Thursday, June 07, 2007

Sticks and stones

On my train journey from hell Saturday night travelling back from the rather good Green Left meeting I had the joyous experience of sharing a carriage with a mob of Nazis. They were horrid. They were drunk. They were "up for it". They were very concerned that everyone present was "Aryan".

They were true vulgarians, which of course was guaranteed to annoy a sensitive soul like myself. I shalln't go into some of the choicer terms they found for my fellow passengers but let's just say they are yet to begin their Gender Studies BA (Hons) at Middlesex University. Now this kind of swearing is effective in the sense that they achieved what they wanted to achieve - intimidating people, making black and Asian passengers feel particularly unwelcome, and raising their own morale as they geared themselves up for the inevitable "ruck".

However, what these kinds of insults are particularly ineffective at doing is hurting someone's feelings. Just as the best suits are made to measure, so the most hurtful insults fit the recipient just right. I'm sure that George W. Bush doesn't care at all when people compare him to Hitler. In the Bush paradigm Hitler wears a black hat and Bush a white Stetson, he has no fear of evil because he is cloaked in his impenetrable certainty that God is on his side.

Anyway, all the things you might be calling Bush Hitler-lite for - military might, unswerving faith in his historic task and the destruction of his enemies are things Bush would admire. It would cut far more deeply to call him *weak* or a *hippy* or historically *irrelevant*, just as his father was so stung by commentators that regarded him as a push over before the first Iraq War. Although Republican Ann Richards probably got closest to the bone with "Poor George, he can't help it, he was born with a silver foot in his mouth."

Cyrano de Bergerac (in the play at least) was scathing about insults that don't have the power to wound. When a theatre go-er describes his nose as "very big" Cyrano is filled with disgust at the man's lack of creativity and thunders a dozen inventive insults that he could have used highlighting just how feeble an intellect the man possessed.

My personal favourites being "How you must love the little birds to give them such a perch" and "When you smoke a pipe do the neighbours shriek out 'the chimney's on fire!'?" The irony being that Cyrano genuinely is wounded by the slight, all the more so because any bore in town, no matter how lacking in merit could turn *their* noses up at him.

I was told once by a friend that the worst possible insult one could call someone was "boy". I was utterly bemused, but later realised that he felt this was the worst thing that *he* could be called. It fitted exactly to his personality as a violent braggart - constantly determined to prove himself a man. Calling him boy would hurt, call me boy and I'll give you a puzzled shrug.

And then there's the Big Brother contestant who was thrown out of the house last night for calling another contestant a nigger. Perhaps she missed that day at charm school, or more probably the drama student just knew how to create a fuss. What's interesting here is that not only was no offence intended (genuinely, rather than in the "can't you take a joke?" sense of arseholes everywhere), none was taken either, quite different from the racist bullying earlier in the year, on the celebrity version, which often contained no naughty words.

Which brings me on to the reason why I brought this all up. Whilst my fellow passengers were treated to down the line abuse (apart from one blue eyed, blond haired woman who was feted with praise) I was accosted by one of them with the shout "Oi! Wrinkle!" Wrinkle! What the hell?

Now I've no doubt I must have the odd wrinkle here and there but I don't think this is my defining feature, not by a long shot. Perhaps it's a football thing? Or a piece of cockney rhyming slang that I'm unacquainted with? It's been troubling me for days - what the hell did he mean? Maybe he was being "nice" or perhaps I was frowning particularly hard...

If you've any suggestions as to what he may have meant (without hurting my feelings of course) please do let me know as I neglected to exchange phone numbers with the gentleman, and may not get the chance to ask him in person.

1 comment:

Renegade Eye said...

Reminds me of some who post at my blog.