Anyone with cable television or an Internet hookup knows all too well that this is the dawning of the age of the douchebag. While the term for a feminine hygiene implement traces its history back to 1685, its slang incarnation now proliferates on the airwaves and the Web. Face it: We're surrounded by douchebags.

This comes as no surprise to the nation's linguists. They even have a term for this sort of thing: pejoration. That's when a neutral word takes on a negative meaning. The Oxford English Dictionary traces this process back to 1967, when "douchebag" was a popular epithet for "an unattractive coed"; it has since morphed into "a general term of disparagement, esp. for an unattractive or boring person."

James Matisoff, an emeritus professor in UC Berkeley's linguistics department, concurs that douchebag's pejoration has snowballed in recent years. The culprits: Jon Stewart and his comedic brethren. "On cable, you can use a word which has a perfectly innocent meaning — like 'balls' or 'nuts,'" he says. "Jon Stewart can use it freely. If he were to say 'fuck,' 'shit,' or 'cunt,' that gets bleeped." (Incidentally, Stewart does, and they are.) The words "douche" and "douchebag" seem to be mentioned daily on The Daily Show, whether it's John Oliver reporting on George Washington ("a quintessential American douche"), Jason Jones explaining how Mitt Romney was stumping for "the douchebag vote," or Stewart himself awarding Robert Novak the Huge Douchebag award.

Yet among those who study profanity for a living, the douchebag is kid stuff. Reinhold Aman of Cotati publishes Maledicta, "the international journal of verbal aggression." He rattles off a series of curses that knock the vinegar out of douchebag: "I shit in the beard of your father" (Persia); "Your mother's milk is camel's piss" (the Arab world); "Your parents have diseased genitals" (Ghana); and "I fuck the soul of your dead mother" (Serbian Gypsies). He hesitates before revealing the most vile, horrific curse he's ever come across, a lament from Hungary's peasantry: "Oh God, stop slapping me in the face with your cock all covered with shit from fucking Jesus."

Aman pauses to let that one settle in. "Douchebag is nothing! It's harmless, like an enema, you know?"

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15 comments
RealityCheck
RealityCheck

The term as an insult is nonsensical hogwash - it is used when multiple people are annoyed at the same person for unjustifiable reasons.  Win a game against multiple people and cheer?  Douchebag!  Steal the girl someone else was talking to?  Douchebag!  Make a profound and compelling argument that stops everyone listening dead in their tracks?  Minute to ponder the awesomness of what was just said... oh I mean Douchebag!


It's so transparent, I don't understand how people can take it seriously.

Bill
Bill

The first time I believe I heard it used on mainstream media happened come from the 1984 movie "Revenge of the Nerds".

Imogen
Imogen

I think there's an important thing you're missing. Lots of insults, like "asshole" or "fucker" or "dick" or, I don't know, "cocksucker," or even "faggot" or "bitch," take something that's not necessarily always a bad thing and make it into one. Like, lots of people have assholes, and we would be in trouble without them. And being a faggot is a great thing! Same with being a bitch.

But douchebags? Douching is bad news, man, it is bad for you. And it's the kind of bad news that's perpetuated by evil companies trying to convince you that you need to wash out that filthy cunt. When in reality your cunt is taking care of itself. So... I don't know, if you're being pretty intentional about the language you use, douchebag winds up being a really effective way of disparaging someone. Whereas, y'know, I like my asshole.

Philip
Philip

Do your research, Douche is not a term for a boring person, it's an a**hole. If you are a douche, you know it and wear it proudly, see also tool, toolbox and asshat, whatever happened to responsible journalism????

Tony
Tony

You're giving Jon Stewart too much credit. In the beginning of the movie "E.T." (1982), one of the older brother's friends calls Elliot a 'douche bag' before walking in the house after looking outside for the 'goblin'. A full 14 years before the Daily Show aired (1996)

Margot
Margot

Just want to say- in my circle, douchbag does not mean "a general term of disparagement, esp. for an unattractive or boring person.". It's more for a cocky and way-too-into-themselves jerk who thinks their slick and smart and blah blah blah... like a frat boy.

Shrub Niggurath
Shrub Niggurath

This is news? Haven't people always said "douchebag"? Or just the classy bunch I run with?

This is like "MILF" all over again. We talked about MILFS in grade school back in the late '80s. Fast-forward to 1999 and "American Pie" and it starts to creep into the pop culture lexicon. Now you have, um, MILFs on reality shows describing themselves as such.

But "douchebag" is positively ancient. Didn't the Fonz used to say it?

Dirk Flinthart
Dirk Flinthart

I like the Hungarian plaint. But... the most impressive I've ever heard came from Papua New Guinea. I heard it from a very well educated chap who explained that I should never, ever pass it on because it starts tribal wars when used. That being so, I won't give you the Pidgin version, but in English, it comes out as: "You eat your mother's cunt."

What you have to understand is that in Papua, there's very little tradition of oral sex - but quite a strong tradition of cannibalism. Get the picture?

There's more to it than simple incestual cannibalism, of course. The Papuans venerate the male and female generative organs. It's part of the animist religious beliefs of the area. So... yeah. While the Hungarian one manages religion and incest and homosexuality, the Papuans add cannibalism on top of that.

Papuans 1, Hungarians 0.

grandtd02
grandtd02

@Philip Do your research, Douche is not a term for a boring person, it's an a**hole. If you are a douche, you know it and wear it proudly, see also tool, toolbox and asshat, whatever happened to responsible journalism????

yueatyourmotherscunt
yueatyourmotherscunt

@roflcopter Thanks for providing an example of some incredibly weak American swearing.

 
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