Insults of a literary kind

Jan 11, 2013 | Language

So, not wanting to end the week on a bad note or anything but I did come across a great list the other day, which I thought I would share – the 50 best literary insults.

Sometimes there is just nothing like an well phrased insult to raise a smile. We’ve all got a favourite – what about Del Boy’s “Don’t be a plonker, Rodney” or maybe Captain Mainwaring’s “Stupid boy”. My daughter recently played a servant in Shakespeare’s Scottish play and had the phrase “thou cream-faced loon” hurled at her – it has now become a favourite in our house.

Here are a few of my favourites from the 50 best:

Another from the Bard, this time from As You Like It – “I desire that we be better strangers”. Cutting.

Dickens could also sling an insult or two – how about “He would make a lovely corpse” from Martin Chuzzlewit?

Roald Dahl’s monstrous Miss Trunchbull from Matilda doesn’t mince her words: “You blithering idiot! … You festering gumboil! You fleabitten fungus! … You bursting blister! You moth-eaten maggot!”

George Orwell kept it minimal in The Lion and the Unicorn: “He is simply a hole in the air.”

Oscar Wilde must surely be the king of caustic wit, and it is difficult to choose just one quote from The Importance of Being Earnest, but this is the one which won a place in the list: “I never saw anybody take so long to dress, and with such little result.”

But I’ll end where I started (but not with Del Boy) – from King Lear:

“Thou art a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy worsted-stocking knave; a lily-liver’d, action-taking, whoreson, glass-gazing, superserviceable, finical rogue; one-trunk-inheriting slave; one that wouldst be a bawd in way of good service, and art nothing but the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pandar, and the son and heir of a mungril bitch.”

Says it all. And a bit more.

What is your favourite literary insult (keep it clean…)?