Vol. 9:1 (2008) ► pp.1–19
“You belly-guilty bag”
Insulting epithets in Old English
This article examines the epithets used as insults in Old English, building on Jucker and Taavitsainen (2000). Such epithets were found by examining all uses of the second person pronouns þu and þin in the Dictionary of Old English corpus. Epithets that accompany these pronouns occur in four main contexts, namely saints’ lives, complaints between body and soul, addresses to devils, and addresses to sinners. Nearly all insulting epithets in Old English are highly conventional, both in their use of well-established words from the Old English lexicon and in their reuse of typical epithets, from context to context. Such conventional epithets are typical of insults in other languages and are well motivated by the purpose of insults to demean the target. Yet there remain a handful of epithets that show much originality and creativity. These are mainly used in addresses to devils and complaints between the body and soul, most likely as a means of lampooning and ridiculing the devils and the body before a Christian audience.
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