Laxatives are in Aisle Five, bon apetit, you mossy-bowelled bleederâ€¦have a runny day. Ahoy there, you vacuous, toffee-nosed, malodorous pervert â€¦and welcome to Wal-Mart. Please watch your stepâ€¦your warts are leaking. Cart or basket? What was that? Stop the presses, Shakespeare has spoken, ingenious pairing of the â€œfâ€ word with â€œyouâ€, bravo, you cancerous lump of nose-pick. Painkillers are in Aisle Eight, have a superb overdose.Â Abuse is dead. Instead we have boorish, boring vulgarity â€“ two or three one-size-fits-all sewer swear words.
The same old ho-hum cussing, whatâ€™s sauce for the broken fingernail is sauce for the thirty-car train wreck. Whereâ€™s the panache? Why not exhume the verbal treasures of the English muck mines? From the playful to the truly vile, letâ€™s doff the swears and curse with style. Iâ€™m I.D.â€™s pretentious, long-winded international correspondent and THIS IS CNN! Brought to you by the letter â€œIâ€: for your belligerent pleasure – right now! – a whirlwind tour of Planet Insult. You smelly bag of mongrel corn plop. You sock-sniffing guttersnipe. You reek of sauerkraut and leprosy.
General Purpose Vituperation
Apply liberally to the putrid at heart. These pearls of put-down, courtesy of dictionary.com (DDC), can be fired at will. â€œBlackguardâ€ (pronounced â€œblaggardâ€, c. 1400â€™s), meaning â€œa foul mouthed, utterly disgusting scoundrelâ€, was at one point the height of opprobrium. It was sorely missed this past November. â€œBusybodyâ€ isnâ€™t bad, but â€œquidnuncâ€, from the Latin for â€œwhat now?â€ is better, meaning a noisy gossip. â€œBratâ€ is good, but the three-pronged â€œjackanapesâ€ (â€œa domesticated ape or monkeyâ€, â€œan annoying childâ€, â€œan impudent fellowâ€) is marvellous when used upon â€œone who is unimportant but cheeky and presumptuousâ€. Like you, for instance.
â€œToadyâ€ is word-perfect for the warty suck-up after your job: a sycophant. A servile parasite. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary (OED), the word has its slimy roots in â€œtoad-eaterâ€; a toad-eater (c. 1629) was the assistant of a medical charlatan who ate or pretended to eat a toad (which at the time was believed poisonous) in order to display his masterâ€™s sham skill in expelling the poison. I like â€œsuillineâ€ (â€œof the hog familyâ€), and â€œBabbittâ€ isnâ€™t bad either (â€œa self-satisfied, complacent person chiefly interested in business, middle-class idealsâ€), but â€œpoltroonâ€ takes the cake (â€œa base cowardâ€). The next two are from the wonderful site The Toadâ€™s Words, an etymology collection. â€œLibertineâ€ is perfect for the cunning curmudgeon: it has a noble, Roman-imperial air to it, but it just means â€œa debauched, licentious or immoral manâ€. â€œCurmudgeonâ€, by the way, has evolved into a poke that is rather on the cute side of cantankerous, but firing it at â€œa crusty, ill-tempered, and usually old manâ€ may chip at least some of the enamel off those muddy dentures.
Insults by Shakespeare
These are so plentiful and so delightful that they could easily fill an entire bookâ€¦namely Shakespeareâ€™s Insults by Wayne F. Hill and Cynthia J. Ottchen. All of the following are shamelessly lifted from that groovy tome: unlickâ€™d bear-whelp, quicksand of deceit, scurvy politician, king of codpieces, rump-fed ronyon, roastmeat for worms, tallow-face, milksop.
Misers and dullards, ugly mugs and atheists, idiots and fatsoes â€“ all of these gents have their own special, horrible pages in the mighty Oxford. An ample chunk of insults for men harp on femininity: the much-maligned girlie-man and his preening cousins. Itâ€™s an interesting case of algebra exploding in oneâ€™s face: a = b (man = â€œwomanâ€ = insult), b = c (woman = â€œlooseâ€ = insult), but a â‰ c (man = â€œlooseâ€ â‰ insult). A small taste: nancy-boy, pantywaist, pretty-boy, mammaâ€™s boy, pansy, poofter, nelly, wuss, and of course, the best Schwarzeneggerism since â€œIâ€™LL BE BOCKâ€, â€œgirlie-manâ€.
â€œGirlie-manâ€ was popularized in old Saturday Night Live skit in which Hans and Franz, two Schwarzeneggeresque meatheads, jeer at people whose biceps are not preposterously huge. The Gubernator got in on the joke by using â€œgirlie-menâ€ to attack California legislators over the stateâ€™s budget, and despite wide censure of the term as homophobic and misogynist, he gave an encore performance at the most recent Republican National Convention, declaring “And to those critics who are so pessimistic about our economy, I say: Don’t be economic girlie men.” Auch.
