Publication Date

Spring 2017

Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

J.A. Rice (Director), Chris Ervin, and Jerod Hollyfield

Degree Program

Department of English

Degree Type

Master of Arts


While insult has been a frequent topic for rhetorical study in the past, little if any work has gone toward the formation of a systematic theory of insult. Karina Korostelina has proposed a theory of intergroup identity insults, which appears promising from a socio-cultural perspective. However, her theory does not address the particularly rhetorical characteristics of insults, preferring instead to analyze them with reference to their socio-historic context. While her theory proves sound under scrutiny, it does little to shed light on pejorative rhetoric as rhetoric.

In what follows, I would like to propose certain characteristics of pejorative rhetoric that may prove useful in developing a rhetorical understanding of insult. I will be using Korostelina’s theory as a starting place to ground my discussion of insult, but I will go beyond the socio-historic contexts to suggest a purely rhetorical aspect of insults that creates new meanings and associations independent of larger cultural contexts. While independent of cultural contexts, these new associations are still informed by cultural contexts. As such, I will be using coffee, a cultural artifact with a variety of social and culture meanings, as a lens from which to examine pejorative rhetoric. Ultimately, I propose that insult functions by drawing from the associations inherent in cultural artifacts in order to transform those associations into purely rhetorical associations, that is, associations that could not exist without the influence of pejorative rhetoric, thereby creating a rhetorical context independent of large cultural contexts.


American Literature | American Popular Culture | English Language and Literature | Rhetoric and Composition