Tag Archives: Insult

Slurs and Insults in a Coastal City

Background and context: The interviewer and the informant are both residents of Qingdao, a Northeastern coastal city in China. The city is known for its beaches, ports, and seafood. A big portion of the city’s economy relies on tourism. 

The informant talks in Mandarin, but with the Qingdao dialect. The interviewer and the informant talk about unique slurs and insults that only Qingdao people use.

1. 潮巴

pinyin: cháo ba

Transliteration: moist [“ba” doesn’t have meaning]

Translation: Idiot

2. 你脑子进水了

pinyin: ni nao zi jin shui le

Transliteration: You’ve got water in your head.

Translation: You’re so stupid.

Analysis: Because Qingdao is a coastal city and the sea has a very important role in Qingdao people’s life, language used by Qingdao people is heavily influenced by imageries and characters associated with the sea. In both insults, water or “moist” is directly linked with the geographical character of the city. “Moist” or having water in one’s head both signify a loss of control, a form of imbalance between humans and the ocean. This shows that Qingdao’s connection with the ocean is more complicated than people’s dependence on the sea. There might be an implicit fear as well in not being able to control the ocean and maintain a balance between human life and natural forces.

“Coastie”

MAIN PIECE

“Coastie”

“When you call someone a coastie, it is more often than not seen as an insult.  We use it, probably more in the sorority systems, to describe someone who is from the east or west coast of the United States.  We usually say it when somebody doesn’t understand Wisconsin issues such as the weather  or the lack of warm beaches.”

BACKGROUND

DA, is from Madison, Wisconsin and has lived in the state all her life.  She knows this from being in the sorority system and being explained as to what a coastie was.  She had never hear it before when she lived in Milwaukee, so she assumes it’s specific to U-W Madison.

CONTEXT

DA is a cousin I have that goes to college right now.  We sat down and I invited her for a zoom call.  She seemed a bit stressed about her finals, but she was very elated to talk and take a break from studying for her chemistry exam.

THOUGHTS

To see a piece of a folklore that is used in a way to not identify members of said folk group, but make fun of ones who aren’t is thought-provoking, but not unique to this folk group.  I believe it’s used in this more derogatory manner because most of the people who go to U-W Madison, from looking at their statistics, are from Wisconsin themselves, making these “Coasties” far and few between, as well as easier to pick on in a joking manner.

Referee Insults

Main piece:

“Get your dirty laundry off the field!”

Context: “In (American) football, the way for the referee to stop a play is to throw a flag in the air and then everyone will stop and they’ll announce what happened. (A penalty?) Yeah, a penalty. And then usually anytime you see that yellow, heinous thing fly in the air—cuz it’s probably gonna go against your team—you yell “get your dirty laundry off the field.”

Background Info: The informant is a close friend of mine in his early 20s. He’s lived in Long Beach, California his entire life and is an avid football fan. We played baritone in marching band together in high school, and I recall him insulting referees during football games. He does not know where he learned the insults from, but his family members and other people in the stands at games yelled similar things.

Thoughts: A lot of the animosity towards referees stems from their near-absolute power and authority over the game of football. Despite the fact that their job is to maintain the fairness and rules of the game they ref for, they’re often universally hated by fans on both sides due to the perception that they’re biased towards the other team, are corrupt, or make false and accidental calls. Under this lens, insults are a way to push back against authority, and the people who insult referees perceive themselves to be righteous and justified. I participated in referee insults a few times myself, and while I do think some people take the insults too far and referees are often abused by fans, most of these stock insults are not heard over the cacophony of noise at a football game. Instead, referee insults become a fun way to bond with other people in the crowd, much like chanting along to a cheer or singing along to a song played by the band.

“Shoobies”

  • Context: The informant (T) is a 56 yr. old woman originally from Philadelphia, PA. She owns a shore house in South Jersey where she and her extended family spend the summer. She explains to me the term Shoobie and the negative connotation it holds among the inhabitants of Philadelphia and South Jersey. The conversation took place when I asked the informant of a previous encounter she had had in which she used the insult “shoobie” against someone. 
  • Text:

T: “A Shoobie is somebody that would come down from the… Philly… Philadelphia.. to the… the shore… and they would bring their… all their stuff; their lunch, their suntan lotion in a shoe box. And that’s what… they would walk onto the beach with their shoe box for the day and that’s how they got their nickname Shoobie.”

Me: “So whose a Shoobie now? Who says that? Like who do you call a Shoobie?”

T: “A Shoobie now is basically somebody who… still comes down for the day…”

Me: “Comes down where?”

