The Master at Work
When you were five, your mother told you not to call people names. She had in mind those innocent, angry words like Pig, and Stupid, and Dirtbag. As you got older, Mom’s influence diminished and the words became less innocent, more focused and hurtful, with words I’d rather not repeat here.
They also became less inventive.
Kids can come up with the most amazing insults when they try to outdo each other. They’ll throw all kinds of colorful, flamboyant words around, regardless of meaning, and invent new ones when the need arises. I remember a first-grader at recess who yelled at an older bully, “You smelly snort!” Everyone knew what he meant, even though the phrase makes no real sense.
That kind of reckless use of vocabulary reminds me of The Master. William Shakespeare.
Perhaps you wouldn’t call even your worst enemy, “Thou crusty botch of nature!” But Shakespeare did, in Troilus and Cressida. I wonder if his 16th century audience found it as humorous as we do today?
That was by no means the richest of his insults. He could scorch ice with his anger: “Hence, horrible villain, or I’ll spurn thine eyes like balls before me; I’ll unhair thy head, Thou shalt be whipp’d with wire, and stew’d’in brine, smarting in lingering pickle.” (That’s from Antony and Cleopatra.)
He could be so obscure you weren’t sure exactly how you’d been insulted. You just knew you had been: “Would the fountain of your mind were clear again, that I might water an ass at it.” (Again from Troilus and Cressida.)
And he could be inventive. He wove together words and phrases that still sound insulting today, even if you have no idea of their original meaning: “You bottle-ale rascal, you filthy bung…” from Henry IV, part 2. And in part 1, we have: “Why dost thou converse with that trunk of humours, that bolting-hutch of beastliness, that swollen parcel of dropsies, that huge bombard of sack, that stuffed cloak-bag of guts, that roasted Manningtree ox with pudding in his belly, that reverend vice, that grey Iniquity, that father ruffian, that vanity in years?” I certainly wouldn’t want to be referred to like this, even if no one in the room knew what the words meant!
The Insult Generator
In looking for a way to make my middle grade Elizabethan fantasy more appealing, I decided to throw in a character with an extraordinary bag of insults. That’s how I came across the Shakespearean Insult Generator. It’s hilarious!
The generator pairs one or more single or hyphenated words with a noun that has negative connotations, such as “Thou jarring shard-borne hag-seed!”
I don’t recommend using the Generator to get creative in a cafeteria brawl or a fight with your bff. But that next comment from a too-classically-educated character…. PERFECT!
You can try out the Generator at http://tinyurl.com/8sjs2. Go on, try it, thou lumpish dread-bolted odiferous stench!
Many people hate the man, but if you take the time to read his work, really read it… You’ll find everything from war, to love, to magic. He wrote something for everyone…. and I completely agree he was and is the master of insults. This post just made me smile.
Thank you, mockingbirdpub. I loved hearing Kenneth Branaugh speak the excerpt from The Tempest at the opening ceremony, but I wished they had done a little more with it.