If you thought only certain groups of people who have abandoned their dignity condescend to treat their subjects with venomous and abusive language, then you are wrong. Invective has served as an efficacious literary tool to writers to paint a sarcastic or plain unsavory character that reeks of vitriol. In this Penlighten post, we discuss examples of invective to understand it better.
The Affronting Anglo-Saxons
Flyting, a verbal contest of bandying insults, would be convened in a feasting hall, where the winner would be determined by audience reaction and felicitated with a cup of beer.
The chief purpose of an invective is to bruise human ego by employing harsh, abrasive, and unpleasant language. Be it something as mild as calling someone a dunce-head Afghan hound or something as bitter as calling someone a scabrous wanton leech, invectives perfectly deliver the blow one reckons a thing or a person rightly merits.
Anger is like disgorging lava; if it is to touch a human skin, it will burn the flesh so intensely that one will feel as if he had momentarily been transported to the inferno. This is same with invective. But there’s a certain beauty with destruction, you see. Just as nature releases its fury on us by means of calamity, a writer too, liberates himself of the toxicity he can no longer contain.
Scathing for others but deeply satisfying for the one who delivers it; and what about its vitriolic appeal that will serve as an inspiration to hundreds and thousands of frustrated souls? The invective forever reverberates in the history of insult-making.
The Free Dictionary defines invective as “abusive or venomous language used to express blame or censure or bitter deep-seated ill will.”
We now bring to you some of the harshest, vituperative, and highly critical invective examples in the following sections.
Invective in Literature
✦ Shakespeare was a fan of this brand of virulent language and shows his prowess in his tragedy King Lear where King Lear launches a vitriolic attack on his faithless daughter’s servant.
“A knave, a rascal, an eater of broken meats; a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy worsted-stocking knave; a lily-livered, action-taking, whoreson, glass-gazing, super-serviceable, finical rogue; one-trunk-inheriting slave; one that wouldst be a bawd in way of good service, and art nothing but the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pander, and the son and heir to a mongrel bitch: one whom I will beat into clamorous whining if thou deni’st the least syllable of thy addition.”
✦ American author Edgar Allan Poe in his eccentric essay, The Philosophy of Furniture, speaks critically about the Yankee style of home furnishings and rejecting them as preposterous.
“In the internal decoration, if not in the external architecture of their residences, the English are supreme. The Italians have but little sentiment beyond marbles and colors. In France, meliora probant, deteriora sequuntur–the people are too much a race of gadabouts to maintain those household proprieties of which, indeed, they have a delicate appreciation, or, at least, the elements of a proper sense. The Chinese and most of the Eastern races have a warm but inappropriate fancy. The Scotch are poor decorists. The Dutch have, perhaps, an indeterminate idea that a curtain is not a cabbage. In Spain they are all curtains–a nation of hangmen. The Russians do not furnish. The Hottentots and Kickapoos are very well in their way. The Yankees alone are preposterous.”
✦ Jonathan Swift in Gulliver’s Travels makes an impassioned denunciation of human race through his character, the King of Brobdingnag.
“My little Friend Grildrig. . . . I cannot but conclude the Bulk of your Natives, to be the most pernicious Race of little odious Vermin that Nature ever suffered to crawl upon the Surface of the Earth.”
✦ Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn heavily uses invective language and rants, the most famous being Paps’ disparaging addressing of Huck as a “sweet scented dandy.”
✦ F. Scott Fitzgerald employs an invective in the Great Gatsby through Tom’s character, who makes a rude expression toward his mistress’ husband by saying;
“He’s so dumb he doesn’t know he’s alive”.
Invective on Television
✦ Monty Python’s sketch, the ‘Architects Sketch’ features an intensive broadside, which is also witty at the same time through Mr. Wiggin’s character:
“I see. Well, of course, this is just the sort of blinkered Philistine pig-ignorance I’ve come to expect from you non-creative garbage. You sit there on your loathsome spotty behinds squeezing blackheads, not caring a tinker’s cuss for the struggling artist. You excrement, you whining hypocritical toadies with your colour TV sets and your Tony Jacklin golf clubs and your bleeding Masonic secret handshakes. …Well I wouldn’t become a Freemason now if you went down on your lousy stinking knees and begged me.”
Invective on Public Discourse
✦ Martin Luther’s, a German priest and professor of theology, goes daring with The Ninety-Five Theses in which he openly criticizes the corrupt practice of selling indulgences (papal payments). Given below is an invective extract from the Ninety-Five Theses:
“Why does not the pope empty purgatory, for the sake of holy love and of the dire need of the souls that are there, if he redeems an infinite number of souls for the sake of miserable money with which to build a Church? The former reasons would be most just; the latter is most trivial.”
While in the past, using invectives in writing and speech was strictly taken in the rhetorical sense, today, things are taken quite literally; people are quick to dismiss anything that is invective, even if it is trying to make a sensible point.