthy amount of thought for the last few days and I just have to share.)

    Someone (ACM?) asked what “fuckard” has that is different from “fucker”. Here’s why I think it’s different.

    “Fuckard” to me is, like “drunkard”, a description of a state of being. A fuckard is someone who is innately fuckardly and will always be fuckardly no matter whether he is fucking at any particular time or not.

    A “fucker” on the other hand, like “drinker”, could merely refer to the person’s current activity. A fucker may cease to be a fucker the moment he stops fucking.

    Also, I am with both Sara and Alphabitch on the general meaning of the word. To me “fuck” has always (like “screw” and “bugger”*) resonated more as a term of violence, domination and conquest, than one of sexuality. However, because the word *is* used to refer to sex as well as to violence etc, I prefer not to mangle the two and tend just to steer clear of these words whenever I have sufficient self-control. It does have a satifying ring to it though, at times. And I have a soft spot for “fuckwit”.

    * I have a feeling that “bugger” does not have quite the same amount of feeling attached in the UK as in US.

    Finally, on meaning, to my mind the state of being a “fuckard” is one where the person’s attitudes and beliefs are informed largely or only by reference to his ideas about fucking (in the domination/sex sense). For example, one who objectifies women on a daily basis – whether by leering at porn or by claiming property in someone else’s uterus or by following any one of the myriad other paths of fuckardliness – is a true fuckard. The same effect might be achieved by the term dickferbrains, because that part of their anatomy is indeed what they are using to think with.

    I will now draw breath and relurk, happy in the knowledge that several days after the original post nobody’s going to read this anyway so it won’t matter if I’m making no sense.

    I have never, ever, anywhere used the F-word so many times in one post!

  67. syfr

    Ah, perhaps the answer is simpler. Fuckturd. Yes, a person who is such a fucking fucker he/she would fuck a piece of shit- literally.

  68. Caren

    Can I just say thanks?

    My younger brother has Down Syndrome, and I’ve fought against “retard” as an insult all my life. My grade school classmates may be the only 40 kids from the 70s who didn’t use it.

    During the run of “Life Goes On”, “retard” seemed to go away as an insult for a while, but in the past few years it’s had a serious resurgence, along with “‘tard” and the increasing popular “fucktard”.

    It always hurts. Always.

    Upon reading, I tend to lower my opinion of the poster exponetially.

    So, thanks for the wonderful OED-influenced post and clarification. It’s amazing how the redaction of a single letter makes so much difference.

  69. jennifer

    Caren –
    As someone who watched that show, surely you know that “Corky, it’s time to let go of the pig” took its place.

  1. Breaking News from the Twisty Institute for Neologistic Research at The Republic of Dogs

    [...] Good news, everyone!  Well, maybe not, but interesting news, nevertheless.  After a little (read: a lot more than we would have done) research, Twisty Faster of I Blame The Patriarchy has decided to lay “fucktard” to rest as a tool of patriarchy-blaming and general vituperation. As a result, I am happy to announce that I, ignorant chump that I am, have been getting it wrong all along. No, it’s true! It turns out that –tard is not quite the suffix I thought it was; –ard, in fact, is the appendage for which the word ‘fuck’ has been calling out lo these many years. If only I had listened to its anguished cries! For had I bothered to give it five minutes’ thought, it would have dawned on me that it makes far more sense without the ‘T’. But you show me the spinster aunt who has five minutes to spare for thought, and I’ll show you a spinster aunt with a staff of twelve fawning minions and a red-lining IQ. [...]

  2. {the right tools for the job} at The Republic of Dogs

    [...] The progressive way — the adult way — isn’t perfection, but it is being to be willing to reconsider our habits of thought and action in order to better align our lives with the cultural objectives of progressivism. Those who imagine that they can build a world free of domination and oppression by forcing our political enemies into the oppressive categories that they themselves have created are fooling themselves. If progressives are anything, we are people who prefer a world with less suffering and humiliation. A truly progressive world is one in which no one is a cunt. No one is a hole, no one is subhuman, subaltern. [...]

  3. Let’s stop saying ‘retarded’ - Joshua Malbin

    [...] Another way to look at this is that the word is doing all the work for you. As Michael Berube points out, “it’s not as if the English language is hurtin’ for terms of abuse.” (Berube’s son Jamie has Down’s Syndrome. Reading Jamie is a good way to build empathy about this and also to be totally blown away by how much smarter Jamie is than me, at least on the subject of knowing which songs are John and which are Paul.) Funny guys, raise your game. The r-word is a crutch. As my Reader’s Digest taught me well, it pays to increase your word power! ‘Fucktard’, by the way, is cheating. [...]

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