The Art of the Insult

The Art of the Insult
Le trégor, p 1 27-02-2003
Part of the crowd enjoying the art of the insult in the Breton language
Complementing its look at literature in bilingual worlds, Transcript visits Brittany where a tradition of 'oral literature' is, as it has done for centuries, making people laugh.
The art of the insult is an old and venerable one. Some see in it a simple theatrical genre, others a form of dialogue. Insulting is a form of rhetoric, long an important tool in politics, and through the ages poets have practised malediction and defamation alongside eulogy. Now in Brittany, the art of the insult is finding favour again.

It started in 2002, in the village of Prat, near Lannion in Breton-speaking area of Trégor, where Louis-Jaques Suignard, an English teacher in a local secondary school, hit on the idea of organising an evening devoted to insult. The idea was conceived of in a particular context: evenings of Breton story, song and music ponctuate the winter months in Britanny, thanks to the efforts of local groups with a keen interest in things traditional. However, specific forms of drama and social catharsis were falling in disuse: the art of the insult, for instance.

And so the 2002 'Championnad ar Bed ar C'hunujennoù' (The World Championship in Insult and Abuse) was organised in Prat, near Lannion in northern Brittany. The event drew a large crowd to hear two teams of insulters meet out a good verbal drubbing to each other. The teams, each four strong, spoke for Tregor and Cornuailles respectively, areas which traditionally have enjoyed intense rivalry, and which today lie north and south of the N12, the dual carraigeway from Brest to Rennes. A select jury adjugded the contest, and didn't hestitate to brandish the red card when contestants threatened to get out of hand. 'You people down south have to pay a special tax ever time one of your councillors breaks into a sweat,' went one taunt. 'You people up north, you eat seaweed for breakfast and have the nerve to insult us!' came the reply.

Such was the success of the occasion that a return match was organised for 2003. This took place in Guerlesquin in February last. The event lasted five hours, rhyming insults, songs of provocation, and rehearsed dialogue being added to this year's progamme. It attracted an audience of eight hundred, and crews from several radio stations. A public event this size people conducted exclusively through the medium of Breton is a small miracle. The Breton language, though still spoken by a quarter of a million people, has disappeared from public places in recent generations, spoken now in the home by an increasingly elderly population. Or so the story went until 'The World Championship in Insult and Abuse'. Now in Brittany, the art of the insult has them all laughing out loud.

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