The Range of Insult

in Toward a Rhetoric of Insult

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print June 2010 | ISBN: 9780226114774
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226114798 | DOI:
The Range of Insult

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This chapter sketches out the dimensions and the particular vehicles of insult, largely verbal but not limited to words, discussing how languages generally have enormous repositories of terms of abuse and how the language of abuse is rich in stylistic potential. It considers terms of abuse in Roman comedy and in twentieth-century English, and describes how gestures constitute a considerable part of the “vocabulary” of abuse. The chapter suggests that there is a measure of indeterminacy in both words and gestures—that is, that there appear to be no inherently abusive terms, but that it all depends on scenario, or situation: who is saying what to whom, and why either of them should care. But there are some gestures and words that seem to have no other function than to belittle or scorn or put down. So perhaps instead of stating flatly that there are no inherently abusive terms, we should say that, for some terms, it is exceedingly difficult to imagine a scenario in which they are not abusive.

Keywords: insults; abuse; language; Latin; Roman comedy

Chapter.  12008 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Language

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