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Is the word "prick" considered offensive?
April 14, 2012 10:29 AM   Subscribe

Is the word "prick" considered offensive?

I've never been sure about this, and sort of have the same question about "asshole." As the author of "The No Asshole Rule" says, sometimes no other word will do in describing certain people or certain behaviors.
posted by Jon44 to Human Relations (49 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
I would say prick is more offensive then asshole but not as bad as cunt. I do think though it depends on the context and company.
posted by momochan at 10:33 AM on April 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


It reads as fairly mild to me, harsher than jerk, less harsh than asshole.
posted by The Whelk at 10:34 AM on April 14, 2012 [10 favorites]


I wouldn't consider it a compliment, that's for sure.

Seriously, even if it were an accurate description of my bad behavior, calling me a prick would not put me in a receptive frame of mind for whatever comes out of your mouth after that. Saying that it's not as bad as asshole ain't saying much.
posted by Longtime Listener at 10:36 AM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well prick is a sexist term, so it's offensive to people who object to deriding someone for their sex/gender. It reduces a man to his anatomy, so it's offensive to males who identify as anything more than priapic extensions.

It's also an easy word to spit out. I usually hear it pronounced with emphatic spite, presumably with intent to insult. Though I have heard it used neutrally by a woman to reduce a man to his anatomy. She didn't mind that he was only and quite literally a prick to her.
posted by carsonb at 10:38 AM on April 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'm to sure what you're asking. If you call me or anyone close to me a prick, I'd be offended. So it's offensive in that sense. (Unless you're a close friend, and you yelled, "you prick!!" as I took the last cookie or something. These things are always context-dependent.)

But it's not Offensive with a capital O -- it's not racist or anything, e.g.
posted by kestrel251 at 10:39 AM on April 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's a word you wouldn't say in front of schoolchildren or the Queen of England, so in that sense it's an offensive ("bad") word.

I agree with The Whelk that on the scale of insults that mean similar things, it's between 'jerk' and 'asshole' in intensity.

Do you mean, is it offensive to men in the sense of being a sexist term?
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:41 AM on April 14, 2012


Just because a word is accurate doesn't mean that it's polite. In fact, I think rudeness often makes the mistake of valuing brutal honesty over anyone else's feelings. True politeness, I think, is the habit of valuing kindness over accuracy when there isn't anything else at stake.
posted by colfax at 10:44 AM on April 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


Prick and Asshole are both words that you'd leave out of polite conversation with people you don't know well, especially if you are in a public setting (a nice dinner, for example) or among company that you'd like to impress (parents in law, work clients, etc.). If you want an easy way to figure out when it's appropriate to use these kinds of words, the game of it is to try to avoid being the first person in the group who does it.
posted by hermitosis at 10:49 AM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Just to clarify, I'm asking whether it's a word you'd use in polite company to describe a behavior or person that's not present.
posted by Jon44 at 10:49 AM on April 14, 2012


Personally, I think prick and asshole are sort of equal in intensity. They are both crude anatomical terms describing parts that are considered taboo in public.
posted by hermitosis at 10:51 AM on April 14, 2012


I wouldn't use it in polite company because you don't say anything that might be offensive in polite company, your social formalities may vary however.
posted by The Whelk at 10:51 AM on April 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


stinker -> jerk -> douchemonkey -> asshole -> fuckwad -> shitstain -> bitch/dickhead/cunt/prick -> racial/homophobic slurs

So yes, in my circle, it's offensive and not something you'd use in front of a coworker you don't know or your partner's grandparents. But then I also know people who throw "prick" around like monkeys playing with turds and it's not even a thing. Know your audience.
posted by goosechasing at 10:52 AM on April 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'm asking whether it's a word you'd use in polite company to describe a behavior or person that's not present.

No. There are people who can pull this off, but if you're the kind of person who wonders or cares about this enough to ask, then it's not worth the risk.
posted by hermitosis at 10:52 AM on April 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think it's interchangeable with "dick" and I wouldn't use it in polite company, and certainly not in a context where it's likely to be gossiped back to the subject.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:52 AM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Midwesterner here -
On the bar fight meter, calling someone a prick is an 8.

