For David Coleman, on the Occasion of Shakespeare’s 450th Birthday

Wrote this piece some time ago. Just getting around to posting it.

I once read, in “The American Scholar,” I think, or perhaps it was in “Verbatim,” a tragic report on the paucity of dedicated swear words in classical Latin. The Romans were always envious of the subtlety of the Greek tongue, of its rich resources for philosophical and literary purposes, but the Greeks were even less well endowed with profanities than the Romans were. The poor Romans had to result to graffiti, which they did with wild and glorious abandon, while the Greeks stuck to salacious statuary and decoration of vases.

I have a nice little collection of books on cursing in various languages. French, Spanish, German, Italian–the modern European languages, generally–are rich mines of lively expressions. But our language, which has been so promiscuous through the centuries, has to be the finest for cursing that we apes have yet developed. We English speakers are blessed with borrowed riches, there, that speakers of other tongues can only dream of.

So, when I watch a David Coleman video, there’s a lot for me to say, and a lot of choice language to say it with.

Those of you who are English teachers will be familiar with the Homeric catalog. It’s a literary technique that is basically a list. The simple list isn’t much to write home about, you might think, but this humble trope can be extraordinarily effective. Consider the following trove of treasures. What are these all names of? (Take a guess. Don’t cheat. The answer is below.)

Green Darner
Roseate Skimmer
Great Pondhawk
Ringed Cascader
Comet Darner
Banded Pennant
Orange Emperor
Banded Groundling
Black Percher
Little Scarlet
Tau Emerald
Southern Yellowjack
Vagrant Darter
Beautiful Demoiselle
Large Red
Mercury Bluet
Eastern Spectre
Somber Goldenring

Back to my dreams of properly cursing Coleman and the Core, of dumping the full Homeric catalog of English invective on them.

I have wanted to do so on Diane Ravitch’s blog, but Diane doesn’t allow such language in her living room, and I respect that. So I am sending this post, re Coleman and the Core, thinking that perhaps Diane won’t mind a little Shakespeare. (After all, it’s almost Shakespeare’s birthday. His 450th. Happy birthday, Willie!)

Let’s begin with some adjectives:

Artless, beslubbering, bootless, churlish, craven, dissembling, errant, fawning, forward, gleeking, impertinent, loggerheaded, mammering, merkin-faced, mewling, qualling, rank, reeky, rougish, pleeny, scurvie, venomed, villainous, warped and weedy,

And then add some compound participles:

beef-witted, boil-brained, dismal-dreaming, earth-vexing, fen-sucked, folly-fallen, idle-headed, rude-growing, spur-galled, . . .
And round it all off with a noun (pick any one that you please):


Or, if you want whole statements from the Bard himself:

“Thy tongue outvenoms all the worms of the Nile.” (worms = snakes)

“Methink’st thou art a general offence and every man should beat thee.”

“You scullion! You rampallian! You fustilarian! I’ll tickle your catastrophe!”

“You starvelling, you eel-skin, you dried neat’s-tongue, you bull’s-pizzle, you stock-fish–O for breath to utter what is like thee!-you tailor’s-yard, you sheath, you bow-case, you vile standing tuck!”

“Thou sycophantic, merkin-faced varlet.”

“Thou cream-faced loon!”

There. Glad I got that out of my system.

BTW. Those are names of dragonflies, above. Beautiful, aren’t they? Shakespeare loved odd names of things. Scholars have shown that he used in writing a wider vocabulary than any other author who has ever written in our glorious tongue. Again, happy birthday, Willie. What fools those Ed Deformers be!

For more pieces by Bob Shepherd on the topic of Education “Reform,” go here:

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About Bob Shepherd

interests: curriculum design, educational technology, learning, linguistics, hermeneutics, rhetoric, philosophy (Continental philosophy, Existentialism, metaphysics, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, epistemology, ethics), classical and jazz guitar, poetry, the short story, archaeology and cultural anthropology, history of religion, prehistory, veganism, sustainability, Anglo-Saxon literature and language, systems for emergent quality control, heuristics for innovation
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6 Responses to For David Coleman, on the Occasion of Shakespeare’s 450th Birthday

  1. Roy Turrentine says:

    Realizing this is an old post, I have a particular question about the dragonfly list. I knew the names immediately, being fascinated with these amazing creatures. My wife and I encountered a Maryland state park on our way to the north that was home to an amazing array of odenata.. I cannot recall what its name was. I think it was mostly a history park.


  2. Roy Turrentine says:

    Sorry. My daughter interrupted me with math help. Do you live somewhere up in at part of the country? If so, I can search out my wife’s travel journal and give you a good location to observe dragonflies.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bob Shepherd says:

      Always worth doing! I live in South Florida. In Brandon, just outside Tampa. Here, what is possibly the most important thing I’ve read in many, many years:


      • Roy Turrentine says:

        Thanks for the article. Not exactly the most heartwarming reading for a guy that got up too early (a common malady affecting middle age if I am any indication). My old high school classmate and entomologist referred to the insect decline when I raised the question of the decline of the shrike, a predatory bird common to your part of the country. I have cousins in Winter Haven whom we occasionally visit. On a Christmas trip a couple of years ago, I read a summary of their Christmas bird count that discussed the decline of the Shrike. Seems average numbers for the Shrike on the bird counts was generally around 350 to 400 for years. That year (2017 I believe), the count had yielded just 35.

        These mainly insectivorous birds look like a mockingbird with a black mask and are particularly desired by birders for their appealing appearance and due to the knowledge that they are increasingly rare. Thus the low numbers are particularly disturbing, for I know how bird counts are held. Birders will make special trips to,areas where particular species are known to be because numbers of species in a count is sort of the grail of a birding expedition. Thus the non-scientific approach suggests a really dire future for this species.

        Ornithologist Chandler Robbins alerted us to the dramatic decline in the numbers of neotropical migrants during the past generation. Since I got married and turned into a bird watcher( such is life for anyone around my wife), I have witnessed a decline in certain species that is remarkable enough to notice without complex stats. I have also wittnessed new species widening their range as the climate warms. Our house used to be in a gardening zone with Nashville. Now we fall into a zone to the south as the mild winters creep up the globe.

        One result has been the expansion of the scissor-tailed flycatcher, the state bird of Oklahoma and a common summer resident of the Tallgrass Prarie from Texas to southern Nebraska. On our way to school in spring and fall, we are treated to at least three breeding pairs of this strange and beautiful creature. My wife saw 57 in a flock this fall, obviously on migration to somewhere. Oddly enough, the Bewick’s Wren (pronounced like the name of the GM car) is never found anymore, although it is a generally warm weather bird found more abundantly in Texas.

        This rambling should cease. I appreciate your sharing this article. I feel powerless to solve even part of the problems we are causing in our environment. Toxic blooms of the red tide variety you experienced this summer make me wonder if things are not already out of control. Still, perhaps we can get a handle on some of the more egregious aspects of human behavior to arrest some of our problems before they become catastrophic.

        Thanks again for the article.


      • Bob Shepherd says:

        Nature has proven to be extraordinarily resilient in the past, but certainly what is happening is one of the extreme events in the history of the world. Here in Florida, for several years, it seemed as though frogs, which were ubiquitous, had simply disappeared. They became rare. But recently, after a heavy rain, there were hundreds of them all of a sudden. The weird thing, however, is that they were albino. Bizarre.

        My guitar teacher, Jon Damien, a professor at the Berklee School in Boston, has been participating in an annual bird count for many decades. What you describe is, of course, everyone’s experience now. Brave new world!


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