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Is Prick a Bad Word?

September 26, 2018

My dad always called this television character a prick. (image via wikimedia)

Prick is an underused word today.   It rhymes with dick, and people laugh at dick when you say it, so sometimes people will laugh at prick as well.  I called a public figure on TV a prick a couple days ago, and my daughter laughed, just because she had never heard me use the word prick in that context.  The public figure probably deserved being called a prick.  He makes a lot of money, says stupid stuff, and he can’t hear me anyway.  If I’m going to call somebody a prick, it’ll be someone who can’t hear me.

I don’t know how the dictionary defines it (I write about what I think, not what the dictionary thinks), I think of a prick is an annoying person.  A prick is not an overt threat or a danger, but you still would rather not deal with one.  A real prick (a non-person prick) is a little pinch that might hurt a little bit but not enough to cry or scream in agony about. It’s barely annoying enough to notice.

A prick can also be a tiny male appendage.  A human who is a prick is usually annoying, and calling him a prick implies he’s annoying because he has a tiny appendage.  Guys with small appendages tend to overcompensate (so I’ve heard), and guys who overcompensate can come across as obnoxious and hence are pricks.

Prick rhymes with dick, and dick is considered by some as a bad word.  Not every word that rhymes with dick is bad.  Pick isn’t bad, but can have some negative connotations (especially when it involves your nose).  Sick isn’t bad, but nobody wants to actually be sick.  Quick is okay in most circumstances.  Brick is good.  Nick is a cool name and in a worst-case scenario a nick is still less annoying than a prick.

You have plausible deniability with the word prick.  If anybody accuses you of having used a bad word, you can just say that you meant “annoying.”   If the accuser thinks you meant little dick or guy with a little dick, that’s the accuser’s fault for having a dirty mind.

My dad would try not to swear in front of kids (he’d swear in front of me if I was alone, but he wouldn’t swear when my friends were over), but he’d say the word prick a lot.  He never tried to stop saying prick in mid-word.  He would stop for actual profanity.  He might say “That motherfu…” or “Son of a bi…aarrgh!” or “piece of sh… son of a… darn it!”  But he’d say prick out loud.

There was a character in the original Lost in Space television series that annoyed my dad, and whenever he saw that character on TV, he’d say, “What a prick!” and then leave the room.  It took a lot to get my dad to leave a room.

The problem was that I wasn’t allowed to say the word prick, even when Lost in Space was on.   My dad smacked me upside the head once when I said prick.  I wasn’t even talking about him.  I was talking about somebody my dad didn’t like.  Even though my dad agreed that this guy was a prick, he didn’t want me saying the word.  It was confusing.  My dad said it with impunity, even when we had guests in the house, but I wasn’t supposed to say it.

I knew he was allowed to say words I wasn’t.  He believed kids shouldn’t swear until they were 18 because they needed something to look forward to.  I respected that (when he was around).  But I couldn’t understand why prick was up there with the BIG WORDS.

If I had said one of the BIG WORDS, I would have understood the head swat.  I mean, he didn’t knock me out over it.  It didn’t leave a mark.  He just didn’t feel like telling me not to say prick again.  I understand not feeling like talking.  I don’t swat my kids when I don’t feel like talking.  I just grunt really loud.  They get the idea.

Moms and dads had different punishments for those words that were in between appropriate and profanity (stuff like crap and dick).  Moms would wash our mouths out with soap.  Dads would swat you upside the head.  I’d rather have the swap upside the head, just because it was instant.  It didn’t really hurt.  You weren’t going to get a concussion from it.  Maybe if you got twenty of them at one time, there might be some temporary memory loss, but one wasn’t going to hurt.  The soap in the mouth was worse.  It tasted bad, and you had to admit (unless you lied) that your mom had just physically dominated you.  That was more humiliating than the soap.

If you said the serious words, you might risk an actual beating (Child Protective Services wasn’t an option then), so you just didn’t hardcore curse in front of your parents.  You had to rely on words like fudge or crud.  And you couldn’t say prick.

I might try to bring back the word prick.  That’s one thing this new generation misses.  They have the internet, magic mobile phones and unlimited streaming, but they don’t seem to use prick in their vocabulary.

From → Etymology

2 Comments
  1. Meezeman permalink

    I am partial to the HBO Deadwood series term $hitheel. .implying both low character and prickish behavior 😎

    • I like the word $hitheel too (why am I censoring myself on my own blog), but the $hit part makes it one of the BIG WORDS. It can’t be used with quite as much flexibility as prick.

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