AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on Wordmaster -- Slangman David Burke is with us from Los Angeles to have some fun with insults in American English.
RS: It seems our buddy Slangman has gotten another outrageous -- and totally fictitious -- letter from his mother, an 80-year-old widow whose sister likes to set her up on dates (that much is true!)
SLANGMAN: " 'My dear son, Slangman. I'm never going to trust your Aunt Ruth again. I agreed to go on a date with her butcher. I should have known it would be a mistake when she described him as having a "great personality."' (Laughter) I love this description for someone. If someone is not attractive, they have a -- "
RS: "Great personality!"
SLANGMAN: "'And he was nothing but a bean pole with chicken legs.'"
RS: "Oh, that's great."
SLANGMAN: "Now a bean pole is a pole you would put in the ground and then you would try to put the bean stalk around this very thin pole. That's how you make the beans grow. Now if a man is described as having chicken legs, that's not good. A lot of guys who work out with weights, they forget their legs, and they're considered as having chicken legs, because a chicken is big with little teeny legs. 'Well, I looked like a tub of lard next to him.' Now a tub of lard -- lard is fat, and somebody who is fat is considered a tub of lard, or we even say in slang a 'fatso.' Again, another mild insult."
AA: "Well, that's not so mild, gosh, if you called someone a fatso."
SLANGMAN: "If you refer to the person as that, but not letting that person hear what you're saying -- "
SLANGMAN: " ... it would be mild. But any of these insults, you don't really want to say to a person, because they're offensive. But they're not terribly, terribly offensive."
RS: "No, they're not terribly offensive, but then again you should be cautioned not to direct these directly at someone, to call them a tub of lard or a fatso. It wouldn't be taken too ... "
SLANGMAN: "No, I don't think -- you definitely wouldn't want to say that to a person."
RS: "You can say them about yourself."
SLANGMAN: "Oh, exactly, that's why she says 'I looked like a tub of lard next to him,' as opposed to 'he was a tub of lard.' 'Well, the moment I saw him, I thought, "What a loser!"' -- a really popular term, has been [around] for a long time. It's someone without any good qualities. And of course nowadays what younger people do, and even not so young, we take the thumb and the first finger and make the L and hold it up to our forehead. Now you can do that at the same time as saying 'loser!'
"'I wanted to be fair, but it was clear he was a stuffed shirt just like all the other stuck-up people in that restaurant.' Now a 'stuffed shirt' -- someone who is pretentious. And 'stuck-up' also is the same thing. It means someone who is pretentious and we say 'full of themselves,' full of pride, full of bragging. They're 'full of themselves' or they're 'stuck up.' Anyway, 'the moment we sat down, he didn't stop talking about himself and his success -- what a yacker!' To yack means to talk and talk and talk and talk -- much like I'm doing now, I'm yacking. 'And he thought he was an expert on every subject.' Now what do we call someone who thinks he or she is an expert on every subject?"
AA: "A smarty-pants?"
SLANGMAN: "Very good. A smarty-pants -- and a know-it-all."
AA: "Oh, OK, sure!"
SLANGMAN: "Know-it-all. It's actually know ... it ... all, but we pronounce it know-it-all. It means someone who thinks he or she knows it all. 'Well, finally after dinner, I suggested we go dancing. He didn't want to. So I suggested we go out for coffee. He didn't want to. Well, your Aunt Ruth should know that I would never want to be with someone who is a party-pooper,' someone who doesn't want to have a good time, who rejects every suggestion about doing something fun -- that's a party-pooper.
"'Your aunt can be such a dummy sometimes.' Dummy is -- it's really mildly insulting, but we say it with affection. And dummy is very different from idiot. An idiot is really, it's ... "
AA: "Idiot is harsher than dummy."
SLANGMAN: "Exactly, it has more weight behind it. 'Well, I finally told Mr. Wonderful I had to get home to sleep because I was babysitting my 10 grandchildren in the morning. That seemed to scare him off.' Now this is interesting, 'Mr. Wonderful.' In English we tend to use more sarcasm than any other language I know of. So, of course, she's not really thinking 'Mr. Wonderful,' she's thinking 'Mr. Horrible.' But she's saying 'Mr. Wonderful.' 'Listen, I have to run. Talk to you soon, my Slangman. Love, Slangmom."
RS: That was Slangman David Burke in Los Angeles, with another tale from Slangmom. You can learn about his English teaching materials at his Web site, slangman.com. Just a warning, his newest book is called "The Slangman Guide to DIRTY ENGLISH."
AA: Our Web site is voanews.com/wordmaster and our e-mail address is [email protected] . With Rosanne Skirble, I'm Avi Arditti.
MUSIC: "(You Know It All) Smarty"/Bing Crosby (1937)