Thursday, August 25, 2011

Against the term 'Frape' - Language and Lines

I use Facebook quite a lot and recently came across a Facebook group against the use of the word 'Frape' - a portmanteau of 'Facebook' and 'rape' used to describe someone hacking into your account and posting as you.

I joined it.
This was a big moment for me. I'm evangelical and slightly nuts when it comes to free speech. And I believe anything is permissible if it's art (although that begs the larger question of who decides what is or isn't art. . . ). In an online discussion about classic novels recently, more than one person suggested that Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita should receive far less critical attention because it's told from the point of view of a paedophile. I think Lolita is a msterpiece, a work of genius and it's one of my favourite books of all time. Yes, it's about a morally reprehensible monster. But it's a good book.

So if Nabokov is allowed to write about Humbert Humbert's desires, why shouldn't a teenage guy in Dublin be allowed to type 'DUDE TOTALLY FRAPED LMAO!!' on his friend's recently-hacked Facebook?

Well, he should be allowed to! Of course. It's a word, and we can't ban words. That's just daft.

But he should also know the implications behind it, and he's not going to know unless the people who find it offensive tell him. And then he can choose whether or not he wants to go on using the word. And I will salute his right to do so, although I won't like him for it and may make nasty gestures at the computer screen when I see it.

Paul wrote an excellent post recently on the challenges of writing about a multi-ethnic society while living in an almost mono-ethnic state. He said that he doesn't want his writing to do an injustice to other cultures. But how can Paul possibly know what every single ethnic group, nationality or tribal group in the world will find offensive?

He can't, of course. None of us can. So being open and non-crazy about what we find offensive is a way of helping everyone to learn more.

This post is my way of helping. No need to thank me guys, honestly, although I am partial to milk chocolate and peach schnapps.

I find the term 'frape' offensive. Here in the West, we live in a society where sexual assaults are not taken seriously by the judicial system, where the conviction rates for rape and sexual assault are criminally low, and where TV shows and movies continue to use rape as a plot device to denote love, or as a source of comedy (especially true of female-on-male rape).

Culturally, we dismiss sexual assault. And here in the West, folks, we have it easy compared to some countries.

If we lived in a society that treated rape as seriously as it should be treated, I don't think I would find the term 'frape' any more offensive than the phrase 'I could have killed her for taking my last pink teabag.' We take murder very seriously, so that phrase is not offensive. It is not an expression of an underlying hostility in our society. It's just another example of hyperbole, and if we took rape seriously, I would likely have no issue with the term 'frape.'

But 'frape' is just another way for us as a society to say 'Guess what? Sexual assault is funny! It's also comporable to someone playing a harmless prank!'

It's not. 

And the people I see using the term on Facebook are probably not bad people, and they're not necessarily people who would condone sexual assault (I'm qualifying those statements solely because I haven't met everyone who uses the term and surely some of them are bad people by the law of averages! But use of the term doesn't make them bad people). Perhaps they just don't see that it offends people.

Well, it does. 
If you're going to use a word that people find offensive, make sure it's a conscious decision. I don't have to like that decision and no one has to like the words and ideas I choose to use, either. But if we unthinkingly use words that trivialise something serious, like rape, or if we use derogatory terms about people because they're 'funny', we send out a message that these issues and these people do not matter

I don't believe that and I don't think most people I encounter on the internet do either.

Language is how we express our thoughts. If we use lazy and offensive terms without thinking, our language is expressing something we don't believe. Frankly, if someone has access to a computer and knows how to use a social network, they're smart enough to make sure that what's in their brain and what's on their Facebook page match.

My fear is that they already do. But that's another blog post and it makes me incredibly, incredibly sad.


  1. Hear hear! Freedom of speech is a great thing, but people need to understand that words have consequences.

    Maybe we can get people saying "fack" instead? "Facebook" + "hack"?

  2. I agree and the argument is very well put. Here is a link to a review of the book erotic Captial I was telling you about. The review also includes a good book review of the said book summing up the arguments. I think this feeds into this discussion although it is not specifically about rape. I think the arguments in the book -from what I can tell- very much could influence the image of "healthy" sexuality and this is an expert talking.So it is very important that people point out meanings behind things Like "frape" because even academics are doing the whole re-interpretation thing.

  3. Amen, sistah! Excellent post; I enthusiastically agree. I also completely abhor the laziness of the word in the first place. Like the extreme ultra lame-o use of 'Brangelina' and 'Jedward'. Be a bit more imaginative, already.

  4. Exactly, Paul - freedom of speech is probably the best ever example of the phrase 'with great power comes great responsibility' in action!

