The epithet question

I’m curious about something. To the best of my knowledge, a sexist epithet is a sexist epithet. There’s not generally a lot of ambiguity about it, although there’s always room for ironic uses in private conversation and so on. In public discourse, a sexist epithet is what it is. Yet – I keep encountering people who dispute that, in places where I wouldn’t expect to, such as comments on Jesus and Mo. So I’m curious about what other people think.

A commenter said ‘the god of Islam is such a pussy. He is unable to do a thing to protect himself or his reputation and must rely on his minions to do his dirty work.’ I took exception, and someone replied by quoting one of Julian’s Bad Moves from here, on the fact that many words have multiple meanings. True enough, but is there more than one way to understand ‘pussy’ in that comment? Not that I know of.

What’s interesting is that I think that’s pretty widely understood, even by people who pretend or believe otherwise. One reason I think that is that I don’t know anyone who uses the word that way in conversation or correspondence with me. I don’t think that’s an accident; I think it’s because no one who knows me thinks it would be welcome – and for all I know this includes people who do use the word in conversation with other people. The point is that if people avoid the word with (at least) certain audiences, then the meaning is probably pretty clear. Am I wrong?

Certain epithets just are not really ambiguous; they can’t be. ‘Nigger’ is the best known in the US and maybe elsewhere; kike, raghead, kaffir are a few more. Queer and dyke have been reclaimed, and there is a school of thought that ‘bitch’ has but I think on the contrary, ‘bitch’ is more viciously misogynist than ever. And so are, as far as I know, pussy, twat and cunt. It is my considered opinion that no one who comments on Jesus and Mo would have the gall to call the barmaid any of those things, and that if I’m right about that, they should stop using them at all.

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