When you have lived your life with my surname, you cannot escape insults. Whether you attribute the origins of “hooker” as a synonym for prostitute to the brothel infested area of Corlear’s Hook, NYC or to General Joseph “Fighting Joe” Hooker’s use of women as a reward for his men during the American Civil War, my name was a gift to the playground tormentors of my youth:
“Dave, your mum’s a hooker.”
The problem was not their lack of originality, but rather the sheer accuracy of their taunts. My mum was a Hooker, she still is.
I got through school thanks to a combination of being the second biggest kid in my year, the infamy that my name gave me, and the fact that I had classmates named Rupert Hoare and Ben Manhire. Since those days, my name has been equal parts blessing and curse—I’m convinced that it’s responsible for a lot of my e-mails never making it through firewalls. But it’s also an amazing ice-breaker that I usually accompany with a series of very easy jokes. Recently, after getting about midway through my routine, one recipient was particularly dismayed that the peers of my youth had made the link to my mother. To her, it seemed particularly distressing that they should bring my mum into the equation. As she expressed her sympathy and subsequent admiration for how I’ve coped as the son of a hooker, it dawned on me that my situation is not at all unique. For a start, there are a lot of us Hookers in the world—John Lee Hooker, TJ Hooker, John Hooker to name just three (OK, the last two are fictional). More importantly, we all associate our mothers with swearing. Consider the evidence:
Son of a bitch
We wax lyrical about our mums and rightly so. Here in Hungary, such is the affinity for their matriarchs that the locals will proudly tell you that they don’t have Father’s day. But when I asked one colleague if mothers make it into the Hungarian swearing lexicon, his response was emphatic: “We have many, we even have one where I fuck you on the back of your mother.” I speak neither Spanish (puta madres) nor Italian (figlio di troia), but one visit to YouSwear.com and you can find countless references to mums and mothers. The phenomenon is not limited to European languages either. The strongest Korean insults end in the suffix, 새끼(saekki), which translates as “son of a…” You can pair it with the noun of your choosing (usually an animal) and your expletive is complete.
Why do we do this? Why at the moments when we wish to maximize the expression of our contempt for others do we bring up our mothers? I’m no expert, but my guess is that the answer lies in the fact that we love them so much. Originality and wit are not essential elements of good quality jibes. Insults are at their best not only when they’re accurate, but when they hurt. One of the easiest ways to hurt someone is to hit them where they’re vulnerable, and such is the depth of affection we have for our mothers that we are all perhaps at our most vulnerable in our relationships with the women that gave birth to us. Whatever the reason, let’s not do it anymore. Our mums don’t deserve to be brought into these arguments. Only two days ago, when watching a very important football match, I denounced the entire Chelsea team as a collective of men that were raised by horrendous mothers. So what if they were? It’s not right—their mums probably don’t even like football, they probably think it’s boring. So as this year’s Mother’s Day approaches, let’s give our most beloved women a gift that keeps on giving. From now on, let’s follow the example of Papua New Guinea and leave our mothers out of it.