Friday, January 18, 2008


The Eloquence of Abuse

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Table Talk (May 27, 1830):
How rich the Aristophanic Greek is in the eloquence of abuse!—

Ὦ βδελυρὲ κἀναίσχυντε καὶ τολμηρὲ σὺ
καὶ μιαρὲ καὶ παμμίαρε καὶ μιαρώτατε.

We are not behindhand in English. Fancy my calling you, upon a fitting occasion,—Fool, sot, silly, simpleton, dunce, blockhead, jolterhead, clumsy-pate, dullard, ninny, nincompoop, lackwit, numskull, ass, owl, loggerhead, coxcomb, monkey, shallow-brain, addlehead, tony, zany, fop, fop-doodle; a maggot-pated, hare-brained, muddle-pated, muddle-headed, Jackanapes! Why, I could go on for a minute more!
I wish he had gone on for a minute more. Yesterday's A.Word.A.Day was a term of abuse new to me — jobbernowl, defined as "blockhead," and derived "from French jobard (stupid, gullible), from Old French jobe (stupid) + noll (top or crown of the head)."

The Greek quoted by Coleridge comes from Aristophanes' Frogs, lines 465-466. Here are some translations, first by Gilbert Murray:
Thou rash, impure, and most abandoned man,
Foul, inly foul, yea foulest upon earth.
Matthew Dillon:
O impious, daring, and most shameless wretch,
O villain, double villain, and arch-villain.
Jeffrey Henderson:
You loathesome, shameless, insolent scum you! Utter scum! Scum of the earth!
Related post: Odium and Insults.

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