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Inventive invective

27 February, 2017 — By Gerald Isaaman

Hanky panky: George Orwell

TWITTER is the world’s communicator these days, even for the new US president Donald Trump, whose contempt for the media has given birth to “fake news”, an echo surely of George Orwell’s fears expressed in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.

But the world of bon mots or what Matthew Parris, the former Tory MP turned political pundit, describes as “a brutal verbal sledgehammer” go back to classic times long before the internet existed.

So now is the time to enjoy his latest version of Scorn, some 400 pages packed full of the wickedest and wittiest insults hurled throughout history, including contempt for the EU and, of course, the White House trumpeter.

His name, by the way, has more German derivations than his family background in Scotland, which will not please him, as women too hate one of Trump’s quotes from Parris’s collection: “You know, it really doesn’t matter what the media write as long as you’ve got a young, beautiful piece of ass.”

Or in Scorn’s EU referendum section, Home Secretary Amber Rudd’s quote on Boris Johnson: “He’s the life and soul of the party but he’s not the man you want driving you home at the end of the evening.”

No, Scorn is not only about sexy relationships, the various fun/rude chapters covering the worlds of art, literature, gender, marriage, religion with an encyclopedia of invective from vicious voices down the ages, Trump being just the latest.

And what I found fascinating was the inclusion of some many names of past and present Camden residents, the dead re-emerging from their graves to shout and slander at will.

Lord Byron on Keats, for example: “Here are Jonny Keats’ piss-a-bed poetry, and three novels by God knows whom… No more Keats, I entreat: flay him alive; if some of you don’t I must skin him myself: there is no bearing the drivelling idiotism of the Mankin.”

Mind you, the artist John Constable, on hearing of Byron’s death, declared: “The world is rid of Lord Byron, but the deadly slime of his touch still remains.”

HG Wells, who enjoyed assignations on Hampstead Heath, was far more prophetic with this quote: “England, the heart of a rabbit in the body of a lion. The jaws of a serpent in an abode of popinjays.”

In more recent times Michael Foot said of Benjamin Disraeli: “He was without any rival whatever, the first comic genius who ever installed himself in Downing Street.”

And Harold Wilson said of Edward Heath, whose mother started life as a maid in Hampstead: “A shiver looking for a spine to run up,” while Finchley’s MP Margaret Thatcher, once inside No 10, announced: “I don’t mind how much my ministers talk, as long as they do what I say.”

Sigmund Freud, who escaped Nazi-occupied Vienna for Swiss Cottage, insisted: “The only people we think of as normal are those we don’t know very well.”

Orwell, who haunted the heights of Hampstead, naturally has the largest number of quotes, including this one: “England is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their own nationality.”
And in a tit-for-tat quote, Cyril Connolly said of Orwell: “He would not blow his nose without moralising on conditions in the handkerchief industry.”

All good clean, abuse, obviously.

Scorn: The Wittiest and Wickedest Insults in Human History. By Matthew Parris, Profile Books, £10.99


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