The Guardian blog culled a list of new insults from the recently published 12th edition of the Chambers Dictionary. As an "ink-jerker" myself ("professional author or journalist"), the list put me in mind of other insults and why they endure over others. Take an old favorite of mine: fat fuck.
There’s no mystery to the success of fat fuck. Push fat fuck out of your mouth and relish in the satisfaction, particularly in the front of the mouth, in the force of it on your lips, in the slant it gives to your jaw. Fat fuck obtains a sense of finality, a correctness that requires no further deliberation.
Fat fuck’s success is in part due to the simplicity and force of its parallel, evenly stressed twin syllables. The phonetic repetition of ef is a strong, confident start. To begin with, ef clamps the word down and shows authority. But the evenly applied stress on both syllables, I cannot emphasize enough, gives the phrase penultimate power. No one emphasizes one word more than the other. No one favors fuck over fat, fat more than fuck. They are equally powerful accusations in their utterance, inescapably swift. The recipient is done away with. Obliterated.
Compare it to, say, obese scum. First of all, the major stress falls on the second syllable. This hesitation of authority, the lack of frontal force in the word, insinuates some doubt as to the prowess of the speaker. Obese is marked by permanence, immobility, and is characterized less as an insult or curse and more as a statement of fact. You are obese. I am your doctor. Nothing can be done, but no one’s riled up about it.
Scum has fallen out of favor in American usage as a direct result of our desire to separate from the British. Americans, especially males, may still be referred to as scummy in terms of their behavior, as an attribute, but only the British or the very old will call another person scum. Scum leads to an association with passivity while fuck is more along the lines of a boner. An active force of irritation, annoyance. A fat fuck is actively hated, while an obese scum is an ignorable dreg of society, a result of environmental factors. Fuck implies agency, an individual bumping up and intruding upon another individual’s sense of well being. Scum is left in the users mouth, the em lingering an indeterminate length of time. Fuck exits the mouth swiftly, in its entirety, a bright prick.