Insults in political discourse have been part of American culture at least since Mark Twain wrote: “Reader, suppose you were an idiot; and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself.”
Modern pop culture has a certain affinity for insults, ranging from America’s love for Don Rickles to MTV’s insult contest show “Yo Momma.”
Highlighted in the news last week was Rahm Emanuel’s use of the word “retarded” to describe Democrats, which according to Sarah Palin is not OK because he meant it as an insult, and Rush Limbaugh’s use of the word “retarded” to describe Democrats, which Sarah finds OK because he used it as satire.
Wait…what? Never mind.
mental retardation – Subnormal intellectual development or functioning that is the result of congenital causes, brain injury, or disease and is characterized by any of various deficiencies, ranging from impaired learning ability to social and vocational inadequacy. The American Heritage Medical Dictionary
There is a cycle that repeats itself in the world of insults, having to do with adopting scientific medical terms and using them as insults. The weird rules that apply to “socially acceptable” insults eventually catches up to the medical dictionary usurpers and the PC police try to shut them down. Some insults, it seems, are just too insulting.
But the usurpers have traditionally won the battle, and the medical terms are removed from the medical books, to live out eternity in the land of misfit words.
For instance, the words idiot, imbecile and moron all started out as medical terminology, not insults. So much a part of the acceptable lexicon were they that the constitutions of Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio and New Mexico were written to say an “idiot” can’t vote. New Jersey’s constitution says you can’t vote if you are an “idiot” or “insane” (until the last gubernatorial election, it appeared this provision of the New Jersey Constitution was being fully ignored).
Some words, like midget, are still in medical dictionaries, but with a disclaimer against usage as it is now a pejorative term.
Odd as it seems, America allows the purveyors of insults to trump the purveyors of science in deciding which words are acceptable. Imagine a doctor telling parents of a child, “I’m sorry, your son is an imbecilic, idiot, retarded moron, destined to live out his life on public assistance or as chairman of the Democratic National Committee.”
The doctor would have used nothing but scientific terms, but all would agree his bedside manner is atrocious and his civility beneath that of a treating physician. The medical terms are now insults. Don Rickles wins.
It makes you wonder what the world would come to if insult comics were to decide to wreck havoc on our language and eternally chase doctors around the thesaurus.
What if, and this is scary so sit down, but just what if insult comics began abusing the word “challenged?” For instance, “How do you become an American president? Be the most challenged man from Kenya!” Or, “Sarah Palin? Stupider than a challenged moose in mating season!”
Where, or to what word, will the doctors run next?
Tommy De Seno is a political columnist with the triCityNews in New Jersey, a Fox News Forum contributor and editor of the blog Justified Right.