Twitter did not invent snark. Read the insults of Elizabethan-age texts and you will not share them in civilized company these days.
Is that possible that our blunt-spoken society has greater cultivation than those stiff-collared sorts?
“I do desire we may be better strangers,” Orlando said in “As You Like It,” a 16th-century putdown and one of the less bawdy, more newspaper-friendly ones.
New York celebrated this summer the centennial of the Algonquin Round Table, a group of writers and others who lunched regularly at the Algonquin Hotel and wisecracked about any subject that came before them.
To give you a flavor of the gathering, it became known as “The Vicious Circle.”
Dorothy Parker emerged as the brightest light of this group, sort of a scalpel in high heels.
“The first thing I do in the morning is brush my teeth and sharpen my tongue,” she said.
Of the habits of one female, she said, “That woman speaks 18 languages, and she can’t say ‘No’ in any of them.”
Needless to say, it was a tough crowd.
But the cutting goes ever onward, just with more accessible tools.
President Trump has used Twitter as his primary instrument of insults.
News organizations have compiled word clouds of the affronts he favors, the most prevalent being “fake” (used 444 times) and “failed,” with “dishonest,” “phony” and “weak” being in playoff contention.
Of Hillary Clinton alone, according to an analysis by The Washington Post, he has supplemented these indignities with “disgraced” and “lying,” “nasty” and “loser,” among others.
But we all have go-to words, and let’s credit the president for consistency in language if not civility.
As Americans, we might feel an exceptionalism in this area of bad manners. We seem not to have perfected the art of boorishness but at least to have advanced it a little.
Like the Olympics, though, good competition always seems to be out there across international boundaries.
Surrounding the gathering of world leaders at the recent G7 summit in France, and with it concerns about the widespread fires in the Amazon rain forest, this diplomatic fare-thee-well came to pass.
The Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, insulted the looks of the French first lady, Brigitte Macron.
Mind you, Bolsonaro has always been something of a blunt object. A couple of years ago, he said, “I have five children. Four are men, and then in a moment of weakness the fifth came out a girl.”
I suppose the Brazilian leader greeted that backlash as “political correctness run amok.” Suggesting the wanting attractiveness of another president’s wife, however, feels like an impropriety.
True, Trump passed along Twitter sewage about the looks of the wife of a one-time opponent, Sen. Ted Cruz, and Cruz would later accept his help in a campaign. I suspect that’s all you need to know about modern politics.
In the past, this sort of thing would surely cause men to meet on some foggy dawn for a duel, pistols at 20 paces. Thankfully, we have replaced actual violence for the pseudo-violence of social media.
For his part, French President Emmanuel Macron used words. Mild ones. Tactful ones. Words used at embassies.
“He has made some extraordinarily rude comments about my wife,” the French president said. “I think that Brazilians, a great people, are a bit ashamed of this behavior.”
Welcome to high school. And this takes place in the context of global recession fears and climate disaster.
It is like Dorothy Parker said: “Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes clean to the bone.”