Most web sites and forum posts I've come across covering archaic insults are usually devoted to listing polysyllabic compound words of the Shakespearean variety, such as : you artless, swag-bellied, cod-piece!

What I'm looking for are serious insults that could have actually been used between the 1700s and the 1800s. It does not matter whether they are British, American, or translations from the French. I can't find anything and I am desperate for at least some words. Especially insults that could have been directed at men (rather than the usual synonyms for loose or low woman like 'hussy', 'slattern' etc.)

I know that words like 'asshole' and 'jerk' are very contemporary in usage, but try as I might, I can't think of any archaic equivalents. Is it possible that it is impossible for what might have been a serious insult in the past to be anything but humorous to us now?

  • 2
    cad, bounder plus lots of ethnic slurs. For the details, read Geoff Nunberg's book. Commented Jan 12, 2014 at 0:28
  • Oaf, buffoon, poltroon, boor. Commented Jan 12, 2014 at 4:29
  • Now you setting the cad among the pigeons.
    – Kris
    Commented Jan 12, 2014 at 7:22
  • My vote is for "pillock".
    – Spencer
    Commented Jan 4, 2017 at 3:49

2 Answers 2


A Guide to Eighteenth-Century English Vocabulary
BAGGAGE —An insulting term for a woman, like “hussy.”



BALLOCKS. The testicles of a man or beast; also a vulgar nick name for a parson. His brains are in his ballocks, a cant saying to designate a fool.

BUM BAILIFF. A sheriff's officer, who arrests debtors; so called perhaps from following his prey, and being at their bums, or, as the vulgar phrase is, hard at their a-ses. Blackstone says, it is a corruption of bound bailiff, from their being obliged to give bond for their good behaviour.

CAT'S FOOT. To live under the cat's foot; to be under the dominion of a wife hen-pecked. To live like dog and cat; spoken of married persons who live unhappily together. As many lives as a cat; cats, according to vulgar naturalists, have nine lives, that is one less than a woman. No more chance than a cat in hell without claws; said of one who enters into a dispute or quarrel with one greatly above his match.

CODS. The scrotum. Also a nick name for a curate: a rude fellow meeting a curate, mistook him for the rector, and accosted him with the vulgar appellation of Bol--ks the rector, No, Sir, answered he; only Cods the curate, at your service.

DOWDY. A coarse, vulgar-looking woman.

GIGG. A nose. Snitchel his gigg; fillip his nose. Grunter's gigg; a hog's snout. Gigg is also a high one-horse chaise, and a woman's privities.

To GIGGLE. To suppress a laugh. Gigglers; wanton women.

MAWKES. A vulgar slattern.

RASCAL. A rogue or villain: a term borrowed from the chase; a rascal originally meaning a lean shabby deer, at the time of changing his horns, penis, &c. whence, in the vulgar acceptation, rascal is conceived to signify a man without genitals: the regular vulgar answer to this reproach, if uttered by a woman, is the offer of an ocular demonstration of the virility of the party so defamed. Some derive it from RASCAGLIONE, an Italian word signifying a man. without testicles, or an eunuch.

RIFF RAFF. Low vulgar persons, mob, tag-rag and bob-tail.

SH-T SACK. A dastardly fellow: also a non-conformist.

SH-T-NG THROUGH THE TEETH. Vomiting. Hark ye, friend, have you got a padlock on your a-se, that you sh-te through your teeth? Vulgar address to one vomiting.

WRINKLE. A wrinkle-bellied whore; one who has had a number of bastards: child-bearing leaves wrinkles in a woman's belly.

  • 1
    +1. ‘Rascal’ was the first word that came to my mind as being likely to be recognised as a pejorative term for a man both nowadays and a couple of hundred years ago. Commented Jan 12, 2014 at 0:57
  • 2
    Shit-sack has lost none at all of its pungency.
    – MetaEd
    Commented Jan 12, 2014 at 5:26
  • @Kris all you have to do is visit the source and see that the text is indeed copied and pasted. The terms are in block capitals, I limited myself to highlighting them in bold. As for the number of insults, the OP did not specify any number. The only criticism I would aim is that I included insults directed at women, which the OP said he would not rather have, but when I read mawkes, giggles and the definition of wrinkle I felt compelled to include them.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jan 12, 2014 at 9:06

The word that comes most quickly to mind for me as a potential old-fashioned substitute for ‘jerk’, or the other word you wish to replace, is yet, I see, to be mentioned here:

dog (n.)

"quadruped of the genus Canis," Old English docga, a late, rare word, used in at least one Middle English source in reference specifically to a powerful breed of canine; other early Middle English uses tend to be depreciatory or abusive. [...] In reference to persons, by c. 1200 in abuse or contempt as "a mean, worthless fellow, currish, sneaking scoundrel."

— Douglas Harper, Online Etymology Dictionary, https://web.archive.org/web/20220110040141/https://www.etymonline.com/word/dog

derogatory An unpleasant, contemptible, or wicked man.

— Lexico (formerly known as the Oxford Living English Dictionary), https://web.archive.org/web/20210118015951/https://www.lexico.com/definition/dog

‘Dog’ can be seen to be used as an insult in 19th-Century literature such as A Tale of Two Cities: ‘ “You dogs!” said the Marquis’, ‘ “Sydney, I rather despair of making myself intelligible to you, because you are such an insensible dog.” ’ (Project Gutenberg)

‘Dog’, in this sense, is, as you request, an insult directed at a man (or boy); the female equivalent is, of course, ‘bitch’, which continues in vulgar use.

Other canine words also could work:

hound (n.)

[...] "dog." Meaning narrowed 12c. to "dog used for hunting" (compare dog (n.)). Contemptuously, of a man, from late Old English.

— Douglas Harper, Online Etymology Dictionary, https://web.archive.org/web/20211102111405/https://www.etymonline.com/word/hound

informal, dated A despicable or contemptible man.

— Lexico, https://web.archive.org/web/20210701090512/https://www.lexico.com/definition/hound

cur (n.)

c. 1200, curre, a term, usually depreciatory, for a dog, earlier kurdogge; used of vicious dogs and cowardly dogs, mastiffs and terriers, [...] Meaning "surly, low-bred man" is from 1580s.

— Douglas Harper, Online Etymology Dictionary, https://web.archive.org/web/20210118031723/https://www.etymonline.com/word/cur

informal, derogatory A contemptible man.

— Lexico, https://web.archive.org/web/20210507142822/https://www.lexico.com/definition/cur

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