I think it breaks down like this.

motherfucker - 9
prick - 8
asshole - 7
jagoff - 6
dipshit - 5

(Also, for some reason "fuckstick" is a 10. As in - "Hey fuckstick what's your problem?". It seems to be a word that makes people start swinging. That might just be a southwest side of Chicago thing)
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 10:53 AM on April 14, 2012 [8 favorites]


Prick is a more intense version of dick. If you call someone a dick, it can imply non-offensive behaviors or unawareness. A prick, though, is someone who's a jerk on purpose.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:53 AM on April 14, 2012 [15 favorites]


I think it can only be used in polite company if you have a native highbrow British accent.
posted by bitdamaged at 10:54 AM on April 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


"I'm asking whether it's a word you'd use in polite company to describe a behavior or person that's not present."

No. Of course in "polite" company i'd be more likely to explain in much more detail what makes him a prick. With friends I'd say "What a prick." (Okay, I wouldn't, it's not really in my lexicon, but you get what I'm after.)

I'd love to hear the background for this question.
posted by Ookseer at 10:55 AM on April 14, 2012


I think it can only be used in polite company if you have a native highbrow British accent.
I possess such an accent. It can't! Not even when used by Shakeapeare.
posted by rongorongo at 11:26 AM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Prick is what you call someone who is a dick, but you want them to know you mean it.

There's rarely a scenario in which someone feels better for being called a prick.
posted by MuffinMan at 11:27 AM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Very interesting that some people (areas?) think it's more intense/offensive than 'asshole' and others think it's less.

To my ear, midatlantic U.S., it's less intense than asshole, such that it's a borderline word I could imagine using around older relatives and them using it around me, whereas 'asshole' is not a word I would use around them or vice versa.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:32 AM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Of course it's offensive and not a polite word to use.
posted by J. Wilson at 11:36 AM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Seconding rongorongo: I too have such an accent, and would not use the word 'prick' (or 'arsehole', or 'wanker', which I regard as being words at a similar level of offensiveness) in polite company. Faced with the need to describe such a person, I'd probably say the guy "had no redeeming features" or "was a complete..." [trail off, shaking head].
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 11:39 AM on April 14, 2012


You wouldn't use it in polite company, to describe anyone or any thing. Pretty much by definition.

It's not sexist - that's preposterous.
posted by iotic at 11:41 AM on April 14, 2012


I call somebody a prick (or a dickhead, or an asshole, or a fuckhead, or a jerkoff, or a business casual dipshit, etc.) when I think that they are deliberately acting in an aggressive or rude way and they offend me. I expect that either the situation will escalate into an actual argument and I will continue berating them until they back down, or they will back down then and there. Which word I actually use turns mostly on how pissed off I am at the time.

I use any of the above words specifically and only to cause offense.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 11:44 AM on April 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


stinker -> jerk -> douchemonkey -> asshole -> fuckwad -> shitstain -> bitch/dickhead/cunt/prick -> racial/homophobic slurs

Bitch is not in the same category as dickhead, cunt, and prick. You can hear bitch on regular network TV any night of the week. You're not going to hear the other three words except on cable and even then you will probably rarely hear cunt. I agree with others here that prick is a more intense version of dick and neither one is for "polite" conversation (unless dick is used in reference to a P.I., e.g. Shaft, and nowadays that usage usually seems to have the air of being a double entendre).

It's not sexist - that's preposterous.

I don't know about sexist but isn't prick generally used only to refer to men? It hasn't quite crossed the gender line like bitch has.
posted by fuse theorem at 11:46 AM on April 14, 2012


As the author of "The No Asshole Rule" says, sometimes no other word will do in describing certain people or certain behaviors.

If that's as far as his diction gets, it doesn't say much of him as a writer. (That, or it's his justification for the attention grabbing title of his book, which otherwise would get lost in the glutted Business Section. Myself, I found the title word so intrusive and distracting when I thumbed through the pages as to destroy the message.)

Offensive and rude, yes. But also lazy and unmemorable. In general, whenever in doubt, find a substitution. Plenty of instruction available.
posted by IndigoJones at 12:04 PM on April 14, 2012


Bitch is not in the same category as dickhead, cunt, and prick. You can hear bitch on regular network TV any night of the week.

Even though "bitch" and "ass" are regularly heard on network television (as well as "damn" and "hell"), that doesn't mean that those words are appropriate in polite company. Call me a prude, but if I was at a corporate function or meeting a group of disparate people at some gathering I would personally be taken aback if someone used "bitch" or "ass" in casual conversation without known any of us, our backgrounds, habits, religious convictions, etc. There's a reason we call it "polite" company - you do your best to use language that will not offend anyone, from the minister's wife to the owner of the local truck stop.
posted by Oriole Adams at 12:10 PM on April 14, 2012


In polite company, I think the harshest I would get is "jerk," so yes, I guess I'd consider it offensive.

