“Thine face is not worth sunburning”

I swear. Much more often than I should, especially considering how frequently my three-year-old is in my vicinity, soaking up everything he hears and sees. I’ve been thinking of instituting a Swear Jar, but thinking about this unfortunate habit made me realize something more insidious. Much of the swearing and invective that I know and have used for too long has a distinctly gendered slant.

While I don’t want to put the misogynistic invectives up here, we all know them. Some of us use these slanders, and many feel their sting on a regular basis. In my case, with the least provocation, the words “son of a b****” come to mind far too quickly, directed at anyone or anything that inconveniences me a little.

Why? Why is it necessary to not only insult someone but to then insult an entire gender at the same time? What is it about the feminine gender that is found to be so inherently insulting? The Patriarchy conditions us to believe it is, despite there being no possible justification. This is another much larger topic for another day though.

So, I have hit upon a partial solution that, as an English major, I think everyone should adopt immediately. Instead of using a gender-based curse by rote, tell someone “thine face is not worth sunburning,” or tell them “If you spend word for word with me, I shall make your wit bankrupt,” a la the Bard.

Let me explain. Leaving aside the blatant misogyny, this practice leaves little to no room for creativity or catering the barb you toss to the target. Let’s make things more interesting. Learn to swear like Shakespeare!

If you can do this, you clearly have a superior command of the language than the majority of the populace, and even if the target of your wrath is left befuddled by the exact meaning of the words used, I’ve found that sentiment behind the words transfers regardless. Also, if someone is too busy trying to figure out what a bawdy dizzy-eyed fustilarian is, they are not thinking of a witty retort to come back at you. While Shakespeare’s plays are not lacking for maligned women, I feel that this option at least opens up other avenues of thought, and one does not need to leap to calling someone a harlot all willy nilly.

To this end, I have a few resources for you:

First, we have the Shakespeare Insult Kit, put up by Chris Seidel. Conveniently, the kit also comes with a handy Random Insult Generator, for when you just aren’t feeling up to throwing the words together on your own.

If you like to know that your Shakespearean phrasing is authentic, and where it was used in the works of The Bard, No Sweat Shakespeare has just what you’re looking for. They’ve put together a Top 50 list of Shakespeare Insults, including citations for the play and scene the insult appeared.

These are by no means the only ways to learn Shakespearean style invective; these links are only the ones I found most amusing after a quick check on Google. If you know or come upon, other resources you like better, please share them below. I’m open to learning, are you?

Daniel Holl
Daniel is a student in his junior year who splits his time between campus and his home in Swarthmore with his wife and children. When he somehow manages to get caught up on his school work, Daniel likes to relax with a fantasy novel or take his dog Mac for a run in the woods.

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