Douchebags, tools, and pricks: a nuanced argument

    It’s halfway through Fall Quarter, which means it’s that time of year — freshmen are beginning to commit to a select few of the sundry groups whose listservs they subscribed to just a few short weeks ago. Ask a freshman to describe the members of some of the groups they didn’t pick and you are likely to hear: “Those guys are the height of douchebaggery,” “That group is the Home Depot of tools,” “What a bunch of pricks,” etc. But what do these words really mean? I realized that someone needed to define the proper usage of douchebag, tool, and prick, to both increase the precision and potency of these words and help the freshmen on their search. I am that someone. Thus, I have brought you this dissertation on disses.

    I began like the great thinkers of old, with an analogy. Just a few decades ago our pop cultural ancestors wrestled with a similar problem: The pressing intellectual question of the 1980s was the confusion over the meanings of the words nerd, geek, and dork (not, contrary to popular belief, the merits of free-market economics). But by drawing concrete examples of each moniker, the great thinkers of the day — Andy Warhol, N.W.A., the writers of Alf – were able to hone in on the precise meanings of each of these words. Thus, with this in mind, I proceeded to examine the scurrilous sobriquets of our day.

    Arrogance is inherent in each category, but in order to differentiate between douchebag, prick and tool, one must understand where such arrogance is derived from. This is where the differences among these expressions arise.

    The douchebag, for example, is more than an arrogant jerk. A douchebag is an arrogant jerk because he thinks he’s the coolest guy in the room and will stop at nothing to make sure everyone knows it. He has a perma-tan, he’s rockin’ a pair of Ray-Bans, he’s doused himself in half a vial of cologne, he’s stretching his muscle shirt to the breaking point and he’s paid over a hundred dollars for the sand-washed, thrice-dyed, custom-ripped jeans he’s wearing. In short, he is the guy every man wants to be and every woman wants to be with (at least in his opinion). For freshmen looking for examples of these swaggering sub-species of humanity, they can be found at any number of late-night frat parties or intramural rugby matches.

    A short side note: this description may sound similar to that of a bro, and while it is true that douchebags are often bros, douchebags need not necessarily exhibit bro-like behavior. (These terms seem to be almost completely confined to referencing males, which is a subject for another essay.)

    Tools include the by-the-book fast food restaurant manager, the know-it-all IT guy, the guy whose hand is always first in the air who sits in the front row of class, the overly-zealous CA, etc. These people feel that because of their special position, skill, or intelligence, they are better than you. The tool’s assumption that he is more knowledgeable than you are gives him license to be nauseatingly pedantic and patronizing. The key difference between a tool and a douchebag is that while some may grant that douchebags have a basis for their arrogance (it’s not easy to get pecs like those after all), a tool is seen by those around him as an insignificant pawn in a bigger man’s chess game (hence the term tool). The resulting inferiority complex may even in part explain the tool’s arrogance.

    The prick, unlike the tool,  enjoys actual power or wealth. The officer who gave you a ticket for going three miles per hour over the speed limit, the boss who takes entirely too much enjoyment from handing out pink slips and the Beamer-driving attorney who doesn’t think twice about cutting you off at 80 miles an hour are all examples of pricks. Unfortunately, these men may also think that their wealth and/or authority makes them the embodiment of cool, which leads pricks to often be confused with douchebags. There are, however, rules of thumb that can be used to discern between the two. A douchebag will drive a late-model Asian tuner or muscle car, but will be looking forward to the day he can be like his prick dad and drive a BMW. This isn’t to say that it is impossible for someone to be both a prick and a douchebag at the same time (see trust fund babies). Pricks can be seen on campus at commencement ceremonies, in a meeting with an especially inflexible professor or in a run-in with the long arm of the Evanston law enforcement.

    As you can see, it is all too easy to confuse the terms douchebag, tool, and prick, but if we make an effort to keep their meanings precise, they will be all the more poignant when we run into that arrogant _____ in class, at work or on the road. I hope this clarifies for freshmen how to more accurately describe members of groups that they deem unbearable — and to steer clear of the douchebag-prick-tool trinity.


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