More generally, I tend to think of it as slightly less harsh than dick, but it's also not a go-to word for me. I probably wouldn't use it at all.
posted by asciident at 12:16 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Though I have heard it used neutrally by a woman to reduce a man to his anatomy.

"Neutrally"?! Ha! Of course the word is offensive — that's the point. It's the exact equivalent of other words that reduce someone to a gender-specific part of their anatomy as a way to aggressively insult them. However, people are clearly able to rationalize it if they want to.
posted by John Cohen at 12:30 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


My personal rule is I don't use words that describe genitalia or biological acts other than sleeping and eating in polite company.

The only exceptions are those words that have been reduced to a child-friendly state:
Poo, poop, weewee, etc.

Prick is definitely not on that list.
posted by teleri025 at 12:36 PM on April 14, 2012


Bitch is not in the same category as dickhead, cunt, and prick. You can hear bitch on regular network TV any night of the week.

Even though "bitch" and "ass" are regularly heard on network television (as well as "damn" and "hell"), that doesn't mean that those words are appropriate in polite company. Call me a prude, but if I was at a corporate function or meeting a group of disparate people at some gathering I would personally be taken aback if someone used "bitch" or "ass" in casual conversation without known any of us, our backgrounds, habits, religious convictions, etc. There's a reason we call it "polite" company - you do your best to use language that will not offend anyone, from the minister's wife to the owner of the local truck stop.


And just to be clear (in case it isn't), I wasn't suggesting that bitch is okay for "polite" company. I was simply opining that it's not in the same category of potential offensiveness as dickhead, cunt, and prick (as someone upthread indicated), given that bitch is no longer one of the forbidden words for regular broadcast TV. I would imagine that the FCC considers itself sufficiently protective of the delicate ears of ministers' wives.
posted by fuse theorem at 1:03 PM on April 14, 2012


Calling someone a prick is a coarser way of calling someone a dick. Neither is really OK in polite company. Personally, I reserve "prick" for someone that is more than a dick. I would use the word in informal situations but never in a professional setting, around kids or grandparents. I have coworkers that have no problem cussing like sailors so I've heard "those pricks at [competitor] are coming out with a new product next week!" It really is situational at that point. It all depends on your reference for "polite company" since we don't all have the same reference point.

The term "dick" is making it onto primetime TV in the US. It seems you can say "Don't be such a dick" on TV. But you can't say "I walked in and saw Dave's dick!" If you want to refer to the actual genetalia on TV, you have to use the terms "penis" and "vagina." On basic cable I've heard the words prick (used like dick on broadcastTV) and pussy (usually to call someone weak or whatever). But since most of the shows I watch on TV are on premium channels or are rated TV-MA, I don't use the TV set to set my standards.
posted by birdherder at 1:18 PM on April 14, 2012


For me, the term is gendered -- I might refer to a woman as a "dick" but not as a "prick," although I would be more likely to say that she engaged in "dickish behavior" or "made a dick move." So there is that.

I think "prick" is a step above "bastard," "asshole," and "dick," because those are somewhat ambiguous -- depending on your relationship to the person and your tone of voice, it can be a term of endearment ("Hey, you old bastard, how are you doing?" or mild chastisement "You dick, you were hording that 50 point card to drop on me just before yelling 'Uno!'" or anger "That asshole cut me off!" I can't think of a case where "prick" would be anything except an insult (well, outside of "bedroom matters").

To me, at least, "prick" is a negative word and certainly offensive to the target. If a friend said "My boss is a prick" to me, however, I would be neither shocked nor offended (assuming the boss wasn't a friend of mine). I wouldn't say it to my mom or use it at work, however.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:32 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


As an insult, it's intended to offend. Do you mean it's offensive in the sense that it's sexist to men? I am not offended; some men might me. Depends on the person, really.
posted by spaltavian at 1:54 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


When I was about 8 years old, walking home across a vast, empty parking lot surrounding a new shopping mall in in the mid-60s, an older kid I didn't recognize, but who seemed to know me rode up on his bike and called me a prick. I stared at him, baffled, because I'd never heard the word used as a noun before. Then he said since I didn't know, to go and ask my mother what it meant. I didn't think that was a good idea (instintively realizing the word was offensive), but I eventually figured out what the word meant, and a few years ago when I heard a someone in the Middle East being interviewed and he said President Bush was just a prick, I understood completely, and agreed heartily.
posted by Rash at 1:56 PM on April 14, 2012


This is straight usage, unsure what current trends in UK gay argot are. In British usage "prick" is slightly archaic (the sort of thing your Dad might say perhaps) but the intent would definitely be to offend.

