Sunday, January 20, 2008

Unstructured Insults

"They never open their mouths without subtracting from the sum of human knowledge." -- Thomas Brackett Reed

We live in an age of typing but we do not live in an age of letters.

Although I don't entertain any fantasies about the idealism of living in previous centuries (I'll take our low infant mortality, thank you), I do think that dialog in the modern era suffers in comparison to earlier times.

The internet is a wonderful thing but it emphasized a style of communication that rewards speed and emphasis over wit. The modern flamewar is a perfect example of this: expletives are the currency of argument. has collected some particularly choice insults from bygone days which, I think, illustrate the difference between invective and insult.

1 comment:

magidin said...

A few others, including some newer ones:

"It is good to see the fine old traditions of idiot bigotry being handed down in a no-good-at-all kind of way." -- Moist von Lipwig, _Going Postal_ by Terry Pratchett

"I must decline your invitation, owing to a subsequent engagement" --- Oscar Wilde

"I do *so* hate it when you interrupt me in the middle of an insult." ---Charles Laughton, in "The Paradine Case"

"[Sir Richard Phillips] had four valuable qualities: honesty, zeal, ability, and courage. He applied them all to teaching matters about which he knew nothing; and gained himself an uncomfortable life and a ridiculous memory." --- Augustus de Morgan, _A Budget of Paradoxes_

And a few latin ones, which show that even simple invective can be inventive:

"Taum autem eras excors, ut tota in oratione tua tecum ipse pugnares, non modo non cohaerentia inter se diceres, sed maxime disiuncta ataque contraria, ut non tanta mecum quanta tivi trecum esset contentio." [You were such a moron that throughout your speech you were at war with yourself, firing out statements which were not just inconsistent, but which were utterly devoid of any coherence or logic, to the point where your adversary in battle stopped being me and became yourself.] -- Cicero, Philippicae II

"Certo scio, occisam saepe sapere plus multo suem." [I am quite sure that a stuck pig is regularly more discerning than you.] -- Plautus, Miles Gloriosus

"Mufrius, non magister." [You're a gorilla, not a teacher] -- Petronius, Satyricon

"Nec sapit pueri instar bimuli tremula patris dormientis in ulna." [He hasn't got the brains of a sleeping two-year old rocked in the crook of his father's arm] -- Catullus, Poem 20

"Quod minimum specimen in te ingenii?"
[What minimum evidence of wit can be found in you?] -- Cicero, In Pisonem

"Vastus animus" [His intellect is one vast wasteland] -- Sallust, Bellum Catilinae

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