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Author Topic: Victorian Insults  (Read 17507 times)
Lady Chrystal
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« on: November 16, 2011, 09:01:56 am »

Does anyone know a source of genuine Victorian insults?

I'm hoping for some terms of abuse that would have been used, but are no longer offensive in common usage. Preferably with associated meanings.

I've already had one "expert" tell me a term that "Victorians would have used for Africans", which is "not going to offend anyone in the 21st century". Except that isn't what it means and apparently it's deeply offensive to Muslims.

You see my problem.

So - has anyone come across any obscure insults in their reading of 19th century literature?

(And please - not the usual list of Shakespearean insults, he wasn't a Victorian and I'm not looking for comedy value.)

Thank you for reading.
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Major Willoughby Chase
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« Reply #1 on: November 16, 2011, 09:13:50 am »

There's a few in this thread, iirc there's a couple Steampunk insults thread too.

http://brassgoggles.co.uk/forum/index.php/topic,7069.0.html
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Lady Chrystal
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« Reply #2 on: November 16, 2011, 09:22:21 am »

Thanks, Major, much appreciated. A few good ones, but mostly comedy (or Shakespeare).

Any more suggestions?
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JennyWren
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« Reply #3 on: November 16, 2011, 09:28:41 am »


When to Tip the Hat
Proper etiquette required a gentleman to tip his hat by lifting it slightly at the front when encountering a female as a sign of respect. This was the polite thing to do and is akin to a military salute or the ancient custom of a medieval knight lifting his face visor. Tipping of the hat is no longer necessary, but is a great way to flirt. The modern way of tipping the hat is to simply touch the brim of the hat. Tipping a hat to a man, however, could be interpreted as an insult, as in calling him a woman.

http://www.ehow.com/way_5172210_hat-etiquette-men.html


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Lady Chrystal
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« Reply #4 on: November 16, 2011, 12:23:35 pm »

Ooh, I like that one. Not what I was looking for, but I will remember to use it sometime! Thanks.
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Capt. Dirigible
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« Reply #5 on: November 16, 2011, 05:11:45 pm »

Perhaps this may be of help to you
http://theniteowl.blogspot.com/2009/04/insults-from-senile-victorian-gentleman.html

Here are a few choice ones I found via a Google search:


"He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends.”  –Oscar Wilde

I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a friend... if you have one.”

George Bernard Shaw to Winston Churchill

Cannot possibly attend first night; will attend second, if there is one.”

–Winston Churchill’s response to George Bernard Shaw
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Flightless Phoenix
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« Reply #6 on: November 16, 2011, 05:32:05 pm »

I'm sure there are many good ones in the works of Oscar Wilde- although I can't think of one off the top of my head.

His stuff will be out of copyright by now- so It should ll be on Project Guttenburg for free.

I understand your dilemma- for instance today when we say weather is muggy or call someone a mug, we don't have any racially motivated connotations. However originally these terms were references to India i.e. Muggy weather is warm and humid- like Indian weather and so calling someone a mug is actually comparing them to an Indian and thus making Indians out to be stupid =S. What a minefield language is! I was so shocked when my friend got back from his PR course and told me this! I was totally unaware of the origins of the word!
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Capt. Dirigible
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« Reply #7 on: November 16, 2011, 05:58:22 pm »

Quote
Muggy weather is warm and humid- like Indian weather and so calling someone a mug is actually comparing them to an Indian and thus making Indians out to be stupid

I don't believe that for a moment...
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Flightless Phoenix
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« Reply #8 on: November 16, 2011, 06:42:26 pm »

That's what at least one company are telling their PR team. Do you think it's political correctness gone bonkers? I wouldn't be suprised to be honest...
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Lady Chrystal
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« Reply #9 on: November 16, 2011, 07:33:06 pm »

Thanks, both - some useful tips there.

In terms of derivation of words, I've heard a lot of balderdash - often by tourist guides trying to claim credit for their location inventing a phrase in the past. I've also heard that the origin of "handicapped" is "hand-in-cap" - that it's a way of calling someone a beggar. Don't know if that one's true.

Denigrate is a good one - it derives from the same route as "negro", meaning to blacken someone's name (not in a racist sense). Fascinating stuff, language...
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walkthebassline
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« Reply #10 on: November 16, 2011, 07:35:10 pm »

Very fascinating, especially the way it changes over time and across regions. Even here in the States there are some interesting differences in language depending upon where you go.
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« Reply #11 on: November 16, 2011, 09:27:08 pm »

Quote
That's what at least one company are telling their PR team. Do you think it's political correctness gone bonkers?

That sounds far more likely...
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MistressMagpie
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« Reply #12 on: November 17, 2011, 02:39:28 pm »

"For one person to look directly at another and not acknowledge the other's bow is such a breach of civility that only an unforgivable misdemeanor can warrant the rebuke."
-- Mm. Post, 1922
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« Reply #13 on: November 17, 2011, 02:57:12 pm »


When to Tip the Hat
Proper etiquette required a gentleman to tip his hat by lifting it slightly at the front when encountering a female as a sign of respect. This was the polite thing to do and is akin to a military salute or the ancient custom of a medieval knight lifting his face visor. Tipping of the hat is no longer necessary, but is a great way to flirt. The modern way of tipping the hat is to simply touch the brim of the hat. Tipping a hat to a man, however, could be interpreted as an insult, as in calling him a woman.

http://www.ehow.com/way_5172210_hat-etiquette-men.html


Sorry but I really must dispute the conclusion that "tipping a hat to a man could be interpreted as an insult..." even though it makes sense from the flow of the article since the author assumes it is only relevant when approaching a woman.

