thoughtsPossible Alien Greetings That May Be Interpreted, By Humans, As Hostile

In the event that humans encounter some alien culture, it is important to remember that many concepts are not necessarily as universal as we like to think. The following is a list of possible traditional alien greetings that would probably be interpreted, by humans, as threats or insults. Remember, it is always important to keep an open mind. It would be tragic if someone's jump to conclusions resulted in interspecies war.

"You suck."

Typical human interpretation:

The idea of something sucking, in the vernacular sense, presumably came from some specific sexual action too vulgar to detail here. Nowadays, it is not necessary to specify what, if anything, someone sucks. Merely to say that they do suck is enough - it means they are bad at what they do, or, more generally, that they are somehow socially or morally bad.

Paradoxically enough, the term "blow" is considered synonymous, though rarely applied to people.

If you tell a human who is a member of Western culture and reasonably well-versed in modern slang that they suck, they will likely interpret it as a mildly vulgar insult. What aspect of them you are insulting may vary with context, but it is, definitely, an insult.

Possible alien interpretation:

It is not difficult to imagine an alien culture in which sucking is somehow a virtue. Perhaps theirs is an acquisition-focused culture in which the ability to suck up vast quantities of some resource is a sign of fitness. Perhaps their culture has some pervasive moral metaphor in which low atmospheric pressure is equivalent to goodness (much as, with us, goodness is portrayed as light and evil as darkness).

Without more specific information, "sucking" could be equally good or bad. In fact, it may even be literal. ("Hey, your spacesuit's sprung a leak!")

Extension of Middle Digit

Typical human interpretation:

Flipping someone off, giving the finger, flipping the bird, giving the highway salute, digitus impudicus... call it what you will, the extension of the middle finger is a grave insult to most humans.

Although the direct source of the modern .!.. gesture is open to question, some say it dates back thousands of years. In any case, displaying your middle finger is considered extremely offensive (usually censored) and somehow sexually suggestive (perhaps phallic?). Some interpret it as the sign-language gesture of the infamous f-word, with all of its implications.

Possible alien interpretation:

The obscenity of the middle finger is clearly peculiar to human culture and biology. The extension of the middle finger, freed of our sexual associations, would actually be a good way to greet someone - highly visible, displaying manual dexterity and the ability to find the middle of things... it's a simple sign of intelligence.

Of all the human insults, this is the simplest, and the one we can most expect to be duplicated in some foreign culture, given that they have multiple digits.

"I want to eat you."

Typical human interpretation:

One might argue that it is difficult to misinterpret this one. Our species has a common fear of monsters coming to ingest us (as a result of growing up in a world in which there are monsters that can ingest us). Should any large, betentacled and enfanged creature descend from the skies and say this, it'd probably be green hamburger before it could finish a second sentence.

Possible alien interpretation:

There are many examples of human cultures in which the idea "you are what you eat" is taken to extremes. We, like all organisms, take in nutrients and build our selves with them. It is not a great leap of logic to imagine that one takes on the abilities and qualities of those things one eats.

Given this framework, expressing the desire (but not the intention) to eat someone might simply mean that they have qualities you wish you possessed. This could be used as a simple and standardized compliment, something you might say out of politeness without needing to elaborate.

"Your mother is a fat whore."

Typical human interpretation:

In this modern world, corpulence is a result of bad habits, cheap food, and sedentary lifestyle. Where before fat was a sign of wealth and health, our civilization's abundance of sugars and starches, marketed on taste and appearance rather than wholesomeness, has reversed things. Now, it costs money to stay in shape - the economically disadvantaged cannot afford personal trainers or well-balanced meals.

Promiscuity (in females, at least) is likewise stigmatized. In the sexual dynamic of most terrestrial animals, females are the ones who choose from competing males. A female who does not demonstrate this choosiness is going to produce sub-par offspring.

In addition, promiscuity encourages the spread of some very nasty diseases, and is widely considered morally repugnant, especially when the exchange of money is involved.

In modern Western culture, it is common to insult someone by impugning their mother. It is easy to thusly invoke your target's wrath, as the traditional stay-at-home-mom familial structure results in strong emotional ties between a child and their female parent.

Possible alien interpretation:

It is possible, in some alien species, for size to be indicative of overall health. Thus, the fatter one is, the more laudable their lifestyle and the better their genes.

Similarly, in a species where sexually transmitted diseases are unknown and pregnancy is voluntary, sexual promiscuity might bear no stigma. Indeed, only the most attractive of females would thusly be able to make a living - and, when the time was right to produce a child, she would have a large bank of potential male DNA to choose from.

Thus, referring to someone's mother as an obese prostitute might simply be a way of praising their genes. Presumably, the proper response is "so was your grandmother".

"You're a sack of crap."

Typical human interpretation:

Excrement, in most human cultures, can be used to mean any and all things bad, offensive, and worthless. Human feces carry a wide variety of substances and organisms that are not conducive to our continued health. Thus, the smell of poop is greatly offensive to us, and the success of any civilization can be directly measured by how quickly and how efficiently it transports excrement away from its citizens.

Referring to a human as excrement or something excrement-related is never considered a compliment.

Possible alien interpretation:

Calling someone a sack of crap might mean that they retain their crap, as opposed to spreading it around, endangering others. Thus, crap-retention could be the very foundation of a species' morality. The less you poop, and the more conscientious you are with your poop, the better a person you are.

Conversely, there could be some species that values their excrement as useful and benign. It could be that their digestive process extracts and concentrates minerals and ores enough so that they can be used - thus the genesis of their civilization was based on poop forging. They might also use their feces as fertilizer or building material or fuel... in any event, the badness of excrement is not necessarily universal, and thus referring to someone as feces is not universally insulting.

(Regardless, if someone calls you a sack of crap, it's probably a good idea not to shake their hand.)

"I hate you with every fiber of my being."

Typical human interpretation:

This one's pretty cut and dried.

Possible alien interpretation:

There are two ways we could take this as a compliment.

First, we could presume that the hate in question is rooted in jealousy, that such an expression of hatred is, in fact, an acknowledgement that we are somehow superior to our haters. Such an expression of envious animosity could be a common compliment in a particularly competition-focused alien culture, with little thought given to its actual meaning.

On the other hand, we have the phrase "every fiber of my being". In human terminology, this means "every part of me", but this might not universally be the case. An alien species might possess actual fibers running through their body, and it might be a common belief that these fibers do and feel the opposite of whatever the rest of the body is doing.

I know, I'm kinda reaching on this one, but it is at least conceivable.

"Give me all your money or I'll kill you."

Typical human interpretation:

This one is also fairly self-explanatory.

Possible alien interpretation:

Now, I think, we've reached the very outer limits of plausibility. It would take a very bizarre sort of Communist society indeed for this to become a standard greeting. Still, though, a society based around instantaneous and arbitrary transfers of wealth - capricious yet mandatory, on pain of expulsion from the society - might not be as bad as we imagine.

Plus, you have to admit, a world in which this is considered a polite and traditional hello would be a very interesting vacation destination.

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