Wonderful words #2: How to be insulting

Isn’t it amazing how many words we have for impugning the character or intelligence of our fellow humans, even without entering into the realms of the obscene? Here are a few of my favourites from around the world. Some of them have been around for quite a time.

  • Bozo American slang, apparently originally meaning person, fellow, but now used as a term of abuse. A number of etymologies have been suggested
    • From Spanish vosotros meaning “you (plural)”
    • From the character of Bozo the Clown, popular in the USA in the 1920s
    • From Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury (1033-1109), who presented many of his treatises as dialogues between Anselm and Boso, who always got things wrong
  • Dilly An adjective, which is apparently a blend of daft and silly. OED’s earliest citation comes from an 1873 glossary of words and phrases used in Somerset.
  • Dingbat A word with many different meanings, including tramp, hobo, money, thingummy and of course more recently the name for a miniature icon or symbol. The first OED citation for its use meaning a fool is from 1911.
  • Drongo – actually the name of a family of birds. See the picture below. The word apparently comes from Malagasy. Why the word has been taken up by Australians to mean an idiot, I do not know.
  • Dweeb An American term, roughly equivalent to geek or nerd. OED’s first citation is from 1982. The suggested etymology is a little vague, but may have something to do with the words dwarf and feeble.
  • Wangbadan A pretty strong Chinese term of abuse, often translated as “turtle’s egg”. The term wang ba really means “neglectful of (the) eight (virtues of filial piety)”, therefore a reprobate. The turtle business seems to come from the traditional Chinese belief that turtles do not beget their own offspring.

The Black Drongo (Dicrurus macrocerus)

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