T: “Comes down to the shore for the day… comes down to the beach… or Shoobies are also people who just rent a house for a week.”

Me: “And what’s the shore?”

T: “The shore is the beach… in New Jersey?”

Me: “Like anywhere in New Jersey?

T: “I don’t know if Shoobie goes past, like, Atlantic City, like north of Atlantic City… I don’t know… because I don’t live there.”

Me: “Is it like a good thing to be called a Shoobie?”

T: “Uh-uh. No. You don’t wanna be called a Shoobie.”

Me: “Have you ever called someone a Shoobie?”

T: “Yes.”

Me: “Who’d you call a Shoobie?”

T: “This girl that was on the beach one day who was using really foul language around my parents.”

Me: “Have you ever been called a Shoobie?”

T: “No, I actually haven’t.”

Me: “Are you a Shoobie?”

T: “No. I’m the least amount of a Shoobie!”

  • Analysis: Growing up going to the Jersey Shore, I had always known the term shoobie, and I had always known I never wanted to be one. To be called a shoobie is to say you don’t really belong on the island – you’re not a local. In my town, there is even a restaurant called “Shoobies” in reference to the colloquial term. I think the reason such a term was created was in order to create an in-group and an out-group. It separates those who own houses at the shore and those who rent a house at the shore or just drive down to the beach for the day. It is looked down upon to have outsiders on the beaches, because most of the beach towns are small and everyone in the town knows each other. Different shore towns also have different reputations. For example, you are more likely to find a shoobie in Wildwood or Atlantic City than you are in Stone Harbor or Avalon, so the term is more commonly used as an insult in the towns with less shoobies. As the informant explained, the history of the word comes from day travelers coming to the beach for the day with their lunch in a shoe box, which interrupts the local life. To be considered a shoobie is to be considered lower class, and ultimately unwelcome.

For more about Shoobies, visit…

Ravo, Nick. “FOR EARLY TOURISTS, A TEPID WELCOME AT JERSEY RESORT.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 16 Feb. 1987, www.nytimes.com/1987/02/16/nyregion/talk-long-beach-island-for-early-tourists-tepid-welcome-jersey-resort.html.

“Yardsale!” – A Skier’s Term

Context:  I visited the informant’s dorm room at USC at about three o’clock, having already asked him if he was willing to participate in the collection project. He was willing, so we sat down to chat in his bedroom, alone. We began chatting, and I recorded two pieces from him. We sat in silence for a moment as I thought of more questions to ask him, and I remembered that he was an avid skier. I had been skiing since I was a toddler, and knew some folk terms from the practice. I asked him if he knew what a ‘yardsale’ was, and if he could describe it to me. Immediately, he recognized what I meant, and I began recording before he responded.

Transcription:

WD: What’s a yard sale in skiing?

JB: It’s like, when you’re skiing, and you eat shit, and you just lose every piece of gear.

WD: Yeah… but what happens then?

JB: So like, your skis will pop off, you definitely lose your poles, like, goggles, helmet, the whole fuckin’ deal.

WD: And then you’ve gotta figure out how to put all of it back on while on the side of a mountain?

JB: Yeah, your skis are the hard part, since they’ll  sometimes literally slide all the way down the hill, and then you gotta hike to go get it. Or, sometimes, like, fresh powder gets stuck in the bindings of your skis and you’ve gotta kick it out.

WD: And you look like a dumbass in front of other skiers, right?

JB: Exactly, sometimes people will yell “YARDSALE!” at you while they pass. You look like a fuckin’ idiot, for sure.

Informant:  The informant is an 18 year old, German-American student at the University of Southern California. He was born in Aptos, California, a small beach town located to the west of Santa Cruz. He is an avid skier, and has heard the term while skiing with friends in Mammoth, Tahoe and in Bear Valley. He has experienced this type of fall before, and knows how difficult it can be to reset your equipment in the middle of a ski run.

Analysis: This piece of folk language could also be considered as a joke. Experienced skiers tend to exalt themselves, especially when they see inexperienced skiers fall. The term “yardsale” refers to the image of all the skiing equipment scattered across the slope, like items set out for a yardsale. In practice, the phrase can be used as an insult, especially towards strangers on the slope. For example, if an inexperienced skier attempts to ride a hill outside of their skill range and loses their equipment, another more qualified skier may shout the phrase while passing. The inexperienced skier is then left in the middle of the hill, dodging other skiers while searching for their lost poles and skis. Yet, it could also be used as a form of relief in a frightening situation among friends. For example, if a pair of skiers are riding together through difficult terrain and one of them wipes out, their friend may shout the phrase to assuage any fears of injury their friend may have. Especially in a scary fall, the phrase can be used as a form of comedic relief to normalize the drastic nature of the tumble.

