The primaries are behind us, and with them go the multitude of insults and personal vilifications. 

But not entirely.

There are still some runoffs to endure. And more mud to sling.

Which led me to an interesting list of really insulting things that folks can hurl at each other. A verbal hit list.

The first one you have probably used. Insipid. It means dull and boring and dates back to the Latin sapere, which means to be wise.

The next is fatuous, which means silly, stupid or fooling. Some of those politicians sure could have used this one. It came from the Latin ingis fatuus, which means to make foolish. This also leads to infatuate, of course.

One of my favorites is sanctimonious. That’s pretending to be morally better than other people. Do you know someone who is sanctimonious? This word once began as possessing sanctity, holy or sacred, but became less holy when William Shakespeare first used it as being “hypocritically pious.”

This next one is often used as a description of blonds, which makes me just a little angry. Vacuous means showing a lack of intelligence or serious thought. It also comes from Latin, for empty. And led to good words like vacuum and evacuate.

Unctuous. When I think of unctuous, I think of Uriah Heep, a creation of Charles Dickens. It means marked by a smug, ingratiating and false earnestness or spirituality. It comes from the word for anointment, lubricating oil.

Heep was so nicety nice he was repugnant. Another good word.

Next is craven, which means very cowardly. “The dirty little coward, who shot Mr. Howard, and laid Jesse James in his grave.” Ford, the shooter, was craven.

Craven comes from the Latin crepare, which means crack, creak, or break. Another word in that family is crevice.

Pusillanimous. The best one of all. It means weak and afraid of danger. I guess at one time or another, we could all be called pusillanimous.

But the word I remember most was said by Vice President Spiro Agnew, in a speech written by Pat Buchanan.

Obstreperous. Meaning difficult to control and often noisy.

 I used this one a lot when my children were younger.

A writer in Forbes magazine, Don Todd, referred to Sen. Ted Cruz as obstreperous.

Obtuse. Another word I have used. It means stupid or not able to think clearly or understand what is obvious or simple.

The ancestor of obtuse is the Latin obtusus, meaning blunt or dull. There also is, in math, an obtuse angle, and in medicine an obtuse pain.

For you who hated studying English, my apologies.

For those who love to play with words, here’s another batch to enjoy.

Cathy Gillentine is a columnist for the Daily News and can be reached at

(1) comment

Miceal O'Laochdha

Congratulations Cathy, best thing you ever wrote (at least of what I have read).

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