Generic sobriquets of dispraise upon you

John Cleese as the "French Taunter" in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, 1975

John Cleese as the “French Taunter” in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, 1975

As the election season heats up so do people’s tempers, and this may lead one to say things that in other circumstances could become occasions for regret. They might be rude references to a person’s place of origin, or gender; they might imply an unfortunate disability that is impolitic to mention. They may refer to suspected lamentable and unnatural behaviors.

Fans of British English will know that denizens of the Empire, over their many centuries of reserved but total dismissal of divergent viewpoint, have created a rich fund of non-specific insulting terms that could serve us well in this angry political year.

Twit, git, prat, and berk are common examples, and are satisfyingly monosyllabic. Nothing signals absolute rejection like a single syllable wrapped in hard consonants, followed by a period–or an exclamation point, if one is sufficiently incensed. But plonker and pillock, tosser and wanker also have their adherents. And creative evolutionary pressure on the tongue has resulted in hybrid monickers such as twonk, combining the qualities (whatever these might be) of twit and plonker.

Not that there aren’t similar offerings available in the American dialects. I submit to you dweeb and geek, nerd and jerk, or, for the polysyllabic, goober.

Anglophone Canadians seems to lag the rest of us in generic insults, or else they are too polite to catalog them all online. I find only the well-known hoser, and (new to me) chirp, a suspected cognate of jerk, that are both unique to Canada and non-specific enough to mention here. Or it may be that I am just a gorby–an ignorant tourist–and haven’t tapped the correct vein of Canadian spleen.

So there you are. If you find yourself hot under the collar, but don’t want to actually say anything about someone’s mama, there are many options that will allow you to–like the French castle guard in Monty Python and the Holy Grail–fart in their general direction.


6 Comments on “Generic sobriquets of dispraise upon you”

  1. Nic says:

    Dale might want to check, say, The Oxford Dictionary of Slang before using some/most of the English ‘words’ unless, perhaps, he wants to be taken for an English soccer ‘fan’ in Europe-mode. (If you don’t have the decent English dictionary – a common deprivation of that ilk I’m told.. – I’d be glad to whisper the meanings as gleaned from London construction sites dominated by Cockney tradesmen but such is not to be had for any amount of US beer!)

    I remain, yours sincerely…

  2. Roger Burrows says:

    There probably aren’t any specifically Canadian English generic insults – we tend to use US or UK slang according to our backgrounds. Hoser??? – I’ve *never* heard anyone use this except Bob & Doug McKenzie. I suspect it exists so we can be sure the person saying it isn’t Canadian.

  3. Dale Hobson says:

    Hi Nic–

    I did not mean to imply that the English words were not rude, or did not have specific origins that might be anatomical or otherwise objectionable, just that there were now used generically and nearly interchangeably as near as I can determine, and in common usage express nothing more specific than blanket disdain.


  4. Ginger says:

    Check out Leo Rosten’s “The Joys of Yiddish”. There is a wealth of insulting terms in Yiddish starting with shmuck and shmo. So alliterative and satisfying to say.

  5. Kate Schubart says:

    That fawn is lying right beside the birch tree–not ‘laying’…an egg or anything else. Whether a Brit would call the editor who overlooked this barbarous misuse of the English language a twit or a silly git, I don’t know. But mangling the language deserves sharp words.

  6. Dale Hobson says:

    Hi Kate–

    An editor could respond every time someone catches a grammatical error in a photographer’s caption, but who needs the aggro? There will always be another 20,000 words to get through tomorrow. Until my next lapse. Ta.

    Dale Hobson

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