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Toward a Rhetoric of Insult

From high school cafeterias to the floor of Congress, insult is a truly universal and ubiquitous cultural practice with a long and earthy history. And yet, this most human of human behaviors has rarely been the subject of organized and comprehensive attention—until Toward a Rhetoric of Insult. Viewed through the lens of the study of rhetoric, insult, Thomas M. Conley argues, is revealed as at once antisocial and crucial for human relations, both divisive and unifying.

Explaining how this works and what exactly makes up a rhetoric of insult prompts Conley to range across the vast and splendidly colorful history of offense. Taking in Monty Python, Shakespeare, Eminem, Cicero, Henry Ford, and the Latin poet Martial, Conley breaks down various types of insults, examines the importance of audience, and explores the benign side of abuse. In doing so, Conley initiates readers into the world of insult appreciation, enabling us to regard insults not solely as means of expressing enmity or disdain, but as fascinating aspects of human interaction.

176 pages | 10 halftones | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | © 2010

Language and Linguistics: Philosophy of Language

Literature and Literary Criticism: General Criticism and Critical Theory

Philosophy: Philosophy of Society


“This is an original work well crafted into flowing continuous exposition. Readers will gladly seize on this fresh contribution and find here a stimulating and heartening extended essay leading through an entertaining, virtuoso meditation to a typically constructive proposal. Conley, who holds a distinguished record of thoughtful and humane writing, has charmed me into merriment with this thoroughly engaging book.”--John Henderson, University of Cambridge

John Henderson

“In Toward a Rhetoric of Insult we have a very good topic discussed by an intelligent and informed author. The result is a well-written and endlessly interesting book.”

Ted Cohen, University of Chicago

"Students will find this a particularly interesting and accessible study of an enduringly interesting, relevant aspect of rhetoric and communication."


Table of Contents

Preface1 * The Range of InsultTerms of Abuse: The Lexical ApproachBeyond the LexiconNonverbal “Terms”The Problem of the Intrinsic2 * Traditional Principles of InsultSex, Lies, and Rhetorical CommunityAll Those Nauseous Epigrams of MartialThe Domestication of Sir John Falstaff “I shall taunt you a second time-a!”: Monty PythonJust Add a Dash of TheologyLines and StorylinesDoing the DozensMind Your MannersInsults as “Rhetoric”3 * Beyond “Traditional” RhetoricThe Paradox of InsultThe Economics of ShameMaintaining vs. Interrogating HierarchiesEnforcing “Civility”The Aesthetic AngleAd bellum purifi candum?A Parting ShotNotes for Further Reading


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