As excerpted from the University of Wisconsin Student Voice – 15 April 1999
Everyone can swear, but very few can do it with any degree of style.
The art of swearing has all but disappeared from our modern language. Gone are the days of witty insults and stinging barbs. What used to be a creative process has been replaced by a short list of four-letter words.
When was the last time you heard a guest on the “Jerry Springer Show” call someone a “knotty-pated fool,” or “obscene greasy tallow-catch,” (a tallow-catch was a large tub used to collect the waxy drippings from candle making)?
These clever Shakespearean invectives have been swallowed up by unintelligent, unimaginative and overused swear words.
Anyone can use a common swear word, but a truly creative person would strive for the uncommon.
Shakespeare loved insults, invectives and curses. He was a master of the art of swearing, whether through a full-blooded volley of words or a quick, sharp barb. Some are even almost too graphic to say out loud.
So instead of hearing, “Away, you scullion! You rampallian! You fustilarian! I’ll tickle your catastrophe!” the viewing audience hears an annoying string of beeps.
These garden-variety insults have wormed their way so deep into American culture that we have forgotten what a true insult really is.
How much heat is really behind a five-letter word for a female dog? We have become desensitized to these worthless excuses for swearing. There is no other way to explain the emergence of these words on prime-time television. With the exception of the mother of all swear words, what haven’t you heard broadcast across the networks?
The viewing audience and newspaper readers deserve more witty repartee from writers than what the guests on “Springer” are capable of engaging in.
People have simply become complacent. Who wouldn’t rather hear someone called a “lump of foul deformity,” a “poisonous bunch-backed toad,” an “elvish-marked, abortive rooting hog?”
Even those who wrote in classical Latin had more imagination when it came to hurling insults at each other.
Plautus once said, “Do me a favour and get that twaddle-talking tongue of yours surgically removed from your mouth.” Which is infinitely more inventive than a simple shut-up could ever be.
So the next time you find yourself in a situation that requires a witty epitaph, consider these. They are considerably more imaginative and effective than the commonly used utterances. You can thank Shakespeare later.
The all-purpose insult: “Were I like thee I’d throw away myself,” or “You are as a candle, the better part burnt out.”
Curses: “Son of sixteen, / Pluck the lined crutch from thy old limping sire; / With it beat out his brains!”, “Gods give me strength to endure the torture of your company!” or “Thou cream-faced loon!”
Threats: “Let me go grind their bones to powder small / And with this hateful liquor temper it; / And in that paste let their vile heads be baked.”
Other Clean Insults:
“I beg your pardon! I had not realised how utterly outmatched you are by me. As worthy as you are of a good thrashing, there is no honour in shaming one who is less than a fool.”
“You have the face of a swamp troll, and the brains of half of one.”
“May each of your days be worse than the last and may you live forever!”
“Do you realise that you are depriving a village somewhere of an idiot?”
“Is ignorance really bliss, or are you just faking it?”
“Anyone with half a brain could have figured that out! Oh, pardon, I forgot for a moment who I was speaking to.”
“Your tongue trips over your words as if they were obstacles set before you.”