This week, more people are Googling slutbag and slampiece than ever before. Both terms are in the news, owing to an Anthony Weiner’s micro-scandal and a viral e-mail. Both are relatively new. Most critically, both are confusing. Is slutbag worse than slut? What does slampiece mean, anyway?
Whereas established insult suffixes –head and –hole have obvious corporeal meaning, the etymology of –bag and –piece is debatable. Each term contains morphemes from established slang compounds (douche bag, ho bag, dime piece, side piece), but to what meaning? Though curse words are famously flexible, usage is nevertheless bound by some rules. (Appending bag to slut yields a meaningful term, but slutpiece is nonsense.) After a great deal of web search, survey, and personal experiment, I have compiled the following rules for –bag and –piece.
Bag words are pejoratives. As a disparaging term for a woman, the OED dates bag to 1924 novel (turned Clara Bow movie) The Plastic Age, in which frat-boy protagonist Hugh Carver announces:
I can’t see that I have done anything that is going to ruin the name of Nu Delta. I don’t get potted regularly or chase around with filthy bags or flunk my courses or crib my way through.
When applied to terms indicating female promiscuity (slutbag, whorebag, ho bag) the term remains remarkably similar to its 1924 predecessor, both in meaning and rude fratty use. Appended to a promiscuity-related pejorative, bag may connote female unattractiveness (old bag); a repository for waste (trash bag); a repository for human waste (cum dumpster); and/or abundance (bag full of sluttishness). Language Log notes that scumbag, now a non-sexual pejorative, used to be slang for a condom.
Time’s Swampland traces slutbag references dating to Sally Clark’s early-nineties play Life Without Instruction: “She’s a right slutbag. Gets that from me. When she started her brothel — I was her first customer!” The term appeared in mainstream movies like Uptown Girls in the mid-aughts; Neal Pollack used the phrase “ridiculous slutbag spree” to describe Lindsay Lohan’s behavior back in 2005. Nonetheless Google Trends suggests slutbag’s current popularity may overshadow its past.
Initially I assumed slutbag shared an origin with douche bag, but I now suspect this is false etymology. In the world of vaginal irrigation, douche bag refers to the plastic sack that holds the fluid used for douching; thus, the douche bag is not a repository for viscera-tinged waste, but the source of it. Early pejorative uses describe people prone to verbal spewing, like this 1968 Punch humor story: “’Send them away!’ she hissed. ‘If they are found here, those douche-bags will incriminate us all.’” The modern douche bag, however, tends to be an arrogant male jerk. (Gawker’s Douche of the Decade was Girls Gone Wild founder Joe Francis. In true douche-bag form, he responded with legal threats and a picture of a muscle-bound chest “because you seem to be quite sexually obsessed with me.”) Despite several turn-of-the-decade attempts to end use of the pejorative, Google Trends shows an uptick in the steady rise of douche bag, dating almost precisely to when bloggers started trying to ban the term.
Shitbag, meanwhile, is the switch-hitter of the –bag universe. Sometimes shitbag functions as a personal insult, like when a Miami-Dade fire captain was fired for blaming Trayvon Martin’s death on “failed, shitbag, ignorant” parents. Sometimes it refers to a metaphorical bag of shit, like when Morgan Stanley employees joked about naming toxic derivatives “ShitBag.” And sometimes shitbag merely means “a lot,” like a bag that is overflowing. (Don’t break that dollar, I’ve got a shitbag of coins in my purse.) When that happens, both bag and shit signal bounty (shitload, shit ton).
Though slampiece is pejorative, some –piece words have positive connotations. As an objectifying term for a sexually desirable woman, piece has been in use for centuries: “A Fair young Lady and widow is a rich piece of Stuff Rumpled,” wrote Scottish noble Henry Cary, Fourth Viscount Falkland, in 1664. A piece of tail may be pleasant as a piece of cake, but modern usage no longer requires prepositional phrases. A woman can be a piece — context defines whether she is a desirable piece of ass or lamentable piece of work. Slampiece tends to have rude connotations, since it suggests violently thudding sex (cf. slam and scram) with a woman you consider an object. It’s so rude that Jezebel’s notorious slampiece e-mail was probably a rude prank.
But dime piece describes a woman who is “bangin’, hot, beautiful, a perfect ten,” according to Urban Dictionary’s most popular definition. “Dime piece definition of a chick / Nice, sweet educated independent fly thang,” Nick Cannon sings in 2006’s “Dime Piece.” The –piece of dime piece refers to a piece of money.
Dime piece is still objectification, but in a positive way, like that incessant Swingers line, “You’re so money and you don’t even know it.” Dime piece, then, is the greatest of all pieces, and better than most of bags, too.