To show my esteem for Jane Austen’s 240th birthday, I will teach you how to loathe, abominate, and detest someone with the language of her day. No need to Google it–her birthday is December 16, 1775.
When reading any of Miss Austen’s novels, you’ll discover a most delightful trend: well-worded insults. Regency-era slings and arrows populate her pages with great glee.
That’s not to say these words are profane. Austen was too clever a writer to stoop as low as my (oftentimes in private) potty mouth.
Consider using Austen’s “swear words” when dealing with the people you’d rather not. I guarantee you’ll simultaneously dumbfound and denigrate them with genteel verve.
“A Great Talker Upon Little Matters…”: This poisonous dart comes in handy when profiling a professional chatterbox at a networking event (or cattle-call conference) from…Hades.
Miss Bates does actually understand more than you’re led to believe by the author. However, her excessive repetition of minutia is what sets her up as this novel’s comic foil.
Apply this disparaging comment to the modern-day version of any Miss Bates who plucks at your already-frayed nerves. Just be sure you say it in private to another annoyed business peep.
(For more amusement at Miss Bates’s expense, check out a scholarly analysis of the infamous Box Hill picnic. Badly done, Emma!)
“Could You Expect Me to Rejoice in the Inferiority of Your Connections?”: It’s easy to quash a business relationship without resorting to a geyser of epithets. Just follow the notorious MFD’s example…
Yes, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy’s ungentlemanly hammer all but nails the coffin shut. It’s as if Jane Austen foresaw the dark side of 21st-century business dynamics!
Mr. Darcy spills his derogatory sentiment during his first marriage proposal to Pride and Prejudice‘s heroine, the quick-witted Elizabeth (Lizzy) Bennet.
See, Jane Austen isn’t nearly as highbrow as you might assume. I’m talking to you, manly readers. For posterity, here is better representation of the marriage proposal’s context:
“…Nor am I ashamed of the feelings I related. They were natural and just. Could you expect me to rejoice in the inferiority of your connections? To congratulate myself on the hope of relations, whose condition in life is so decidedly beneath my own?”
These are unbecoming words from a man who admits he LOVES the object of his marriage proposal. Keep them in mind when the time comes to cut a binding tie with a business partner or client…
“…I Have the Highest Opinion in the World of Your Excellent Judgement in All Matters Within the Scope of Your Understanding.”: I do realize Jane Austen penned six complete novels. I’m pulling multiple examples from Pride and Prejudice because it’s an endless source of sophisticated humor.
This flaming arrow, directed at feisty Lizzy Bennet, is launched by a man whose lack of filter and patronizing ways create most of the book’s comic relief: William Collins. Alas, poor Mr. Collins.
Perhaps you’ve seen either the 1995 BBC serial version of Pride and Prejudice or the 2005 large-screen version. If so, you’ll remember Mr. Collins as the equivalent of a modern-day PSA for why heterosexual women should stay single.
Mr. Collins shoots down Lizzy’s good advice not to approach the prideful (or is he prejudiced?) Mr. Darcy during the Netherfield Hall ball. The result is not in Mr. Collins’s favor.
This impertinence escapes from a loose-lipped man about a young woman of noted intellect. I don’t think Miss Austen will begrudge your using it as an equal-opportunity insult…
“If There Is Any Thing Disagreeable Going On, Men Are Always Sure to Get Out of It.” This snappy gem condemns England’s entire male population, circa 1816-18. And it’s just one droplet from the fountain of sulkiness that is Anne Elliot‘s younger sister in Persuasion: Mary (Elliot) Musgrove.
Mary chastises her husband, Charles Musgrove, after he exclaims his uselessness regarding his injured son (Charles Jr.) and exits, stage right, in preparation to visit his father.
Mary says what she says, but there’s irony embedded in her taunt. She convinces herself that she too can’t be much help to the boy, so she leaves him in sister Anne’s capable care. (That Mary–she sure knows how to delegate!)
Ladies, I gift this prickly put-down to you as a verbal token of my blogging esteem. Don’t hesitate to fling it at boys and men of all ages…
“She Is Tolerable; But Not Handsome Enough to Tempt Me…”: This cold slap in the face, courtesy of Pride and Prejudice‘s Mr. Darcy, can be used as an affront toward either gender.
He declares it to his guy pal, Charles Bingley, when they first make the acquaintance of two particular sisters at the Meryton assembly ball: Jane Bennet (Bingley’s future wife) and the aforementioned Lizzy (um, yeah–Darcy’s future wife).
Do you intend to party like it’s 1999 during December’s holiday gatherings? This is how you shoot down a friend’s recommendation to connect with a potential significant other standing across the room.
An even more brazen use of Mr. Darcy’s put-down is to say it directly to a flirtatious soul who won’t let you be. Simply rotate your pronoun usage from “she is” to “you are.”
To do it justice, here is the complete quote:
“She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me; I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles, for your are wasting your time with me.”
“Whom Every Body Speaks Well of, and Nobody Cares About…”: A prominent male antagonist delivers this boldly barbed insult. His easy target is a central male protagonist. They happen to be rivals for Miss Marianne Dashwood‘s affection in Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.
John Willoughby, the “insultor,” is young and handsome. He understands Marianne’s desire to be wooed with wildflowers (rather than hothouse posies). Colonel Brandon, the “insultee,” is not as young, and not as handsome. However, he applies more sense than sensibility to his quiet pursuit of Marianne’s heart.
Sadly, Willoughby does wrong by Marianne, which leads to her (eventual) marital bliss with Colonel Brandon. Miss Austen might encourage this type of mockery when it’s eminently appropriate. Be careful, though–it can boomerang back on you.
Here’s the full quote:
“‘Brandon is just the kind of man,’ said Willoughby one day, when they were talking of him together, ‘whom every body speaks well of, and nobody cares about; whom all are delighted to see, and nobody remembers to talk to.'”
Jane Austen Wouldn’t Approve of My Droning On, So…: The novels I didn’t mention, Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey, contain their fair share of devastating darts and infuriating insults. Additional options regarding Jane Austen-style throw-downs (when dealing with 21st-century dunderheads):
Wikiquote’s handy list of sly, underhanded comments Jane Austen shared in letters to her beloved sister Cassandra (keep scrolling–you’ll discover other authors’ thoughts regarding Miss Austen’s work as well as additional quotes from her novels…)
Tell me true: Were you disappointed this edition of “International Swear Words to Love and Use” offered ingenious insults instead of actual profanity? Might you wield one of Miss Austen’s literary daggers during your next conversation with an annoying business acquaintance?
If you’ve not read even one Jane Austen novel in your lifetime, what is the probability you’ll do so now?
I’ll leave you with this final cultured pearl:
“I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal.”
Dear Miss Jane Austen: f-bomb salutations on the occasion of your 240th birthday!
Lori Shapiro is the owner of By All Writes LLC, a business-to-business (B2B) writing, editing, and research company in Marlton, New Jersey. She revels in shielding her clients from the pain of writing their own print or web marketing and educational copy. Please call Lori Shapiro at 856-810-9764 or e-mail By All Writes LLC at firstname.lastname@example.org for a no-obligation project quote today!