While old-fashioned etiquette books might have you thinking people were always polite back in the day, you may also be wondering how to throw shade, with an old-timey spin. Well you're in luck — there were a multitude of famous writers, speakers, and thinkers tossing around witty comebacks — with poet and playwright William Shakespeare being one of the most widely remembered.
If you look to Shakespeare's plays, it's clear he was the absolute king of the saucy insult. (See below for some of his most choice phrases, from a selection of his works.) But take a peek in the dictionary for other common insults, and you'll see pretty much everyone was down to hurl a perfectly crafted insult (or two). Of course, we're still witty today, in our own special way. But the Elizabethan and Victorian eras were rife with the shadiest comebacks of them all.
Back around the 1500s, folks used great words like "cumberworld" and "lubberwort" to knock their friends and enemies down a few pegs. And it was kind of amazing. While these words might not fit easily into our conversations today, they're still fun to think about. Here are some of the best old-fashioned comebacks from Shakespeare's plays and beyond.
1. "You Juggler! You Canker-Blossom!"
This gem is from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. "In the play, Hermia accuses Helena of stealing her boyfriend, Lysander," psychic and spiritual counselor Davida Rappaport tells Bustle. "She calls her a trickster, a snake, and a thief," only in a way that's so much more poetic, and somehow more biting.
2. Telling Someone They "Have A Plentiful Lack Of Wit, Together With The Most Weak Hams"
Back in Shakespeare's time, the greatest burn you could throw at someone was telling them they had weak legs. Throw in a remark about their lack of intelligence, and you have some of the best shade from Shakespeare's Hamlet.
According to MentalFloss, "In the 16th century, lubberwort was the name of an imaginary plant that was supposed to cause sluggishness or stupidity, and ultimately came to be used as a nickname for a lethargic, fuzzy-minded person." And it definitely has a ring to it.
4. "You Are Not Worth Another Word, Else I'd Call You Knave."
This is a wordy one from Shakespeare, but the general gist is that you're telling "someone that they are a deceitful and unreliable scoundrel," Rappaport says. "In other words, they lie, cannot be trusted and you cannot depend upon them." Burn.
6. "I Do Desire We Be Better Strangers"
To say you desire to be better strangers is "a nice way to tell someone to get lost," Rappaport says. Think of it as the Elizabethan way of saying "talk to the hand." The phrase is from Shakespeare's As You Like It, and it's so shady it hurts.
7. "More Of Your Conversation Would Infect My Brain"
From Shakespeare's Coriolanus, we have this insult, "which can be used to tell someone that you are not interested in what they have to say," Rappaport says.
9. "Thou Dost Infect My Eyes!"
This one is from Shakespeare's King Richard III, and it's a pretty shade-tastic way of saying you want someone out of your sight.
This word comes from Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part 2, when Falstaff says, "Away, you scullion! You rampallian! You fustilarian! I'll tickle your catastrophe." According to MentalFloss, Shakespeare used "fustilarian" to mean someone who wastes their time on worthless things.
This term, from the 17th century, is an old-fashioned way of calling someone a lazy slacker — only it's somehow so much worse.
We certainly have some shady terms today, but back in the day, they really knew how to craft an insult.