Thursday, June 16, 2016

Rhetoric: Vulgarity

Vulgar language – for instance, swear words; you can find a list here – often pops up in politics. It's arguable what words count as vulgarity, and whether (and why) vulgar language is wrong.

But we shouldn't have double-standards about vulgar language (e.g., my vulgarities are harmless, yours are unacceptable), and we should recognize how vulgar language often appears in various forms of name-calling.

Note that all vulgarity is name-calling; if I stub my toe, you're might hear vulgarity, even though it's not name-calling. And not all name-calling is vulgar; falsely demonizing someone as genocidal maniac is name-calling, but not vulgar.

But there is often an overlap. Vulgar language can be used as name-calling of the "disgusting", "sexually deviant", and "subhuman" variety.

-- Stephen Colbert, June 14, 2016, on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert in a segment titled, "This Diagram Explains Trump's Response To Orlando", referring to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Comment: Colbert's remarks – to what degree they're supposed to be taken comically, it isn't always clear – involve several things. First, he knocks over a straw man when he says Trump believes that all Muslims know what all other Muslims are up to. Trump's point was that some Muslims know about terrorist plotting but don't report it (as, for instance, may be the case with the wife of Orlando shooter Omar Mir Seddique Mateen). Second, Colbert demonizes Trump as a Nazi. Finally, he resorts to vulgarity, calling Trump an "asshole".

As thousands of Donald Trump supporters streamed out of an evening rally here [in Greensboro, NC] this week, they walked past a handful of vendors from Ohio selling simple white T-shirts featuring Hillary Clinton, Monica Lewinsky and a vulgar joke. The back of the shirts read: “TRUMP THAT B----!”

One woman laughed and said to the man with her: “You have to get one!” A group of four middle-aged women pulled out their wallets and tried to bargain the vendors down from $20. One of the vendors shouted again and again: “Trump that b----! Trump that b----!” A guy walking past responded: “That’s right!”

The front of the shirt features images of Clinton and Lewinsky with the wording: “Hillary sucks but not like Monica.”
-- From a June 16, 2016, story in the Washington Post by Jenna Johnson. The T-shirts refer to Democratic presidential candidate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and are sold at rallies held by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Comment: "Bitch" is vulgar language, and perhaps spans a few different kinds of name-calling, including sexual, "subhuman", and "disgusting".

Recalling Rep. Joe Wilson’s 2009 outburst during President Barack Obama’s address to a joint session of Congress, former Attorney General Eric Holder didn’t mince words regarding the South Carolina congressman.

“Somebody should have smacked his a--,” Holder told ESPN's The Undefeated in an interview. “They should have ... told him to sit the f--- down.”
-- Former Attorney General Eric Holder, as related in a June 2, 2016, story by Louis Nelson of Politico.

Comment: This is violent rhetoric, as well as vulgar.

1) Profited off of 9/11
2) Rooted for the housing crash
3) Ran a fraudulent university
4) Sued for tax dodging
5) Is a dick
-- Political consultant Jon Favreau, May 20, 2016, referring to Republican presidential contender Donald Trump.

Comment: Favreau's fifth point is name-calling, perhaps of the "disgusting" variety, but certainly vulgar.

"She was favored to win and she got schlonged, she lost."
-- Republican presidential contender Donald Trump, December 21, 2015, referring to Democratic presidential contender former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her failure to win the Democratic nomination in 2008.

Comment: I'm not sure what kind of name-calling this would amount to, though it's clear Trump's language ("schlong" is Yiddish for "penis") has a vulgar sexual connotation.

(The list above is not intended to be a comprehensive record of all relevant examples.)

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