RUFFIN-IT: LANGUAGE AS A WEAPON, PART 5
Several Christmases ago I received a flipbook entitled Thy Father Is a Corbellied Codpiece, by Barry Kraft. The book has three spiral-mounted panels with adjectives on the top and middle panels and nouns on the bottom one, all arranged alphabetically. You just flip through until you find an adjective on the top panel that pleases you, then choose a middle panel adjective that seems to go well with it, then select a noun to cap it off.
For example, we find “beslubbering,” which means “to smear or plaster over”; the word is too close to “slobbering,” though, not to be taken offensively. Link it to “bat-fowling” and “bladder” and you have a classic insult: “You beslubbering, bat-fowling bladder!” My, what a nice ring, whether it makes any sense or not.
Alliteration helps in the combination, you see–this is where the alphabetizing comes in handy. “You churlish, clay-brained clotpole” literally sings. Or “You frothy, fat-kidneyed fustilarian!” Fustilarian, the best I can determine, comes from the word fusty, which means “smelling of mildew or decay,” or simply old-fashioned; either way, one labeled a fustilarian should not swell with pride at the pronouncement. Another: “You dankish dizzy-eyed death-token.” Perhaps “mewly, milk-livered maggot-pie” would please thee more, or “puking, pox-marked pignut.” Try “surly, swag-bellied scut.” (A scut, by the way, is a small critter with a “stubby, erect tail, as of a hare, rabbit, or deer,” so the sound is worse than the meaning–I think.)
Alliteration, while a nice touch, is not essential in this process. Swift and resolute results may be had from “You goatish, onion-eyed barnacle!” Or stop the next guy you see on the street and try this one on him: “Thou yeasty, beef-witted gudgeon! Out of my way!” While you are recovering at the hospital, you might try to figure out which word triggered the beating. Hint: It probably wouldn’t be gudgeon, since few people are likely to know that that is a freshwater fish found in Europe and Asia or a person easily fooled. Beef-witted, on the other hand . . . well, you can bet the old boy knows where beef comes from.
Let’s work up a practical scenario here, one in which you remain safe in your car: You’re out at the high school waiting in line to pick up your daughter–one of the best places in the world for this sort of thing to happen–and some mammal from among the mannerless born cuts in in front of you and blocks both lanes so that when you are ready to go, he’s not, and his kid is apparently staying for night classes, maybe summer school.
You lean out the window and ask pleasantly, “Sir, may I pass?”
“I’m waitin’ on my kid,” he yells back.
“But I need to get by.”
“People in hell want ice tea.”
He’s started it, so you lean farther out and unleash: “You roguish, rump-fed lout, how about moving over and letting me by?”
“Whud you say, fool?”
“I said, you fobbing, urchin-snouted canker-blossom, would you mind letting me by?”
“So’s your old man,” he comes back.
“Listen, you mammering fen-sucked flap-dragon, I have another kid to pick up, at another school.”
“Well, tell you what, __________ [just fill in the blank here–could start with an A, a B, a C, whatever], you might as well cut yer motor off and take a nap, ’cause I ain’t movin’ till Geraldine gets out here to the truck.”
“Oh, yeah, you bootless, beetle-headed whey-face?”
“Yeah, you son of a ___________ [this one’s a little easier to fill in], whon’t you try movin’ me?”
“I might could,” you say, not loud enough for him to hear it, but he’ll hear it anyway, which is why you have to put a pore-Southerner spin on it.
“Oh yeah? You and whose army?”
See what I mean? Whatever, you have absolute verbal supremacy here. As long as this torporific trailer-bound terrapin–this one is not from Shakespeare–does not reach down and pick up a pistol or shotgun or tire iron, he is simply no match for you. He lapses into the vapid prattle he’s heard all his life while you rise to majestic heights with your three-paneled combinations from Shakespeare.
You’ll have plenty of time to review them while you wait for Geraldine to show and your stomach fills slowly with acid.
Well, I trust that this sampling will help better arm you for the perilous world just beyond these walls: May you walk softly but carry with you the wit and wisdom to recognize and readily assail every bucket of cold clabber who crosses you.