In contrast the term "dick" is almost never heard over here, possibly by schoolchildren perhaps, it is archaic, one can imagine it being said in a camp accent for comic effect but if used in anger it would probably provoke the same sort of amused "are you kidding me?" reaction that calling someone a "rotter" in America would.
posted by epo at 2:08 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Let me put this way: it's in my browser's profanity filter, so I don't know what you're saying. But I vote "yes." To give you an idea of how my browser's profanity filter is set, I see this sentence on this page:

"I think "*****" is a step above "bastard," "*******," and "****," because those are somewhat ambiguous."
posted by SMPA at 2:08 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Would you get fired if you called your boss that to his or her face?
posted by eq21 at 2:22 PM on April 14, 2012


I seriously thought my whole life that prick was just a notch harsher than jerk but still within the realm of thinks you can say on network TV like "ass" (but not even as bad).

Then I said it in my boss's office a few weeks ago and they reacted as though I'd said the c-word. So. I guess I'll make sure to only use it among close friends.
posted by windbox at 3:33 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd refer to someone as an asshole in front of my grandmother if I were feeling particularly salty, but I would never use the word prick in front of her. Around where I grew up (midwest US) it's a cruder, filthier and more emphatic form of the word dick.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 3:45 PM on April 14, 2012


I live in the southwest, and I hear the word "prick" used only by people who use socially offensive language MUCH more than average. I.e. I have lots of friends who cuss and use the f-word in every sentence and have no problems with "ass" or "asshole" or "bitch" but almost never call someone a prick. Prick is a (significant) level up from asshole in my experience, much closer along the lines of cunt.
posted by celtalitha at 4:37 PM on April 14, 2012


And no, none of the above are appropriate for polite company. I'm sort of amazed this is even a question.
posted by celtalitha at 4:38 PM on April 14, 2012


No matter what the company, I generally never go above "jackass" in polite conversation. It's not so much that it's offensive (it can be) but that it lowers your IQ in the estimation of others by five points every time you use an offensive word.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 4:55 PM on April 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Jon44: "Just to clarify, I'm asking whether it's a word you'd use in polite company to describe a behavior or person that's not present."

No, it's not a word to be used in polite company. I think the strongest adjective I would use for a person in polite company would be "ass" (not asshole).
posted by deborah at 5:06 PM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I hang out with both church, and vocabulary-of-sailors, crowds, and would note that not a single person from the church crowd would dare call someone a prick.
posted by Quarter Pincher at 6:24 PM on April 14, 2012


Yeah, never in polite company. To my ear, calling someone a prick is saying that they are being both an asshole and a dick at the same time. Someone could be one or the other accidentally, but to be both at the same time is on purpose.

Also, "you are a prick" or "hey prick, leave the lady alone" is WAYYY worse that "knock it off, you are acting like a prick".
posted by gjc at 6:57 PM on April 14, 2012


No way. In polite company you say things like "Bob. Well. Bob, I worked with him for years off and on. He is maybe one of the smartest people I know when it comes to debugging a network. We could not have finished the Jones project without his amazing smarts. (pause) He is, sometimes, maybe not the easiest person to work with. I like to think he is so busy being brilliant on technical issues that he doesn't have the time to calculate what impact his words will have, making him for better or worse, one of the straightest shooters out there. I have seen people be really hurt or upset by things he said, though he's never really said anything to me that I couldn't see the truth in."

That kind of approach is far more damning. it shows you to be a person who hates to speak ill of people, yet here you felt you must.
posted by salvia at 9:52 AM on April 15, 2012 [2 favorites]



In contrast the term "dick" is almost never heard over here, possibly by schoolchildren perhaps, it is archaic, one can imagine it being said in a camp accent for comic effect but if used in anger it would probably provoke the same sort of amused "are you kidding me?" reaction that calling someone a "rotter" in America would.


Not the case in my experience (grew up in the NW). 'Dick' is fairly common. Much more than 'prick'.

We've covered before that 'cunt' is a different word in the UK, essentially, but this thread has reminded me that I've almost never heard it used about a woman here. It's not really a gendered insult. I would say 'prick' is the same - it's a term of abuse, but it's not really one that's about gender in the same way 'cocksucker' is (generally society is quite happy with the idea of women sucking cock).
posted by mippy at 2:03 PM on April 15, 2012


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