Monday, April 25, 2005


Some thoughts on bitch-slapping

It was just a couple of years ago that I heard the term "bitch slap" for the first time. It was on TV, and it was clear from the context that it was supposed to be hip and funny. It was either a still-slightly-edgy-but-well-established comedian, or an HBO sitcom or a rerun of West Wing. (This clearly places me in the eighth circle of unhipness, but there it is.) I now hear "bitch slap" fairly often – not every day, but perhaps once every week or two – and it's always said in a sardonic context, the speaker trying to be funny, satirical, hip(ish).

I'll admit having cracked a smile when I heard Mandy, the female political consultant in the first season of West Wing, threaten to "bitch slap" the Jed Bartlet re-election effort or when I heard people say something like "John Kerry bitch-slapped Bush in the first presidential debate." I suppose the humor is in the incongruity of applying the language of trash-talking to a presumptively high-brow context, or perhaps in messing around with gender.

When you think about it, "bitch slap" in these contexts is being used metaphorically, though that is difficult to pin down, since you have to know the literal meaning of a word or phrase in order to see its metaphorical use. I suspect that the meaning is in fact somewhat obscure. Most of us eighth circle of hipness dwellers, for example, are too shy to admit we're hearing some hip new (or formerly new) lingo for the first time in order to ask, "and what exactly is ‘bitch-slapping'?" Instead we try to guess at its literal meaning from context and act like we know what it means.

Two or three "literal" meanings have occurred to me. One is a slap administered by a "bitch" (i.e., a woman), either to a man or another woman. Another is a man slapping "his bitch," suggesting either spousal abuse, or a pimp asserting dominance over his "ho" (another word that has made the comedy rounds lately, which perhaps I'll post about soon), or perhaps we're supposed to think about a macho prison inmate dominating his male prison "bitch."

Urban, a kind of living slang dictionary in which readers provide the definitions, has a range of definitions of "bitch slap," but the consensus seems to reflect a dominance-humiliation thing, the "unmanning" of the slappee:
To open handedley [sic] slap someone. Denote disrespect for the person being bitch slapped as they are not worthy of a man sized punch.
I'm not particularly notorious as a politically correct language cop, and my friends generally seem to credit me with a halfway decent sense of humor, but help me out here. When you get right down to it, why is "bitch slap" funny and why is it okay to say on TV?


Hilarious post, but I gotta ask -- how is it that you are hearing the term "bitch slap" at least once or twice a week? What kind of company are you keeping?
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