How Black Adder and the French Will Save The English Tongue

Vulgar vocab primer. Excellent coffeehouse reading.

Reading a bit, hither and thither I’ve come across a widespread vexation amidst contemporary writing. Bloggers, authors, writers of all sorts appear to have come to the conclusion that the more vile and odious of curse words peppering their oeuvres, the more smashing, dashing and edgy said-oeuvres will be. My own pally, Jennifer Susannah Devore, chose to season her latest novel with dashes and pinches of the scandalous. To be sure, Miss Jenny’s The Darlings of Orange County does this with rapier-like whips, flicks, snaps and stings using a fair sampling of modern slang, evoking sexual, sensual and downright nasty scribblings. She even looked to her time-tested and dogeared, paperback copy of Francis Grose’s 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. Still, it’s a far cry from her shy and largely Victorian instincts. Of course, and you didn’t hear it from me, chickadees, she’s also selling the lusty Darlings hand over fist in comparison to her family-friendly Savannah of Williamsburg. To sum up the problem, this need for tingling titillation, allow Moi to quote Muppet Treasure Island:

Rizzo:     What’s wrong?
Gonzo:   It just feels so weird.
Rizzo:     That Mr. Arrow’s dead?
Gonzo:   Yeah, that … and my pants are filled with starfish.
Rizzo:     You and your hobbies!

Anyhoo, one of my standard, online stops is the blog of a feisty Celt from Phoenix named Natalie Wright, author of the YA Celtic fantasy Emily’s House. Her latest musing got me thinking: Help Me Clean Up My Potty Mouth. “I’m on a quest to build a library of non-swearword urban slang. It’s time to get creative,” she opines. Well, toots, let me say that curse words and swears may change from generation to generation and era to era; but, they’re all still curse words. However, the beauty of time and nostalgia grants that what was once scandalous and verboten, may later be pithy and distinguishing. Tired of mundane and prosaic cursing? Need some nifty razzes for that sap at the next staff meeting or the rude jellybean next door? Get a gander of some of our kicky gum flaps from the 1920s and 1930s.

Now, if the Twenties were roaring with smooth n’ snazzy wordsmithing, nobody but nobody beats the Elizabethans where the almighty spoken smackdown is concerned. If you’re a history geek and a bit of a Renaissance Faire regular, the Shakespearean mudslinging may be old hat to you. For those not so well-acquainted, you’d do well to expand your insult-vocabulary. You think calling someone a motherf%$*&@ is scurrilous? “F*%# you, B%$@#!” is an affront? Zowie! How about, “May your meat pie fester and boil, you dankish, full-gorged shoe-sniffer!”? Try slinging that the next time some virtual slug disrespects your mad, hacking skills. Maybe, “Your mother’s void is a dribbling, bat-baited maggot-pie!”?

Me thinks she hast already tweak’d you, you errant giglet. Photo: Twisted Pair Photography

Sure, they’ll laugh at you; but that’s all they’ll be able to do. How does one combat barbs like, “Your visage not only stopped a thousand ships, but the Royal Navy has requested the Queen declare your beslubbering death-hole their safe harbor.”? No one beats Shakespearean-age wit and if I know the geek-soul, you pips could care less when piked at the business-end of a good laugh; it’s de rigueur. True victory comes from leaving your opponent devoid of all ammunition when the pith flies. Not sure how to cull this new lingo? You learned Klingon, didn’t you? Same way. I know a fair bucketful of Faire-folk whom taught themselves, at least the very basics, of Elizabethan-era English: including my Miss Jenny. Explains loads why she had very few friends in college, spent most weekends either at home, at a museum, at Disneyland or at Faire. Her weeknights? Practicing her thees, thys and thous, you mammering, milk-livered moldwarps.

Go ahead. Call her a clouted, fen-sucked clotpole. I’ll wait. Photo: Twisted Pair Photography

Not interested in that much work? Help yourself to the Elizabethan Aspersion Grid below. Simply pick a bit from columns one, two and three and, voila! …  you’re an ignominious, mewling vituperant. Go ahead, try it on someone the next time you feel the need to swear. It’s oft been said that overuse of curse words signifies a lack of vocabulary. Well, not where the Elizabethans were concerned. It was a finely honed art form, a battle of wits that lasted throughout, morphing along the way of course, the 17th and 18th Centuries.

Amongst the menu des plaisirs, (what the French call BCBG: Bon Chic Bon Genre, or what you call The Beautiful People) at the court of Versailles, if you couldn’t keep pace with the flinging of zingers … well, c’est domage and, peut-être, pack your valise and find yourself a new château. Lord knows where the art of the barbed-tongue dropped off so precipitously.

Image: Jean-Honoré Fragonard: pd via WikiMedia Commons

Whilst you’re crafting your new lexicon of libel, drift on over to Miss Natalie’s cheeky blog and give her a hand, or the finger; give her some ideas for thoughtful slang. Panty hamster is always a winner, as are tart monkey and foot-licker. To boot, she’s got a giveaway going on for your efforts. Most original creations win the prize! Need a bit more inspiration? Two emphatic suggestions: Black Adder and Ridicule.

