Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Language mystery

Last month my friends Martin and Jennifer wrote a pair of essays for the Woman Poker Player web site about poker players' use of the word rape to describe bad beats, coolers, or just generally running bad. I didn't say anything at the time, because I thought they covered the matter so well that there wasn't much left unsaid. Martin in particular expressed exactly what has long been my sense of squeamishness when such terminology gets tossed around so casually. My only disagreement with Jennifer is that I'm uneasy about expanding the use of penalties for linguistic offenses. I think that over the long run social opprobrium is a better tool than the rulebook, at least in this case.

I did have one lingering question about the subject, though, and almost wrote a post about it at the time. In the end, I didn't have any good answer to my own question, so I let it drop. But it came up again Sunday evening, so once again it's on my mind.

Rob's friend "Prudence" was indisputably having a bad night, with a never-ending stream of second-best hands. At one point she exclaimed in frustration, "I'm getting murdered here!"

This was precisely the counterpoint that occurred to me when reading the essays about the offensiveness of rape language: What about similar use of various forms of the word murder? It is almost universally agreed that murder is a worse crime than rape, as evidenced by harsher criminal penalties for the former than the latter in every jurisdiction that I know of. So why is poker players' figurative use of murder less likely to provoke outrage (whether expressed or not) than the identical use of rape?

If this is hypocrisy, I confess to sharing in the guilt. I certainly noticed Prudence's language, because I spent a few minutes pondering this very conundrum just a few weeks ago, but still it didn't strike me with the same reflexive wincing and squirming that would have occurred if she had said, "I'm getting raped here!"

Why is that?

I'm still stuck with the same dilemma I had when I thought about writing this up last month: I don't have a good answer. But this time I'm going through with sending it out into the ether, hoping that somebody else does.


genomeboy said...

I think in this use, murder is much more innocuous. Rape really refers to a specific type of act.

I think somewhere in between is the reference of a sporting event to a "war" or "battle", which seems worse to me than saying "I got murdered at poker", but not as bad as "I got raped at poker"

Anonymous said...

An old mentor of mine once said that exaggeration is the same as lying.

My first boss was a veteran of the first world war (showing my age) and didn't take very well to folks joking about war. War on drugs, war on illiteracy, etc. seems to minimize the horror he went through. He said he held his best friend as he coughed up chunks of his lungs after breathing poison gas.

I did work with a girl long ago that had been raped in the mall parking lot. Nothing funny about it all, even with the best jest.

Murder, to someone that has experience it perhaps with a close family member, wouldn't be humorous at all.

Better words to thoughtful folks can always be chosen, to those less thoughtful it probably won't matter anyway.

JT88Keys said...

I had a similar thought when I originally read those two posts about the use of the word rape in a poker context. Where do you draw the line? I personally believe in extreme leniency when it comes to verbal offenses unless they are directed at an individual. I'm not easily offended and think others should often lighten up.

That said I have jumped to the defense of a female at a poker table when one of the guys has very clearly crossed the line and made them uncomfortable. It's a case by case thing in my opinion and absolutes are unnecessary.

NT (aka Cardgrrl) said...

I think it's because, by and large, rape is a crime of violence against women. (Yes, men can be raped and that's equally awful, but the word rape usually invokes an act of male sexual aggression against a woman, or a male who is thereafter often stigmatized as having been 'reduced' to the condition of a woman on account of his having been raped.)

Because rape has been and still is used both individual and systematically to control and oppress women, because it is a culturally charged crime that historically and still currently comes loaded with shame and ongoing life-damage, because it is something actively feared by half the population on a regular if not daily basis—it's not at all the same thing as murder.

Rape is about using and humiliating a particular portion of humanity BECAUSE they are female. It is a violent crime with a social context (in the same way as lynching is).

In fact, can you imagine someone saying "I got lynched" at the poker table? Or, "I'm going to lynch you this time!" (especially to an African-American opponent?

I don't think most people would consider that appropriate or acceptable.

grrouchie said...

I think that with the advent of TV it has become a lot easier to be desensitized to murder than it is for rape.

Murder is generally violent and final whereas rape has ongoing consequences for the person who received the act.There is a lot more mental anguish involved and it's more frowned upon in social settings.

