These certainly are insulting times. Oprah Winfrey felt disrespected when a Swiss store clerk allegedly refused to show her an expensive handbag. Floridians were offended when the Rev. Jesse Jackson said they were living in "a kind of apartheid state." But last month, France increased its tolerance for offensive speech when it repealed a 132-year-old ban on insulting the president. An impressive step by a people once described by U.S. conservatives as "cheese-eating surrender monkeys." Here are 10 other jabs:
1 In some countries, shaking a person's hand while your other hand is in your pocket is considered an insult. A photo of Microsoft's Bill Gates doing just that while meeting with South Korean President Park Geun-hye caused an uproar in that country in April.
2 The traditional African-American game of "the dozens" — in which two people trade outrageous insults, often for an audience, and frequently about each other's mother — has more than a dozen other names. A 1972 study found it was called "sounding" in New York, "woofing" in Philadelphia, "joning" in Washington, D.C., and "signifying" in Chicago. Some say the term "the dozens" comes from an expectation that each person would throw 12 insults. There's also the theory that it refers to the unlucky roll of 12 in craps. Still others believe the phrase comes from the slavery era, when the 12 least desirable slaves to survive a trans-Atlantic journey were sold as a "dirty dozen."
3 The latest chapter in Anthony Weiner's sexting scandal has made him a punching bag in the New York City mayor's race. But Weiner has punched back, calling 69-year-old rival George McDonald "grandpa" and ridiculing British reporter Lucy Watson by feigning a British accent and wondering whether he had "stepped into a Monty Python bit." McDonald has called Weiner a "punk" and a "self-pleasuring freak." And mayoral candidate Erick Salgado has declared that Weiner's sexting pseudonym, Carlos Danger, is an insult to Latinos.
4 Tony Curtis' famous insult of Marilyn Monroe — "It's like kissing Hitler" — came out of frustration over her lateness and inability to say her lines during filming of "Some Like It Hot." And indeed, her behavior was decidedly unattractive. It once took her 47 takes to properly say a single sentence. Director Billy Wilder tried pasting the line inside a dresser drawer, but she opened the wrong drawer. So Wilder had the line pasted in every drawer.
5 When a politician starts out by saying, "My staff tells me not to say this ...," it's a good sign he's about to offend people. Such was the case when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., observed in 2008 that before the opening of the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, people had to stand out in the summer heat and "you could literally smell the tourists coming into the Capitol."
6 The Lincoln-Douglas debates in 1858 are considered remarkable examples of political discourse, but that doesn't mean the participants didn't fling a few insults. Abraham Lincoln described one of Stephen Douglas' arguments as "explanations explanatory of explanations explained," but possibly even more bitingly, "as thin as the homeopathic soup that was made by boiling the shadow of a pigeon that had been starved to death."
7 Feel free to take offense if an Australian calls you a bushpig, dapto, drongo or doodlehead.
8 In the early 19th century, some prickly Southern gentlemen were wound so tightly that even the slightest perceived insult — a thrown snowball, a sideways glance at a new hat or being jostled in a theater lobby — could result in a duel. In notoriously duel-happy New Orleans, where one traveler reported there were 15 duels one Sunday morning alone, even the honor of the Mississippi River was defended after a foreigner called it a "mere brook."
9 William Shakespeare was a master of the insult. In "King Lear," he opted for the kitchen-sink approach. In Act 2, Scene 2, Oswald asks Kent, "What dost thou know me for?" Kent's reply is a mouthful: "A knave; a rascal; an eater of broken meats; a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy, worsted-stocking knave; a lily-livered, action-taking knave, a whoreson, glass-gazing, super-serviceable finical rogue; one-trunk-inheriting slave; one that wouldst be a bawd, in way of good service, and art nothing but the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pandar, and the son and heir of a mongrel bitch: one whom I will beat into clamorous whining, if thou deniest the least syllable of thy addition." If Oswald wasn't offended by being called a whoreson or a knave, being an "eater of broken meats" must have boiled his blood. After all, he surely didn't enjoy other people's leftovers.
10 A boring person once cornered painter James McNeill Whistler and told him he had recently passed by the artist's house. Whistler replied: "Thank you."
Mark Jacob is a deputy metro at the Tribune; Stephan Benzkofer is the Tribune's weekend editor.
SOURCES: "Cassell's Dictionary of Slang" by Jonathon Green; "The Dozens: A History of Rap's Mama" by Elijah Wald; "Encyclopedia of African-American Popular Culture" by Jessie Carney Smith; "Gentlemen's Blood" by Barbara Holland; "It Happened in New Orleans" by Bonnye E. Stuart; "Dueling in the Old South" by Jack K. Williams; "Some Like It Wilder: The Life and Controversial Films of Billy Wilder" by Gene Phillips; "Contemporary Portraits" by Frank Harris; rogerebert.com; politicsdaily.com; cnn.com; palmbeachpost.com; The Washington Post.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun