I’d like to get my hands on Robert Graves’ book Lars Porsena — On the Future of Swearing. In it he laments about the decline of good Anglo-Saxon blasphemies and takes his rapier wit to the censorship laws of 1962.
Which got me thinking. What ever happened to the lost art of insult? Shakespeare’s characters are well-known for their sharp retorts and rejoinders. The Anglo-Saxons knew how to fling pungent put-downs and ego-crushing maledictions. Even politicians used to have verbal Greek fire to spit. Lady Astor, Churchill’s nemesis, once told him: “If I were your wife I’d put poison in your coffee.” To which Sir Winston Bulldog replied, “And if I were your husband I would drink it.”
So with Voltaire’s droll dictum, “Degenerate suns make a graveyard of the sky,” I have decided to offer a few insults that might help a person get through their day.
I shall start with an insult that can be used effectively against the menacing powers of the librarian. The one that glares at you when you return an over-due book or is visibly disgusted and slides Olivia Judson’s Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation across to you as if it’s smut.
Here is the insult. And it’s best to say it in a steady, unflustered way and swish your long scarf around your neck when you are done as if you are an infamous picaro.
“You bibliodreck! I hope your fucking heart expires on the pages of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. And thank you for renewing my book.”