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"Sir, you are an abominable, beastly, cruel, dastardly, exasperating, . . ." Such an "abecedarian insult" goes through the ABCs, with 25 nasty adjectives and a final noun, the first letters of which parade sequentially through the alphabet.

Peter Bowler composed a noted one, but quite a few of his terms are just the formal medical names of conditions (e.g., kyphotic = "having backward curvature of the spine"; i.e., humpbacked), and the vast majority of them are fancified Latinity or Grecianizings.

Must we turn to erudite Latin and Greek for opprobrium? Were the Anglo Saxons and Normans incapable of invective??! Aye, 'tis a slander! -- and this week we disprove it, presenting some earthy insulting terms that could be part of a good abecedarian insult.

caitiff – despicably cowardly (noun: such a person; a wretch)
    The first line of his review ... is an expression of animosity so repellent, so insultting, so obnoxious, so unnecessary, so cruel and so unprofessional that we would be caitiff dogs if we did not express our resentment and rejection in every possible way."
    – Herman Levin, producer, in letter to the editor (1970? 1971?) protesting a review of his musical version of Teahouse of the August Moon
 
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He just didn't go back far enough: caitiff < Norman French caitif < Latin captivus < captus ppl of capio 'to seize'. Latin capio is related to English have, and Latin habeo 'to hold' is related to our give.
 
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Right, jheem. I'd at first thought to confine this thread to insults from the Anglo Saxons, but decided to expand it to include Norman terms. The latter, of course, trace back to latin.

stociousirish slang: drunk
The BBC collects 141 synonyms here. I'm particular fond of jober as a sudge.
    A friend of mine will not employ Irish builders on his sites. He claims Monday is usually a write-off and they don't start work properly till Tuesday. ...

    Last Wednesday night I got a glimpse of what he meant. I was looking for a football pitch, and popped into the local pub to ask for directions. At the bar were six stocious roadbuilders. It was 7.30pm. The lads had knocked off at six, and they were so jarred that when asked a question, each had to move his entire head to focus.
    - David McWilliams, A pint of plain is your only economic indicator, Sunday Business Post, 25/01/04
 
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callow – in an adult role but lacking full adult experience or sophistication
Note: the dictionaries say simply "lacking adult experience or sophistication". But would you call a 6-year old child 'callow'? I'd think not, so I've limited the definition accordingly.
[Middle English calwe, bald, from Old English calu, prob. from Latin calvus ‘bald’.]

Question: In general, adults are bald only when they've reached an age of full experience. So why would 'callow' come from a root meaning 'bald'?
    Peggy Flanagan is barely two years out of college. She doesn't have any kids. So how did the 25-year-old end up getting more votes for the Minneapolis school board than any other candidate in this week's election? She had DFL endorsement, which is a huge help in Minneapolis. But she also has a wealth of political experience. While she's young, one of her mentors said, she's not callow.
    – Mary Jane Smetanka, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Nov. 4, 2004

    What was striking yesterday was how many Parisians expressed a view of the American public as beset by childlike ignorance and led astray by a callow news media that in their view have failed to hold the Bush administration accountable for misdeeds.
    – Ken Dilanian, Philadelphia Inquirer, Nov. 4, 2004
 
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1. Bald, without hair. Obs.

2. Of birds: Unfledged, without feathers.

b. Applied to the down of unfledged birds; and so, to the down on a youth's cheek and chin.

3. fig. Inexperienced, raw, ‘unfledged’.

hence, a callow youth (not necessarily in an adult role, maybe *because of this state)
 
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losel – a worthless person
[Middle English, from lōsen, past participle of lēsen to lose, from Old English lēosan]
[pronounce s with z-sound. The o is as in low or loot or lot]
    Thou liest, quoth I, thou losel, like a lewd lad.
    He said he was little John Nobody, that durst not speak.
    – W.H. Auden Little John Nobody
Losel mirrors a modern slang term. It comes from the same root as to lose, so it would seem to be, in effect, the old way of calling someone "a loser".

All note the ending. An -le ending gives the sense of "frequent", which the grammarians call the frequentative form, often with the sense of "small". (Think of dabble, dribble, jiggle, jostle, piddle, prattle, ripple, sniffle, snuggle, suckle, tickle, tinkle, tootle, trickle, waggle, and many more.) Losel ends with the same sound (differently spelled, but in those old days spellings were not standardized), and thus it would seem to have the dismissive sense of "little loser".

