I have always been a fan of the well-crafted insult – the one that is diplomatic to the point of seeming (almost) benign, yet delivering a well-aimed zinger with remarkable aplomb. Many a great author has come up with good, stinging rebukes that make you wince and laugh at the same time, but no auther is more of a master at this technique than William Shakespeare. Oh, if only I had his nearly limitless vocabulary, and was able to deliver such sweetly worded destroyers. It is an innate talent, one that Shakespeare embraced and honed to such skilled perfection that today, some 500 years later, we are still marveling over his words.
One of my favorites – a perennial favorite for many Shakespeare enthusiasts – goes like this: I do desire we may be better strangers. Found in the comedy As You Like It, and is quite a beautifully worded request not only to have no relationship whatsoever, but to carry on though they have never known each other. Hilarious because it is respectful while expressing that the other part buzz off.
There have been many times where the phrase “More of your conversation would infect my brain” (from Coriolanus) would have come in very handy to end a conversation I no longer cared to particpate in. It does get the point across effectively…and amusingly…and I wish I had the wherewithall to use it. Sadly, for me, it will remain an insult only to admire, as I am fairly certain it would have more of a deleterious effect than I would intend.
“The tartness of his face sours ripe grapes.” Also from Coriolanus, this is an especially descriptive observation of ugliness. I would hate to be described in such a way, as it implies that one’s ugly appearance is an outward indication of an inner repugnance. Nothing like one brief sentence to cut to the bone of a loathesome character.
Now I may have to incorporate “They have a plentiful lack of wit” into my vocabulary, as it is a brilliant description of one or two (or perhaps three) rather witless folk whom I know. Not only is it a back-handed insult that sounds almost nice, but it comes from Hamlet, my very favorite Shakespeare play.
“There’s no more faith in thee than in a stewed prune.” Now that’s quite a palpable comparison…to be nothing more than a mushy, wrinkled, gas-producing fruit. Having not read I Henry IV, I can only imagine what the scene might have been. However, I have to think that lobbing this on the appropriate fool would be “explosively” satisfying.
How’s this for an alternative to “Get out of here, you filthy ass:” “Away, you mouldy rogue, away!” (2 Henry IV) Mouldy rogue, indeed. A lovely, green fungus of an insult if there ever was one.
This might be my favorite insult of all! What havoc one could stir up by uttering this gem from Pericles: “Thy food is such As hath been belch’d on by infected lungs.” Wow! Sadly, there have been times when this was an appropriate description of my own cooking, but (thankfully) I think I have left those days behind. Still, wouldn’t it be fun to tell this to an unwitting waiter when the food really was…um…subpar? I’m holding out for just such an opportunity…
One last one. Even Shakespeare knew when to employ brevity: “Thou mis-shapen dick!” (3 Henry IV) I’m fairly sure this one needs no explanation.
So, “swaggering rascals…scurvy villains…You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things!” Send a Shakespeare-worthy zinger back to me, “for [I] have lived too long, To fill the world with vicious qualities.”
It is true…an insult a day keeps boredom at bay!