Son Of A Bitch Legal Definition:

A derogatory and possibly defamatory reference to another person suggesting that they are of substandard lineage.

In the aptly-named book Watch Your Tongue!, the authors state that:

"Son of a bitch may be said without fear of penalty; such words were not slanderous in themselves. New York went one step further and granted immunity for the augmented phrase God damn son of a bitch."

In Blaser v Kratiger, Ms Kratinger was sued for libel by Mr. Blaser when the former burst into a hotel room in which the plaintiff was sitting and yelled:

"Someone has stolen $1000 worth of jewelry from my bedroom and the son of a bitch sits here in this room."

Chief Justice Burnett of Oregon dismissed the libel claim for following reasons:

"Unless the plaintiff can show that he belongs to that class whose ancestry is ascribed to a canine of the female sex, he cannot sustain an action because he is not the particular one of those against whom as individual the charge of larceny was directed."

The term was at issue in the more recent Canadian case of Ralston v Fomich.

The action was one for defamation as one politician had told the press that:

"... you can quote me that in my personal opinion Ralston is a sick son of a bitch".

In a poor son of a bitch of a case written by a brave son of a bitch of a judge (Justice Spencer of the British Columbia Supreme Court), the Court found that the term son of a bitch was not slander or libel in modern times:

"There is nothing blasphemous about the expression son of a bitch. The reference to "son" does not, as counsel suggested, appear to derive from an early religious reference to Jesus.... If it had an earlier religious connotation, which I doubt, it is so lost in the mists of antiquity that it imposes no blasphemous inference upon the words "son of a bitch" today.

"Nor do I think there is anything indecent in the phrase. At most it is impolite.

"In my opinion the words son of a bitch by themselves are not capable of any defamatory meaning.

"They are peculiar, in that they take their meaning either from the tone of voice used or from whatever adjective accompanies them. They are a translucent vessel waiting to be filled with color by their immediate qualifier.

"Thus, one has sympathy for a poor son of a bitch, admiration for a brave son of a bitch, affection for a good old son of a bitch, envy for a rich son of a bitch and, perhaps incongruously, dislike for a proper son of a bitch.

"Why right thinking people should dislike anything that is proper is rather a mystery unless proper is used to mean real but I am confident that is the colour that adjective gives to the expression. It is perhaps a throw-back to an earlier use of the expression when the mere words themselves carried an opprobrious meaning, see for example Kent's apostrophe to Oswald {Thou art nothing but the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pander and the son and heir of a mongrel bitch - Shakespeare, King Lear, Act 2, Scene 2}.

"There are other early examples to be found of a stand alone meaning of the phrase, but in modern times the bare words are not capable of bearing a defamatory meaning. At most they insult. They are not likely to lower the object in the estimation of right thinking people. More probably they will demean the speaker, depending upon the company and the occasion."

REFERENCES:

  • Blaser v Kratinger, 195 P. 359 (1921)
  • Duhaime, Lloyd, Son Of A Bitch Defamation Cases
  • Ernst, M., and Lindey, A., Hold Your Tongue! The Layman's Guide to Libel and Slander (New York: Abelard Press, 1950), pages 25-26.
  • Ralston v Fromich [1992] 2 W.W.R. 284. In the result, the defendant was found to have defamed Ralston because of his use of the word sick.

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