I am looking to learn about something I know nothing about, please excuse my terminology, I am looking for leading answers to learn.

If I call someone a name "you dumbass" and they punch me in the face, and we end up fighting, how would a court handle that? Lets say the whole event was videotaped and all conversation recorded. Would a judge say "well you called him a name, you should have expected this consequence (fighting)." ...what is this called? the idea of "you did something you should have known could have lead to these consequences"

I am trying to fill a knowledge gap, again please forgive me for the silly question I dont know how to word it better.

  • 1
    In the western world name calling is not a crime assault and battery is a crime. Commented Oct 26, 2021 at 4:58
  • 4
    Laws on provocation and retaliation vary around the world. If you would like a specific answer to your question then please consider adding the relevant jurisdiction tag.
    – user35069
    Commented Oct 26, 2021 at 5:44
  • 3
    It depends on where you are - in Germany the laws are widely different from let's say Washington state or Hawaii. Also, this could depend on the when: in 1700 Japan it was totally legal for a Samurai to cut down a commoner for this, while in 1900 the same behavior would result in a trial for unlawful killing.
    – Trish
    Commented Oct 26, 2021 at 6:29
  • 1
    @GeorgeWhite Calling someone names can be a crime. § 185 StGB (German Criminal Laws)
    – Trish
    Commented Oct 26, 2021 at 8:44

2 Answers 2


If I call someone a name "you dumbass" and they punch me in the face, and we end up fighting, how would a court handle that?

Taking the facts at face value, initially, they are guilty of assault and battery (to give the crimes their historical names) and you are guilty of nothing. By and large, name calling is not a justification for violence.

Subsequently, the word “fight” is too broad to to decide if either of you have committed further offences. If “fight” means a minor scuffle that ends quickly with no serious injuries then probably no further offences have occurred: you are entitled to defend yourself using reasonable force. However, self-defence stops as soon as you are no longer at risk of imminent harm - if you strike your assailant and knock them down (perhaps even killing them), that can be self-defence. If you knock them down and then beat their head with a piece of timber - that isn’t.

Of course, context matters. If you yell "you dumbass" while charging at the person with your fists raised, you have probably committed assault and they are entitled to defend themselves, including hitting you first. However, it is not the words alone that make this assault - it is the words as part of the whole situation and if that puts the other person in reasonable apprehension of imminent harm.

There is a concept of fighting words but those are not words that justify fighting - they are words that fall outside the particular jurisdiction’s free speech protections. That is, they are words that the government can criminalise, not words that justify a violent response. Where this law is drawn depends on jurisdiction but in the US it is a vanishingly small, possibly empty, set.

  • "If you knock them down and then beat their head with a piece of timber - that isn’t": it's not too difficult to imagine fact patterns where it would still be self defense. Knocking someone down does not necessarily remove the risk of imminent harm.
    – phoog
    Commented Oct 26, 2021 at 10:26
  • FWIW, the offense described in the OP has been decriminalized under state law in Colorado if no serious bodily injury results and a deadly weapon is not used, and the victim is not a first responder or judge, and there is no restraining order in place. It would often be a local ordinance violation however.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Oct 26, 2021 at 22:03
  • Typically in the United States, Fighting Words Doctrine must show that the speaker said those specific words knowing that the specific individual would react to them in a violent manner. It also does not immunize the attacker from any violations of the law... it would merely allow the speaker to be charged with a crime (normally disturbing the peace). It should be pointed out that American Law does not recognize hate speech as a crime (the closest they have is Hate Crimes, which an ordinary crime was committed out of hatred to protected status of the victim, true or not.)
    – hszmv
    Commented Oct 28, 2021 at 13:34


Their case

They will charged with Art. 129 of the Penal Code, "lesão corporal" (loosely translated to bodily harm), punishable by incarceration of 3 months to a year - theoretically.

4th paragraph does have provocation as a factor to reduce the sentence, described as "motivated by reason with relevant social or moral value or under intense emotion, right after unfair provocation on the victim's part", allowing the judge to reduce the punishment by 1/6 to 1/3. So then they can be in prison for 1 to 10 months in this case. Note that it is up to the judge's discretion to define if this applies.

In case they don't inflict severe wounds (i.e. no risk to life, no permanent disability, not labor-inducing and the person is not incapacitated for work for more than 30 days) AND you also inflict wounds in the same extent, the punishment can be changed to a fine


You can be charged with Art. 140, "Injúria" (which doesn't translate to directly injury, it is more akin to insult, even though it can be physical, like painting things on someone's face) which is defined by "insulting someone, offending their dignity or decorum" - if they decide to press charges, as this is not automatically prosecutable. This is punishable by incarceration of 1 to 6 months or a fine.

If the name you call is considered a slur (referring to race / color, ethnicity, nationality, religion, age, disability...), then your punishment increases to 1 to 3 years in prison AND a fine.

You can also get charged with the same bodily harm charge described above. If the judge rules that your insult was not severe enough to justify physical violence AND you didn't use excessive force, you can go scot-free of this charge under legitimate defense.

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