Insults

Insults

 

Andouille is a spiced sausage made from the stomach and large intestine of a pig. It’s also a term of insult in France, and roughly translates as “imbecile”; which medically speaking is halfway between “idiot” (IQ of 0-25), and “moron” (IQ of 51-70).

Insulting, as an art form, reached a point of sophistication in the Elizabethan era, when Shakespeare detailed seven degrees of verbal offence ranging from the elegant ‘polite retort’, through to a ‘direct lie’, via the ‘reproof valiant’. A good example of the latter (Erving Goffman, not Shakespeare) is

Boy: “Care to dance?”

Girl: “No, I came here to play basketball”

Boy: “Sorry, I should have guessed by the way you’re dressed”

The anthropologist Desmond Morris categorized ten types of insult in hand signals alone, such as impatience, rejection, boredom and mock discomfort, so we modern humans have clearly expanded our ability to annoy others, even if we do so with less literary aplomb than the Elizabethans.

Insults are often accidental, and Americans frequently mistake the irony used by the British as offensive or negative, whereas their cousins are merely following the lead set by the humour of Samuel Johnson in the eighteenth century. Similarly, words said jokingly in one situation, can easily be misconstrued by a third party, seeing the same words in another context.

When all is said and done, there are worse things that can happen to you than being called a sausage as an epithet to your intelligence. The one thing that we all dread is to be ignored.

© orlando kimber

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