Insults and Aspersions

By Maeve Maddox

Like the rabbit Thumper in Bambi, I was brought up on the admonition, “if you can’t say nuthin’ nice, don’t say nuthin’ at all.”

How times have changed! Not only has insult come to pervade public discourse, the Web abounds with insult generators to assist the invective-challenged.

For instance, creative types who want to add a little class to their abuse can consult a Shakespearean insult generator.

The word insult derives from Latin insultare, “to attack”; literally, “to jump on.” In medicine, an insult is anything that attacks or causes injury to the body. The verb insult means to display a scornful attitude towards someone by speech or behavior.

As I have always understood the word, an insult is a deliberate attack on someone’s feelings, but there’s some evidence that for some folks, even a remark devoid of hurtful intention may be construed as an insult if it disagrees with one’s own views.

This is from an article offering advice about how to respond to insults:

It can be hard to know what to do when someone makes a thoughtful remark that is insulting to your convictions, values or beliefs

I can see how one person’s “thoughtful remark” might be offensive to someone of differing beliefs, but I don’t see how it’s insulting.

Here are some synonyms for the noun insult:
jibe
affront
slight
barb
slur
indignity
injury
libel
slander
declamation
abuse [uh-BYUS]
disparagement
aspersion (usually in the plural)
dig
crack
put-down
slap in the face
kick in the teeth
cheap shot
low blow

Here are synonyms for the verb to insult:
abuse [uh-BYUZE]
be rude to
slight
disparage
discredit
libel
slander
malign
defame
denigrate
cast aspersions on
call someone names
put someone down
affront
humiliate
wound
badmouth
dis
calumniate

Note on aspersions:
A reader asked me if one can do anything with aspersions other than cast them. The answer seems to be, “No.” The word aspersions comes from the verb asperse, “to besprinkle or bespatter.”

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9 Responses to “Insults and Aspersions”

  • Rebekah

    This was an awesome post. It was a wonderful way to point out a faulty way of thinking through examining the actual meaning of the word. I love the distinction between deliberately attacking a person’s feelings (insult) versus attacking their argument (critique?).

  • Lucia

    on insult… you mention it is a physical harm, so a psycological harm does not count. I am referring to concurrent comments on social media about illegal immigrants. I am an immigrant, and even though not illegal, I take it as an insult, especially coming from people who interact with me, or work with me who knows I am a foreigner. What is the correct word for a psycological insult?

    thank you. Love your blog.

  • venqax

    Good one, MM. I think the distinction is probably worth emphasizing. Somewhat akin to imply/infer. An insult is delivered, an offense is received, right? You could not say that someone has insulted you if they didn’t intend to, or just because you perceive what he said as insulting. In fact if it was unintended you have been offended, not insulted. Is this the nub of it?

  • D.A.W.

    A character in the original TV series STAR TREK said “You’re a hard man, Captain Kirk!”.
    (This was “Harry Mudd”.)
    Of course, Capt. Kirk did not take it as an insult, but rather he took it in a positive way!
    ——————————————-
    Likewise, someone might have said, “You’re a hard man, General Eisenhower!”
    I can imagine that from General Patton, Field Marshal Montgomery, and a lot of German officers…

  • D.A.W.

    In the film PATTON (and the books that it was based on), Patton said, “Eisenhower called me ‘despicable’. nobody has ever called me despicable before.”
    This was in the reprimand that Eisenhower gave Patton over his slapping of a shell-shocked soldier in Italy. Actually, Patton did that twice, and he was lucky that Gens. Eisenhower and Marshall did not send him back to the U.S. permanently.

    Also, Eisenhower nearly dismissed Montgomery in France or Belgium. Then Montgomery decided that Eisenhower really was the Supreme Commander…
    Eisenhower also had President Roosevelt on his side.

  • Paul McFarland

    One could I suppose spew aspersions.

  • venqax

    If the word became common enough, I’m sure that soon you could asperse aspersions then shortly be able to asperse any number of things. Then you would need to “asperse insults” at folks so as to be clear. Noun, verb, turtle shell, they’re all the same thing!

  • venqax

    The difference between 1) something being intended or taken as either an insult or a compliment and 2) an insult and an offense, are 2 entirely different things. The article is about 2), not 1).

  • Rich Wheeler

    In “wishful thinking,” a person perceives something desirable but non-existent. Are there any terms that describe the perception of something undesirable, especially an insult, where none exists?

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