How to construct an animal-based insult

SCN_0006On Christmas Day 2015 somebody on Twitter called George Osborne a #wankpuffin and everybody loved it. Prior to that, everybody loved it when another person on Twitter called an unfortunate Mail on Sunday journalist a “lobotomised shitlark“, and when Groundskeeper Willie called the people of France “surrender monkeys.”

Combining animals with other words to create comical insults is clearly a viable strategy. But if you head out into the streets tonight hoping to burn some fools with a few sick word+animal combos, you’ll quickly come unstuck. Combining animals and words is a science, and also an art. Natural talent helps, but if you’re not prepared to put in the long hours of practice and study then you might as well give up now because you will simply never be able to insult anybody adequately using an impromptu word+animal combo.

Let’s see how it works by trying a few out.

Example 1: “Jonas give the waiter your order you flaming bum-capybara”

It’s a bad, bad miss. The main problem here is that the name of the animal is too long. The best insults are usually the pithiest, and by combining a word with an animal name you’re already up against it syllable-wise. As a rule of thumb, I recommend choosing animals with no more than two syllables in their names.

On top of that, there’s a very real risk that your victim won’t know what a capybara is.

Also avoid: “snot-ocelot”, “flange-octopus”, and “cum-porcupine.”

Example 2: “Hey Jennifer no offence but I think you’re a vacillating arse-tortoise”

It’s another miss, for a couple of reasons. The first is that tortoise is a little bit too hard to say. Is it “tortOYSE”? Or is it “tortTUSS”? It’s hardly “croissant”, but the momentary hesitation is enough to send the reader spinning away from the joke like a hapless astronaut. And the combination just doesn’t roll off the tongue, which failing it has in common with “turd-turtle” – an insult you almost certainly have never heard before.

The second is that the tortoise is already associated with the human trait of slowness, which could prove fatally distracting in your split-second window of opportunity to land a successful animal+word combo (“is Phil saying I’m a laggard?”). For that reason you should avoid: pig (fat person), cow (fat and lazy woman), gannet (greedy person), lemming (suicidal), worm (turd).

Example 3: “Yo, Patrice, you’re a shit-leopard”

We’re getting closer, but this insult could still seriously backfire. The problem is that the leopard is simply too elegant and dangerous to be a viable insult. Calling somebody a leopard is tantamount to giving them a compliment.

Also avoid: “crap-tiger”, “sludge-cobra”, and, especially, “fuck-wolf”

Example 4: “Phillip get over here you turd-baboon”

In most cases this would be a solid burn. It rolls off the tongue, and doesn’t violate any of the rules established above. But it’s not perfect, if only for the rather technical reason that it contains more words than it needs to. You see, “baboon” is already funny, as demonstrated in the following hypothetical example: “Neil stop eating those cashews you baboon.” Brevity being the soul of wit, it’s axiomatically better not to call somebody a “turd-baboon” when “baboon” on its own will do.

There is a caveat to this rule, however, and that is the fact that 16 years ago somebody called me a “flange-baboon” and it was pretty funny. Oh well. As George Orwell wrote, “break any of these rules sooner than say anything barbarous”.

Example 5: “Steven that’s my yoghurt you levitating jizz-pike”

This is a relatively juicy zinger, but it has one major failing: a pike is an animal, but it’s also a weapon. If what you’re after is an insult that contains multiple possible meanings, like a Bob Dylan lyric, then by all means go with something like “pike”, but I guarantee that you’ll be wasting your time. Nobody is going to analyse your verbiage, and the only likely impact of the dual meaning will be to confuse your audience/victim and dilute the joke.

Also avoid: “tit”, or “cock”, or “hare” (spoken).

Example 6: “Gregory you didn’t press record you pulsating cum-squid”

Bingo. You could call someone a “pulsating cum-squid”.

The only reason you might not is that it just doesn’t suit your victim as much as another word+animal. The best animal insults draw on animals that in some way evoke the victim. “Surrender monkeys” is funny because we picture monkeys screeching and scrambling away from the surprise German advance. Wankpuffin is funny because in the picture that inspired it George Osborne is standing in a weird, stiff, intuitively puffin-like way. I can’t help you pick exactly the right word+animal for friends and loved ones, but here are some examples applied to people in the public eye.

Jeremy Clarkson = towering gas-donkey

David Cameron = gleaming pork-sponge

Justin Bieber = mewling fart-sparrow

Adolf Hitler = incandescent bum-kitten

A revolutionary new approach

If you want to be really cutting edge with your insults, you can discard the word+ part altogether and just insult people by calling them an animal. This approach will only suit talented offence-givers because it contains so many pitfalls.

We’ve already seen how certain animals have in-built associations with particular traits, but on top of that the human brain will naturally search for a rationale behind your choices. For example, if you say, “Penelope stop I don’t even like fudge you giraffe” the tendency among the onlookers whose disdain you are seeking to invoke will be to wonder whether Penelope has a long neck.

Take a moment to survey the animal kingdom in your mind and you’ll realise that a huge proportion of animals (woodpecker, hummingbird, dolphin, etc) have a prominent trait that renders them almost useless in the arena of freestyle surrealist* offence-giving.

Naturally funny animals are also out, because there’s simply no sport in calling someone a dingo, a mongoose, or a kakapo.

This leaves you with animals like the barn owl, the salmon, and the tree frog.

Good luck!

* Of course, your basic animal-based insults needn’t be surreal. You may for instance enjoy calling Wayne Rooney a bison.


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