Doffing one's hat (i.e. taking it off) has long been a salute to a social superior, male or female.  The recipient may nod, thus accepting the salute. (Female or male of social superiority)  A male respondent may doff (or tip) their hat in return  it signals that the recipient accepts the originator as their social equal. 

A touch to the brim of a hat is a clear sign of respect to both genders and indeed has been for centuries in Europe.

The article may be US-centric and customs may differ a little.
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Lady Chrystal
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« Reply #14 on: November 17, 2011, 03:41:37 pm »


The article may be US-centric and customs may differ a little.


You may be right, Sir. They do things differently in the Colonies  Smiley

However, it's possible to bow in a sarcastic manner, I suspect it may be possible to do something simiular in the field of hat-doffing.

After a little research, I find that the derivation for handicapped I mentioned earlier is false, too. I stand by denigrate, though.
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walkthebassline
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« Reply #15 on: November 17, 2011, 03:45:12 pm »


The article may be US-centric and customs may differ a little.


You may be right, Sir. They do things differently in the Colonies  Smiley

However, it's possible to bow in a sarcastic manner, I suspect it may be possible to do something simiular in the field of hat-doffing.

After a little research, I find that the derivation for handicapped I mentioned earlier is false, too. I stand by denigrate, though.


I assumed it was referring to tipping your hat in a sarcastic manner, or as if to a woman.
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TimeTinker
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« Reply #16 on: November 17, 2011, 04:44:16 pm »

I assumed it was referring to tipping your hat in a sarcastic manner,
or as if to a woman.
[/quote]

I am sorry but I do not know how one would differentiate there - how does the act of tipping one's hat actually differ between men and women?  Do you have a way to tip a hat in the colonies that differs from how you would tip your hat to a gentleman? Since I am working on etiquette for steampunks for one of my upcoming books I would love a little help if you could be so kind.

Sarcasm in the act is of course relevant but one would simply receive it as someone being sarcastic about being polite and no inference of gender as such.  Making to kiss a chap's hand though... that's another thing. Cheesy

I agree with your root of denigrate Lady Chrystal.  Of course as you point out it is referring to "blacken" in a non-racist sense (e.g. make dirty with soot) and thus could be equated with concepts such as "tarnishing" or "besmirch" (the past participal in medieval English meaning marked or dirtied) and possibly even onto things described as "smutty".  This concept of "dirt" has a lot of mileage in insults and terms.
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walkthebassline
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« Reply #17 on: November 17, 2011, 04:58:44 pm »

I guess that was a bit vague; I was thinking less the action of tipping the hat itself and more the overall body language involved. Not sure I can even explain what I'm envisioning, but essentially that men tipping their hats to one another would be as equals showing mutual respect, whereas a man tipping his hat to a woman might comport himself differently. Not that he is better per se, but that he is showing respect to a woman rather than acknowledging another man. I do understand the hierarchy that existed and to some degree still exists between men of varied social levels, but I'm not sure that was as prevalent everywhere in the colonies. (Others may correct me on that.) But that would still constitute sarcasm, so there you go.

In any case I really could have stopped that sentence at the comma, so lets just do that. I had not finished my morning coffee when I wrote that. Sorry for the confusion.
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TimeTinker
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« Reply #18 on: November 17, 2011, 06:07:48 pm »

No need to apologise.  I thought I was on to a little gem of a transatlantic ettiquette difference that is all.

On the Mug topic...

It seems mug originated as a word in the sixteenth century from the scandinavian terms for a drinking vessel, jug or bowl. (Swedish "mugg" and Norwegian "mugge") At the same time the fashion developed for such vessels and indeed some bottles to have human faces on them (generally grotesque).  Mug very quickly became a slang term for an often grotesque human face.

A mug is therefore equated as being stupid because of the grotesque face.  The term became common as street slang for thieves praying on hapless marks in the mid nineteenth century. (This is where we get the idea of "mugging" from.)

Interestingly the idea of someone wanting to "mug up" on a topic for an exam etc also comes from the idea of mug being a grotesque face.  Theatrical types used to "mug up" by putting on their face makeup and trying to remember their lines.

Almost every slang connotation on the word mug and variants can be seen to mean a "face" in some way shape or form.

Muggy weather being the racist root to insult Indians - sounds pretty ridiculous particularly the Indian link since Muggy weather might equally refer to another part of the Empire at the time.   Seems like a case of one plus one equals seven there.

However calling someone a "mug" is a cracking Victorian insult!  It also leads on to calling someone a "mark", or "dupe" or "patsy" too for the victim connotation or an "ape" (I am sure very popular with anti Darwinists) for the ugly link.