Shoe Polish: A Folk Insult?

You don’t know shit from Shinola.

According to the Informant, he heard this phrase growing up from his father. It was typically said by Person A in situations in which Person B doesn’t know what’s going on or for general naivety. It’s not exactly a proverb, because it ridicules those without wisdom instead of imparting wisdom. It can be said to be a folk insult. He said he heard this insult so many times, but it took until about the millionth time for him to realize that yes, it was true. He hadn’t the slightest clue what Shinola was.

This folk insult reportedly originated as commander-to-soldier vulgarity during WWII. The original form of the phrase involved a second verse. In the 1940’s, when is started popping up in military barracks, the full-length piece stated: “You don’t know shit from Shinola, and that’s why your shoes don’t shine.” This oicotype clearly allows anyone, using context clues, to decipher that Shinola is brown shoe polish. It’s interesting that the actual product named Shinola is long-gone, but it lives on in an insult.

It turns out that many insults without authors come from the military. “He doesn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground,” is another example of the same category that can be traced back to the military. Once we know the meaning behind the parts, it’s easy to see the meaning of the whole. Shinola would obviously be the choice pick over shit to shine shoes. Only a truly naïve person would use the two interchangeably.

This phrase always gets a smile out of me, regardless of context. This can possibly be regarded as the Informant’s catch phrase. In a way, it’s a passed-down insult, from my father’s father, that the majority of people today would be clueless to understand the meaning of. This fact, for a phrase meant to mock a person’s naivety, is just the icing on the cake.

 

Mexican Proverb

Main Piece: Mexican Proverb

 

Original – “El burro sabe más que tú”

 

Transliteration – “The donkey knows more than you”

 

Translation – “The donkey knows more than you”

 

Background:

 

This proverb is also from my Mexican nanny, Mirna, and this one is more of an insult. My nanny says she likes to use this one especially in America because more often than not people do not understand Spanish and it is easy to offend them without even knowing. Donkeys are a large part of Mexican culture in agriculture and just life in general. They tend to be more of a source of power for hauling goods or farm equipment, and aren’t necessarily thought of as being the brainiest.

My nanny says that this was your generic grade school insult, and it was never really meant for too much harm, sort of an elaborate version of just telling someone their stupid. She and her siblings would use it on each other, and there is no profanity used in it so it was never really frowned upon by elders when they heard it.

 

Context:

 

My nanny has actually been saying this to me for a long time now, as she would talk to me and my siblings in Spanish at a young age to give us an understanding of another language while we were still apprehensive to it. Of course we would get into our usual shenanigans and she would say this to us and we would think it was funny not really knowing what it meant, but now knowing what it means it only really seems fitting as something you would say to a child, as an adult would think you were being childish if you just said “a donkey knows more than you.”

I was just told this in a face to face conversation so the real context of using it is not there, but I can see how it would be more so used between childhood friends on the playground or in instances like that.

 

My thoughts:

 

It is interesting to see how a culture’s lifestyle has an effect on how they insult each other, and even though it may be seen as something not very effective in offending someone, it can be thought of as more playful banter because obviously a donkey is not a smart animal. I doubt there is much of a real world application for this insult but it is interesting to me how it is more of an intellectual insult as opposed to simply telling someone the

Arabic Proverb

Original Script:

القرد بعين امو غزال

Phonetic (Roman) script: Al gird be ain umo ghazaal.

Transliteration: Al gird be ain umo ghazaal.

Full translation: The monkey in the eye of its mother is a gazelle.

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: “I like this because it just is an example of how the Arabic language can be both poetic and really harsh. Arabic is a language where you can write a whole paragraph based off of one insult. We take our insults very seriously and can’t just say ‘F you!’, you have to do better and this is a good one because it’s saying your ugly but in the most round about way possible.

I can’t remember where I learned it but it must have been around high school.

It’s used around people you know it’s not something you say in polite company. There are a lot of poetic ways to insult people in Arabic.”

