Thin Skin


In the course of my daily reads, I sometimes follow one or two of the discussions that occur in the LinkedIn groups for writers, editors, etc. There’s a little too much breast-beating and chest-thumping a lot of the time, and this is the subject of today’s little rant.

A few days ago, a discussion was begun by a graphic novel artist who was fretting over his project being threatened by a recalcitrant collaborator. In his post title, he expressed frustration that his project was “about to go tits up.” He then explained the conundrum and asked for input on how he might handle his partner.

The chorus of PC clucking began.

First reply:

“First, “tits-up” has got to go.”

In response to my defense of his use of the idiom, there was this:

I can’t get far enough past “tits up” to care what your problem is. The argument that “everybody’s got ’em” probably won’t make this expression any more palatable to most women. I can be as raucous as anybody, but for me this term is a buzzkill!

And this (my favorite):

The use of “tits up” is intrinsically derogatory and sexist, even though to you it was probably just a harmless, cute, slang way to vent your frustration and anger. You might want to keep in mind that you’re talking to a coed crowd, and be respectful of the half of the planet responsible for bringing life here.

This is from a crowd of “writing professionals.”

So, apparently, the use of this phrase, with a commonly understood meaning equivalent to “belly-up,” got the feminist crowd all atwitter with indignation. We shouldn’t use language that might offend some of the members here, intended or not!

The expression is no more “intrinsically sexist” than the word “niggardly” is racist. I might argue that if it were intrinsically sexist, then perhaps its use ought to be more carefully confined. Certainly one would not use it in a business letter or a commercial loan application, but this is a web-based “water cooler” environment.

Seems to me that this is another instance of the PC crowd running amok. More Rhinoceros hide, please.

(I am reminded that Annie Proulx’s short story, “Tits Up In a Ditch,” published in the New Yorker in June 2008, was once the inspiration for blues song which remains unwritten.)


36 Responses to “Thin Skin”

  1. 1 M M Bennetts

    Don’t know what the original derivation of the term is, but given that in the 19th century, tits was slang for horses, the phrase could just as easily mean horses upended in the ditch. Which was a frequent hazard pre-automobile.

  2. Since the phrase is so offensive to so many people, it shouldn’t be used. Period.

    • Well then, we’ll have to appoint PC language nazis (oops, maybe I shouldn’t use that word) to catalogue all of the “offensive” expressions so that we know what we can say or not.

      • I have to agree with Peter on this one. Just because people are offended doesn’t mean we can start policing it! I think free speech is important. Im a woman and it didn’t occur to me to be offended. I would be offended if you said, ‘women are inferior to men because they are stupid,’ However, I don’t think of woman’s lady bits when I read this saying. I think of the meaning behind the phrase, which is not sexist. People who are offended easily need to chillax! I dunno about other countries but in Oz we value freedom of expression. Censorship is a big no no…

  3. 5 caroline

    God, people have way too much time. Sorry, ladies, but I’m a girl and I’m not offended. Perhaps the writer was referring to a dead cow (although the proper term would have been “teats.”

    I’m reminded of an incident I had in corpoate America. I spent two years working on a risky multi-million dollar project with a man (my boss) many years older and the two of us became close colleagues who liked and respected each other. We were both happily married (to others!) and there had never been a hint of anything improper. One day I walked in and without thinking, he said, “Hey babe,” then immediately turned red in the face and sputtered, “OMG I can’t believe I said that. Please forgive me!”

    I laughed my ass off (is that appropriate?) I said, “At my age, I’ll take take a ‘babe’ wherever I can get it!” I knew he’d meant NOTHING by it, he was just fond of me in a completely appropriate way. Sometimes people get their panties (or boxers) in a twist over nothing. Way bigger problems in the world.

  4. I agree with Caroline, sometimes people just have way too much time on their hands…

  5. So we have three female votes in support of the common vernacular. You guys must be Republicans – Bennetts, you must be Tory.

    • Lol, sorry, I’m registered independent, but if I had a party I probably be a dirty liberal democrat ;p

    • 9 macdibble

      Whoops, I’m a displaced person. You can’t stick me in any pigeonhole because I haven’t been eligible to vote for anyone since 1991. I did march in a Gorbechov rally once…

  6. 10 Sue Marnitz

    My God, if most of my friends weren’t allowed to use idioms that might offend either males or females, they wouldn’t be able to talk.

