What offends you the most

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"Dumb", "disabled", "gay": Many insults in the German language are made at the expense of certain groups. Why Nazis aren't stupid and why we should be careful how we insult people, explains author Seyda Kurt.

From: Kathrin Wiewe

Status: October 20, 2020

Mrs. Kurt, what was the last insult you made?

I use the word "shit" quite a lot. So I curse "shit" to myself, but I also use that to insult other people. So that someone is a "shit person" or a "shit guy".

This is not done at the expense of others. At whose expense are most of the insults in the German language?

That depends on what environment, what milieu and what age group you are in. I think younger people have a lot of sexist insults, like "son of a bitch" for example. It was very popular with us in the schoolyard. There are many sexist and sex worker-hostile insults.

In my environment, and I also speak of myself, there is very little sensitivity to ableist insults, that is, what affects people with disabilities. You know that when people use the word "disabled" as a devaluation. But that doesn't stop there: "something is totally stupid" or "something is crazy" - it all falls into this ableist category. The point is to belittle people with disabilities or people with mental illnesses.

So is "stupid" a politically incorrect insult?

In a certain sense, if one assumes that with "stupid" and "clever" a very binary way of thinking is opened up in our society in order to judge the intelligence of people. But many areas of the natural sciences say, for example, that there are no such things as stupid people per se. So I find it difficult to continue this binary way of thinking. And I find it problematic because these categories are also linked to moral categories in our society. So that "smart" is good and "stupid" is bad. And that is often used to degrade poor people or people from educationally disadvantaged families.

And sometimes I wonder if you're just too lazy to think about what you actually mean by "stupid". So, for example, there is also this saying: "Nazis are stupid". What does it mean that Nazis are stupid? If you look at right-wing parties, in Germany for example the AfD, there are so many people with a doctorate. So does it mean that they are uneducated? They are not either. They are just simply racist.

What does it say about someone at whose expense he offends?

Either the person is not sensitized enough. This happens very often in the ableist area. Although I also think that you always have a responsibility for what you say. And if you use sexist or homophobic terms, for example, I assume that this person is actually homophobic or has no problem reproducing such meanings and ascriptions.

What does that lead to in people's minds if one continues to reproduce it?

Insults work very strongly by breaking taboos. I think that shows very well what is taboo in our society, what is stigmatized, what is marginalized. It helps at least in part to normalize certain attributions. And you should think about it yourself: How does our society actually work? What is being upgraded and devalued here?

Do you have a guide on how to insult politically correctly?

There are certain tips and tricks. So they are not always harmless either. For example, I give the advice that you can use animal names or more neutral areas of language, such as objects. But even there you always have to look, because there are still terms that are simply connoted in some way for historical reasons. Also in the animal sector, the "crazy chicken" in relation to women or the "stupid cow".

There are also narrative slurs. A formula that I find very nice comes from Yiddish: "The mutt should lose all teeth except one, so that he can have a toothache". Otherwise I find the faecal area, for example, very interesting in the German language, because terms like "Scheiße" or "Kacke" have such strong and powerful sounds through this double S or this "ck".

Do you have a few words that you can just throw at everyone's feet in a politically correct manner?

I think "asshole" is relatively harmless because there is no group of assholes who are discriminated against in our society. The linguist Anatol Stefanowitsch once said that. Otherwise I think something like "ass fiddle" is quite nice. As a good alternative to "son of a bitch" you can just say "son of a bitch". I also like "bastard", so very classic.

Finally, what is your favorite insult?

In the dialect, for example in Berlin, there are quite a lot of insults and swear words, something like "Fatzke", "Rabenaas", "du fake Fuffziger". You can always find very funny things in dialects. Or when it comes to vegetables, I think "you cabbage" is quite nice.

Seyda Kurt

is a writer, columnist and presenter. She writes and speaks about film and theater, intersectional feminism, anti-racism and domestic politics.

At the Zündfunk Netzkongress 2020 she leads the workshop "Politically correct insulting".