Professor Culpeper’s Insult Power Rankings

Nowadays, if you were to call someone a ‘Dried neat’s-tongue’ or a ‘Trunk of humours’ you might be met with a look of dismay rather than outrage. But things could have panned out very differently in 17th century Britain. Professor Jonathan Culpeper at the Department of Linguistics & English Language of Lancaster University, UK, tackles the way in which the power of insults can change over time in his article ‘Linguistic impoliteness : using English to cause offence’ (The Magazine for Advanced Level English, 2008, pp 20-22) [access via here – link at bottom of page]
Culpeper also touches on sarcasm – which can be thought of as ‘Mock politeness’ ,“Yeah, right”, and its opposite – ‘Mock Impoliteness’  e.g.
“… an advertising slogan used by an Australian butcher ‘Eat beef you bastards’.“ He also covers the idea of ‘Creative impoliteness’ which is very prevalent today, but reminds us again of Shakespeare, who was a past master at such things : “[Thou] [clay-brained] [guts], [thou] [knotty-pated] [fool], [thou] [whoreson obscene greasy] [tallow-catch]!” Henry IV Part 1

More information: Professor Culpeper provides an on-line politeness resource “[ Warning: Needless to say, this web [sic] will contain language that some will find offensive. ]”. It was made possible by a three-year £214,712.62 Research Fellowship awarded by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) (RES-063-27-0015) ‘Impoliteness :Using language to cause offence’

Bonus : More Shakespearean insults can be found here :

You starvelling, you eel-skin, you dried neat’s-tongue, you bull’s-pizzle, you stock-fish–O for breath to utter what is like thee!-you tailor’s-yard, you sheath, you bow-case, you vile standing tuck!

Henry IV Part 1






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