    Cheers for the link, Trish, looking forward to reading it. It does all tie in together, you're right - it's about how our words and our actions affect the society we're all creating.

    MammyP, you're right - very lazy! Btw, I popped over to your blog and saw your life list. I don't know if this church bell is big enough to lift anyone off the ground, but since you want to ring one I thought I'd share the link:

    I love your life list! We have lots of them in common :)

  5. I particularly like how you stress that part of the offence at "frape" is due to how our society fails to treat the matter with the seriousness it deserves. I think there's a basis there for a whole range of argument about why certain things are viewed as exceptable in entertainment while others aren't.

  6. Just clarifying I meant that the author is the expert not me :)

  7. Wow, this hits the mark in so many ways, Ellen. I agree with Paul about the fact that the word is offensive in that it trivializes a very serious thing that our own society doesn't give just treatment.

    Thanks for a "think about it long and hard" post.


  8. oh and by the way thanks for summing things up for me that is exactly what I wished to say. It's good to have a writer friend.

  9. Thanks all, glad you enjoyed reading.

    Christine, for me I do think the issue is that these phrases express a real social problem. I don't find people joking about killing offensive - maybe I'm just desensitised but I suspect it's because I know there is no possibility than any of them think it's OK to kill someone. But clearly there are a lot of people out there who don't commit sexual assault but also don't consider it serious. Worrying stuff.

    Thanks Trish :D many hugs

  10. Very well said, I agree completely & vehemently & sometimes very loudly to my Facebook friendslist. However, I'd advise not reading the comments on the group's wall because if you're anything like me they'll make you feel incredibly sad too.

  11. They actuall inspired this post. Basically I wanted to say that this isn't an example of political correctness gone mad. This is me giving people a chance to not walk around offending the hell out of people.

    As a middle-class, abled, white Western woman I seriously welcome it when people flag things to me that could be offensive but that I haven't spotted due to my position of priviledge.

    Amazingly the thanks have not started flooding in yet, but I'm cool with that :)

  12. Yeah, I'm not a fan of the term as well. Now, that said, I'm a whole other problem because I have a sick sense of humour and misuse the term often, but I just don't like frape at all. It's just... wrong.

  13. It's interesting that not liking this term and having a twisted, few-or-no-holds-barred sense of humour can go hand in hand. Proof that we need to separate language and what's behind it and think about them :)

    I have to say, I'm generally not at all easily offended and have made my share of sick comments, but I just don't like the casualness with which this term is used. As I say, once we understand that it's offensive, it's up to use to decide if we want to use it or not.

  14. I have seen 'frape' interpreted as linking the awful violation of trust that the abuse of access to someone's online identity can be, to a crime people _do_ regard as heinous.
    From seeing how the word gets used I do not agree with that interpretation, and therefore do not agree with the use of the word, but it is one to consider.

  15. I agree with you that the use of the word doesn't seem to match that analysis, RandomPunter - that being said, having something hacked is a violation.

    I think the kind of 'hacking' that the word 'frape' usually refers to tends to be more the 'sending something funny and clearly fake from an account that wasn't properly logged off' variety than the 'malicious invasion of privacy' variety. I definitely can't see a link between the former (which was a game in one of my old jobs, you couldn't go to the bathroom without locking your screen!) and sexual assault.

    In the case of the latter I still think it would be quite a jump to link the two but they are certainly both upsetting.

    A very interesting point to ponder though, thanks for stopping by.

  16. You have a fabulous blog! I’m an author and illustrator and I made some awards to give to fellow bloggers whose sites I enjoy. It’s not a pass on award. This is just for you to keep. I want to award you with one of my homemade awards: Powerful Woman Writer Award for all the hard work you do!

    Go to and pick up your award.

  17. Cyber crime sucks. I played World of Warcraft and had my account hacked and all my stuff stolen. It took weeks to get it all back from Blizzard and in the meantime, my account was useless. Criminals of this kind should be flogged publicly. Then they wouldn't do it anymore.

  18. I hate the word frape - it's a hideous word. And whoever came up with it is a complete moron.

  19. Thanks so much, Deirdra, I'm not only touched but glad to have a good reason to display some of your lovely art on my blog - I've always admired your style when I've seen it around the blogosphere!

    Michael, I totally agree, cybercrime is awful. A girl I know from college was maliciously hacked before her book release date and lost her entire blog and all of her emails. It was a hideous experience for her. So sorry to hear it happened to you too.

    Chippy, always glad to know I'm not the only one!


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