The Mother of All Insults

July 23, 2006

Let's talk aboutyour mama. Not your mama, specifically, but the timeless "your mama"insult, as in "Your mama's so fat, the back of her neck looks like a packof hot dogs." You can't possibly take such slurs seriously, even if yourmama's armpits really are so hairy that she appears to have Buckwheat in aheadlock.

And yet insports your mama remains the mother of all insults. It is assumed to have costFrance the World Cup final, from which French captain Zinédine Zidane wasejected after head-butting an Italian defender who reportedly questioned, invivid language, the virtue of Zidane's mother. This has been categoricallydenied by the Italian, Marco Materazzi, whose surname derives from the Latinmater (mother) and azzi (wears army boots).

As fodder forinsults, your mama's promiscuity is second only to her weight problem, two sorespots that are frequently combined into one outrageous untruth. No one's mamais so big that you have to roll over twice to get off her. But veracity is notstrictly the point when it comes to insulting your mama.

The point is toprovoke a reaction, and by history's standard, Materazzi was lucky to escapewith Zidane's head in his chest. Because John the Baptist had insulted hermother, Salome received his head on a platter.

Still, your mamahas had its most lasting effect in sports, where athletes and fans have beeninsulting her since the beginning of time. In 1912 Ty Cobb climbed into thestands in New York after a handicapped man named Claude Lueker allegedlyslandered Amanda Cobb. Cobb promptly pummeled Lueker, adding injury toinsult.

To protest hisensuing suspension, Cobb's teammates staged a one-day walkout, during which theTigers fielded replacement players. The substitutes lost 24-2 to thePhiladelphia A's, setting records for single-game futility, including the26-hit complete game thrown by Allan Travers, who went on to become a Catholicpriest, a rare marriage of Our Father and your mama.

In the centurythat followed, your mama lost some of her shock value. Son of a bitch, forinstance, is now often used as a term of endearment. Hines Ward once popped upsmiling after a vicious hit from defensive back Rodney Harrison, who told theSteelers receiver, "You're one tough son of a bitch." Ward never forgotthe praise.

Nearly threedecades ago Darryl Dawkins named one of his dunks Yo Mama-dunking on a defenderbeing the physical manifestation of that playground insult. Today, yo mama isso benign a dis that it's the name of an insult-competition show on MTV.

Speaking of yourmama, David Wells's brawl in a Manhattan diner four years ago was set off by anunspecified insult about the then Yankee's mother. Wells would return the favorthat night, describing his attacker to a 911 operator as a "little squattymother---." In court the attacker's aggrieved mother insulted still moremothers when she reportedly shouted at Wells's legal team, "Bastards!"The case was an endless, unimaginative Yo-Mama-o-Rama.

Wells won notjust in court but also in the court of public opinion, where an insult to one'smother excuses almost any retaliation. Samoan rugby star Terry Fanolua was letoff with a fine after breaking the jaw of a mama-invoking man in a wine bar inEngland, prompting this explanation from Fanolua's lawyer: "To call a man'smother a whore in Western Samoan culture is very insulting." As opposed to... where, exactly?

To be fair, yourmama is most potent overseas, where cultural taboos vary. Last year Ronaldothrew a water bottle at Real Madrid fans who insulted his mother. A yearearlier Madrid teammate David Beckham was red-carded for calling a Spanishlinesman a hijo de puta (son of a whore). And yet Beckham was still outragedthis summer when the German tabloid Bild said his mum has "the smile of apeasant," an uproarious example of German wit.

In the end, asMaterazzi may discover, your mama references almost always end up hurting theinsulter more than the insulted. In 1995 Eric Cantona, the French striker ofManchester United, was suspended for nine months after kung-fu kicking aCrystal Palace fan in the chest during a match for allegedly insulting hismother. That fan, 20-year-old Matthew Simmons, denied ever mentioning Cantona'smère, but the damage was done.

A decade laterCantona was the bearded narrator in this summer's ubiquitous Nike soccercommercials, while Simmons is left to lament that the mere allegation that he'dslurred a mother cost him his job and ruined his life. Ten years on, a reporterfor the London Observer found him living semireclusively in that city with avirtuous woman who had remained true to him-the very opposite of your mama.

His mama.

• If you have acomment for Steve Rushin, send it to rushin@siletters.com.

Materazzi was lucky to escape with Zidane's head inhis chest. Because John the Baptist had insulted her mother, Salome receivedhis head on a platter.

PHOTOSIMON BRUTY

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)