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Term Revival

This evening, The Girlfriend and I watched I Vetelloni, and I remarked that one of the characters was a cad. Shortly thereafter, the subtitles confirmed my view, and “cad” became a regular part of the movie’s vocabulary. The Girlfriend became fascinated with the term and, after toying with it for a while, decided that we needed to revive it as a replacement for “douchebag.” They cover much the same territory, after all, and “cad” doesn’t require one to constantly refer to a not-recommended feminine hygene tool.

This latter point is important because it’s never clear to me exactly what we’re extracting from the literal term “douchebag” to get to the metaphorical application to certain men. Is it that the process for which “douchebags” (the men) are used (sex) is bad for women in the same way as in the case of “douchebags” (the feminine hygene tool)? I suppose such an etymology is possible, but it seems optimistic — knowing American popular culture, it seems safer to assume that the term trades on the supposed ickiness of anything related to “women problems” rather than to medical professionals’ consensus about the harmfulness of the process referred to.

Anyway, yeah: cad. Feel free to debate the point in comments.

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July 26, 2009 - Posted by | language

18 Comments

  1. The problem with “cad” is that it connotes a louche, devil-may-care attitude that could plausibly be considered attractive. Whereas a douchebag is attractive to no one. And you’re right, the negative connotation of “douchebag” comes from its connection with feminine hygiene in general, not from the more modern understanding that the process is itself detrimental to the health of the user. But in any event, to the extent that one would wish to deploy either term against a misogynist male, I would imagine that “douchebag” would make itself felt much more keenly than “cad.”

    FWIW, I first came across the term “cad” when I was a little kid reading Gone With The Wind. No one would ever dare call Rhett Butler a douchebag.

    Comment by jms | July 27, 2009

  2. I’m with jms. A cad is closer to a player or a man-whore in contemporary parlance. A douche-bag is one species of schmuck.

    Two observations, not mine, on the topic of douchebags: A stand-up comedian I saw recently for pointing out the proper male equivalent of fake breasts is six-pack abs. Also, Amanda Marcotte once pointed out that the problem with the website “Hot Chicks With Douchebags” is that the women are douchebags too.

    Comment by Wrongshore | July 27, 2009

  3. No one would ever dare call Rhett Butler a douchebag.

    This sentence may very well get me through the day. Thanks, jms.

    Comment by Brad Johnson | July 27, 2009

  4. I think that I might be suffering from a lack of clarity on the concept of douchebaggery itself. On the one hand, there’s a kind of instrumentalization of women, and on the other hand, there’s… something else. Cluelessness? I feel I have an intuitive grasp, but I have trouble articulating it.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | July 27, 2009

  5. While Hugh Grant is both a cad in movies and real life, he does not appear to be a douchebag. I don’t know anything about how Ben Stiller or Tom Cruise relate to women (well, more than I want to know and that isn’t much), but I wouldn’t hesitate to call either douches. This leads to the question: is there a difference when someone is called a “douche” versus a “douchebag”?

    Comment by Craig | July 27, 2009

  6. There’s a big element of self-awareness with douchebags (and please spare me the ‘well you would know’ comments)…which is why Hugh Grant doesn’t fit the douchebag category.

    I also disagree with Ben Stiller as a douchebag. Regardless of how you feel about him or his comedy, he’s certainly self-aware, unlike Tom Cruise or Alex Rodriguez, to use an athlete perspective.

    But a simple lack of self-awareness doesn’t make you a douchebag. I don’t view Michael Scott as a douchebag, for example. There’s an element of ‘I’m trying to be cool’ as well.

    Comment by Chad | July 27, 2009

  7. Whereas a douchebag is attractive to no one.

    That guy who wrote/runs Hot Chicks with Douchebags would no doubt beg to differ.

    Comment by RobDP | July 27, 2009

  8. I think jms has got it–usually when we discuss the douchebag, the big question is how such a creature could ever be attractive to anyone, anywhere. With the cad, it’s usually taken for granted that women find him attractive, and indeed that’s the whole problem. You could plausibly call yourself a cad and think of yourself as a kind of charming rogue, but no one proudly says he’s a douchebag.

    Personally, I think we should be doing more to repopularize “rake” as a term, but I’m not very optimistic about it.

    Drawing any kind of parallel between Tom Cruise and Ben Stiller is, of course, hilariously wrongheaded. That’s like comparing Dave Foley and an end table. It simply doesn’t compute on any conceivable level.

    Comment by Michael Schaefer | July 27, 2009

  9. Sorry! I didn’t know Ben Stiller was still a protected celebrity given that he hasn’t done anything of any partial merit since “Reality Bites.” One exception: “Starsky & Hutch.” General speaking, movies with Ben Stiller are enjoyable *despite* his presence.

    Comment by Craig | July 27, 2009

  10. Mystery Men was a fun Stiller vehicle.

    Comment by Chad | July 27, 2009

  11. I’m a big fan of Mystery Men. I went in with low expectations, but it very quickly won me over.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | July 27, 2009

  12. It’s been nearly a decade, and I still can’t get past the fact that Mystery Men was two-and-a-half hours long. Nothing about that makes sense to me.

    Comment by Michael Schaefer | July 27, 2009

  13. Indeed, much as I loathe Ben Stiller, his appearance in Extras had partial merit and is also conclusive proof that he’s self-aware.

    Comment by RobDP | July 27, 2009

  14. On a miserably cold Chicago night in 2004 I headed up to the FedEx depot on Goose Island to retrieve a package. (An acceptance letter from a grad program I was already pretty sure I didn’t want to attend, it turned out. Email, motherfuckers—the other programs seemed to know about it.) So after taking the 6 (or the X28, I can’t remember which) to Downtown, the Red Line to Clark and Division, and the 70 out to Goose Island, and the 70 back to the Red Line, I decide that it is actually so cold that I don’t want to wait for the bus back to Hyde Park without warming up first. So I duck into a movie house in River North with the intent of seeing the first thing playing. That turns out to be Along Came Polly.

    Anyway, that movie sucks and you shouldn’t see it. Ooh, Ben Stiller’s character is straitlaced and Jennifer Aniston’s character is a total free spirit. Wacky! Opposites attract! And yet it grossed $87 million in the US. And several million each in several European countries. Aren’t those Europeans supposed to have better taste than we American rubes do? Shouldn’t they be rejecting our dreck, in order to teach our studios a lesson?

    I also dislike Zoolander, and don’t understand why so many people like it.

    Comment by transportinburma | July 27, 2009

  15. Hoffman and Baldwin made Along Came Polly worth watching.

    Comment by Chad | July 27, 2009

  16. No they didn’t.

    Comment by transportinburma | July 27, 2009

  17. Adam recently described someone to me as a douchenozzle.

    That person is not a cad.

    Comment by ben | July 27, 2009

  18. I also dislike Zoolander, and don’t understand why so many people like it.

    Because it’s very funny.

    But props for looking up the box office figures to make your point.

    Comment by Wrongshore | July 27, 2009


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