Tapinosis (Rhetorical Name-Calling)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Members of the neighborhood baseball team from the 1993 movie The Sandlot. (20th Century-Fox/Getty Images)

Tapinosis is a rhetorical term for name-calling: undignified language that debases a person or thing. Tapinosis is a kind of meiosis. Also called abbaser, humiliatio, and depreciation.

In The Arte of English Poesie (1589), George Puttenham observed that the "vice" of tapinosis might be an unintentional figure of speech: "If you abase your thing or matter by ignorance or error in your choice of your word, then is it by vicious manner of speech called ​tapinosis." More commonly, however, tapinosis is regarded as a deliberate "use of a base word to diminish the dignity of a person or thing" (Sister Miriam Joseph in Shakespeare's Use of the Arts of Language, 1947).
In a broader sense, tapinosis has been likened to understatement and humiliation: "the low presentation of something great, contrary to its dignity," as Catherine M. Chin defines the term in Grammar and Christianity in the Late Roman World (2008).  

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

From the Greek, "reduction, humiliation"

Examples and Observations

  • Phillips: We play on a real diamond, Porter. You ain’t good enough to lick the dirt off our cleats.
    Porter: Watch it, jerk!
    Phillips: Shut up, idiot!
    Porter: Moron!
    Phillips: Scab eater!
    Porter: Butt sniffer!
    Phillips: Pus licker!
    Porter: Fart smeller!
    Phillips: You eat dog crap for breakfast, geek!
    Porter: You mix your Wheaties with your mama’s toe jam!
    Phillips: You bob for apples in the toilet and you like it!
    (from the movie The Sandlot, 1993)
  • "Listen up, maggots. You are not special. You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake. You're the same decaying organic matter as everything else."
    (Brad Pitt as Tyler Durden in the film Fight Club, 1999)
  • "Yes, you squashed cabbage-leaf, you disgrace to the noble architecture of these columns, you incarnate insult to the English language! I could pass you off as the Queen of Sheba!"
    (Henry Higgins addressing Eliza Doolittle in George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, 1912)
  • "Draw, you whoreson cullionly barber-monger, draw."
    (Kent addressing Oswald in William Shakespeare's King Lear, II.2)
  • - "I was going to have a few comments about John Edwards, but you have to go into rehab if you use the word 'faggot.'"
    (Ann Coulter speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference, March 5, 2007)
    - "Ann Coulter, maniacal, money hungry, far right-wing nut burger, has called John Edwards a 'faggot.'"
    (abillings's journal, March 6, 2007)
  • "Charlie Kaufman. Oy vay. I have hated every incomprehensible bucket of pretentious, idiot swill ever written by this cinematic drawbridge troll."
    (Rex Reed, "Could Synecdoche, New York Be the Worst Movie Ever? Yes!" The New York Observer, October 27, 2008)
  • "Hope not for mind in women; at their best
    Sweetest and wit, they are but Mummy, posessed."
    (John Donne, "Love's Alchemy")
  • Patient: Dr. Chase said my calcium is normal.
    Dr. House: We call him "Dr. Idiot."
    ("Informed Consent," House, M.D.)
  • "There are cretins, there are cowards, there are rats who walk like men. And then there is Larry Patterson Jr."
    (Leonard Pitts, "The Lowest of the Low," February 22, 2008)
  • John Synge's "Curse"Irish poet and playwright John Synge addressed this poem to "a sister of an enemy of the author’s who disapproved of [his play] The Playboy [of the Western World]."
    Lord, confound this surly sister,
    Blight her brow with blotch and blister,
    Cramp her larynx, lung, and liver,
    In her guts a galling give her.
    Let her live to earn her dinners
    In Mountjoy with seedy sinners:
    Lord, this judgment quickly bring,
    And I'm your servant, J. M. Synge.
    (John Synge, "The Curse," 1907)

Pronunciation: tap-ah-NO-sis

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Nordquist, Richard. "Tapinosis (Rhetorical Name-Calling)." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/tapinosis-rhetorical-name-calling-1692526. Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 26). Tapinosis (Rhetorical Name-Calling). Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/tapinosis-rhetorical-name-calling-1692526 Nordquist, Richard. "Tapinosis (Rhetorical Name-Calling)." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/tapinosis-rhetorical-name-calling-1692526 (accessed June 2, 2023).