Friday, March 14, 2014

Insults

I flatter myself that I have a brilliant gift for invective. I come by it honestly. My father's family were very good at cutting people up. It was my Aunt Mildred who said, "So-and-so is the lowest worm that crawls," and though I didn't know the gentleman I admired the expression. Those of you who knew my father will remember that he could deliver terrible insults without ever actually cursing.

When I turned thirteen I came into my inheritance, as young girls do. Nowadays the thirteen-year-old girls simply drop the F-bomb when they feel annoyed. We didn't do that when I was thirteen. Still I found that I had this wonderful skill with words. I forget who I offended, but I didn't have an awful lot of friends.

Time goes on, and we mellow. It's been years since I called someone a jibbering ape to his face. Except for the breakfast table, where I sit commenting to Harold on the latest antics of the politicians, I generally keep the knife in its sheath. I'm trying to be a Christian, you see. It's hard, but we're supposed to love our neighbors.

But, writing fiction! There, you can let 'er rip. If it's an offensive remark, put it in the mouth of one of your characters.

I love a good insult. Any kind. Oscar Wilde said, "A gentleman is one who is never unintentionally rude." Great one. Insulted a whole class. Dorothy Parker used to cultivate her sharp tongue, sharpened it every morning, she said. Someone at the Algonquin Round Table remarked that so-and-so was always kind to his inferiors. "Indeed?" she said. "Where does he find them?" I used to know a guy like that.

You can deliver insults with finesse and subtlety, like Dorothy Parker and Oscar Wilde, or you can deliver them with passion. Here's a classic from our friend Marlon Brando.


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© 2014 Kate Gallison

8 comments:

  1. My favorite: "Does it come naturally or did you have to go to asshole school?"

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  2. Good, Henry. Here's one I came across this morning in an discussion of statistics on the benefits/bad effects of taking statins: "Please provide the address of the rock you have been living under for the past twenty years so I can send you some medical updates."

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  3. I love clever insults but never can think of them fast enough. Except once. I was going down the subway steps and half way down a man in his forties was blocking the way, texting on his phone. I said "Pardon me, please," in a pleasant tone of voice. He looked me in the eye and said, "Go f--- yourself." I looked him up and down and said, "Obviously, you've had to get to used to doing that alone."

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    1. Good one. It reminds me of the time during the War of Independence when the soldiers marched into a New Jersey town that was then called "Maidenhead." One of the soldiers remarked to a nearby young woman, "Maidenhead! A scarce commodity in these parts, I'll warrant." She looked him up and down, just like that, and replied, "None the scarcer on your account."

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  4. I'd be interested in what the jibbering ape said to you. T. Jackie Straw

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    1. It was long ago and far away. Perhaps we were talking politics. Or he might have been telling me he was sleeping with another woman.

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    2. Anyway he was a cheap, lousy, dirty, stinkin' mug.

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    3. Er, I sorta take it you didn't like him, er, too much.... tjs

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