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Saturday, May 21, 2011

What naughty words apply to a man?

Philanderer, cad, and lecher, the list is almost endless

Thursday's Globe and Mail has a thought-provoking column by Russell Smith, in which he points out that the emotive tone of certain words undermines the presumption of innocence.

Yes, he is talking about Dominique Strauss-Kahn (pictured), the recently resigned head of the International Monetary Fund, who was detached from his first class seat in a plane to land in a rather nasty jail, on a charge of sexual predation.

The "flexibility of the English language," is undermining the case for the defense, Smith says.  All the words that have been applied to the innocent-until-proven-guilty DSK are perjorative, involving a presumption of guilt.

Personally, I have always had trouble finding a word to describe a man in search of a sexual target.  "Lothario" has generally been the best I can come up with, but Russell Smith produces a most impressive list.

Skirt-chaser. Ladies' man. Lady-killer. Playboy. Casanova. Romeo. Don Juan (what it is with those southern Europeans?). Wolf. Philanderer. Cad. Gigolo.

I would suggest, though, that with the exception of the last, none of them are as deeply insulting as the words applied to sexually active women.  The one that leaps to mind is "whore."  Another is "slut."

And why are "whore" and "slut" more deeply insulting than any of the words applied to men?  Because of the presumption of payment.


Shayne Parkinson said...

Oh, a topic close to my heart! Not DSK, but the words and their moral import.

I found a wealth of abusive words that might be flung at a Victorian woman who was considered to have misbehaved, but for a man it was much more of a struggle. There's the hint of admiration (or envy) in phrases like "a bit of a lad", or "ladies' man". "Cad", "rogue" or "scoundrel" are a bit better, but mild compared with "whore" or "slut".

Interesting to see that this is still the case in modern language. Perhaps the double standard, albeit weakened, lingers on.

Helen Lowe said...

I think "libertine" had a reasonably pejorative tone in the Victorian era; (vile) seducer was another--but I agree that there is neither the same range of words or pejorative depth within that range as--for example--not just "whore" or "slut", but also "slattern", "jade", "hussy" etc

Joan Druett said...

Victorian indeed! It goes back to that strange (to our eyes) concept of True Womanhood, where female virtue was supposed to be impregnable, though men, being naturally more sensual, couldn't help trying to assault it. So a "fallen" woman had only herself to blame for her predicament. What a cop-out for the Victorian male!