Journal of
Philosophy and Culture

  • Abbreviation: J. Philos. Cult.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN: 0855-6660
  • DOI: 10.5897/JPC
  • Start Year: 2004
  • Published Articles: 57

Full Length Research Paper

Tabooing insults: Why the ambivalence?

Moses Nii-Dortey
  • Moses Nii-Dortey
  • Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, Legon, Ghana.
  • Google Scholar
Edward Nanbigne
  • Edward Nanbigne
  • Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, Legon, Ghana.
  • Google Scholar

  •  Received: 04 July 2019
  •  Accepted: 31 January 2020
  •  Published: 29 February 2020


This paper examines insults, both verbal and non-verbal, on the premise that societies the world over have adopted an ambivalent attitude towards the creation and use of insult. The ambivalence argument is grounded in the sheer preponderance of both institutionalised and informal usages of verbal and non-verbal insults, through the arts mainly, as well as the tabooing regimes of insults in the same societies. The paper argues that the worldwide attitude of ambivalence towards the creation and usage of insult is not double standards but rather a delicate balancing act for the attainment of psycho-social goals such as catharsis and entertainment on one hand and the moderation of the social conflicts caused by verbal and non-verbal insults. The paper argues further that since neither the sanctioned uses of insult nor its tabooing do fully guarantee the attainment of the psycho-social necessities mentioned, the ambivalent attitude provides the needed framework for managing the creation and usage of insult as a necessary evil. Social navigation between sanctioned usages and tabooing of insults seems to be guided by the principles of ‘context’ and ‘intent’ of creation and usage of insult.


Key words: Tabooing insult, institutionalised usage, worldwide ambivalence, psycho-social goals, context, intent.