April 23rd is Shakespeare’s birthday and death date. Well, the birth date is disputed but we’ll call it close enough. What bettercat nosing (reading) Shakespeare book way to honor the great bard’s life than to let off steam with some Shakespearean insults?

I confess I totally stole (ahem, borrowed with permission) this idea from one of my blogging friends, Jeri. She ran a post today inviting her readers to create their own insults and hurl them at her. Jeri used to be an English teacher who became a writer and editor, so it makes sense for her to bring Shakespeare into the picture. But why me? What does conflict have to do with it?

Let me explain.

Another blogging friend, Laura,  (I love this part of the blogosphere) sent Jeri and me a packet of Shakespearean Insult Bubble Gum a while back. Being of zany mind and foolish daring-do, I took these packs into a meeting I was facilitating the following week. I included them along with stress balls and over-sized paperclips for participants who just have to have something to fiddle with to help them focus.

meeting toys

I told the group if they felt a need to let off some steam, Shakespeare offers some of the most witty and colorful ways to do it.

After this, you’ll want to reread (or read, as the case may be) Shakespeare’s plays just for the insults he has his characters blurting out. Or, I suppose, you could take the lazy way out like me and get a book of his insults. I promise you, they’re entertaining. You don’t even have to understand the exact meanings of his word choices (many of which he made up) to appreciate them and get a good chuckle.

Now this group I was facilitating was new to me except for its leaders. I wasn’t sure how they would react to the idea of tossing out insults at each other, even if it was all in good fun. Besides, I was there because the group had some serious challenges to tackle.

People played with the paper clips. They squeezed stress balls. A couple of them stretched against the wall to let the kinks out of their backs and ignite their brain’s synapses. But no one picked up an insult or chewed bubble gum.

After a tense interchange and a break, I handed several people an insult  each to read out loud. They had to read them at least twice. Once to get used to the language. The second time, with drama, to really hear it and laugh. Shakespeare did have a way with words.

Shakespearean insult from King Lear

It was just the right ice breaker at the right time.

Humor and playfulness, inserted thoughtfully into a challenging situation, can release tension and open the way for productive dialogue.

packets of Shakespearean Insults

Jeri created a table of many of Shakespeare’s words from which to make up our own insults. She graciously allowed me to use it for us to play with here.

Let’s share insults in the comments section. You write me one and I’ll hurl one right back at ‘ya.

  • Just for fun.
  • To honor Shakespeare.
  • For practice because who knows when one of these witticisms might come in handy.
  • And for you to use as a tension-breaker in a meeting of your own some day.

Make your own Shakespearean insults by combining one word from each of the three columns. Preface it with the word thou.

Example: Thou artless claybrained footlicker.







Artless Base-court Apple-john Mammering Hedge-born Mugger
Bawdy Bat-fowling Baggage Mangled Hell-hated Joithead
Beslubbering Beef-witted Barnacle Mewling Idle-headed Lewdster
Bootless Bettle-headed Bladder Paunchy Ill-breeding Lout
Churlish Boil-brained Boar-pig Pribbling Ill-nurtured Maggot-pie
Cockered Clapper-clawed Bugbear Puking Knotty-pated Malt-worm
Clouted Clay-brained Bum-bailey Puny Milk-livered Mammet
Craven Common-kissing Canker-blossom Qualling Motley-minded Measle
Currish Crook-pated Clack-dish Rank Onion-eyed Minnow
Dankish Dismal-dreaming Clotpole Reeky Plume-plucked Miscreant
Dissembling Dizzy-eyed Coxcomb Roguish Pottle-deep Moldwarp
Droning Doghearted Codpiece Ruttish Pox-marked Mumble-news
Errant Dread-bolted Death-token Saucy Reeling-ripe Nut-hook
Fawning Earth-vexing Dewberry Spleeny Rough-hewn Pigeon-egg
Fobbing Elf-skinned Flap-dragon Spongy Rude-growing Pignut
Forward Fat-kidneyed Flax-wench Surly Rump-fed Puttock
Frothy Fen-sucked Flirt-gill Tottering Shard-borne Pumpion
Gleeking Flap-mouthed Foot-licker Ummuzzled Sheep-biting Ratsbane
Goatish Fly-bitten Fustilarian Venomed Swag-bellied Skainsmate
Gorbellied Folly-fallen Giglet Villainous Tardy-gaited Strumpet
Impertinent Fool-born Gudeon Warped Tickle-brained Varlet
Infectious Full-forged Haggard Wayward Toad-spotted Vassal
Jarring Guts-griping Harpy Weedy Unchin-snouted Whey-face
Loggerheaded Half-faced Hedge-pig Yeasty Weather-bitten Wagtail
Lumpish Hasty-witted Horn-beast Young Wrong-doing Wart

 Table formatted by Jeri Walker-Bickett. Website: jeriwb.com 

Come on now, thou loggerheaded tickle-brained flap-dragons. Hurl away. I dare you. I double dare you. 

Besides, you don’t want Jeri’s readers to get the best of us, now do you?

Photo credits: Jagoda Perich-Anderson