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…
Looking through a bird book I came across the yellow-bellied sap sucker. A pretty bird, but I thought what a wonderful insult!
Thanks for those, Nicholas. Shakespeare is the best for insults, methinks.
I love that! Thank you for that awesome addition to the list 😀
“Minimus of hindering knotgrass!” Harsh, very harsh, Nicholas.
Ha ha – I’m sure they deserved it, though 😀
Old insults are amazing. New insults can also be amazing. I just die laughing when someone uses a totally non-insulting word as an insult. For example, “George, you absolute f**king walnut.” Like, why is walnut an insult? The absurdity gets me every time.
Lol – you should totally check out Captain Haddock’s curses, courtesy of Tan: https://www.tintinologist.org/guides/lists/curses.html 😀
I love this piece, Nicholas. You really did your research finding all those insults in Shakespeare’s writings. At the very least a person using those would send many reaching for their dictionaries. I read where his writing is being translated by some into modern English. I’d love to hear how these come out. 🙂 — Suzanne
Lol – yes, it would make for an interesting read 😀
I’m looking forward to calling someone “the anointed sovereign of sighs and groans,” but sadly, I’ll probably forget part of the phrase and it will fall flat. I like “beetle-headed, flap-eared knave,” too. Sounds like it would be fitting for a dog, at least the “flap-eared” part.
Ha ha – perhaps my challenge of the day (to call someone a knave) is easier that I thought. Let me just see where the dog is…
A beetle-headed, flap-eared knave! … a new favourite! 🙂
Challenge of the day: to call someone a knave 😀
Great post! As I began reading it, I thought immediately of the Bard, who has such a way with insults – and then you found them. I’m thinking he didn’t like prunes!
Ha ha – no, I guess not :Ddd
These were great! PS you won’t see my ‘like’ because Windows 10 continues not to know who I am 🙁
Lol – that’s okay. You can pretend to be a secret agent 🙂
Hi there, dgkaye … did you upgrade with the ‘free’ windows 10′ upgrade? … I did. I lasted two weeks and went back to W7 … I’m still coming across stuff that W10 f**ked up … le sigh.
Ugh… I avoided doing that, despite the continuous prodding from our Microsoft masters.
Love these! 🙂
They are pretty great 😀
Remember sweet Molly Malone – “she drives her wheelbarrow/Through streets broad and narrow/ calling ‘Cockles and mussels, alive alive-o!” She was a nice fishgirl, if not wife. Always loved that ditty.
What a reference! Nice 🙂
Love these. One time my wife came home after chasing our dog and described, “Yelling like a fishwife,” for the dog to stop running. Had to laugh out loud.
Ha ha – at least she caught him 😀
I’m sure I would have been a fishwife back in the day. ☺
Lol – now there’s a thought 😀
Lovely post and Shakespeare was good but the best insulted in the English language comes courtesy of a Belgium. Herge. His brill ain’t creation Captian Haddock has his own dictionary. https://www.tintinologist.org/guides/lists/curses.html
Ooh, I love Haddock’s curses! They even translate fine into Greek. Thanks for the awesome link 😀
I love that they translate Nick. My brother and I still trade them and try and think up new ones only to find they are already on his list.
Ha ha – you have to share!
Now I want a brother… Kinda late to ask my parents for one, though!
You’ll have to adopt…
Ah, Shakespeare. Such a rude, insulting author and people don’t even realize it.
What more proof do you need the man was a genius? 😀
Nothing I can think of. 🙂
I’m sure I’ve been called worse, but not to my face. LOL
lol – you and me both 😀
A pack of insults that sound like stylish poetry 🙂
What more can a man ask for? 😀
I often use ‘fishwife’ to describe rough-looking women who talk loudly in the street. I feel a bit guilty about that now…
Best wishes, Pete.
Lol – there you go 😀
I think it is a funny term. In my culture (Bukawac – Papua New Guinea), people use names of types of fish to insult others. For example, ‘e-wasac’ is a skinny, bony flat fish that attacks baits but has no flesh. Someone who has no substance (or presumed to be) and attacks another person is called an “ee-wasac”.
Lol – excellent 😀
It’s a little sad about fishwives, because they worked so hard cleaning and washing the fish often in cold conditions on the quay – and of course they shouted, they were in competition in a busy market. In Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis there is a lovely statue put up in tribute to the fish-wives and herring girls of the past. Hard work, hard times. here’s a link to an image, sorry it’s so long!
Actually, I agree completely – which is why I wanted to share this. “Fishwife” shouldn’t be an insult, so I was fascinated as it came to be so…
Someone called Sean emailed me to ask where the Isle of Lewis is – in case anyone else wonders, may I reply here that the joined islands of Lewis and Harris are in the Outer Hebrides, off north-west Scotland – thanks
Thank you, Sue 🙂
I’ve actually been to Mull and Skye, but not to Lewis.
This remind me of a British colleague who insulted some stuffs on the internet while doing research and using the Shakespeare’s insults. Everyone was like, “Was that English?” LOL hahahaha …
Fishwife. An interesting thing to learn. Thank you for sharing! 🙂
Yes, I’m not sure whether it’s better or worse when the insulted party isn’t even aware of the insult. Glad you enjoyed it!
A bolting-hutch of beastliness. Love it (although I’ve no idea what a bolting-hutch is).
Lol – that’s okay. I had the same problem with canker-blossomed 😀
such great and detailed…well said!
Do you speak Greek??
Lol – I’d better, as I’m Greek born and bred.
Mihrank.. I’ve known Nick for a while, and can assure you speaks ‘Greek’ in “every” sense of the word!
Lol – it’s all Greek to me 😀
This is fab! I have sent it to my husband. I can’t wait to be called a ‘Fishwife’ – sigh!
Ha ha – at least you’re not a faithless prune 😀
Hmmmmm up for debate :-))
It is? How long did you spend in that bathtub anyway??
Ooh! Looking forward to using some of these. Thanks for sharing, Nicholas.
Ha ha – let me know how it goes 😀