by Liz Walter
Looking at tweets about a UK politician recently, I was struck by how many colourful terms we have for insulting people, so I thought that would be a good topic for my next couple of posts!
If we describe someone as a piece of work, we mean that they behave unpleasantly (often in a rather outrageous way). The UK term a nasty piece of work is similar, but focuses more on the person’s general character than on specific behaviour:
She tried to pinch your boyfriend? She’s a piece of work, isn’t she?
Stay away from Paul. He’s a nasty piece of work.
A great adjective to describe a very unpleasant person is obnoxious:
He’s lovely but his brother is obnoxious.
If you describe someone as a lowlife, you mean that they are involved in criminal activity or other behaviour you disapprove of. An even stronger word for a bad person is scumbag or scum. The phrase the scum of the earth means the worst type of people it is possible to imagine:
I’m sick of him and his lowlife friends.
My landlord is a complete scumbag.
People who hurt animals are the scum of the earth.
If someone’s behaviour is completely unacceptable, we can say that they or their actions are beyond the pale, while a very emphatic way of saying that someone’s character or behaviour could not be worse is to call them the lowest of the low:
Starting a fight at a funeral really is beyond the pale.
They target elderly people with their scams. They really are the lowest of the low.
A slimeball is a person you find unpleasant and rather disgusting. In US English a rat fink is either someone who is generally considered obnoxious or someone who has given information about you to the police:
I always thought her uncle was a slimeball.
One day I’ll find that rat fink and teach him a lesson!
There are several phrases for people we consider to be worthless. A common one is a waste of space. More humorously, we might use the terms a waste of skin or an oxygen thief:
Don’t expect Chris to help you – he’s a total waste of space.
I’ll be happy never to see that oxygen thief again!
This post has looked at general insults. Please feel free to suggest others (but no swear words, please!). My next two posts will cover some words and phrases that are used for people with specific character flaws. I’m not sure what it says about us that we have such a rich vocabulary for judging other people!