Why Name-Calling Is Despicable

It is said that mankind only came into its own when it was able to recognize itself and others as actual people. Since then, however, we’ve done a pretty crappy job. Calling people names seems to be a practice as old as humanity itself.

However, lately a particularly nasty undercurrent of name-calling seems to be pervading society as a whole. Two weeks ago, Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown law student, got called a “slut” by Rush Limbaugh for three days straight on the radio, which has prompted a nation-wide argument on calling people names. And there seems to be an increasingly disturbing trend in which people think it is perfectly all right to do it, no matter how disgusting the term, because everybody does it, right?

Fact: Calling someone a “bitch” is unacceptable. Calling someone an “asshole” is unacceptable. Calling someone a “retard” is unacceptable. Calling someone a “slut” is unacceptable. (And don’t get me started on religious, sexual and/or ethnic slurs.) If people want to be a part of civilized society, under no circumstances should they use these words (or any other, or any variation thereof, really) to describe other people. Period.

If someone calls someone else any of the above words within earshot (or screenshot) of other people, whether they really mean it or if it’s in jest or in an endearing fashion, they open the floor to have it used on them. The girl who calls her friends “bitches” at a bar (or, “betches,” because one letter clearly makes a difference) will more than likely be called one if someone gets pissed off at her.

By calling someone a name, what some people attempt to do is encase their opponent under a label deemed by society to be negative, minimizing them and whatever they were standing for. In reality, by doing so, they are allowing themselves to being labeled, and also lose both the high ground and the argument: no one has ever called someone any of the words specified above and received a response along the lines of, “You’re SOOO right. I am EXACTLY what you just called me. Tell me ALLLLL the things I’m doing wrong.” Calling someone a name equals an immediate forfeit and the validation and lionization of the other side.

Worst of all, however, should be the following: calling someone names is a sign that they are neither smart nor witty enough to defend themselves with a logical argument. “But the other person isn’t being logical and I don’t have enough time to lay it out for them” is a common defense. Balderdash. If they are engaging in a discussion spirited enough to qualify someone as beneath them, then they have a stake in being right and should take enough time to achieve that goal. Using a curse word is like taking a cannon to a knife fight — it’s cheap, it’s cowardly, and most of the time, it’s completely unnecessary and will only make it worse.

If someone really feels strongly about it and has an overwhelming need to call someone disgusting names they should do so privately, far from the eyes of other people, where they can truly, purely express themselves in as honest a fashion as they perceive is correct. These people should not be surprised, however, if the object of their attack takes offense and rips their head off.

I’m not attempting to be Emily Post – quite the opposite. I’m not holier-than-thou. I’m not a Boy Scout. But, like my grandfather told me once, “it doesn’t matter how the other person behaves in a fight; in the long run, it matters how you behave.” Calling someone a name is a lazy person’s resource. It takes away all of their collected knowledge, their education and their manners, putting them in the same class as barbarian trolls who don’t know any better.

The best arguments are those in which people use their brains. Where people take full advantage of thousands of years of evolution and use their words not as a blunt instrument, but in a way that would put Socrates to shame. If you know anyone who fits the description above (and hopefully, you don’t) do us all a favor and teach them to be a better foil, and bask in the satisfaction of winning an argument via logic, charm and wit. It’s oh-so-much more satisfying, and in the end, we all win. TC mark


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  • http://twitter.com/JeffreyMarciano Jeffrey Nijman


  • jess

    I like this but I don’t think I can ever stop calling people assholes.

  • http://twitter.com/kyleangeletti Kyle Angeletti

    Interesting article. I agree with your assertion that name calling in arguments is counter productive, rude and generally unnecessary. 

    However,  can you honestly say there is NO situation where calling someone a ‘bitch’ or an ‘asshole’ (not that offensive in my opinion) would not be justified? (agree that ‘retard’ and ‘slut’ would probably never be appropriate). 

    Not to win an argument, or prove a point.. But to express legitimate frustration with a person/situation in which you might have been wronged or hurt? 

    • http://twitter.com/emilcDC Emil Caillaux

      I’m not saying it isn’t justified (it usually is), but have you ever had a positive reaction to it?

      One of the last two things Q told James Bond was “Never them see you bleed.” Call them an asshole or a bitch, and they’ll know they got to you. As for myself, I try to not get mad and instead get even while I call them names in my head or when I’m by myself if I need the catharsis.

      • Guest

        whaaaaa you just totally undermined your whole argument
        when it comes to all the moral stuff about undermining a person’s humanity and whatnot you seem to really believe, there’s no difference between calling someone an asshole in your head and saying it to another person. 
        and what’s the problem with calling someone an asshole? people act like assholes sometimes.

      • http://twitter.com/emilcDC Emil Caillaux

        What I’m saying is that it’s a lazy attempt at winning an argument, a knee-jerk reaction at expressing frustration that rarely, if ever, goes well. And people who routinely use those terms to define other people do so because they’re lazy and want to beat the other person, which is not what ends up happening anyway.

