Thursday, 26 February 2009


It is sad that the latest Internet sensation is a recording of a film actor, supposedly called Christian Bale, though I think that might be an assumed name, swearing a lot at someone who distracted him and spoiled his concentration during a take. What marks it out is its lack of imagination. It relies almost exclusively on one word that is repeated ad nauseam. That such tedium passes for something remarkable these days is disappointing.

This is weak, mealy-mouthed abuse – sub-standard vitriol. If you are going to insult someone, it should be done with style. The vocabulary should be stretched, the syntactical muscles flexed. How much better if Bale had accused the object of his wrath of being…

"A knave, a rascal, an eater of broken meats; a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy worsted-stocking knave; a lily-livered, action-taking, whoreson, glass-gazing, super-serviceable, 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, pander, and the son and heir to a mongrel bitch: one whom I will beat into clamorous whining if thou deniest the least syllable of thy addition."

This would have had the added interest of novelty – an actor quoting Shakespeare. This from King Lear II.2. Even just a couple of bits would have been fine. “You, sir, are an eater of broken meats,” would do. Or, perhaps, the beautifully measured, “You are a one-trunk-inheriting slave.”

This matter came up as a subject when I used the word ‘slubberdegullion’ to describe someone whom I felt would benefit from some gentle but reproving encouragement. No-one was more surprised than myself when I used it and later, when looking up the word, I came across a new resource that I warmly recommend.

I will say no more about it, since the author and owner of the resource, Michael Quinion says it all much better himself. It is to be found here:

By looking up ‘slubberdegullion’ in this work, I found a section on invective that quotes the following from Sir Thomas Urquhart’s translation of Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel. Quinion says that it ‘draws heavily on vocabulary used in Scotland in his time’(1653)

“ The bun-sellers or cake-makers were in nothing inclinable to their request; but, which was worse, did injure them most outrageously, called them prattling gabblers, lickorous gluttons, freckled bittors, mangy rascals, shite-a-bed scoundrels, drunken roysters, sly knaves, drowsy loiterers, slapsauce fellows, slabberdegullion druggels, lubberly louts, cozening foxes, ruffian rogues, paltry customers, sycophant-varlets, drawlatch hoydens, flouting milksops, jeering companions, staring clowns, forlorn snakes, ninny lobcocks, scurvy sneaksbies, fondling fops, base loons, saucy coxcombs, idle lusks, scoffing braggarts, noddy meacocks, blockish grutnols, doddipol-joltheads, jobbernol goosecaps, foolish loggerheads, flutch calf-lollies, grouthead gnat-snappers, lob-dotterels, gaping changelings, codshead loobies, woodcock slangams, ninny-hammer flycatchers, noddypeak simpletons, turdy gut, shitten shepherds, and other suchlike defamatory epithets; saying further, that it was not for them to eat of these dainty cakes, but might very well content themselves with the coarse unranged bread, or to eat of the great brown household loaf.”

Now this is majesterial stuff, and includes some of the ripest invective I have read in a long time.

This paragraph should become standard reading for every child in the land and each should be required to memorise it and reproduce it word-perfectly on demand. Imagine the whole of Year Five, for example, reeling this off in unison to visiting dignitaries from the Department for Education, or at prize giving or an end-of-term concert, perhaps harmonised by a barbershop ensemble for the delectation of parents and grandparents.

There is much more to learn from this paragraph than any amount of time spent drafting a letter of complaint to a supermarket, or doing coursework on how to write your CV. Study of this paragraph is of everyday value, enriches discourse, broadens the vocabulary in a very practical manner, and, as a result, stimulates the phagocytes. A prize should be awarded for the child that can most effectively reproduce its effect through imitation – The Rabelais Prize. This would, almost at one go, solve the problem of our disaffected, illiterate and unimaginative youth. A study of the derivation of ‘flutch calf-lollies’ for example, will take the class to an understanding of agricultural and farming methods of the seventeenth century. An etymological exploration of ‘scurvy sneaksbies’ would excite the imagination, develop medical knowledge, introduce a variety of philosophical conceits, and probe the moral law. What could be better?

All this may require a small adjustment to the Education Act, so I therefore urge you to write to your Members of Parliament immediately insisting upon this significant step forward in the education of our children. They will at last, poor lambs, matriculate with a vocabulary that will equip them for modern life and be able properly to inveigh and rail.

You know it makes sense.