A colleague of mine said, "What if we don't want to listen?" It is such a perfect illustration of the violence of our culture because it's (1) passive aggressive; (2) It doesn't say "What if I don't want to listen?" but instead implies there are more people involved; (3) It's a rhetorical question so really a statement but without taking responsibility for being a statement; and (4) fails to mention the most important thing: "What if we in power don't want to listen to those without power?"

So, this simple phrase is so perfect and elegant as an illustration of something really ugly, violent, and deeply embedded in our culture. I'd like a word that means perfectly ugly or something similar.

Another example which I find so offensive. It's a wonder of cultural engineering. The example is to use the word "pussy" in a denigrating way as is common in our culture. It is used, clearly, to simultaneously put down female genitalia, women in general, and the target of the word. It is so perfectly awful. So succinct in its casual and multi-faceted violence. It's a perfectly horrible use of the word.

Used in a sentence:

My colleague's question was ______. It just nailed such ugliness in such a perfect way.

It could be in any language. Some have suggested German might have such a word? The word I'm imagining has elements similar in some ways to Schadenfreude: the joy in another's pain. In this case, it's an appreciation for the horrible efficiency of something.

I don't even know how to begin looking this up. It's hard even to describe.

  • What exactly did your colleague mean in context?
    – alphabet
    Feb 18 at 7:44
  • There are lots of words and phrases meaning spot on, dead right, on point, you nailed it, but you want one that can only be used when someone describes something horrible? There are terms for striking descriptions of horrible things, like Lovecraftian, or generally for reactions of horror, but that doesn't seem precisely what you're after either?
    – Stuart F
    Feb 18 at 9:41
  • Listen to what? I first thought of a talk or radio programme, but from the tone of your question you perhaps mean 'listen to someone else's views'. Feb 18 at 12:47
  • Thank you all for the comments. I will have to think more to try to be clearer about what I'm looking for. Feb 20 at 1:40

1 Answer 1


This doesn't seem anything like Schadenfreude, which is deriving pleasure/amusement from someone else's misfortune.

As usual with these types of requests, I don't understand why people expect that there will be, or want there to be, a single word to describe things like this. They don't occur commonly enough that they need a dedicated word. Even if they did, you'd still need to write an explanation because not everyone has the same background presumptions about culture and/or what is ugly/horrific that you do.

You could use the phrase "sign of the times", or you could refer to these words/phrases/sentences as "epitomizing" or "illustrating" the aspects of culture that you find to be so deplorable.

But, fundamentally, if you can't describe clearly what you think/mean when you have nearly unlimited words in which to do it, then you aren't going to make it any clearer by finding a specific word.

I cannot even follow your logic for why, "What if I don't want to listen?", is "violent". It's certainly individualist, placing the desires and pleasure of the individual over that of others, but that doesn't make it violent or inherently bad. There's nothing in it that refuses to take responsibility—if anything, I perceive the opposite as being true. The hierarchy of power that you attempt to draw out in your fourth criticism isn't in the original phrase at all. "What if I don't want to listen?" could be asked equally by the oppressor and the oppressed. If anything negative can be said about it, it's that it glorifies ignorance: rather than making a substantive argument about why what's being said is bad or not worth listening to, it focuses merely on an individual preference not to listen. Egoism and anti-intellectualism might be ugly, but I don't think this single phrase really epitomizes it all that well.

Nor, importantly, do I see the same themes at work in the use of the word "pussy". This has a more complex etymology than you seem to imagine. It started out, as you probably know from this meaning continuing to persist, as a term for a pet cat; it has cognates in other Germanic languages. At some point in the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries, the term expanded to refer to women (and it was a term of endearment, not of disrespect!), but its meaning to refer to a cat was not completely replaced. By the eighteenth century, as a form of synecdoche, it was commonly used to refer to female genitalia, rather than the woman herself. Again, it retained both of its earlier meanings. (It is, of course, not difficult to draw parallels between two things that are warm, furry, soft, and often rubbed. Then again, there's some argument to be made that this meaning has a completely different etymology and didn't emerge as a metonym. Old Norse had the word puss, which meant a pocket or a pouch.) However, there is no "wonder of cultural engineering" here. It wasn't engineered at all, and, to the extent that its meaning did evolve, it evolved in cultures very different from our own. If it's a perfect anything, it's a perfect mess, ripe for word-play but little else. (There is an offensive application of the word, and that's when the meaning of the word to mean "woman" is applied to belittle men who are perceived as effeminate. But this seems to be distinct from the context in which you're criticizing the word's usage.)

  • Wonderful thoughts, Cody. I love your knowledge of the etymologies. Thank you for sharing. To describe why I think the first example is violent would involve more words, but it's not my point. Sorry that the example failed to point to the word I'm hoping exists. I also take your point about wanting one word -- it's true that we can just write a paragraph instead. Feb 20 at 1:39

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