Ivory Towers: The dirty dozen speak out

ONE good way to annoy a man is to be rude about his mother, but if you want to provoke a woman, you would do better to ignore her. Those are among the conclusions of a study of anger-provoking language and behaviour, How Provoking] What Makes Men and Women Angry? by Mary B Harris in the American Journal of Aggressive Behavior, May 1993, writes William Hartston.

The research was based on questionnaire responses by 229 female and 187 male students at an American university. The questions they were asked were: 'What is the most anger- provoking behaviour a man/woman of your age could display to you?'. They were then asked to respond in a single word or phrase to all possible combinations of: 'What do you think is the worst thing a man/woman can call a man/woman?'

Analysis of the results revealed seven types of behaviour that annoy people, and twelve categories of insult. The seven rages of man (and woman) are caused by physical aggression, verbal aggression, insensitivity, condescension, hurting another person, dishonesty, and inefficiency.

The dirty dozen verbal insults are to imply that someone is: worthless, emotionally inadequate, sexually inadequate, promiscuous, homosexual, in the wrong sex role, unethical, cowardly, or conceited, with 'obscenity', 'sexist term' and 'racist term' completing the list.

While women tend to be deeply offended by insensitivity and condescending behaviour, men are more affected by seeing another man hurting someone or being rude to a woman. Both genders are considerably more tolerant of dishonesty in men than in women. When it comes to verbal behaviour, everyone agrees that it is terribly rude, whether you are a man or a woman, to call a woman 'promiscuous', but men hardly mind being accused of promiscuity at all.

Curiously, men do take offence if called homosexual although women mind far more if another woman casts doubt on their sexual orientation than if a man does so.

A summary of the table of verbal insults would suggest that the worst thing you can call a man is a worthless, limp-wristed, lily-livered (obscenity deleted), while to anger a woman, you would do better to call her a lying (obscenity deleted) slut.

The research confirms the findings of William Congreve: 'Heav'n has no rage, like love to hatred turn'd, Nor Hell a fury, like a woman scorn'd', but to annoy a man, try violence.