The first prickish thing I remember doing was when I was about four years old. I was living in Toronto and it was the middle of winter. This was in the early sixties and back then winter was more severe, there was much more snowfall than we get now. My friend and I were digging in a snow bank with the little red metal shovels that all Canadian kids had. We were trying to dig as fast as we could and see who could make the biggest pile. My friend started shovelling snow on my feet and he was laughing. So I turned to him and hit him over the head with my little red shovel. For a four-year-old one might not think that this was indicative of the behavior of a prick; it may just be childish excitability. What makes it prickish is that when I saw the blood gushing out of the large wound above his eye, I laughed and called him a baby for crying. Then I ran home
A few years later my mother told me not to swear when she heard me call my brother a prick. I thought that I had a full inventory of the words that fell into the category of blasphemy, starting with hell and ending in fuck. Of course at the age of six there were still some more to fill a truly rounded rostrum of a filthy mouth, but Prick? The addition of this fairly prosaic word struck me as somewhat capricious. (At a later date my mother overheard me call the same brother a traitor, a word I had just learned in a cowboy and Indian movie, and she informed me that I was not to use that word either, it was a curse. From that moment on I lent a jaundiced eye to all my mothers pronunciations on such matters of etiquette.) But the use of prick from then on held special place for me as an epithet with which to brand ones adversaries. Once, a friend and I were cutting through the yard of one of our classmates. His father caught sight of us out the window of his study and raced out to head us off. We had been oblivious of him until he started yelling at us about his garden and his grass and god knows what else. John, my friend, later told me that Mr. Sheet was a prick. So when he suggested we steal his canoe I heartily agreed. We went camping and smoked an ounce of marijuana and hallucinated that we were being attacked by Vikings. We had a great time and left the canoe in the woods.
What is it about prickishness that gives it such weight as a dispositional concept? If John had said that Mr. Sheet was an old cocksucker it would have left a great deal of room for his personality to be slotted. I would not have had any concise idea of the nature of the man. But to call him a prick was a precise indictment against his character. I knew, from this epithet, that he was a most unsavory character, who likely beat his wife and children or worse. ( Truth be told, on a scout trip, Mr. Sheet had driven a group of us to our campsite. On return, some of us kids were waiting for him as he discussed something with our Aquela. He drove a large Buick and it had power windows, a rarity at the time, and I managed to break the master control on the driver’s door. When he saw what I had done he let me have it. I can clearly remember his reprimand. He had greased black hair and horn rim glasses and a rutted angular face. The face of a successful nerd. He told me that he would have to have the door replaced and my father would have to pay for the repairs. I hated him and I hated his son, who was a better violin player than me.)
To be a prick is to be a specific thing, and it is never good. You might ask a police officer on the verge of giving you a ticket not to be a prick. What could be lowlier? Empowered and pathetic, executing a worthless and thankless task, he has power, and he is a prick.