The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘insults’

Strife in the Fast Lane

March 24, 2015 | by

tucsonhighway

Photo: Daniel Ramirez

The other day, I was riding down a Tucson highway with my mother. We had been to the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store and now it was rush hour. Suddenly, a man in a white pickup accelerated, passed us on the right, and screamed, “GET OUT OF THE FAST LANE, DUMBASS!”

After a moment of stunned silence, we both started to snicker. Read More »

Powder and Shot

March 23, 2015 | by

wodehouse

P. G. Wodehouse.

A letter, possibly unsent, from P. G. Wodehouse to Don Iddon, March 1954. Iddon, “a sleekly combed English reporter,” wrote a weekly column about life in Manhattan for the Daily Mail. “Many [British] readers,” Time wrote in 1951, “rely on Iddon's hodgepodge of gossip, press-agentry, and political hip-shooting for much of their U.S. news.”

Dear Iddon.

A word for your guidance. Do you realize, you revolting little object, that the copyright of a letter belongs to the writer of it? If you plan to continue your practice of publishing private letters sent to your private address, you are liable to come up against someone who thinks you worth powder and shot—which I don’t—and get into trouble. Read More »

Wish You Were Here

March 4, 2015 | by

Vasily Perov, The Hunters at Rest, 1871.

Many agree that our language is coarsening. We curse more, insult each other with impunity, and speak like illiterate cats on a regular basis. But in one way, things are improving: it’s been a good ten years since I heard anyone say “Guess you had to be there.”

When I was a teenager, people said this constantly. Someone would tell a well-meaning anecdote, something he considered amusing or interesting—then some jerk would fill the silence with, “Guess you had to be there.” The jerk always waited until the story in question was over. And, yes, oftentimes the stories were lame, and not worth telling, and a waste of everyone’s time. But whoever was telling that story was putting himself out there, in a certain small way, and, in an equally small way, being beaten down. Read More »

Common Colds

January 29, 2015 | by

cold

“Coughs and sneezes spread diseases,” a famous British public health campaign.

As I wandered through the painkillers aisle, sniffling and throwing decongestants and tinctures into my basket, I thought that one of the annoying things about the common cold is the knowledge that it’s so benign. A harried-looking dad was bending over the babies’ section, staring at a bulb syringe and trying ineffectually to calm the miserable toddler in the red UPPAbaby. The little boy was howling. And why not? What had he done to find himself visited by a raw, red nose, troubled sleep, and a series of aches and pains? So far as he was concerned, this was the end of the world: nothing in this moment could have been worse. 

And the truth is, when you feel sick, it’s a small comfort to know you’ll be better within a week and what’s happening to you isn’t, in fact, serious. There’s none of the anxiety of a real medical problem, but then it’s in a different category entirely: it’s the very knowledge of its toothlessness—paired with its unpleasantness—that renders it irritating. Read More »

Rote Learning

October 20, 2014 | by

Bleecker_Street_IRT_1905

A postcard of the Bleecker Street IRT stop, 1905.

“I’ve never seen the point of New York,” someone said to me last week, in a foreign city, upon learning that it was my hometown.

I must confess to being nonplussed by this. I hadn’t fielded such an idiotic remark since middle school. Back then, I would have responded in kind with some nonsense—“Well, since it’s not pyramid-shaped, neither have I,” or something about John Stuart Mill, if I knew about him—but now this did not come so easily. Most of us have long since learned that there’s not much sport in breaking the fine-print clauses of the social contract.

And most of us learn the hard way. My most shameful memory is of creeping around a tree, perhaps in second grade, at Reynolds Field, and hissing, “Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker,” at a mystified five-year-old. I knew instantly that I had not conjured the mystery and allure I’d been going for; that I was, in fact, an ass. I have never admitted that before. I wonder if that kid remembers it. I really hope not.

But now I am a grown-up. So I quoted to him one of the few things I know by heart:

On any person who desires such queer prizes, New York will bestow the gift of loneliness and the gift of privacy. It is this largess that accounts for the presence within the city’s walls of a considerable section of the population; for the residents of Manhattan are to a large extent strangers who have pulled up stakes somewhere and come to town, seeking sanctuary or fulfillment or some greater or lesser grail. The capacity to make such dubious gifts is a mysterious quality of New York. It can destroy an individual, or it can fulfill him, depending a good deal on luck. No one should come to New York to live unless he is willing to be lucky.

I finished. We stared at each other blankly.

“That was E.B. White,” I said.

“I meant it rhetorically,” he said.

Denigrate Your Enemies, Shakespeare Style

February 6, 2014 | by

Lear BAM

Photo: courtesy of BAM

Last night I saw Angus Jackson’s King Lear, now at BAM, with a spry, sturdy Frank Langella in the title role. Langella was astonishing—he does high dudgeon, he does piss and vinegar, he does grief, perplexity, and weariness. His rimy, bellowing voice belies a surprising range, especially in the later acts. Lear dodders around, benighted, mad, machinating and fulminating to no one.

I haven’t read Lear in a while, and I’d forgotten that it has some tremendous insults in it—as befits a play about a graying, cantankerous head of state. I have a thing for archaic insults. They carry all the rancor of their modern-day counterparts, and with the added advantage of unfamiliarity—you called me what? The result is pure, clean-burning rage. It’s not unlike seeing someone mouth off in a country where you don’t speak the language.

Shakespeare, being Shakespeare, really knows how to deliver a good tongue-lashing—the theater has always been an ideal venue to see people go off on one another, and accordingly his plays are zested with putdowns. These are, I think, great fun to try on your friends. (And then, later, once you’ve mastered them, on your enemies.) Read More »

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