Wednesday, February 27, 2013

“You, you… fustilarian!”

"You scullion! You rampallian! You fustilarian! I’ll tickle your catastrophe!” (Henry IV, Part 2)

I am continuing where I left off from the last blog, with some words from the Bard. Something a little more flavoursome, this time.

Ah, language is rarely so colourful and expressive as when it is devoted to the task of hurling insults. Shakespeare was one of the greatest insult-deliverers of all time. Even though few of us would know what a “rampallian” or “fustillarian” might be, we suspect that these are not things with which we would care to be compared. (I am not certain whether I want my catastrophe tickled or not.) Name-calling can be entertaining, but a witty jibe can be even better. "He had delusions of adequacy," said Walter Kerr. Who Walter Kerr was, and towards whom he directed this remark, I have no idea. Perhaps one of the shortest great insults ever. [Wikipedia informs me that Walter Kerr was a writer and theatre critic – talk about delusions of adequacy!] "Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go,” wrote Oscar Wilde, thus destroying a fair proportion of the human race. “I like long walks,” observes Noel Coward, “especially when they are taken by people who annoy me.”

Coming up with a good insult can sometimes take time, and I am envious of those who, in the midst of a heated argument, can cut down their enemy. Most of us can come up with nothing better than, “You, you... dipstick!” I’m not even exactly sure why that is an insult. It’s a bit like saying, “You, you... kitchen knife!” Wow, cutting! Sorry.

As I write this I am experiencing a rather nostalgic flash back to my youth: idle afternoons spent watching Lost in Space. Do you recall Dr. Zachary Smith, and the insults he would hurl at his companion, that bubble-headed booby, the Robot? Alliteration, of course, was invariably the key to these insults. “Deplorable dunderhead!” “Ignominious ignoramus!” “Pusillanimous pinhead!” How Lost in Space improved my vocabulary! I would have to leave to look up the word “pusillanimous” immediately. [Pusillanimous: Lacking courage, cowardly. From the Latin pusillus (weak), animus (courage – among other things).]

I think it is only fair to conclude this pestiferous post with some additional words from Will:

“Thou clay-brained guts, thou knotty-pated fool, thou whoreson obscene greasy tallow-catch!” (Henry IV, Part 1)

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