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.
© 2014 Kate Gallison