Today’s Insults

I recently asked a table full of New York city residents what they most noticed was different about people who lived elsewhere in the US. One person immediately said others are “fatter.” No one else disagreed, or offered any other descriptor.

I don’t know how representative is this opinion, but in general I’m interested in the kinds of insults that people find to be more more socially acceptable. This person might have also thought that outsiders seemed dumber, less well dressed, lazier, or less politically informed, but might have been shy about saying so.

The “fat” descriptor seems a more acceptable insult. Perhaps because fat can be seen pretty objectively, and tends to be blamed more on a person’s intentions, rather than on inherited ability or disposition.

Is there any data on the most common insults people use today? I’d be more interested in data on socially visible insults, rather than anonymous insults, such as might be found in blog comments.

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  • Well, you effectively asked for an insult – are NYC residents going to compliment the flyover states? Given that, fatness is one of the few acceptable insults.

    (It also seems to be true. I’m not a NYC resident, but I live fairly close and have spent many days there, and I couldn’t help but be struck when I visited the Midwest how fat people seemed to be. I was almost as struck as when I visited Europe and noticed how thin everyone seemed to be.)

    If you had asked explicitly for compliments, I imagine they would have gone for politeness or laidbackness or less aggressive drivers. (All also true in my experience.)

    • swedenborg

      @gwern, how is the question “what do you most notice as different” asking for an insult?

      • Hansenista

        It’s not asking for an insult in the sense that a kid might ask for an ice-cream cone, it’s asking for an insult in the sense that flashing your Rolex in the slums is “asking to be robbed”.

    • lemmy caution

      Different places have vastly different levels of obesity.

      Mississippi has twice the obesity rate as DC:

      NYC is probably thinner than DC.

      This large range between states is very unusual. There is nothing like this big spread for IQ, height or other characteristics.

      • Poelmo

        There are many any jobs in NYC for which you’ll be more likely to be hired or successful if you’re not obese (which attracts thin people from outside and drives obese New Yorkers away). NYC also has a relatively young population. I’m not surprised NYC has a lower obesity rate than the American South and Midwest.

      • Also food is more expensive in NYC.

      • theDAWG

        Baseline (non-exercise) activity is the important difference. NYC residents walk EVERYWHERE. If sub/ex-urbanites had to carry all their groceries home, then they would be significantly thinner. A significant fraction of NYCers also have to walk up several flights of stairs to their apartment (no elevator).

  • The sense that obesity is a personal choice rather than a medical condition is particularly ignorant, because it’s contradicted by our understanding of lipostasis (how the body regulates hunger in response to adipose mass). It really bothers me that people default to assuming “it’s your own fault this is happening to you” when they don’t have any actual knowledge about what’s causing a particular health problem.

    This describes the recent research on lipostasis, and some of the latest ideas on treating obesity very well:

    • swedenborg

      @healthyengineer, the article to which you linked has:

      In 1992, Eric Ravussin and collaborators tried to repeat the rodent experiment in humans. They gave volunteers unlimited access to a large variety of palatable energy-dense foods, in a setting where the researchers could monitor exactly what was eaten. Over the course of the next week, the volunteers more than doubled their usual calorie intake, gaining an average of five pounds.

      Granting yourself unlimited access to a large variety of palatable energy-dense foods is certainly a choice, so the article appears to support, rather than refute, the conjecture that obesity is a personal choice.

      • lemmy caution

        It doesn’t seem like a good idea to view the obesity problem through the lens of “personal choice”. This really fails to deal with how the problem has become much worse over time. It also fails to deal with the abysmal failure rates of calorie restrictive diets and the near uselessness of exercise as a way to lose weight. The standard advice doctors give people to lose weight does not work.

      • swedenborg

        @lemmy caution, what evidence do you have for the claim that people prefer following a regimen of caloric restriction and exercise to being obese? The advocates of unrestricted eating such as Governor Palin have enormous support, and her supporters are enormous themselves.

      • lemmy caution

        If you follow a calorie restrictive diet you will lose weight. The problem is that people can’t do that for very long because of the hunger issue. Low fat (and I suppose vegan) diets will allow you to eat as much as you want and still lose weight, because they suppress the appetite compared to the modern US diet. These are not the diets that doctors suggest to their patients though. Exercise is good for you and will help a little bit, but diet is much more important for weight loss.

    • Mark M

      healthyengineer –

      I don’t think people make a conscious choice to be fat, such as setting a goal to become overweight and then actively working towards that goal.

      I do think that people (Americans in general, and per this article perhaps Midwesterner’s more than NY’ers) do not consider whether their lifestyle or food choices will make them fat, or even knowing give other factors more weight (so to speak) and allow themselves to become fat while wishing to be thin.

      It’s as simple as this: weight can be controlled by diet. Don’t mistake “simple” for “easy.” I know it’s not easy, and I know there are exceptions, but it’s hard to make the case that the majority of overweight adults in the midwest are all exceptions.

      • Poelmo

        Yes, it’s ridiculous to maintain that genetic defficiencies that cause obesity have suddenly become much more prevalent than they used to and mostly in areas where people happen to eat a lot and not exercise. That’s simply a strawman to avoid taking responsibility.

  • swedenborg

    I remember seeing advertisements fifty years ago for a journal of invective and abusive language, but what was its name? Were the ads in Scientific American, the Mensa newsletter, the New Yorker? Posters on the New York Subway? Alas, memory fades, and my parents would not have deemed such a publication worthy of a child’s subscription.

    • kwenzel

      I wonder if you’re remembering Maledicta (published from 1977-2005) – “The International Journal of Verbal Aggression”. My parents had a few of them, and unlike yours didn’t seem to mind me reading it. It was fascinating stuff for a 12-year-old.

  • Faul_Sname

    I’d be more interested in data socially visible insults, rather than anonymous ones, such as might be found in blog comments.

    …you ask on your blog.

  • Peter

    I’ve moved to New York after living in the DC suburbs. I find that, at least in Manhattan, I walk for about 30 to 45 minutes each day. When I think about my life in suburban, VA. I can’t remember walking more than perhaps 15 (and that was mostly when I was on campus going between buildings — a commuter with a desk job and a condo would hardly walk at all). I think the simplest explanation is that people do tend to shed some pounds when they live in a largely pedestrian environment (this would apply to many European cities too (but not most other American cities which are too spread out)

  • drinking beer in WI

    I grew up in WI, I currently live in Madison. I lived in San Diego for 4 years and traveled to LA regularly. I travel to NYC from time to time because I have relatives there. It’s true, on average Midwesterners are fat compared to NYers and people in southern California.

    I’ve been on a bike tour through rural Illinois and Missouri. Yea, fat is normal in these places.

  • Peter

    I think “stupid” would be my insult of choice on most blogs. Perhaps “naive.”

  • I live in the South, and it is true to a degree that Southerners are heavier. But even in the South, heaviness is very much a matter of demographics.

    When I lived in New York many years ago, I do recall doing a lot of walking.

  • I think that denialist is the worst insult I can think of off the top of my head. It is worse than stupid, and stupid is worse than ignorant.

  • Robert Koslover

    There are some enjoyable insults to be found here, although they are not especially current. 🙂

  • Doug S.

    STFU n00b! you hipster!


    Its also true. NYC is one of the leanest cities in the US. I found an interesting article that said that this had to do with how horribly difficult it was to drive there, which meant that people walked a lot more.

  • Craig H.
  • Trevor Blake

    I grew up in Tennessee and visited New York City once. My first (first!) thought when I walked out on the street was “where are all the fat people?”

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