In recent years the sale of cheeky, offensive and down-right rude greetings cards has exploded. It seems that the trend of insulting your nearest and dearest is a new and growing one. Yet this assumption would be wrong. From classics such as Fawlty Towers and Absolutely Fabulous to more recent hits like Fleabag and People Just Do Nothing, British comedy is full of characters who love to insult each other. British humor thrives on sarcastic put-downs and caustic jibes – and research suggests that this may actually be due to a genetic pre-disposition…
While Chaucer and Shakespeare may have the reputation of being part of a distinctly high-brow British literary culture, their works are actually full of smutty and irreverent humor. Insults like ‘Villain, I have done thy mother’; you ‘abortive, rooting hog’, ‘reeling-ripe bum-bailey’ or simply ‘bull’s pizzle’ may not be the first things that come to mind when you think of Shakespeare. If you studied Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales at school, you may be surprised to learn that the unedited version is full of stories involving bawdy and unrepentant sexuality, insults, fart jokes and even the kissing of a women’s hairy ‘ers’ (a.k.a ‘arse’ in modern English). This low-brow humor undermines the image of the uptight, stuffy and prudish English gentleman, and is probably one reason why it is so popular.
It’s in their genes
This long history of British smutty and humorous insults makes the findings of American researchers less surprising. They concluded that mocking, teasing, and offensive humor appears to be part of the British genetic make-up. In other words, they inherited their love of rude insults from their ancestors! According to the researchers, while environmental factors play a role – and may be a sign of a neurotic, depressive and anxious population – the British love of rude and offensive jokes is in their DNA.
No-one is off limits, including themselves
It should also be noted that the British love of self-deprecation – putting yourself down – is as important as insulting those close to you. According to Ricky Gervais, writer and star of The Office, ‘We mercilessly take the piss out of people we like or dislike… And ourselves. This is very important. Our brashness and swagger is laden with equal portions of self-deprecation. This is our license to hand it out.’ His observation that rudeness can actually be a sign of liking someone is also spot on. By teasing someone, a Brit can often be demonstrating that they feel comfortable and relaxed around them. In these cases, rudeness can actually be a compliment – a sign of friendship. By feeling able to tease, a British friend is stating that their relationship with you is strong. They feel confident about the bonds between you both. Being rude can actually mean ‘I like you’!
So with that in mind, be flattered, not offended if you receive an insult from a British friend. If you’re wanting to amuse a Brit – or let them know you consider them as more than just a polite acquaintance – then sending a rude greetings card is a very good place to start!