The Difference between telling a friend in a crowded room.

I'm gonna kill you
I'm gonna rape you

Much like your reflexes, the 2nd one is the one that is going to get cringes from pretty much everyone. The 1st not so much.

Big-O said...

LOL....You're killing me Grump.

Grange95 said...

NT / Cardgrrl hits it right on the head (as usual). "Rape" and "lynch" carry a certain extra emotional baggage related to their connection to oppression of certain groups of people, while "murder" is more generic.

sebszebra said...

Rape is a sex-crime. Murder may get a harsher sentence than rape, but sex-offenders are more vilified. People generally tend to be more squeamish about sexual matters. Men traditionally are expected to be soldiers, that is trained killers, if circumstances dictate, or indeed it is acceptable to kill to protect home or family or for personal safety. The state kills through wars and executions. Murder is killing in what are considered unjustified circumstances. Rape is never considered justified by the vast majority, and is seen as more deviant from accepted values than murder, even if the latter is generally considered a more serious crime in magnitude.

Also, many swear-words are sexual, especially those considered the most taboo, as the entire subject of sex causes such strong feelings. It is interesting that other strong swear-words tend to be related to faeces and urine. Anything relating to the 'private' bodily areas seems to generate taboos. Even in isolated tribes in which clothes are hardly worn, they still cover their genitals if nothing else. I think it is genetically hardwired into us.

Rob said...

Oh wow. I feel compelled to comment here, not just because you referenced both my pal Prudence and me, but also because, ironically, I used the word "rape" in a poker context just a few nights before you heard Prudence use the word "murder." In fact, I used it because Prudence had just had her Kings full of Aces beaten by a ROYAL FLUSH. So I was actually referring to Prudence being (metaphorically) raped. There's more to the story, but that will have to wait for my blog post when I get to it.

I don't regret using the word in the context I did, and I will have no gualms whatsoever reporting the anecdote accurately and quoting myself in the blog post.

But as with most things in life, context is everything. In my case, all of us in the game were friends (most were employees of the poker room, but not me of course) and I know that Prudence considers me her friend. Also, I said it right in front of her boyfriend, who was playing in the game too. And of course I didn't use it as a threat, I used it to describe a horrible bad beat at poker that had already happened when I used it.

In the context of the 2+2 post that was referenced, it was very different. I assume the person who I said, "....I totally rape you" was not a pal of the woman he said it to, and also it appears to have been said in a gleeful, looking-forward-to-it happening scenario, so it was completely vulgar. There were so many better ways to express his desire to suck out on his opponent at that moment, and it was totally disgusting the way he did it.

As for why "rape" should be considered a worse metaphor than "murder", some good points have already been made in the comments. Still, I have to say to some degree, trying to decide whether it's worse to be metaphorically murdered or metaphorically raped is a little like trying to decide whether its better to die by drowning or by a bullet to the head.

At the risk of getting more political than I like to when talking about poker, I would like to add that some of the problem is that we have been overwhelmed by "political correctness" which has inhibited free speech to a significant degree. Sometimes people say things that other people find offensive, but we do still have a 1st Amendment in this country.

The 2+2 poster was certainly within her rights to comment on the harsh language, and it is disappointing that no one else defended her and instead sided with the jerk who made the comment. But the guy's bigger crime was berating her after she offered her gentle objection, not uttering a single word.

Yakshi said...

"Murder" has become innocuous due to (1) its common and persistent use, (2) it is also so extreme that no one takes the word seriously, and
(3) there's no chance that anyone at the table has been murdered.

You can't say that about rape.

THOMAS said...

it's all about being pc, which is effing stupid. it's just a word...i don't see how words hurt because they are just words and not actions.

i am a white male, part of the only group out there that isn't allowed to be offended, so my opinion won't carry much weight.

i don't understand being offended or care to waste my time worrying about being offended. if someone wants to hate me, they are taking up their time...i don't have the time to hate someone that hasn't done anything to me...and calling me a name or saying they are going to do something to me isn't going to hurt me.

words are just words...as long as the actions aren't taken, i don't see what the big deal is about saying something.

Yakshi said...

I can't believe Thomas honestly believe what he types.

THOMAS said...

i do dude...or else i wouldn't say them