Did you just insult me?

I’ve been researching rude words from the 1800s in England, and it occurred to me that an insulter could use these words with a smile, and the insultee might never know what the words actually meant.

For instance, unless the insulter’s facial expression gave it away, I would probably thank a person who referred to me as a blooming berk (a darned idiot), thinking it had something to do with flowers. It would be better to reply, “Cobblers!” (rubbish or nonsense) to such a statement.

I now know to be highly insulted if I am ever called a “gormless munter” (stupid, very ugly woman).
Gormless munter
Would you rather be a plonker, a duffer, a prat, a wally, a pillock, a numpty, a wazzack, or a muppet? It doesn’t really matter. All of them mean “idiot.” I may use those. “You’re such a wally!” said with a laugh could be fun.

I made this myself!

I made this myself!

The number of sexual words which were (and are) used in an insulting context is shocking, and here on JSI, we earnestly seek to avoid upsetting our gentle readers. Therefore, I will refrain from posting any of them (or a link).

True story. In the early years of our marriage, my husband and I met an evangelist from England. I was holding our first born. She was not quite a year old at the time. I kissed her and called her a cute little bugger. He nearly spewed his tea. “Don’t ever say that!” he thundered. I was bum-fuzzled. What had I said? I asked him, and after hemming and hawing, he whispered, “That’s the worst sort of a child molester.” I didn’t know child molesters were graded on a sliding scale, but I took his word for it. I’ve now added “bugger” to my list of “words we don’t say.” Did I just say that?

12 thoughts on “Did you just insult me?

  1. Diana O

    Oh! I didn’t know the literal meaning of “bugger” either! There are certainly some British terms I’ve been surprised to learn were not as innocuous as they seem. This would be another one of them.

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    1. Robin Helm Post author

      Some of them are really eye-popping. Who knew there were so many slang words for body parts? I need brain bleach. Thanks, Diana!

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      1. C. Allyn Pierson

        Yes, avoid bugger…more commonly known on this side of the pond as carnal relations with a member of the same sex. And yes, Oscar Wilde was imprisoned for it…Also avoid the word bloody in historical fiction…it would have been considered quite shocking when said by a young lady, or by a gentleman in the company of ladies, in the pre-20th Century.

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      2. C. Allyn Pierson

        This may surprise you, but they actually teach all those terms for body parts in medical school- we have to be able to understand what our patients are talking about when they have learned anatomy on a ghetto street corner…we also had to watch some porno movies in our human sexuality class (can’t say that I found them titillating, but they certainly desensitize you to discussing these issues!).

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        1. Robin Helm Post author

          My elder daughter went to Wales on a mission trip a few years ago. She was taught all sort of things not to say, and she was instructed to make no hand motions at all. The American sign for “okay” was one of them. It was considered to be a sexual sign in the UK. The leaders also told her not to be shocked by use of the “F” word, as it was common language there.

          She meet some wonderful people, including young men who dropped the “F bomb” casually. Fortunately, she had been warned. When she came back, she joined the military. She was already well-prepared for the language. lol

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        2. Robin Helm Post author

          It takes quite a bit to cause me to raise an eyebrow anymore. I don’t wish to offend others, but I am rarely shocked at anything myself.

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  2. Laura Lis Scott

    I love old words! I know from (the fabulous) Patrick O’Brian novels, as well as the Hornblower books, which all were full of language from days of yore, that buggery was targeted by British law five hundred years ago and is apparently still on the books in a more narrow sense. The law did not always focus solely on molesting children, either. But the “crime” was very harshly dealt with. The curious with strong constitutions can google up “Buggery Act of 1533” and “keel hauling.”

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    1. Robin Helm Post author

      The other meanings were listed, too, but I chose not to publish them here. The penalties were stiff. Oscar Wilde went to prison for it.

      Thanks for stopping by, Laura!

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  3. Chris Squire

    ‘Gormless is current British English, commonly used in the North, less in London, as the type it describes is always with us: ’ . . 1932 L. Golding Magnolia St. ii. ii. 304 She just went on pulling the [beer] handle and in a moment..the floor was swilling. ‘Mother!’ cried little Nellie sharply. ‘You are gormless!’ . . ‘ [OED]

    I thought it was the Americans who stuck to the carnal meaning of ‘bugger’ and were offended by the word, not the British who use the term very loosely, even affectionately, as a noun and a verb; OED says: ‘ . . b. In low language a coarse term of abuse or insult; often, however, simply = ‘chap’, ‘customer’, ‘fellow’. Cf. baggage n. 7 . . 1881 S. Evans Evans’s Leicestershire Words (new ed.) (at cited word), ‘Mister, can ye fit this canny little bugger wi’ a cap?’ said a mother to a shop~keeper of her little boy.’ or ‘c. Something unpleasant or undesirable; a great nuisance. coarse slang.’ or ‘d. = damn n. 2. coarse slang.’

    W S Churchill told the US Congress that the British would ‘KBO’ – ‘Keep Buggering On’ back in 1941 – a usage that hasn’t made its way in to OED.

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    1. Robin Helm Post author

      Very interesting. I’ve never used the word “bugger” except as a undesirable byproduct of my sinuses (usually spelled “booger”), a little scamp of a child, or a mischievous person.

      “Gormless” is a great word.

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  4. Chris Squire

    The full OED explains that ‘booger’ derives from two distinct sources:

    bugger, n.1 < French bougre < Latin Bulgarus Bulgarian, a name given to a sect of heretics who came from Bulgaria in the 11th cent., afterwards to other ‘heretics’ (to whom abominable practices were ascribed), also to usurers. See bougre n.(Show Less) . .

    (bugger, n.2 < bug v.1 + -er suffix1.
    orig. U.S. One who installs a concealed microphone or ‘bug’. . . )

    booger, n.1 < Probably a variant or alteration of another lexical item. Etymons: bugger n.1 Probably a variant or euphemistic alteration of bugger n.1(Show Less) colloq. (now chiefly U.S.). A worthless or despicable man; (also in weakened use) a fellow, a chap; a mischievous child, a rascal, a scamp. Chiefly with modifying word. Cf. bugger n.1 2b. . .

    booger, n.2 < Perhaps a variant or alteration of another lexical item. Etymons: boggard n.2, buggard n. Perhaps originally a variant or alteration of boggard n.2 or buggard n., although compare bogy n.1, bogle n., bug n.1, bugan n., bucca n., bugaboo n. . .
    1. U.S. regional. A menacing supernatural creature; a goblin, bogy, or ghost. Chiefly used in speech to children, often as a frightening deterrent to bad behaviour. . .
    2. colloq. (orig. and chiefly U.S.). A piece of dried nasal mucus; = bogy n.1 5. – the British English term.

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    1. Robin Helm Post author

      I had forgotten that we call the things that go bump in the night boogers down here in the South. I am glad to see “a mischievous child, a rascal, a scamp” in there. That’s the main way I use it.

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Why yes, we DO want a piece of your mind. ;-)

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