UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review, which has been on the web since 1995, is now published from Freeport, Maine. See main page for full contents

September 23, 2009

RECOVERED HISTORY: DECLINE OF THE INSULT

Guardian, UK - Insults just aren't what they used to be, according to a study called The Decline of Public Insult in London 1660-1800 by Robert B Shoemaker, professor of British history at Sheffield University. Shoemaker pored over records of court proceedings from the late 16th through to the early 19th centuries, paying special attention to the insults. Time was, insulting someone in public - or even in private - could easily propel you into court, and thence, if the insult was good or your luck wasn't, to jail.Shoemaker charted the number of insult-fuelled prosecutions in the consistory court of London over those centuries. "The pattern is clear," he writes, "a massive increase in the late 16th century to a peak in the 1620s and 1630s, followed by a collapse ... By the late 18th century, per capita prosecutions in London had fallen to only one or two per 100,000 per year."
By the late 1820s, the number of prosecutions had dropped to an insulting one or two, total, per year.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

My favorite insult: "you wretched dog of a perfidious infidel."

September 24, 2009 5:34 AM  
Anonymous Mairead said...

The idea that the timeline represents the "decline of the insult" is a nice example of "premature closure".

The data would equally well support an interpretation that it was legal tolerance of thin-skinnedness that declined

September 24, 2009 5:57 PM  
Blogger m said...

Civil suits for insult were quite popular amongst the Puritans in the US.

September 25, 2009 9:29 AM  
Anonymous laughing said...

My favorite insult is Hunter Thompson referring to Nixon's america as "atavistic swine".

September 26, 2009 10:02 PM  

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