‘Ted Cruz cucks again’

The insult term cuck as an alt-right masculinist signifier


  • Maureen Kosse University of Colorado Boulder




cuckold, pornography, alt-right, racist humor, anti-Semitism, digital ethnography, online discourse


This article provides a multimodal semiotic analysis of the word cuck as used in online white supremacist spaces. A fundamental belief of the white supremacist ‘alt-right’ movement is an anti-Semitic narrative that positions Jewish people as a ‘global elite’ that seeks to oppress and eliminate white populations. Central to this belief is that Jewish people actively manipulate populations of colour, Black people in particular, to overtake white populations in a process known as ‘white genocide’ or ‘the great replacement’. Based on a digital ethnography of alt-right communities on Voat, Twitter and Reddit, this article demonstrates how the memeified word ‘cuck’, a pejorative term for ‘weak’ men on the US political right wing, draws from and reproduces this white nationalist conspiracy theory through allusions to interracial cuckold pornography. While disguised as innocuous, expressions like ‘cuck’ provide insight into how the alt-right weaponises misogynist and racist humour in its radicalisation efforts.

Author Biography

Maureen Kosse, University of Colorado Boulder

Maureen Kosse is a PhD student in Linguistics at the University of Colorado Boulder. Her research incorporates linguistic anthropology and cognitive linguistics in the analysis of white supremacist communities online.


Adorno, Theodore, Frenkel-Brunswik, Else, Levinson, Daniel and Sanford, Nevitt (1950) The Authoritarian Personality. New York: Harper and Row.

Albertson, Bethany (2006) Dog whistle politics, coded communication, and religious appeals. American Political Science Association and International Society of Political Psychology, Princeton University.

Allen, Jay (2014) How imageboard culture shaped Gamergate. Boing Boing. Retrieved from https://boingboing.net/2014/12/31/how-imageboard-culture-shaped.html

Altemeyer, Bob (1988) Enemies of Freedom. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Anglin, Andrew (2021) Daily Stormer style guide [PDF]. Retrieved from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/daily-stormer-nazi-style-guide_n_5a2ece19e4b0ce3b344492f2

Askanius, Tina (2021) On frogs, monkeys, and execution memes: exploring the humor-hate nexus at the intersection of neo-Nazi and alt-right movements in Sweden. Television & New Media 22(2): 147–165. https://doi.org/10.1177/1527476420982234

Bergmann, Eirikur (2018) Conspiracy & Populism: The Politics of Misinformation. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan/Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-90359-0

Bernstein, Michael, Monroy-Hernández, Andrés, Harry, Drew, André, Paul, Panovich, Katrina and Vargas, Greg (2011) 4chan and /b/: an analysis of anonymity and ephemerality in a large online community. Presented at the Fifth International AAAI Conference on Weblogs and Social Media, Barcelona, Spain.

Billig, Michael (2001) Humour and hatred: the racist jokes of the Ku Klux Klan. Discourse & Society 12(3): 267–289.

Billig, Michael (2005) Comic racism and violence. In Sharon Lockyer and Michael Pickering (eds) Beyond a Joke: The Limits of Humour 25–44. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Blok, Anton (1981) Rams and billy-goats: a key to the Mediterranean code of honour. Man 16(3): 427–440.

Blommaert, Jan (2020) Political discourse in post-digital societies. Trablahos em Linguística Aplicada 59(1): 390–403. https://doi.org/10.1590/01031813684701620200408

Bokhari, Allum and Yiannopoulos, Milo (2016) An establishment conservative’s guide to the alt-right. Breitbart. https://www.breitbart.com/tech/2016/03/29/an-establishment-conservatives-guide-to-the-alt-right/

boyd, danah (2002) Faceted id/entity: managing representation in a digital world. Master’s thesis, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Bucholtz, Mary and Hall, Kira (2008) All of the above: new coalitions in sociocultural linguistics. Journal of Sociolinguistics 12(4): 401–431. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9841.2008.00382.x

Camus, Jean-Yves and Lebourg, Nicolas (2017) Far-Right Politics in Europe. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Cesarino, Letícia and Nardelli, Pedro (2021) The hidden hierarchy of far-right digital guerrilla warfare. Digital War 2: 16–20.

Clark, Eve and Clark, Hebert (1979) When nouns surface as verbs. Language 55(4): 767–811.

Condis, Megan (2015) No homosexuals in Star Wars? BioWare, ‘gamer’ identity, and the politics of privilege in a convergence culture. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies 21(2): 198–212.

Cosentino, Gabriele (2020) Social Media and the Post-Truth World Order: The Global Dynamics of Disinformation. Basingstoke: Springer Nature.

Curry, Tommy (2017) The Man-Not: Race, Class, Genre, and the Dilemmas of Black Manhood. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Dishy, Aaron (2018) Swallowing misandry: a survey of the discursive strategies of r/TheRedPill on Reddit. Master’s thesis, University of Toronto.

