Which is more stupid, a loaf of bread or a crowbar? Here are some of the greatest European insults which we’d like to import into English.
Have you ever had that frustrating feeling of being at a loss for words? You know what you want to say – the perfect idiom exists in your own language – but you’re speaking English, which sadly lacks the very turn of phrase you love so much! This time, Wiebke Seemann will make herself liable to prosecution and tell us how to insult somebody in a truly European way.
Good insults are rare. Every language has the common slurs with faecal, sexual or blasphemic connotation, the comparison with animals like pigs, donkeys, monkeys, snakes or else. And because they are so rare, it’s a shame that some abusive language never made it into English – at least not yet. Maybe the following expressions will be an inspiration in the next argument.
A very basic need in human communication is to tell somebody else that he or she is stupid. A Czech would ask “Did you fall on your head?” (Jsi padl na hlavu?) and a German would say “You are as stupid as bread!” (Du bist dumm wie Brot!) while the Serbians compare dumb people to crowbars (Glup kao ćuskija – as stupid as a crowbar) and the Polish to shoes (głupi jak but – stupid as a shoe).
Being called a dough-head (tainapea) in Estonian is definitely not flattering, but it gets worse when it is not just the intellect that’s being questioned: in Estonia, someone might even tell you that you’re as beautiful as an outside toilet in the shade of trees (sa oled ilus nagu peldik puude vilus).
The latter insult also underlines the fact that swearing can have a connection with local conditions. Outside toilets surrounded by trees are not common in all parts of Europe, which means that maybe not everybody can appreciate the fittingness of that description. Likewise, not all of us have a Soviet past, but those who have might find it easier to understand what Poles mean when they talk about spreading oneself out like the Soviet Union on the map (rozwalić się jak Związek Radziecki na mapie). It describes people who just take up too much space, for example on the sofa. In contrast to Communism, they are an international problem even today, and they are potentially the same people who are slower than the bad guy’s horse (Spanish: Eres más lento que el caballo del malo! – referring to the fact that in a film, the villain’s horse seems always slower than the hero’s).
Anyhow, no matter how rude, funny or even cute, insulting shouldn’t be overdone. Just as important as a creative slur is finding the right moment to stop – which is now! Everything else would be a failure – like a dick hitting a drum (Dutch: als een lul op een drumstel).
Cover Photo: Tomasz Kuran (CC-SA)