Black Adder (BBC 1485-1917): Seasons 2 & 3 notably and available for instant viewing on Netflix. Rowan Atkinson proffers a healthy dose of supercilious slights from the ale-soused fringes of Queen Elizabeth’s court (S2) to the luxe n’ lazy chambers of King George III’s court (S3) and his beetle-headed son the Prince Regent, played brilliantly by Hugh Laurie.

Ridicule (Leconte/Legrand/Waterhouse 1996): one of the finest French films ever produced is a gorgeous yet swampy look at how those with the keenest wit may earn the patronage of the king. All the glam of Sophia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette but dirtied up a bit and melded with the grime and arduous social mobility of AMC’s Hell on Wheels.

Huzzah, sirrah! A guttish, fool-born dewberry if I’ve ever seen one! Photo: Twisted Pair Photography

Now, no offense implied, I seriously doubt you have what it takes to beat my pally, Jenny. She’s had years of practice; she’s been a word nerd since the age of three and a history dork since elementary school. (Ever see the snap of her 5th grade pilgrim costume? The one she wore for the last day before Thanksgiving break? Poor thing.) Then again, our vivacious and Victorian Dr. Lucy may not have given her input at Miss Natalie’s post just yet. Sure, our Lucy’s prim and proper, mostly. When need be, though? Jim-i-niy! When I say nobody’s got a mouth like the Elizabethans … I mean, nobody but Dr. Lucy. Zwounds!

Dr. Lucy. Sure, she looks sweet, but turn around. She’s not laughing with you. Photo: JuliaReyesPhotography.com
These fine wenches do not sling slurs, mostly. Photo: Twisted Pair Photography

By the by, I came across this UrbanDictionary definition of Zwounds!, a common exclamation at Faire:

“Archaic expression of shock or suprise [sic]. Derives from “God’s wounds”. As with similar archaisms, “Zwounds” is used in jocular contexts by tedious nerds with intellectual pretentions [sic].”

My nerd-response? Sirrah, you spelled “surprise” and “pretensions” incorrectly. You pig-faced, belly-bloated hedge-pig.

Abyssinia, hedge-pigs!

Hannah’s fave places to haunt online? JennyPop.net @JennyPopNet and jenniferdevore.blogspot.com

Column 1

Column 2

Column 3

Artless

Base-court

Apple-john

Bawdy

Bat-fowling

Baggage

Beslubbering

Beef-witted

Barnacle

Bootless

Beetle-headed

Bladder

Churlish

Boil-brained

Boar-pig

Cockered

Clapper-clawed

Bugbear

Clouted

Clay-brained

Bum-bailey

Craven

Common-kissing

Canker-blossom

Currish

Crook-pated

Clack-dish

Dankish

Dismal-dreaming

Clot-pole

Dissembling

Dizzy-eyed

Coxcomb

Droning

Dog-hearted

Codpiece

Errant

Dread-bolted

Death-token

Fawning

Earth-vexing

Dewberry

Fobbing

Elf-skinned

Flap-dragon

Froward

Fat-kidneyed

Flax-wench

Frothy

Fen-sucked

Flirt-gill

Gleeking

Flap-mouthed

Foot-licker

Goatish

Fly-bitten

Fustilarian

Gorbellied

Folly-fallen

Giglet

Impertinent

Fool-born

Gudgeon

Infectious

Full-gorged

Haggard

Jarring

Guts-griping

Harpy

Loggerheaded

Half-faced

Hedge-pig

Lumpish

Hasty-witted

Horn-beast

Mammering

Hedge-born

Huggermugger

Mangled

Hell-hated

Jolt-head

Mewling

Idle-headed

Lewdster

Paunchy

Ill-breeding

Lout

Pribbling

Ill-nurtured

Maggot-pie

Puking

Knotty-pated

Malt-worm

Puny

Milk-livered

Mammet

Quailing

Motley-minded

Measle

Rank

Onion-eyed

Minnow

Reeky

Plume-plucked

Miscreant

Roguish

Pottle-deep

Mold-warp

Ruttish

Pox-marked

Mumble-news

Saucy

Reeling-ripe

Nut-hook

Spleeny

Rough-hewn

Pigeon-egg

Spongy

Rude-growing

Pignut

Surly

Rump-fed

Puttock

Tottering

Shard-borne

Pumpion

Unmuzzled

Sheep-biting

Rats-bane

Vain

Spur-galled

Scut

Venomed

Swag-bellied

Skains-mate

Villainous

Tardy-gaited

Strumpet

Warped

Tickle-brained

Varlot

Wayward

Toad-spotted

Vassal

Weedy

Unchin-snouted

Whey-face

Yeasty

Weather-bitten

Wagtail

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