Sticks and Stones: The Philosophy of Insults

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Oxford University Press, Dec 7, 2007 - Philosophy - 304 pages
"Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me." This schoolyard rhyme projects an invulnerability to verbal insults that sounds good but rings false. Indeed, the need for such a verse belies its own claims. For most of us, feeling insulted is a distressing-and distressingly common-experience. In Sticks and Stones, philosopher Jerome Neu probes the nature, purpose, and effects of insults, exploring how and why they humiliate, embarrass, infuriate, and wound us so deeply. What kind of injury is an insult? Is it determined by the insulter or the insulted? What does it reveal about the character of both parties as well as the character of society and its conventions? What role does insult play in social and legal life? When is telling the truth an insult? Neu draws upon a wealth of examples and anecdotes-as well as a range of views from Aristotle and Oliver Wendell Holmes to Oscar Wilde, John Wayne, Katherine Hepburn, and many others-to provide surprising answers to these questions. He shows that what we find insulting can reveal much about our ideas of character, honor, gender, the nature of speech acts, and social and legal conventions. He considers how insults, both intentional and unintentional, make themselves felt-in play, Freudian slips, insult humor, rituals, blasphemy, libel, slander, and hate speech. And he investigates the insult's extraordinary power, why it can so quickly destabilize our sense of self and threaten our moral identity, the very center of our self-respect and self-esteem. Entertaining, humorous, and deeply insightful, Sticks and Stones unpacks the fascinating dynamics of a phenomenon more often painfully experienced than clearly understood.

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Sticks and stones: the philosophy of insults

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Drawing on his position as a professor of humanities (Univ. of California, Santa Cruz; A Tear Is an Intellectual Thing), Neu gives us a wide-ranging, thought-provoking, and incredibly readable-if ... Read full review


On Feeling Insulted
Honor Slaps and Swords
Insult in Play and Ritual
Assault from the Rear
The Language of Abuse
Insult in the Law Fighting Words Obscenity and Hate Speech
Insult in the Law Libel and Slander
Insult in the Law Blasphemy
Insult Humor
To Understand All Is to Forgive AllOr Is It?

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About the author (2007)

Jerome Neu is Professor of Humanities at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and the author of A Tear is an Intellectual Thing (OUP 1999). He lives in Capitola, California.

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