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the art of ancient insult

I EXPECTED more from the newspaper article headlined: "Neighbour from hell, 86, hit with restraining order for shouting medieval insults at couple next door." It turned out the old fellow ended up in court for describing an adjacent house as a midden.

The English-based paper explained that a midden is a Middle English term deriving from the Scandinavian word "mykdyngja" which literally translates as manure pile. Midden is also a modern-day Scottish word meaning something which is not exactly clean and tidy. It is also commonly used in Hebburn in Newcastle-shire where the incident occurred and probably in many other northern bits of England. Midden, when used to describe a person, is a pretty devastating character analysis.

In my opinion there is not enough hurling of medieval insult these days. I had expected the accused to have said the lady next door was a mewling flap-mouthed gudgeon. Or, at least, a tickle-brained clapper-clawed flax-wench. Her husband would be no more than a beslubbering boil-brained jolthead. I am not entirely sure what all of that means but tickle-brained is an excellent Elizabethan synonym for drunk.

The art of the archaic insult has been lost. With the exception of George Galloway, who memorably dismissed US Senate committee members as "lickspittles". And went on to describe the late left-wing journalist Christopher Hitchens as a "drink-soaked popinjay".

The Galloway gift for rich rhetoric is not given to all. But we can mug up by re-reading Shakespeare, the font of much merrie England abuse. Or cut corners by getting a copy of a book called Thy Father Is A Gorbellied Codpiece! It has a glossary from which the reader can flip the pages and construct more than 100,000 Shakespearean terms of derision. There is an app available on the internet where you can find withering quotes from Shakespeare at the click of a button. This is handy when you want to call someone a wayward hedge-button barnacle or a droning bat-fowling scut. Be careful not to address a lady as a baggage or a giglet unless she is unashamedly giddy, playful or lascivious.

If set upon by footpads on Sauchiehall Street of a dark night, you may feel constrained to take your sword from its scabbarb and declare: "Have at thee, thou varlet!"

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