Donovan, Joan, Lewis, Becca and Friedberg, Brian (2019) Parallel ports: sociotechnical change from the alt-right to alt-tech. In Maik Fielitz and Nick Thurston (eds) Post-Digital Cultures of the Far-Right 49–66. Berlin: De Gruyter. https://doi.org/10.14361/9783839446706

Engels, Friedrich (1884) The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State: In the Light of the Researches of Lewis H. Morgan (Ernest Untermann, trans). Chicago: Charles Kerr & Company.

Fauconnier, Gilles and Turner, Mark (2002) The Way We Think: Conceptual Blending and the Mind’s Hidden Complexities. New York: Basic Books.

Fillmore, Charles (1982) Frame semantics. In The Linguistic Society of Korea (ed) Linguistics in the Morning Calm. Seoul: Hanshin Publishing Company.

Freud, Sigmund (2003 [1905]) The Joke and Its Relation to the Unconscious (Joyce Crick, trans). New York: Penguin Random House.

Gal, Susan and Irvine, Judith (2019) Signs of Difference: Language and Ideology in Social Life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gershon, Ilana (2010) Media ideologies: an introduction. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 20(2): 283–293. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1548-1395.2010.01070.x

Gilroy, Paul (2019) Agnostic belonging: the banality of good, the ‘alt right’ and the need for sympathy. Open Cultural Studies 3: 1–14.

Ging, Debbie (2019) Alphas, betas, and incels: theorizing the masculinities of the manosphere. Men and Masculinities 22(4): 638–657. https://doi.org/10.1177/1097184X17706401

Goldberg, Adele (1995) A Construction Grammar Approach to Argument Structure. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Hall, Kira, Goldstein, Donna and Ingram, Matthew (2016) The hands of Donald Trump: entertainment, gesture, spectacle. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 6(2): 71–100.

Hawley, George (2017) Making Sense of the Alt-Right. New York: Columbia University Press.

Herek, Gregory (2004) Beyond ‘homophobia’: thinking about sexual prejudice and stigma in the twenty-first century. Sexuality Research & Social Policy 1(2): 6–24.

Hilpert, Martin (2014) Construction Grammar and Its Application to English. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Hiramoto, Mie, Borba, Rodrigo and Hall, Kira (2020) Hope in a time of crisis. Gender and Language 14(4): 347–357. https://https://doi.org/10.1558/genl.42609

Hutchinson, Earl (1997) The Assassination of the Black Male Image. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Kay, Paul and Michaelis, Laura (2012) Constructional meaning and compositionality. In Claudia Maienborn, Klaus von Heusinger and Paul Portner (eds) Semantics: An International Handbook of Natural Language Meaning. Berlin: de Gruyter.

Langacker, Ronald (1987) Foundations of Cognitive Grammar. Volume I. Theoretical Prerequisites. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Ludemann, Dillon (2018) /pol/emics: ambiguity, scales, and digital discourse on 4chan. Discourse, Context & Media 24: 92–98.

Lumsden, Karen and Morgan, Heather (2017) Media framing of trolling and online abuse: silencing strategies, symbolic violence, and victim blaming. Feminist Media Studies 17(6): 926–940. https://doi.org/10.1080/14680777.2017.1316755

Marwick, Alice and boyd, danah (2010) I tweet honestly, I tweet passionately: Twitter users, context collapse, and the imagined audience. New Media & Society 13(1): 114–133.

Massanari, Adrienne (2017) #Gamergate and The Fappening: how Reddit’s algorithm, governance, and culture support toxic technocultures. New Media & Society 19(3): 329–346. https://doi/10.1177/1461444815608807

May, Rob and Feldman, Matthew (2019) Understanding the Alt-Right: ideologues, ‘lulz’ and hiding in plain sight. In Maik Fielitz and Nick Thurston (eds) Post-Digital Cultures of the Far-Right 25–36. Berlin: De Gruyter. https://doi.org/10.14361/9783839446706

McIntosh, Janet (2020) Crybabies and snowflakes. In Janet McIntosh and Norma Mendoza-Denton (eds) Language in the Trump Era: Scandals and Emergencies 74–88. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Mendoza-Denton, Norma (2017) Bad hombres: images of masculinity and the historical consciousness of US-Mexico relations in the age of Trump. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 7(1): 423–432.

Michaelis, Laura (2004) Type shifting in Construction Grammar: an integrated approach to aspectual coercion. Cognitive Linguistics 15(1): 1–67.

