How to swear like an Elizabethan in Devon
PUBLISHED: 13:52 19 September 2016
Learn some top insults from Elizabethan Devon: jade, punk, drab, wittol, cuckold, hackney, rascal, varlet, sucker, cockscomb, woodcock, lubber, jackanapes, ninnyhammer, whoremonger, and minx.
Top insults from Elizabethan times, from Exmouth this includes:`thou scoldeth and went with one Robert Rockett and was naughty or dishonest with him in a ditch’; East Budleigh: `thou art a cuckold, a long-legged cuckold and thy wife is a hackney whore’, are featured in a forthcoming talk.
Devon’s Top Elizabethan Insults will be revealed in a fundraiser lecture, to help rebuild Pinhoe Library, entitled Strumpets, Swearing & Drinking in Puritan Exeter by Dr Todd Gray MBE in Exeter Guildhall on Wednesday, September 21, at 2pm.
Dr Gray, Exeter University Research Fellow, will discuss hundreds of slander cases across Devon from 1500 to 1650. This will be the first time that this subject has been discussed and is based on a collection of some 40,000 ancient documents. It reveals the insults and swears then used; some language is likely to raise eyebrows.
Included in the talk are examples from Exmouth and East Budleigh.
Exmouth: `thou scoldeth and went with one Robert Rockett and was naughty or dishonest with him in a ditch’.
East Budleigh: `thou art a cuckold, a long-legged cuckold and thy wife is a hackney whore’.
Other insulting terms frequently used in Devon were jade, punk, drab, wittol, cuckold, hackney, rascal, varlet, sucker, cockscomb, woodcock, lubber, jackanapes, ninnyhammer, whoremonger, and minx.
Men were ridiculed differently than women - men were mocked for being unintelligent whereas only women were called scolds or eavesdroppers. Both were called drunkards, beggars and witches.
However, most ridicule was about sex - both men and women were accused of engaging in illicit sex. The top insults given to Devon men in the 1500s and early 1600s were `rogue’ and `knave’, both signified a dishonest man. The most common insult given to local women was `whore’ and more than 200 adjectives were teamed with it such as drunken, poxy, platter-faced, hollow-mouthed and fat-ar*ed. Two insults may only have been used in Exeter - nippy and ninnycock.
The Guildhall lecture will see the launch of Strumpets and Ninnycocks and How to Swear Like An Elizabethan in Devon.
Of this Dr Gray said: “I am slightly apprehensive as to how the public will react to these books. My work nearly always has a Devon focus and and in the last few decades I have tried to introduce aspects of the past that had been previously ignored. This includes some uncomfortable or unnerving topics.
“What I am doing now is launching the history of name-calling into Devon history. Much of it was sexual so in effect, I am introducing the history of sex into mainstream Devon studies.
“A good portion of the ridicule in the 1500s and 1600s was fairly sharp and I hope I have not gone too far this time – but this lecture will initiate what will be a new way to understand Devon. The words and terms were outrageous at the time but I hope they are not still shocking.”
• Tickets cost £10 from Pinhoe Library or from the office at the Guildhall. Space is limited.
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