20 Medieval insults: From bedswerver to yaldson

medieval insults

A few days ago I realized that my characters were being woefully unimaginative with their insults – nothing more creative than “bastard” and “fool”. A shame, because Medieval insults can get a lot more creative!  So for educative purposes (okay, okay, and for my own amusement too): here’s a helpful list on how to offend people in the Middle Ages.

Of course the list below is not a complete list of all existing Medieval insults – if only because the worst of them were probably rarely written down… If you want to make up your own insults, generally you can say something about:

  • Virtue. Especially for women, this is very important – a noblewoman’s virtue was often the most valuable thing she possessed. If you’re trying to insult a man, you can of course always imply that his mother was a promiscuous lady.
  • Birth. Tell a nobleman he’s of low birth, and you can be sure he’ll be properly offended.
  • Stupidity or uselessness. Let’s face it, nobody likes to be called an idiot. Medieval people were no exception.

But of course there are many more options: for example, call a man impotent, or simply accuse someone of lacking morals or bad hygiene.

20 Medieval insults

  1. Bastard. This was not always an insult: it could also be used to simply state a fact. However, by the end of the Middle Ages, it was starting to get a more general pejorative meaning.
  2. Bedswerver. Alright, this one is a little more recent – it was invented by Shakespeare – but I just liked it too much. Quite literally, an adulterer.
  3. Bespawler. Someone who spits when he speaks.
  4. Bitch. Alrhough it sounds quite modern, this was already used as an insult for women around 1400.
  5. Churl.churl was a member of the lowest social class, only just above a slave. When used to a nobleman, it was a grave insult.
  6. Coxcomb. The original spelling was cock’s comb, the cap worn by a professional fool. Later it just referred to a foolish or vain person in general.
  7. Crooked-nose knave. We have this insult attested because in 1555, a certain John Bridges sued a fellow named Warneford for calling him this in public.
  8. Cumberworld. Also cumberground. Someone who encumbers the world (or ground) without being useful in any way.
  9. Dalcop. Literally a dull-head – cop was an older word for ‘head’.
  10. Doxy. Originally the wife or girlfriend of a criminal; later just a promiscuous woman in general.
  11. Fat-kidneyed. Ah, Medieval anatomy. At some point it was believed that dumb people had fatter kidneys.
  12. Fool. Quite self-evident, and perhaps the earliest Medieval insult still in use.
  13. Fopdoodle. Just an idiot
  14. Hedge-born. Someone who is either illegitimate or born of very low standing.
  15. Levereter. Old spelling for liver-eater: someone who’ll hurt everyone else for his own benefit.
  16. Loggerhead. A logger was a heavy block of wood.
  17. Puterelle. Derived from Italian or Spanish puta, meaning ‘whore’.
  18. Sot. A drunk.
  19. Wandought. Wandoughty, literally “lacking in might / strength”, was an old word for impotence.
  20. YaldsonYald was an old word for a prostitute (apparently borrowed from Norse jalda ‘mare’…), so a yaldson was a prostitute’s son.

Alright, some more Medieval insults…

During my research I also stumbled upon the Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedy. A flyting is basically a Medieval rap battle: in this lovely piece of writing, the two Scottish poets Dunbar and Kennedy are trying to verbally burn each other to the ground. That means a ton of creative insults – and even better, a lot of them alliterate.

Some of my personal favourites:

  • Cunt-bitten coward
  • Dismal-eyed and anused
  • You look like the crows already ate your cheeks
  • Your balls droop below your dress
  • Cheap as slivers in the millhouse
  • Thrice-shelled trickster with a threadbare gown

Flytings in general are quite amusing to read – ridiculously vulgar, but always highly eloquent and perfectly poetic in their form and structure. So if you need more inspiration for your Medieval insults, there is no better source!

20 Medieval insults: From bedswerver to yaldson
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