Miller, Dan, Kidd, Garry, and Hald, Gert (2019) Measuring self-perceived effects of pornography: a short-form version of the Pornography Consumption Effects Scale. Archives of Sexual Behavior 48(3): 753–761. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-018-1327-z

Miller-Young, Mireille and Livermon, Xavier (2019) Black stud, white desire: Black masculinity in cuckold pornography and sex work. In Adrienne Davis and the Black Sexual Economies Collective (eds) Black Sexual Economies: Race and Sex in a Culture of Capital 39–58. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Mortenson, Torill (2018) Anger, fear, and games: the long event of #GamerGate. Games and Culture 13(8): 787–806. https://doi.org/10.1177/1555412016640408

O’Donnell, Jessica (2019) Militant meninism: the militaristic discourse of Gamergate and men’s rights activism. Media, Culture & Society 42(5): 654–674. https://doi.org/10.1177/0163443719876624

Padgett, Esra (2019) Who speaks for porn? In Kira Hall and Rusty Barrett (eds) The Oxford Handbook of Language and Sexuality. Oxford: Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190212926.001.0001

Phillips, Kristine (4 December 2018) ’We’re not the one who need to be careful,’ James Fields Jr. texted an image of Hitler to his mother before Charlottesville rally. Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/public-safety/were-not-the-one-who-need-to-be-careful-james-a-fields-texted-mother-before-charlottesville-rally/2018/12/04/c69e63e4-f752-11e8-863c-9e2f864d47e7_story.html

Phillips, Whitney (2016) This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: Mapping the Relationship between Online Trolling and Mainstream Culture. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Richeson, Marques (2009) Sex, drugs, and… race-to-castrate: a black box warning of chemical castration’s potential racial side effects. Harvard BlackLetter Law Journal 25: 95–131.

Russell, Eric Louis (2021) Alpha Masculinity: Hegemony in Language and Discourse. Palgrave Macmillan.

Saini, Angela (2019) Superior: The Return of Race Science. Boston: Beacon Press.

Salter, Michael (2017) Crime, Justice and Social Media. New York: Routledge.

Silverstein, Michael (2003) Indexical order and the dialectics of sociolinguistic life. Language & Communication 23: 193–229.

Sinclair-Chapman, Valeria (2018) (De)constructing symbols: Charlottesville, the confederate flag, and a case for disrupting symbolic meaning. Politics, Groups, and Identities 6(2): 316–323. https://doi.org/10.1080/21565503.2018.1455597

Squirrell, Tim (3 August 2017) The evolution of ‘cuck’ shows that far-right groups are learning the same language. New Statesman. https://www.newstatesman.com/science-tech/2017/08/evolution-cuck-shows-different-far-right-groups-are-learning-same-language

Tarrant, Brenton (2019) The Great Replacement [PDF]. https://img-prod.ilfoglio.it/userUpload/The_Great_Replacementconvertito.pdf

Tuters, Marc and Hagen, Sal (2020) (((They))) rule: memetic antagonism and nebulous othering on 4chan. New Media & Society 22(12): 2218–2237. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444819888746

Urban Dictionary (1999–) Retrieved on 6 June 2021 from https://www.urbandictionary.com/

Van Brunt, Brian and Taylor, Chris (2020) Understanding and Treating Incels: Case Studies, Guidance, and Treatment of Violence Risk in the Involuntary Celibate Community. New York: Routledge.

van der Leek, Frederike (1997) Caused-Motion and the ‘bottom-up’ role of grammar. In Ad Foolen and Frederike van der Leek (eds) Constructions in Cognitive Linguistics: Selected Papers from the Fifth International Cognitive Linguistics Conference, Amsterdam, 1997 301–332. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

van Dijk, Teun (1992) Discourse and the denial of racism. Discourse & Society 3(1): 87–118.

Varis, Piia and Blommaert, Jan (2015) Conviviality and collectives on social media: virality, memes, and new social structures. Multilingual Margins 2(1): 31–45. https://doi.org/10.14426/mm.v2i1.55

Wodak, Ruth (2017) The ‘establishment’, the ‘élites’, and the ‘people’: who’s who? Journal of Language and Politics 16(4): 551–565. https://doi.org/10.1075/jlp.17030.wod

Wodak, Ruth, Culpeper, Jonathan and Semino, Elena (2021) Shameless normalisation of impoliteness: Berlusconi’s and Trump’s press conferences. Discourse & Society 32(3): 369–393. https://doi.org/10.1177/0957926520977217

Woolard, Kathryn and Schieffelin, Bambi (1994) Language ideology. Annual Review of Anthropology 23: 55-82.

Zannettou, Savvas, Caulfield, Tristan, De Cristofaro, Emiliano, Kourtelris, Nicolas, Leontiadis, Ilias, Sirivianos, Michael, Stringhini, Gianluca and Blackburn, Jeremy (2017) The web centipede: understanding how web communities influence each other through the lens of mainstream and alternative news sources. Presented at IMC ’17: 2017 Internet Measurement Conference, London, UK, 1–3 November 2017. https://doi.org/10.1145.3131365.3131390



How to Cite

Kosse, M. (2022). ‘Ted Cruz cucks again’: The insult term cuck as an alt-right masculinist signifier. Gender and Language, 16(2), 99–124. https://doi.org/10.1558/genl.21079