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Friday, March 2, 2012

The Art of the Olde Fashioned Insult



Have you ever noticed the skill and creativity with which Shakespeare's characters insulted one another? The delightful wit in Austen's biting repartee? The grin-inducing charm of a pirate calling someone a scurvy dog?

Oh yes, insults have always been used--and prior to this modern age, were a work of art that relied less on the vulgar and more on the brain. They were clever, they were cruel, and they often make modern readers giggle.

When writing historical fiction, we have a real challenge when our characters get upset with one another. Our heroines can's just call our heroes jerks--it would leave them scratching their heads and asking, "Have I tugged on you too forcefully? Whatever do you mean?" Our heroes, prior to the mid-19th century, can't call our heroines snobs--they would quirk their delicate brows and say, "Am I a shoemaker? Pardon me, sir, but you must have mistaken me for someone else."

Nay, dear readers, our insults must be as old-fashioned and charming as our characters, must convey the true art that a good insult has been throughout history. All so you can smile while the characters pivot on their heels and huff away.

And so, for your reading pleasure, I offer you this list I've compiled of historical insults. So next time your spouse or neighbor ruffles your feathers, you can surprise them into laughter by demanding, "How dare you, you unctuous scalawag!" ;-)

Some favorites of the medievalists:

You dog's body!
You worm!
You son of a sow!
You misbegotten spawn of hell!
You fewmet of a hare!
You jackanapes!
You squirming adder!
You vile, spitting shrew!

Shakespeare offers us the following:

A Filthy Piece of Work
A Mere Dull Shadow
A Mind Diseas'd
A Very Toad
Abandoner Of Revels
Abject Drudge
Affable Wolf
Affecting Rogue
And Nothing Of A Man
Amorous Surfeiter
Anointed Sovereign Of Sighs And Groans
Arrant Counterfeit Rascal

Or mix and match the nouns and adjectives below! (You'll find that animals are very popular, LOL)

Nouns
Ruffian
Scalawag
Knave
Rapscallion
Reprobate
Cad
Jackanapes
Scapegrace
Hooligan
Scamp
Wretch
Toad
Rogue
Prig
Wretch
Toad
Boor
Barnacle
Measle
Pumpion
Lewdster
Strumpet
Ratsbane
Vassal
Maggot-pie
Coxcomb

Adjectives
Unctuous
Vile
Insufferable
Odious
Mule-brained
Contemptuous
Droning
Bootless
Churlish
Bawdy
Beslubbering
Infectuous
Fawning
Vain
Villainous
Artless
Mangled
Roguish
Lumpish
Impertinent

22 comments:

  1. Hmm...maybe I'll have to give a few of these a try.

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  2. Oh.. I simply adore these! People were so imaginative in those days.. now our vocabulary is reduced to a few mundane names we can call people. Not that calling anyone a name is a good thing.. but you know what I mean. I'm going to copy some of these down. Thank you Roseanna!

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    1. Yes, we've lost our creativity in this stuff! LOL. Always handy to have for a story though. =)

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  3. What a fun post....and helpful, too!

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  4. Love it! Thanks for putting the research into a compact resource.

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  5. Thank you, Roseanna. I know I'll be able to use this, so I'm adding to my reference libraries.

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  6. Happy to help you--er, your characters--insult with creativity, LOL.

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  7. These are great! Thanks for putting them together for us. I can't wait to use them... well, have my characters use them that is.

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  8. Oh, this is classic! And I just watched a YouTube video with John Banyan, a comedian retelling the classic 3 Little Pigs tale in 18th century language. Shakespeare had a working vocabulary of 54,000 words. We, in America, have a working vocabulary of 3,000 words. Sad, isn't it? But you've got to watch this. It's a hoot!

    John Banyan, The 3 Little Pigs

    You're going to get quite a laugh! I want to get the transcript of this.

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    1. Oh my goodness, Tiffany, that is HILARIOUS!!! Watched it then had to take it to hubby to watch.

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  9. One of my favorites from Shakespeare is a cream-headed loon.

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    1. So giggling, as I do at many of his insults. =)

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  10. This is so hilarious! I think my absolute favorite is "mule-brained," LOL! I definitely will be adding this to my "important stuff for writing" file. Thank you, Roseanna!

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  11. Am saving these-- It's attention to details that bring a reader right into the story! Great stuff--thank you, Roseanna!

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  12. Hi Roseanna, I had never considered insults being so - facinating before! I will definately be using some of these! Excellent resourse and quite thought provoking! I can't wait to use one ...or some of these. ;0

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    1. I was struck by how fascinating they were too, when I started looking these up. Have fun with them, Susan! Glad you stopped by. =)

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  13. What fun, Roseanna, thanks for sharing!
    It's a great list.
    Hugs,

    (the ever artless)Linore

    ("artless" is the only one I don't see as an insult.): )

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  14. Thanks for sharing such a fun list!

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  15. Wonderful! I am writing a medieval story and from page 1 needed good insults. Perfect! You saved me. :)

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    1. So glad to be of service. *Doffing my invisible hat*

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