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Communication Dans Un Congrès Année : 2019

Funny insults

Amusantes insultes

Michel Dufour


Insults have recently been the focus of numerous studies that show an impressive diversity of uses and stakes (J. Neu, 2005; W.B. Irvine, 2013; L. Rosier, 2006). This is certainly correlated with the difficulty to give a general and sharp definition of the concept of insult which is often vague. It overlaps several close notions that different languages will separate or not, although family resemblances between slur, injury, contempt, humiliation, and slights… seem easily acknowledged. Furthermore, the fact that “insult” has both a verbal and a nominal form in several different languages suggests that the distinction, but also the proximity, between process and product is easy to establish in the field of insult. All this confirms the complexity of the phenomenon and its high pragmatic and interactional diversity. This is why after a brief summary of some general characters of insults we will focus on aspects of their dialogical use. So, we will mostly consider them as complex speech acts between insulter and insulted. It seems difficult to study the form of an insult without also paying attention to its matter or content that targets the insulted person, directly or indirectly. This is a typical feature of insult, among other forms of verbal aggression. We will more specifically pay attention to cases where its status is acknowledged by all the interlocutors, and so leave aside the case of insults that are not acknowledged as such by both parties and also the use of unconventional words or expressions. We have said that the content of an insult is usually identified as aggressive. Yet, it is not always the case. We shall discuss this kind of situation that seems quite common but makes a sharp contrast with the prototypical case we have just described. Sometimes people do exchange insults – i.e apply insults to their interlocutor – without insulting each other. The phenomenon of insults contests, formal or not, is well-identified and sometimes supposed to be funny. In many places or countries, a common practice is to insult one’s friends or pairs just to play or have fun. In Rhetoric (1378 b 25), Aristotle already stressed that satisfaction and the ordinary use of insults (hubris) can go together. What is at stake in the seemingly deviant context where insults – a most serious way to communicate – seem not to be serious, a situation sometimes difficult to explain to outsiders?
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Dates et versions

hal-03941854 , version 1 (16-01-2023)


  • HAL Id : hal-03941854 , version 1


Michel Dufour. Funny insults. 5th ESTIDIA Conference, European Society for Transcultural and Interdisciplinary Dialogue, Sep 2019, Naples, Italy. ⟨hal-03941854⟩


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