Knowing what words mean

David Thompson did a post telling me off for saying ‘pussy’ is a sexist epithet. He also, very oddly, emailed me to tell me about the post, as if I would be pleased and interested. This is odd because as far as I’m concerned we’ve been on non-speakers since another post he did last July, a rather unfunny one about jokes about women. I was alienated because (having been as it were invited) I commented on that post, somewhat acidly, and was rewarded with three pages worth of sexist garbage. Want a sample? (Relevant, your honour; goes to the question of sexism.)

“Obviously Ophelia is on her period. Now have a seat and let a big, strong man bring you some cold water and a towel to deal with your bad case of the vapors.” That was probably the stupidest, but there was plenty more of the kind of thing. David Thompson has a policy of not interfering with comments, so there they all still are, demonstrating that there is no such thing as misogyny, or something. I concluded that I would not be reading David Thompson’s blog any more – not just because I think people should get rid of personally insulting comments of that kind, but also because the comments were nearly all so unpleasantly stupid and truculent, so as if the commenters all aspired to be Rush Limbaugh. It’s interesting how comments can ruin a blog. That’s why I don’t have a policy of not interfering with comments; I think that’s such a mistake.

So, as I say, David Thompson emailed me to tell me about this new post, which is another one about the non-reality of sexism and how it’s all in my mind. And just to make sure there is no uncertainty about that, there are more of the – erm – slightly crude comments (and backtracks to even cruder posts by other people). The next-to-latest is “Why do we give a shit that some cunt-flapper is offended?” Now why would I think for a second that there is such a thing as a sexist epithet? I can’t imagine, and I’m sure you can’t either.

But, ironically, in the post David Thompson said something (I assume inadvertently) that gave me a hint as to why there is confusion about the word ‘pussy.’

On the very rare occasions I’ve used the word – ironically and with a terrible American accent – I’ve used it to denote a kind of feebleness. Naïve soul that I am, I took the intended meaning here to be that Allah appears to be a sissy, coward or weakling, perhaps rather pampered, like a house cat; not that Allah in some way resembles the female genitals…

You see it? With an American accent. That indicates to me that he has picked up the word from American movies and cable tv shows, without knowing what it means, and without knowing he doesn’t know what it means. That’s easy enough to do. Traveling in the other direction, I’m pretty sure that very few Americans know what ‘wanker’ means. I used to think to plotz was to flop down on a chair or other comfortable spot, and I used it that way, and finally someone gently informed me that it means ‘explode.’ This happened just a few years ago. I didn’t know what it meant, and I didn’t know I didn’t know what it meant. Fine – but then when someone told me what it meant, I realized that I had had it wrong. It’s not completely clear to me why David Thompson and others can’t manage to draw the same conclusion. DT says in the post, and told me via email, that he assumed it derived from pusillanimous. Understandable; but it doesn’t. It means female genitalia, and people who think it means something like kitty kitty are making an understandable mistake but still a mistake. People who make that mistake, and rebuke people who point out the mistake, and call them cunt-flappers – are being what David Thompson told me I was being: presumptuous.

(By the way: I looked it up in Webster’s Third at the library; one definition is female genitals, esp. vulva.)

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