Insults

I’ve started reading Ruth Goodman’s How to Behave Badly in Renaissance Britain - which is exactly what it sounds like, from the UK’s most accessible social historian. The first section is on “offensive language”, discussing insults, seemingly informed by records of court cases (either defamation in canon court, or criminal cases when someone gets stabbed for calling someone a knave). Its been excellent reading. Lots of the insults are of course highly gendered, which sucks, but there’s plenty of space for fun.

  • attacking their social status by calling them a “knave” (a dirty, ignorant peasant). Bonus points if you call them dirty, lousy, filthy or (sexually) diseased (“scurvy knave” just sounds like a pirate, “varlet” like a small furry animal).
  • attacking their honesty and honour by calling them a thief or a liar. Obviously, that matters more to people who live by their reputations (like “gentlemen”)
  • attacking their authority over their lessers by calling them a fool or clown, implying they are childlike and incapable of managing their servants and family.
  • directly attacking their place in the great chain of being by calling them an animal, like an ape, ass or dog. “Jackanapes” sounds comical, but its calling someone an animalistic thug.
  • “Kiss my arse” is always good. Especially if you add “I care not a fart for you”.
  • The “eat shit and die” of the era is apparently “a turd in your teeth”.

I can see we could have a lot of fun with this…

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There’s a section on rude hand-gestures! I quite like the fillip - basicly, flicking your middle finger towards someone, with the others extended (weird stock-image illustration here). Would go well to emphasize caring not a fart for someone. Apparently a lot of duels were started over this.

For historical-foreign, there’s also thumb-biting (as seen in Romeo & Juliet) and the fig.