Simlar to losel is lorel – a good for nothing fellow; a vagabond. I'd guess it comes from the same root, with the s changed to an r. That sort of change in that root gave us lorn and forlorn.

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I agree with tsuwm. "Callow youth" is a common phrase, so it is not only applied to adults. "Callow" in this context simply means "inexperienced. Since youths are inexperienced almost by definition, any insult would be in the word "youth".


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
 
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Today's word comes from Middle English word mawke, meaning 'maggot'. So it's insulting by its etymology -- indeed, its entomological etymology.

mawkish – sickly or excessively sentimental as to be nauseous; disgusting
Bonus word: hardscrabble – earning a bare or meager living with great labor or difficulty
    In the vice-presidential debate, Republicans thought Dick Cheney won and Democrats thought John Edwards won. I can understand both those judgments. ... Imagine John Edwards gruffly running through cool hard-realist evaluations of just the facts, ma'am. Imagine Dick Cheney wallowing in mawkish hardscrabble anecdotes about his impoverished dad sitting at the kitchen. ... it was said by many on the right that Dick Cheney came over as the grown-up and John Edwards as the callow youth.
    – Mark Steyn, The Washington Times, Oct. 11, 2004. Mr. Steyn is senior North American columnist for Britain's Telegraph Group.
 
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quote:
Originally posted by arnie:
I agree with tsuwm. "Callow youth" is a common phrase, so it is not only applied to adults.
Agreed, you don't have to be an adult to be callow. But you wouldn't call a 6-year old 'callow', would you? It seems to me that you also wouldn't call a teenager 'callow' in the context of teenage activity, as for example The callow teenager studied hard for his high school math test. It seems to me that a youth can be 'callow' only when he's doing things that adults often do.
 
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Shu,

As I said above,
quote:
Since youths are inexperienced almost by definition, any insult would be in the word "youth".


Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
 
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Today's word is a familiar one, but an odd one in two different ways, when you think about it.

vixen – 1. a shrewish ill-tempered woman 2. a female fox

Vixen is one of extraordinarily few words beginning with v which comes from Old English, rather than a foreign tongue, typically French or Latin. (The only others are vane and vat.) Also, though the names for this animal (a fox if male but a vixen if female) seem related, but why do they begin with different constants? Which led to the other, and why?

The root of these oddities is the region dialects of southern England, where folk tend to pronounce an initial "unvoiced fricative" as a "voiced fricative". Putting that in ordinary terms, an s is pronounced z, and an f is pronounced v, at the start of a word. For example, the locals in Somerset will pronounce that name 'Zomerzet'. The word fat became vat, and the Germanic word fahne = flag became vane. In Old English, the feminine of fox was fyxe or fyxen, which the southern dialect converted to vixen. These three words are the only such bits of such dialect that have worked their ways into standard English.

Vixen is unique in another way. Several older words used the Germanic feminine suffix –en or –in: thus goddess, nun (a "female monk") and she-wolf were respectively gyden, mynecen and wlyfen. But all these have fallen by the wayside, and the sole survival is a that a she-fox is a vixen.
 
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blatherskite – 1. a babbling, foolish person. 2. blather
Skite, a dialect term for a contemptible person, is from Middle English skite diarrhea, which is in turn from the Old Norse word meaning 'excrement'.

There's an unconscious irony in our second quote. It take a while to figure out what the author is trying to say.
    Theodore Roosevelt persuaded Seabury to resign from the bench and run for Governor, promising to support him against the GOP nominee, Charles S. Whitman. But [then] Roosevelt, breaking his word, rejoined the GOP and commanded the Progressives to back Whitman. Seabury paid a visit. Roosevelt started to say something, but Seabury interrupted. "Mr. President, you are a blatherskite!" he said, and stalked out.
    – Robert A. Caro, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York
    This book won for the author the first of his two Pulitzer Prizes.

    The primary implication for business communication of the positive sort is to recognize that it must face reality early; it must embrace the public generously and openly, and it must deal with the inevitable sides of its behavior and actions with refreshing openness rather than the traditional denial couched in organization blatherskite.
    – Joseph F. Coates, Communication World, June-July, 1991
 
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