Context of the Performance: Insulting a person but politely

Thoughts about the piece: Foremost, I have to say the background on this proverb is hilarious and made me laugh so hard the way Reem had explained it to me. The fact that it is a polite way to tell someone, “you are ugly,” is really interesting. This, of course, is considering that in the English language, there is really no way to tell someone “you’re ugly” politely, except for maybe, “you are not the ugliest.” I also found it interesting how, when Reem said it and noted it in her background of the piece, that it was very poetic, and it did not sound like an insult at all, in fact, I thought, when I first heard it, it was actually a really prominent, as well as polite, saying, but it turned out to be a prominent insult instead. It is interesting that it sounded so nice at first, and that things in Arabic sound “poetic” because that is certainly not the case in English. Furthermore, it is interesting that Reem states: “there are a lot of poetic ways to insult people in Arabic,” which seems that the language in itself is beautiful, and there are no brash insults but rather poetic ones.

When Reem had translated this proverb to me, “The monkey in the eye of its mother is a gazelle,” I actually thought it met that a mother is always proud of her children no matter what they seem like to society. Although, I guess that this is the case with proverbs, in which they do not really make sense to the other culture when they are translated into that culture’s language. For example, they are only relative to that specific culture. Thus, this Arabic “saying” becomes an Arabic Proverb.

Hipsters

About the Interviewed: Spencer is a former student of the George Washington University, now graduated and teaching English overseas. He describes his ethnic background as “Potpourri”, with his family having a mixture of Scottish-Polish origins with some Irish thrown in the mix. His family has lived in North America for generations, so he prefers to identify ethnically as just that. He is 22 years of age.

Spencer, my friend from the George Washington University gave me a talk about a sub-culture of individuals known in America as “Hipsters”.

Spencer: “Hipsters are a stereotype. But they’re a funny stereotype. (laughs) They’re like, people who don’t ever want to be mainstream. They do everything outside of the ‘norm because that’s what’s cool.”

I ask him what he means by things that aren’t “mainstream”.

Spencer: “Well, a ‘Hipster’ is probably not somebody who listens to [music] that’s popular or anything upbeat. They like things that are old, things that are vintage. There’s this video of someone taking notes on a typewriter. Stuff like that.  It’s sort of a label. I mean, they’re a kind of subculture. Hipsters don’t identify as hipsters. It’s kind of an insult, really.”

I asked him why he believed that being labeled a Hipster represented an insult.

Spencer: “Well, It’s sort of a joke. (he laughs) Though some people probably take it seriously”, he continues. “It’s like if you have a friend, and you want to watch a movie together, like Star Wars, but he doesn’t want to see it because it’s too mainstream.” He makes a gesture here with his hands in a faux-suave kind of way. “You’d be all like – Man, you’re such a Hipster!”

He stops to laugh again.

Spencer: “People just think that they’re arrogant. That’s kind of what the word means.”

I asked him to describe what he thinks a hipster would look like.

Spencer: (laughs) “Oh man. Well the real hipsters dress funny. I’d picture dudes wearing leggings, loafers with no socks, handlebar mustaches, things like that. Girls would be kind-of the same, just more irregular.”

Spencer: “I mean, I live in [Washington] DC, and you see them all the time, or people who look like them [hipsters], I’m not judging. I mean, they’re sort of cool in a retro kind-of way. I like anyone who can do things without caring too much about what other people think of them. (laughs)”

Summary:

“Hipsters” are a subculture of individuals who live organically and distance themselves from the “mainstream” or “popular” world. As the idea of a Hipster has become something a stereotype, the term is seen by some as derogatory.

Personally, I find the concept of Hipsters to be very interesting. They’re sort of postmodern: rejecting our concept of modernity to substitute their own. Hipsters live an organic lifestyle, though some would argue that it’s mainly reactionary. The word “Hipster” embodies both a label, and a definition. Though many people adjust to the subculture, Spencer and I both agreed that the term has become somewhat patronizing in recent years. 

Go Salt Yourself!

“Pojdi se solit!”

Translation:

“Go salt yourself!”

Used as an expression of frustration, this phrase can be taken to mean, “screw you!” The informant has been saying this particular phrase to me since I was young, whenever I was sufficiently irritating. For years, I was puzzled by why she would repeat this seemingly nonsensical saying to me. Why would an angry person suggest to someone else to salt themselves? Of course, whenever the informant was angry, I would never beg this question, as I imagined it would only aggrivate the situation further.

However, when confronted about the phrase’s meaning, she immediately offered this response:

“Historically, salt was very valuable, as it was not as commodified as it is today. Food lacking salt, however, lacks in flavor. That’s why the saying suggests that whenever you have said something that lacks flavor or character . . . you’ve said something bland . . . you’re suggested to season your coarse words with a bit of wisdom. Some salt to flavor your speech.”