Upping our insult game

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Carmen Fought observes that "Fellow citizens, we have to up our insult game. The Scots are making us look like wankers. ‪#‎mangledapricothellbeast‬".

Certainly the Scots have taught us a wide variety of new words and insult phrases in response to Donald Trump's tweet about Brexit.

And so on…

Given Mr. Trump's role in pushing the envelope of American political insults, many will consider this to be karmic justice. It's getting picked up on the back streets of the internet, and may have some of the same impact on his future that "lyin' Ted" and "liddle Marco" had on the careers of his previous opponents.

There were also apparently some more subtle forms of communication associated with his trip:


  1. Peter D Schult said,

    June 25, 2016 @ 11:32 am

    The Scottish response to Trump leaves me in awe.

  2. Carmen said,

    June 25, 2016 @ 4:18 pm

    Two comments. 1) I really need an occasion to use the phrase "tiny fingered, Cheeto-faced, ferret wearing shitgibbon".

    2) A serious question: Mark, do you think it's possible that the presence everywhere of the hashtag #brexit associated with this referendum helped the voters to treat it less seriously? Maybe I'm overestimating the influence of the Internet, but I do think blends like this one are associated with less seriousness generally. In that vein, the term cremains for the ashes of a deceased person has always freaked me out. Would love to hear your thoughts if you have time.

    [(myl) You might be on to something. As I noted a few days ago, John Oliver said that "Brexit sounds like a shitty granola bar you buy at the airport". And there's also

    [link] Brexit. It sounds like an unappetizing breakfast cereal.
    [link] “I like the fact that it sounds like a cereal; a bowl of Brexit!”

    And Sam Lewis-Hargreave agrees with you ("Is 'Brexit' the Worst Political Portmanteau in History?", Huffington Post 6/23/2016):

    The phrase ‘Leaving the European Union’ has an appropriate gravity, but the word ‘Brexit’ sounds almost trivial.


  3. Roxane said,

    June 25, 2016 @ 9:31 pm

    Downright Shakespearean, isn't it?

  4. richardelguru said,

    June 26, 2016 @ 9:30 am

    Or perhaps more Robertgreenean?

  5. Dan Lufkin said,

    June 26, 2016 @ 11:22 am

    There is an old Scots tradition called "flyting." David Crystal has a squib on the topic in The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language. Here's a sample: Rank beggar, ostir. dregar, foule fleggar in the flet. Crystal says, "The exact meaning of some of the words is uncertain, but there is no doubting their malicious intent!"

  6. wtsparrow said,

    June 26, 2016 @ 11:51 am

    Will the U.S. election be tweetledee vs. tweetledum, or perhaps tweetlesmart vs. tweetledumb?

  7. Rodger C said,

    June 26, 2016 @ 11:57 am

    My favorite bit in the Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedy is of linguistic interest, viz., where the Anglo-Scot Dunbar says he can fart English better than the bilingual Kennedy can speak it:

    I tak on me, ane pair of Lowthiane hippis
    Can fairer Inglis mak, and mair parfyte,
    Than thow can blabbar with thy Carrik lippis.

  8. Lauren Gawne said,

    June 26, 2016 @ 1:07 pm

    Babbel Cause is building a nice corpus of Trump insults:

  9. Jerry Friedman said,

    June 26, 2016 @ 1:53 pm

    I wonder whether "incompressible" was a cupertino for "incomprehensible", though as is, it's a nice surrealist touch.

    Lauren Gawne: I see that's insults aimed at Trump, not his insults aimed at others.

  10. Dan Lufkin said,

    June 26, 2016 @ 8:50 pm

    @ Jerry F.
    Sometimes you just want a sturdy five-syllable adjective. The actual lexicographic aspect is not important.

    I had a boss who got a lot of mileage out of phosphorescent and counter-rotating.

  11. Stan Carey said,

    June 27, 2016 @ 3:08 am

    Geoffrey Hughes's social history Swearing has useful commentary on flyting, e.g.:

    The ritual insults and swearing-matches of flyting also form an important feature of oaths in the Middle Ages. A relevant text in this category is The Owl and the Nightingale (c.1250), from which most of the more fulsomely vituperative sections were censored in the early editions. Yet in comparison with the earlier Norse and later Scots examples, the poem is fairly polite . . .

  12. Bob Ladd said,

    June 27, 2016 @ 9:55 am

    @Dan Lufkin: In the English (or at least the British) translations of the Tintin books, Captain Haddock, like your former boss, gets a lot of mileage out of insults that work as insults just because they're multi-syllabic even though they make little actual lexicographic sense ("bashi-bazouk" comes to mind, but there are lots of others – an extensive list is here).

  13. Dan Lufkin said,

    June 27, 2016 @ 11:05 am

    Ah, the dreaded Bashi-bazouk! Somewhere out there is a fine poem with the line "She gazed at her child, understandably crying, aloft on the spear of a Bashi-bazouk." Amazingly Google comes up dry on this string. Does anyone know more about it? Gérôme did a painting of such a scene.

  14. Avery said,

    June 27, 2016 @ 8:35 pm

    If you want more appetizing insults in this vein, I recommend checking out the Facebook page Get In the Sea, and reading the comments.

  15. Chris Waigl said,

    June 28, 2016 @ 2:55 am

    … read by David Tennant, some of them, on Samantha Bee's show: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7zvNu3qgjno

    [trying embed code, might not work…]

  16. Dan Lufkin said,

    June 28, 2016 @ 3:06 pm

    Some more at

  17. Dan Lufkin said,

    June 28, 2016 @ 3:07 pm

    Sorry! http://www.telegraph.co.uk/books/authors/the-best-british-political-insults-rows-and-putdowns/geoffrey-howe/

  18. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    June 28, 2016 @ 3:24 pm

    Dan Lufkin: The poem is, I believe, from Drayneflete, by Osbert Lancaster, where it is ascribed to a 19th century lady poet of that town (possibly Amelia de Vere, unless I have confused her with someone else).

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