Toward a Rhetoric of Insult

Thomas Conley

Thomas Conley

176 pages | 10 halftones | 5-1/2 x 8-1/2 | © 2010
Cloth $59.00 ISBN: 9780226114774 Published June 2010
Paper $20.00 ISBN: 9780226114781 Published June 2010
E-book $7.00 to $20.00 About E-books ISBN: 9780226114798 Published June 2010

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.

John Henderson
“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
Ted Cohen, University of Chicago

“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.”

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


1 * The Range of Insult


Terms of Abuse: The Lexical Approach


Beyond the Lexicon


Nonverbal “Terms”


The Problem of the Intrinsic


2 * Traditional Principles of Insult


Sex, Lies, and Rhetorical Community


All Those Nauseous Epigrams of Martial


The Domestication of Sir John Falstaff


“I shall taunt you a second time-a!”: Monty Python


Just Add a Dash of Theology


Lines and Storylines


Doing the Dozens


Mind Your Manners


Insults as “Rhetoric”


3 * Beyond “Traditional” Rhetoric


The Paradox of Insult


The Economics of Shame


Maintaining vs. Interrogating Hierarchies


Enforcing “Civility”


The Aesthetic Angle


Ad bellum purifi candum?


A Parting Shot


Notes for Further Reading



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