Variations of â€œgirlie manâ€ for about as long as it been undesirable to be female â€“ that is, roughly forever. The ancient Greeks, for instance, might have taunted each other with â€œandrogynosâ€ (formed from â€œandrosâ€, meaning â€œmanâ€ and â€œgyneâ€, meaning â€œwomanâ€). Indeed, says online blog Laudator Tempois Acti in an August 2004 entry, in Menanderâ€™s Aspis, a Thracian slave taunts his Phyrgian counterpart, â€œGirlie man (androgynos). We Thracians alone are real men, a masculine bunch.â€
Insults for women are as profuse as Vulcan ears at a calculator convention, and almost as dull. Most confine militantly to one of two themes â€“ promiscuity and nagging. Of the former persuasion are slattern, jezebel, trollop, tramp, strumpet, quiff and quean. All of these words essentially mean â€œa cheap womanâ€, but â€œslatternâ€ has the added connotation of â€œslovenlyâ€ and â€œqueanâ€ (from the Old English cwen) implies impudence or ill-behaviour. Shrew, virago, harridan, scold, termagant, fishwife, and battle-axe all describe a strident or nagging female. Of these, â€œtermagantâ€ is probably the most obscure, and the most fascinating. According to the Toadâ€™s Words, Termagant was a violent, riotous (and fictional) Muslim deity in medieval European â€œmorality playsâ€; because he was typically dressed in long flowing robes, he was often mistaken for a woman! Hence the present definition of the word: a â€œbrawling woman, a shrewâ€ (c. 1659).
Insults That Werenâ€™t
â€œTrampâ€ only assumed its current connotation of â€œprostituteâ€ around 1922. For over 600 years, the word was a benign one, associated simply with the act of wandering, sometimes aimlessly. â€œTrampâ€™sâ€ first recorded usage was in 1388, Middle Low German trampen, meaning â€œto stampâ€; it took until roughly the 1630â€™s for the full evolution into â€œvagabondâ€. By the late nineteenth century, says the OED, a â€œtrampâ€ was a â€œsteamship which takes cargo wherever it can be tradedâ€, and from here the wordâ€™s quick tumble into the gutter was perhaps inescapable. In New Zealand and a few other locales, however, â€œtrampingâ€ remains common slang for romping about the countryside on foot.
â€œShrewâ€ is a word slightly out of vogue these days, sustained in the vernacular largely though the popularity of Shakespeareâ€™s tumultuous tale of a â€œhell-catâ€ subdued, The Taming of The Shrew. Its familiar meaning, â€œa peevish, malignant, clamorous, spiteful, vexatious, turbulent womanâ€ (c. 1386, says the OED!), is traditionally said to derive from its lesser-known incarnation, found on DDC, as a â€œsmall, insect-nibbling mammal of the family Soricidaeâ€. A rather cuddly-looking little animal, this shrew, or shrewmouse, was held in superstitious dread on account of its (false) reputation for a venomous bite.
Insults That Arenâ€™t
Itâ€™s official: at long last, â€œpimpâ€ is no longer an insult. Reuters reports that when EXPN.com ran a photograph of famed stuntman Evel Knievel at the 2001 Action Sports and Music Awards along with the caption â€œYouâ€™re never too old to be a pimpâ€, a seething Kneivel sued, alleging â€œpublic disgrace and scandalâ€. His case was shot down by a three-judge panel court in San Francisco, which ruled that â€œpimpâ€ was likely intended as a teen-slang compliment, and therefore did not constitute defamation. Knievel furiously responded, â€œWhat good is law in the United States of America if five or six goddamn bimbos are going to rule against it?â€ A good try, Evel, but methinks that since all three of the judges were male, the correct term would probably be â€œmimboâ€ (male bimbo, one of the many phrases coined on Seinfeld). Thank you, come again.
â€œQueerâ€ is a queer one indeed, perfectly benign until the 1920â€™s, when its first use as a pejorative for an effeminate or gay male was recorded, says the OED. The word made its debut in English some time after 1508, taking on dual meanings of â€œoblique, perverse, oddâ€ (from the Middle Low German â€œdwerâ€, meaning same) and â€œthwart, ruin, spoilâ€ (from â€œthwerrâ€, meaning â€œdiagonalâ€ â€“ quite literally â€œnot straightâ€, as pointed out on takeourword.com) â€œQueerâ€ re-emerged in the 1990â€™s gay community as a term of social and political empowerment, and though some continue to abhor the word, the mainstream popularity of â€œQueer Eye for the Straight Guyâ€ has essentially driven â€œqueerâ€ full circle.
Six parting shots
I like â€œnebbishâ€ because it rhymes so beautifully with â€œrubbishâ€ and because it conveys loserness like no other word â€“ a poor soul and a sad sack, all rolled into one, says f2.comâ€™s â€œOdd Wordsâ€. Straight from the dictionary: bÃªte noire: a detested, dreaded person, your very own pet hate. â€œDastardâ€: a sneaking, malicious coward. Infomercials getting you down? Then youâ€™re not going to believe the deal we have for you! Only ten easy instalments of the English alphabet: mountebank (â€œa boastful, unscrupulous pretender; a flamboyant charlatanâ€). Meek, timid and unassertive? You may just be a â€œmilquetoastâ€. And last but not least, for the utterly revolting, truly nasty piece of work â€“ try â€œmiscreantâ€ â€“ an â€œevil villainâ€.
Elderberries: The Last Word. Yes, Elderberries.
As the acknowledged kings of vicious effrontery, Monty Python gets the last word: â€œGo and boil your bottom, sons of a silly person. I blow my nose at youâ€¦you empty-headed animal food trough wiper! Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!â€