What about calling someone a "Toby" after toby-jug hence ugly mug?
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walkthebassline
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« Reply #19 on: November 17, 2011, 08:09:42 pm »

No need to apologise.  I thought I was on to a little gem of a transatlantic ettiquette difference that is all.


Well I just found this. It might help you a bit.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Etiquette_in_North_America
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« Reply #20 on: November 17, 2011, 08:52:28 pm »

Thank you.  I have already actually worked through the article. (I have been working on the book for about a year already although it is taking a bit of a back seat to my newer title that already has substantial pre orders for the US market and is due for launch in September. The pressure is on therefore.)

I am specifically trying to develop a steampunk etiquette guide which allows steampunks to interact socially with confidence (along with lots of other material) and so material which is historically based or steampunk specific is really what I am after.

For example it is common to both the UK and US that a gentleman should not wear a hat indoors however steampunks love to wear their hats and the chronic shortage of hatstands in the modern world means they are commonly worn indoors at conventions etc.  A specific accomodation is needed for this variation therefore.

I am extremely grateful for your assistance however and only elaborate here to explain what I am looking for in the hope that members here may suggest elements for me. Since there is the risk of hijacking this thread I will look at alternative places for this discussion and suggest we concentrate on insults in this one.

Thank you once again.
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walkthebassline
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« Reply #21 on: November 17, 2011, 09:12:51 pm »

You are quite welcome sir, sorry I couldn't be of more assistance. Feel free to shoot me a PM if there's anything else I can try to do. I love doing the odd bit of research and American history is my passion (not to mention my area of study).

On the topic of insults, while it may not be "Victorian" I can attest to the fact that in Southern culture (where tradition is hard to break and most people still have manners) even simple harmless phrases can be used as insults in the right context. One of my favorites is "Bless your heart", which as my friends up North have learned can mean anything from "Well f**k you" to "Wow you're really an idiot", all said very politely of course.("Oh that's what you think of me? Well bless your heart!") And it is also understood that the phrase can soften any piece of criticism given; women are often fond of this use. I.e. "Oh doesn't she just have the worst hair, bless her heart!" The words are polite; the tone and context are not. Its those kind of manners I would personally associate with that era as well; my knowledge of Antebellum society supports that.
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Mr Peter Harrow, Esq
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« Reply #22 on: November 18, 2011, 01:56:19 am »

Thank you.  I have already actually worked through the article. (I have been working on the book for about a year already although it is taking a bit of a back seat to my newer title that already has substantial pre orders for the US market and is due for launch in September. The pressure is on therefore.)

I am specifically trying to develop a steampunk etiquette guide which allows steampunks to interact socially with confidence (along with lots of other material) and so material which is historically based or steampunk specific is really what I am after.

For example it is common to both the UK and US that a gentleman should not wear a hat indoors however steampunks love to wear their hats and the chronic shortage of hatstands in the modern world means they are commonly worn indoors at conventions etc.  A specific accomodation is needed for this variation therefore.

I am extremely grateful for your assistance however and only elaborate here to explain what I am looking for in the hope that members here may suggest elements for me. Since there is the risk of hijacking this thread I will look at alternative places for this discussion and suggest we concentrate on insults in this one.

Thank you once again.

Hmm Conventions, public houses, Restaurants are all public spaces as opposed to being a Guest in a private residence. Whilst one may retain ones hat indoors in a public space, it would highly offensive to do so in a private space, as it would signify to ones host that one felt unwelcome and therefore were on the verge of leaving. Conversely donning head apparel only worn indoors such as a brimless and peakless headwear such as a smoking cap or nightcap would signify to your host that you are feeling exceedingly comfortable and intend to make yourself at home. In such circumstances a prudent host may without breaching etiquette surreptiously hide the good port without offending the Guest.

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« Reply #23 on: November 18, 2011, 06:39:03 am »

...In such circumstances a prudent host may without breaching etiquette surreptiously hide the good port without offending the Guest.

That reminds me of a family story that I think goes back to my great grandparents (late Victorians/Edwardians; my grandmother was born in 1912): Someone popped in for an unannounced visit. My great grandparents were out but expected back shortly, so the cook make the guest welcome in the parlour. But of course all the alcohol was locked away (don't want the servants nipping at the brandy, doncherknow) so she politely offered him a glass of sherry, which he accepted, and which she subsequently brought. But of course the only sherry she had access to was the cooking sherry, which I am told was not only exceedingly inferior but also rather heavily laced with salt! Made for an interesting conversation when his hosts returned, I am sure.  Cheesy

I believe "butter wouldn't melt in her mouth" dates from the period; "no better than she should be" may also be period, although of course those aren't entirely out of date now. What about "slattern"? I don't think it (or "slatternly") gets used much anymore, but it has a lovely feel on the tongue and certainly ought to be period!

So far as hats goes, perhaps it is a peculiarly Steampunk etiquette to not require a guest to break up the overall effect of their lovely outfit by requiring the arbitrary donning and doffing of bits of it?
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Kathy_Davidson
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« Reply #24 on: November 18, 2011, 02:31:58 pm »



Always amusing and there is a good selection of 'insults' thrown in
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