on sticks and stones

March 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

I’m reading a book on insults. Sadly not a how to guide, but more of the philosophy of.  So far the author, Jerome Neu, Professor of Humanities, UC Santa Cruz, has discussed playing the dozens, ritual insulting games in African American youth, particularly males. He has a Freduian psychology background so reports on suggestions that the insulting of the other’s mother is a strategic invitation to insult his own; part of a need to break out of a reported matriarchy in working class African Americans where absent male figures create such a power system.  Apart from quoting Eminem as proof of this, there is little in the way of what linguists would call data, but that’s no biggie, it is a philosophical treatment more than anything, though Labov does get a mention here and there.

I have flipped forward though and seen that there is a bit of a how to guide, provided by that master of insults, William Shakespeare which he found on the internet. (while there get a randomly generated insult here

Here’s an excerpt:

Combine one word from each of the three columns below, prefaced with “Thou”:
Column 1 Column 2 Column 3
artless base-court apple-john
bawdy bat-fowling baggage
beslubbering beef-witted barnacle
bootless beetle-headed bladder
churlish boil-brained boar-pig
clouted clapper-clawed bugbear
cockered clay-brained bum-bailey
craven common-kissing canker-blossom
currish crook-pated clack-dish
dankish dizzy-eyed clotplole
dissembling doghearted codpiece
droning dread-bolting coxcomb

 In fact there are a great number of insult generators. This one offers Shakespearean, Arabian, Mediterranean and Modern styles. The Arabian manner is phrased as a curse may your …. while those of the Med, like the dirty dozens targets the insultee’s female kin:

Your mother was a third-rate chemist who burnt her bra in a morgue

Your mother was a frightening git who endlessly recited Monty Python sketches under the influence of alcohol

Your mother was a blunt has-been who used to pick her nose at the local flea market

Not all that zingy if you ask me.


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