  7. 11 caroline

    Sorry Peter, I’m in blue California. Lifelong Dem.

  8. 12 JackArmstrong


    We are devolving toward the bland middle ground, where no one is offensive. For the sake of keeping things interesting, speach should remain free and occaisionally offensive. Having said that, I do not find the phrase inherently troubling. If you were referring to a specific person, then maybe, just maybe, it could offend. Like if you referred to the demise of Catherine Zeta-Jones…

  9. Well maybe the phrase is something from before my time because I’d never heard it before. Now that I have heard it, I don’t find it offensive whatsoever. Then again, I’m an erotica writer haha. There are only a couple slang uses of female anatomy that I do find personally offensive – the c-word (see, can’t even type it lol) and when someone calls a man a pussy as an insult. But if I saw either of those on an internet forum, I might not like it, but I wouldn’t be so offended that I couldn’t even repsond to the poster. That’s just ridiculous.

  10. I’m waiting for all of my liberal friends to chime in here and tell me how crude and inconsiderate this expression is!

    • ha! i do consider myself liberal. i didn’t realize it was only liberals who had the capacity to be offended :-P. and i agree with macdibble below. tits is not an offensive word. i’ve used it myself in reference to my “girls” haha.

      just like in my previous comment i said that i find it offensive when someone calls a man a “pussy” to mean wimp, or something else derogatory. “Pussy” itself is not offensive to me (I use that word as well!). What’s offensive is the idea that a name for a woman’s anatomy is then turned into a derogatory term. (And before someone jumps all over me about it, no I don’t go around using “dick” as a derogatory term for men either, for that same reason.) There is no such connotation to the term “tits up” so I don’t see why anyone would get their panties in a twist about it, liberal or not.

      • This is a useful discussion – but I dunno, Jennifer, “panties in a twist” sounds derogatory to me!

  11. 18 macdibble

    It’s just a bit of slang meaning dead. It’s not like when a father turns to his whining son and says “Stop being such a girl!” possibly with his daughter standing right there.

    I like it when Pommy women get ready for a night out and shout, “Right girls, tits out!” meaning, show off your assets. It’s a celebration of sexiness and being proud of their breasts.

    Tits is not an offensive word. Mind you, I don’t know why all the images that come from American have the nipples fuzzed out even in wet t-shirt competitions. Nipples are rude in the US of A? Breasts are rude? Or only acceptable if adorned with… what was it, Pete, a nipple pasty? Is breast feeding is rude too? I suspect cultural tolerances are in play when people complain about “Tits Up”. Feel free to disagree…

    • Hah! Dibs, thanks for weighing in with the Kiwi/Ozzie, perspective. Makes me wanna move there, but you’d not have me (which is another testament to your good senses).

  12. I’m a liberal, more or less, and since I used the term in the first place — yes, I am the “offending” party — I obviously didn’t find it objectionable. The whole flap was about as useful to writers as tits on a bull.

  13. Common slang in the military is Tango Uniform – which stands for TU, which of course means tits up. That project is Tango Uniform. Some people look for things to be offended by. They offend me.

  14. 25 macdibble

    If it makes people feel happier downunder we have “Balls Ups” too. A right balls up is when something goes wrong from start to end. I think that probably came about from too many men being in charge of things…

  15. Pete, I use ‘tits up’ fairly regularly. I even use ‘tits up and bleeding in the ditch’ for those really severe moments. 😉 I figure it’s nothing for anyone to their panties in a bunch about. Speaking of getting panties in a bunch, WTF on AQ? Talk to you later.

  16. 27 Phillipa

    Macdibble, I see your ‘balls up’ and raise you a ‘cock up’

    • 28 macdibble

      Nicely trumped, Fi!

    • Maybe it’s a cultural thing.

      • 30 macdibble

        I’m beginning to think my friend’s take on lesbian poetry might not go down so well in the USA. We all find it hilarious to perform downunder after a few drinks. “Go on, tell me a lesbian poem about epic fantasy!” some one will ask.

        (See me privately for her response… apparently not so funny in mixed company… by which I mean mixed culturally… not sexually).

      • Right, Dibs. The watchwords of the day are now “don’t offend!”

      • 32 macdibble

        Who me?

  17. Gee, and I guess that when I tell people to remove their buttplugs I might be offending them? It’s so much more fun to say that than ask them whether or not anal-retentive is hyphenated.

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