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Foutriquet, pauv’con, michto…: a short treatise on insult in modern times

By Magali Cartigny

Published today at 05:30

There are professions where one often has bleeding ears. “You fat bitch” is the latest kindness received by Nadia Beloum, a bus driver for fifteen years in Paris and the suburbs. “A woman with a big shopping cart was running behind my bus, I stopped to get her on,” she testifies. Too far from the sidewalk for Madame’s taste. “Insults are everyday. We are an outlet for people. The problem is the repetition, it wears out. »

Lucie, medical secretary in the emergency room of a hospital in Morbihan (she wished to remain anonymous), also attacks “head full”. “Good for Nothing”, “bitch”, ” fat cow “. “ It comes from all types of people and it has gotten worse since the Covid. » In many town halls, post offices and tax centers, you can see posters “Who remains polite will be well received”with a small reminder of the law on the fine incurred.

“Insult is a social fact found in all spheres, it is transversal and omnipresent”, indicates Cédric Passard, lecturer at Sciences Po Lille.

Victor Hugo filled notebooks with it, Schopenhauer made a collection of it. The insult, this “ultimate strategy” (according to the German philosopher) which aims to reduce the adversary to nothing, is the attack most commonly shared. No one escapes it: the cashier, the tiktokeur, the elected officials, the girls who are accosted in the street, the mother who breastfeeds in public, the guy who blocks the escalator in the metro, the restaurateur who applied the pass vaccine, the cyclist, the pedestrian AND the motorist… The game is endless.

Today, the porosity between public and private can give the impression that insult is everywhere. As the democratic debate grows hysterical, incivility seems to multiply, and social tensions after two years of pandemic remain exacerbated, it would be tempting to conclude that society is being savaged. However, all the researchers who work on the subject agree on one point: nothing shows that verbal violence has become commonplace. It wasn’t better before, but the insult has evolved with the times.

Read also Insult, harassment, criticism, humor… Do you know the difference?

“Insult is a social fact found in all spheres, it is transversal and omnipresent”, confirms Cédric Passard, lecturer at Sciences Po Lille, who participated in a study day devoted to the subject in October 2020. A change took place in the 1970s. Until then, social codes were more rigid . With liberalism and the liberalization of mores, it is individual expression that becomes the norm: I speak as I want, so I insult you if I want.

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