The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







An insult is a statement or action which affronts or demeans someone.

An insult may be intentional or accidental. An example of the latter is a well-intended simple explanation, which in fact is superfluous, but is given due to underestimating intelligence or knowledge of the other.

Whether speech or behavior is insulting, in practice and sometimes by the terms of local assault statutes, is often a product of the subjective sense of the person insulted. But insults to one person who might not mind the derogatory speech may indirectly insult others. Many states and local municipalities enforce prohibitions against rude, offensive or insulting speech, leaving citizens, law enforcement officers and courts to decide what is and what is not an insult. The concept of fighting words as a form of prohibited speech has developed in the jurisprudence of U.S. constitutional law concerning terms of disparagement. But insults offered as satire in an artistic venue are usually regarded as protected speech.

The role of insults in the social sense may be better understood by an appreciation of how the term is used in a medical setting. Though a popular idiom refers to "adding insult to injury," in a medical context they are the same. Physicians examine injuries resulting from an insult to flesh and bones, caused by various traumatic events. In speech and in social settings, insults are words that tend to injure the psyche. In humor, insults may be exchanged in much the way fighters exchange blows in training, to develop a resistance to the pain of mild injuries, or to spar with no real intention of seriously injuring the other.

Perceptions of insulting language often vary, and often depend on the context and persons involved as much as the actual words. For example, in 21st century America, African American descendants of former slaves hold mixed views of the term "nigger", sometimes using it as a rugged form of mutual affection in popular culture, but resenting the term when used in pejorative sense, especially when spoken by members of other ethnic groups. But other African-Americans take offense at any use of the term even between friends, holding that even shared affectionately perhaps as a sign of strength, acts as a term of mutual degradation, and inevitably serves to degrade African-Americans in general. Another example would be reference (even in a joke) to stereotypical aspects of a person, for example jokingly linking a person's Jewishness with a joke about money, or a person's Irishness or Pole nationality with their intelligence.

Insults are not limited to words. Behavioral expectations create boundaries that, when crossed, can be the substance of insults. A guest who wears casual clothing to a formal event might offend the host of a party. At times the casual wearing of military garb has been seen or intended as an insult to the uniform, or the deliberate adoption of some affectation mannerism or clothing may be used as a "slap in the face" (a deliberate insult). Misuse of flags, especially burning a national flag, is usually intended and taken as an insult.

The examination of insulting language reveals the tensions between social classes and ethnic groups in modern society, where expectations are sometimes viewed as insulting by some and failure to comply with those expectations being seen as insulting by others.

Profanity is frequently used as part of insults to strengthen their emotional impact. Some body parts, although useful, may be of low esteem; the word may then be used as insult. For example, the word asshole is used to imply disapproval for the behavior or morals of another, but tends to imply the behavior resulted from a character flaw.

Sociologists suggest insults are often an indicator of flawed reasoning about the character or motivation of others. Though insults are common, and often used in jest, a fundamental axiom of sociology recognizes that derogatory forms of speech make erroneous attributions about the motivation of a person. Scholars classify the erroneous assumptions as the fundamental attribution error.

Insults may be partially categorized as follows:

See also

External links and references

  • Maledicta: The International Journal of Verbal Aggression (ISSN US 0363-3659)

In medicine, insult is a synonym for injury or trauma, for example "brain insult" (brain damage).

In regards to the perfect insult, the insult must be succinct, sharp, and hurtful. In many ways the insult is used to degrade the self esteem of another. Additionally, the insult is used in association with a quip or other smart remarks.

Last updated: 05-07-2005 09:38:23
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04