        There is a gigantic difference between thinking something and saying it. Ideally.

      • Guest

        I don’t think there’s a gigantic moral difference. (although I don’t really think calling someone an asshole is immoral, but anyway.) but I see what you’re saying. I just think “asshole” is more efficient than “the man who was rude because he _________”

      • http://twitter.com/emilcDC Emil Caillaux

        I didn’t really call it immoral. (In fact, I don’t think I brought up a argument in terms of morality at all, but it’s interesting how some people are seeing it that way). I called it lazy, sloppy, inflammatory, cheap, cowardly and an opening for a similar attack on you. And there is a gigantic difference in terms of how an argument will play out and how you will be perceived.

      • J v A

        A substantial portion of the population (Conservatives), those “lazy” arguments win. Some people aren’t persuaded by facts. 

        A separate portion of the population is persuaded by facts (Liberals). The more your evidence is supported by facts, the more receptive they are. 

        Generally, the more educated the person, the more the above is true. Yale, Pew and more have done studies. It’s so clearly evident in political debates. 

  • Jenny

    totally agree. 

    when someone uses name-calling in any argument, i usually lose respect for them immediately. it shows they have no self-control with their emotions and their logical reasoning goes out the window. or they’re childish and can’t take it when they’re proven wrong by logical reasoning.

    and i definitely don’t think calling someone a name to their face is ever appropriate. in privacy, to vent, possibly. honestly, there are better words. 

  • http://newhandsweepstakes.com/contributors/brian-mcelmurry/ Brian M

    You sir, are a … “moralist” ;-)

  • http://profiles.google.com/exander05 Alex Mathews

    This was a lovely public service announcement, Emil.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with the name calling in an argument, but say someone runs into you with their bike or almost runs you over with their car, it’s nice to call them an asshole. It discharges the stress and frustration you felt. It’s better than wrecking their vehicle with a tire iron. And if a friend of colleague s behaving like a jackass, I’m not above tell that to them to their face. Of course, maybe with a little more tact, but it still goes. 

    And yes, I do sometimes call some of friends slutty, but only the ones that  know they are and celebrate in their own sluttiness. 

    There are a lot of different nuances to name calling and not all of them are bad.

  • kevin

    It is rather unrealistic that one can expect everyone (to transition) to combat each other with intellectual retort and counters. Name calling is direct and intentionally confrontational. It has a very distinct purpose. Society has stigmatized vulgarity to the extent that it can’t handle a word being attributed to someone? Come now. Regressing from the English language because we’re scared of a particular vernacular is dumb as fecal matter. Instead of cowering from words, we should probably grow some balls. 

  • Paxton719

    I will be reading and discussing this with my students in my High School English class on Friday. Thanks for the lesson plan!

    • http://twitter.com/emilcDC Emil Caillaux

       Awesome! Let me know how it goes.

  • Anonymous

    I like this. Instead of calling someone a bitch, point out to them all of the heinous things they do. They can deny a name-call, but they can’t deny their actions. 

  • Einstein

    Why the farfigfuckneugen is this shit in my faceboook feed?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_VYDVROKY4PUBOKUHB3QF42FH2Y Paul S

    I tend to tell people who are acting like assholes that they’re “acting like an asshole”, never that they ARE an asshole. Big difference.

  • Will

    Emil, I think you have a very dangerous line of thought. When you eliminate name calling from a person’s arsenal – you begin take away their methods of expressing frustration/anger/distaste. Pretty soon, the saying “are you crazy” is unacceptable, as is something even more benign, like “what were you thinking?”. The latter phrase implies that the perpetrator was not thinking/is not capable of behaving rationally. The only way to be 100% civil 100% of the time, is to say nothing, because ANYTHING can be construed as offensive by SOMEBODY. What matters more than the words spoken are the reactions to them. The world is an ugly place with ugly people in it. The topic you address makes me concerned and depressed – but I truly believe it is more effective to lead by example, rather wagging your finger at all the dissenters.

  • http://foreignloveweb.com/2017/03/20/why-dont-i-like-the-word-gringo/ Why Don’t I Like the Word ‘Gringo’? – Foreign Love Web

    […] The word ‘gringo’ may be okay because at least American/Westerner expats/travelers in general are called or described as that. But, foreigners especially the ones in Latin America (where the word has derived) must be careful who they call that word. Possibly, American/Western expat(s) or traveler(s) might confront and get in a physical fight with foreigner(s). A similar case applies to a white American or anyone else in general calling a black American the “n” word. Some people are offended by certain names but other people are not. But, people around the world should stop using names, whether they are inappropriate or not, and call each other by their real names. This is the 21st century. More people are dating, marrying, and having mixed race children globally. If someone asks to be called a nickname or a particular word, then other people should respectfully do so. If every American/Western expat or traveler is called a ‘gringo‘ or a certain name and therefore does not return overseas, what would foreigners (e.g. Latin Americans) do and how would they react? Would they truly be sorry for their name-calling? […]

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