During a recent Skype chat after I had fired off one of my lexical salvoes in the direction of yet another case of edubabbling nincompoopery, Matt commented on what he considers to be a particularly British talent for the elegant insult. And I think he has point.

Shakespearean invective was pretty robust and vivid; it gloriously represents Modern English in the enthusiasm of its early ebullition.

Thou crusty botch of nature! (Troilus and Cressida)

Your virginity breeds mites, much like a cheese. (All’s Well That Ends Well)

As veterans of the Study Week know, my mentor is Samuel Johnson, the greatest lexicographer of them all. Himself a master of the elegant insult, he preferred more cerebral irony, an interplay of negatives and juxtaposition of opposites that might take a moment or two for the insult’s target to realize the power of the verbal dart.

After church one Sunday, a companion commented that the sermon had been excellent. Johnson retorted, “That may be, but it is impossible that you should know it.” 

My own tutor at Cambridge, the late Peter Avery, was thoroughly Johnsonian. I well remember an essay, with which I was particularly pleased, that I had submitted to him during my first undergraduate year. The following day, in the company of several of my comrades at lunch in Hall, I perceived Peter advancing towards us waving my magnum opus . “Mel, dear,” he boomingly announced, “your paper reveals your enthusiasm to be exceeded only by your incompetence!

The rebuke cut to the quick, but it was as a result of such vigorous celebration of the language - and, therefore of thought - that, under his demanding but always virtuosic tutorship, I went on to gain my Double First a couple of years later.

If, though, Matt is thinking of introducing his students to the art of lexical obloquy I would recommend starting with Winston Churchill, a man whose mastery of English atones for all that I execrate in his politics.

I suggest that Matt start with the interchanges between Churchill and his bête noire Nancy Astor, the first woman to be elected a Member fo Parliament. The two of them despised each other with a perfect loathing and Lady Astor in particular overlooked no opportunity for a put-down.

Winston, you are drunk,” she is reported to have announced at a gathering. Churchill’s response was, “Madam, you are ugly; but I shall be sober in the morning.

On another occasion Astor told Churchill, "If I were your wife, I would put poison in your coffee." 

"And if I were your husband,” Churchill riposted, “I would drink it."

Which - admittedly circuitously - brings me to the reason for this posting: sharing with you the TBox 2 Library eBook on the orthography of <coffee>.

Here is the link from which you can download and save your copy.

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