Of Polite Insults

One Monday morning, I attended a lecture regarding French culture, and our lecture had a particular focus on the French Revolution, along with the three major events between the years of 1789 – 1794, as well as the legacy the revolution left behind to not only the French, but to many countries across the globe (with a particular emphasis on former French colonies–Canada included).

One interesting thing I noted was that emphasis on political eloquence since the French Revolution. The term ‘political eloquence’ integrated itself into the English vocabulary since the revolution. The origins of this term was that politicians during the French Revolution sold speeches in great numbers leading to the  modern definition and tradition of statesmen integrating wit in their speeches and having an overall mastery of language.

To put what my lecturer told us bluntly, this allows for politicians to carefully express their ideas, opinions and plans to other politicians at the same time handing out very subtle insults. My lecturer then proceeded to tell us that a French politician can insult the French President in twenty-seven different ways without the need to be uncompromisingly forthright with their words–a statement that had me giggling later that day.

That same Monday, I was sitting in the library doing my readings for the day when my lecturer’s words suddenly came back to me, which is then immediately followed by a memory of a fellow Canadian living in Melbourne politely insulting me (to which I politely insulted her back), which is then immediately followed by another memory of me politely insulting a friend of mine while I was still living in Canada.

This could be a far fetched theory, but what if the importance of political eloquence in France was some how exported to Quebec and later throughout the rest of Canada? Even after their defeat in the Seven Years’ War? And used not just in political speeches, but in every day life? Such as politely launching insults to each other perhaps?

Living here made me realize just how much insults hidden by politeness had been integrated into Canadian culture as the majority of insults I noticed in Australia is more straightforward and to the point. I realize that in Canada, there are just as many bluntly stated insults as there are here in Australia, but it’s more common to shoot insults by being polite, then watching the person getting a certain look on their face as soon as they realize they’ve been politely insulted.

Like the time my Canadian friend politely, and very subtly, suggested I become a courtesan just after we finished talking about boys, sex, and a very high end party that my friend went to in which the host is wealthy enough to get enough training to become third in the Winter Olympics in skiing. The fact that she chose ‘courtesan’ instead of ‘prostitute’ tied in very well with the previous things we talked about. That one conversation quickly became the most memorable conversation I had since moving to Australia.


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