beast, you

beast, you
   It was at one time an expression of deep disgust to call someone ‘you beast’. The speaker was usually a woman, and there would often be the suggestion that the man was being animalistic in his sexual attitudes. As Shakespeare put it, in The Merry Wives of Windsor: ‘O powerful love, that in some respects makes a beast a man; in some other, a man a beast’ In Measure for Measure Isabella exclaims ‘O you beast!’ to her brother, because he does not opt for his own death before his sister’s dishonour. Isabella has just told Claudio that she can only save his life by surrendering herself to Lord Angelo. He replies that ‘what sin you do to save a brother’s life…becomes a virtue,’ causing Isabella to call him ‘a beast, a faithless coward and dishonest wretch’.
   ‘You beast’ could still be used in modern times of a man ‘under the sway of animal propensities’, as the Oxford English Dictionary delightfully puts it. According to Bernard Thompson, in Love in Quiet Places, it can be used to a woman similarly swayed. A woman who has stolen another woman’s man in that novel is addressed as ‘you beast, you dirty filthy beast’. In another context, however ‘you beast’ has little more than the force of ‘you rotter’. In Kipling’s Stalky and Co. the school-boys are constantly talking about ‘beastly things’ and ‘beastly people’, and calling each other names like ‘you unmitigated beast’. ‘Hullo, Orrin,’ says Stalky at one point, ‘you look rather metagrobolized.’ ‘It was all your fault, you beast!’ says Orrin. The use of beast by one man to another in Mary Webb’s Gone to Earth is made interesting by the dialectal comment that follows: ‘Ed’ard! Dunna go for to miscall him!’ This useful verb ‘miscall’, meaning to call someone bad names, to revile them, now appears to be obsolete other than in dialect. In Noel Coward’s Private Lives the curtain falls at the end of act two as Amanda screams: ‘Beast; brute; swine; cad; beast; beast; brute; devil - ’

A dictionary of epithets and terms of address . . 2015.

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