Dangerous Crooked Scoundrels: Insulting the President, from Washington to Trump



Insulting the president is an American tradition. From Washington to Trump, presidents have been called "lazy," "feeble," "pusillanimous," and more. Our leaders have been derided as "ignoramuses," "idiots," "morons," and "fatheads," and have been compared to all manner of animals--worms and whales and hyenas, sad jellyfish, strutting crows, lap dogs, reptiles, and monkeys.

Political insults tell us what we value in our leaders by showing how we devalue them. In Dangerous Crooked Scoundrels, linguist Edwin Battistella collects over five hundred insults aimed at American presidents. Covering the broad sweep of American history, he puts insults in their place-the political and cultural context of their times. Along the way, Battistella illustrates the recurring themes of political insults: too little intellect or too much, inconsistency or obstinacy, worthlessness, weakness, dishonesty, sexual impropriety, appearance, and more. The kinds of insults we use suggest what our culture finds most hurtful, and reveal society's changing prejudices as well as its most enduring ones. How we insult presidents and how they react tells us about the presidents, but it also tells us about our nation's politics.

Readers discover how the style of insults evolves in different historical periods: gone are "apostate," "mountebank," "flathead," and "doughface." Say hello to "moron," "jerk," "asshole," and "flip-flopper." Dangerous Crooked Scoundrels covers the broad sweep of American history, from the founder's debates over the nature of government to world wars and culture wars and social media.

Whatever your politics, you'll find Dangerous Crooked Scoundrels an invaluable source of invigorating invective-and a healthy perspective on today's political climate.

Product Details

$14.95  $13.75
Oxford University Press, USA
Publish Date
March 18, 2020
5.5 X 0.9 X 7.3 inches | 0.6 pounds
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About the Author

Edwin L. Battistella teaches linguistics and writing at Southern Oregon University in Ashland, where he has served as a dean and as interim provost. His books include Bad Language: Are Some Words Better than Others? and Sorry About That: The Language of Public Apology. He writes a monthly column, "Between the Lines with Edwin Battistella," for the Oxford University Press blog.


"It was a pleasure to read a book that made me laugh aloud. Edwin Battistella has done an impressive job of documenting and explaining the history of presidential ignominy. I suspect that readers will be sending him their favorite insults for the next edition." -- Donald A. Ritchie, Senate historian emeritus

"Though our Twitter-dominated era may seem uniquely venomous, this wise, witty and thoroughly entertaining history of American political insults proves otherwise. Word-lovers will delight in linguist Edwin Battistella's resurrection of once-deadly insults such as'mountebank' and 'dastardly poltroon.' More important is the compelling case Dangerous Crooked Scoundrels makes that our precious freedom of speech has always rested on the ability to openly criticize and even insult our highest elected officials." -- Charles Slack, author of Liberty's First Crisis

"Dangerous Crooked Scoundrels takes a deep dive into America's long history of attacks on the president, not only exploring the insults themselves, but placing them in the context of their times. It's an engaging, thought-provoking look at a tradition as old as the republic and as immediate as the next election." -- Rosemarie Ostler, author of Splendiferous Speech

"This authoritative handbook reveals how insults have always been a part of American politics." -- Library Journal, Starred Review