Following the success of my Famous Writers’ Insults post, here are some more ideas for great insults.
In the classic 1950 film All About Eve, the playwright, Lloyd, reaches for the most cruel and cutting remark possible and shouts, “You’ve been talking to that venomous fishwife, Addison deWitt!”
According to Merriam-Webster, a fishwife is, first, a “woman who sells fish.” Ok, that makes sense. But things go astray quickly. Second, she is a “rude and rough woman” or a “vulgar and abusive woman.” Google “fishwife” and the internet will tell you she is “a coarse mannered woman who is prone to shouting.” The Macmillan Dictionary declares her “a woman who speaks loudly in a rude voice”. Dating back to early modern times, almost as quickly as the word “fishwife” was recorded, it became a go-to slur for any broad considered uncouth and mouthy.
In a brilliant piece, Atlas Obscura explains why, exactly, such a fate befell women who just wanted to sell some fish. It all has to do with English sensitivities, and the way the English were shocked by the sight of Dutch fishwives selling their husbands’ catch of the day, and running the business end of things. You see, women could be a lot of things back then – just not entrepreneurs.
Soon, the “scolding fishwife” and to “gossip like a fishwife” became common tropes. In 1893, several U.S. newspapers published a short story called “O’Connell and the Fishwife,” whence this colorful insult hurled at the hapless fishwife:
Go rinse your mouth in the Liffey, you nasty ticklepitcher. After all the bad words you speak, it ought to be filthier than your face.
Don’t you love it when writers get creative?
The Barbed Bard
If you think it’s bad to call someone a fishwife, why not explore Shakespeare’s works for some more creative insults? Here is a fine selection, courtesy of dictionary.com:
- O braggart vile and damned furious wight!
- I scorn you, scurvy companion!
- You are a tedious fool!
- Dissembling harlot, thou art false in all!
- You are not worth another word, else I’d call you knave.
- Infinite and endless liar, hourly promise-breaker!
- You are roast-meat for worms!
- You counterfeit, you puppet, you!
- Poisonous bunch-backed toad!
- You are a bolting-hutch of beastliness!
- O gull, o dolt, as ignorant as dirt!
- You are a quintessence of dust!
- Thou art the anointed sovereign of sighs and groans!
- A beetle-headed, flap-eared knave!
- You are a canker-blossom!
- You minimus of hindering knotgrass made!
- Scurvy knave!
- Mad mustachio purple-hued malt-worms!
- False caterpillars!
And my personal favorite:
- There’s no more faith in thee than in a stewed prune! (from Henry IV)
Because, obviously, that’s the the first word to pop into one’s mind when they see a stewed prune: faithless…