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Sophisticated As Hell / Literature

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Literature requires the mastery of a language, enabling the author to enthrall the reader with turns of phrase so magnificent they will cry tears of fucking joy.

  • In the 1632 book 1634: The Baltic War, Admiral Simpson uses this to truly epic effect during his debriefing of Eddie Cantrell as he attempts to cajole his junior officer ("whom I have quite distinct recollections of being forthright even to the point of annoying the piss out of me") into acknowledging that he has had premarital sex with the daughter of the king of Denmark.
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  • Francisco d'Anconia in Atlas Shrugged is described as speaking precise and cultured English, deliberately mixed with slang. It makes him feel like the most sophisticated character in the novel, which he is.
  • Isaac Babel's character Benya Krik, a (sort of) Neighborhood Friendly Gangster, comes across this way on account of speaking the Odessian (urban Ukrainian) Jews' dialect of Russian taken to an extreme, with a healthy dose of aristocratic street criminal badassery added. The dialect is sort of like Yiddish as a Second Language would be in American English, but with a lot of wit and an unusual/elaborate phrasing. This comes through in the English translation, such as in one of Benya's extortion notes:
    "Monsieur Eichbaum.... I would be grateful if you could place twenty thousand rubles by the gate of the number 17, Sofiyefskaya Street, tomorrow morning. If you do not, something awaits you, the like of which has never been heard, and you will be the talk of all Odessa. Sincerely yours, Benya the King."
  • Dave Barry is all over this trope:
    • One column, trying to provide exceptions to the common belief that All Men Are Perverts, suggested that U.S. Supreme Court Judges "think about important constitutional issues" rather than sex. This was illustrated by an alleged court transcript that had Chief Justice Rehnquist saying, "Whoa! Get a load of the torts on that plaintiff!"
    • Dave Barry Slept Here quotes "the always wise and pithy Benjamin Franklin" as having said that the Articles of Confederation "sucked", and a "famous epigram" of President Jefferson, rejecting paying tribute to the Barbary States: "The hell with those dirtbags." Also recounted is what Winston Churchill said to a woman at a party: "Madam, I may be drunk, but BBLURUGHUH" all over her evening gown.
    • A column about online trading: "If you are not [on the Internet], then pardon my French, but vous êtes un big loser."
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    • In "The Fat Lady Sings", he notes that his previous column about opera "generated a large amount of mail from irate opera lovers who: 1. Pointed out that they are far more sophisticated, urbane and cultured than I am, and 2. Used some really dirty words."
  • The Roman poet Gaius Valerius Catullus did a few similar ones.
    • Latin has an astonishing variety of dirty words, and being a highly inflected tongue, this makes it uniquely suited for this kind of poetry, at which Catullus was legendary. Catullus 16 is so explicit that it wasn't fully translated into English until relatively recently; the opening line loosely translates as "I'll jam it up your ass and down your throat", but any translation loses the true flavor of the original. (Though one interpretation, "I'll sodomize and Clintonize you", does rise to the level of a decent Woolseyism.)
  • The First-Person Smartass narration of The Chronicles of Amber tends to veer from the modern colloquial to the formal and slightly archaic and back — sometimes in the same paragraph. The fact that all the Amberites are centuries-old interdimensional travellers might justify some of this, as they travel between areas where the language is more or less formal and might pick up mannerisms from all manner of different eras.
  • John Kennedy Toole uses it in A Confederacy of Dunces to great humorous effect: "I am at the moment writing a lengthy indictment against our century. When my brain begins to reel from my literary labors, I make an occasional cheese dip."
  • Neal Stephenson does this a lot. Take, for example, the first paragraph of the first chapter of Cryptonomicon:
    Let's set the existence-of-God issue aside for a later volume, and just stipulate that in some way, self-replicating organisms came into existence on this planet and immediately began trying to get rid of each other, either by spamming the environment with rough copies of themselves, or through more direct means which hardly need to be belabored. Most of them failed, and their genetic legacy was erased from the universe forever, but a few found some way to survive and to propagate. After about three billion years of this sometimes zany, frequently tedious fugue of carnality and carnage, Godfrey Waterhouse IV was born [...] to Blanche, the wife of a Congregational preacher named Bunyan Waterhouse. Like every other creature on the face of the earth, Godfrey was, by birthright, a stupendous badass, albeit in the somewhat technical sense that he could trace his ancestry back up a long line of slightly less highly evolved stupendous badasses to that first self-replicating gizmo — which, given the number and variety of its descendants, might justifiably be described as the most stupendous badass of all time. Everyone and everything that wasn't a stupendous badass was dead.
  • Any book by MaryJanice Davidson. A very proper-spoken Merfolk King started using "motherfucker" every other word after watching Deadwood. It was the first time he'd ever seen surface entertainment and he assumed that's how people are supposed to talk on land...
  • Happens quite a lot in the Discworld series, particularly any book set in Ankh-Morpork, with characters alternating between formal English and street vernacular in order to make better jokes and or points. The Patrician screwed this up (as, in fact, he often does when attempting to employ slang, despite having majored in languages in school) by threatening someone with the "sisal two-step" (when he meant the hemp fandangonote ; a clerk quietly corrected him).
    • Many people notice something quite comforting about Lord Vetinari, such as the fact that they can't see any weapons around, or, indeed, his apparent inability to grasp the nuances of slang and euphemism... until they remember that he was educated at the Assassin's Guild, at which point the thought turns on them, and turns out to have plenty of teeth and a full eight limbs tipped with razor-sharp claws.
    • And often a paragraph written in standard florid fantasy style ends with a word like "bugger".
    • In Guards! Guards!, the inscription over the door of the Treacle Mine Road watchhouse reads FABRICATI DIEM, PVNC.
    • In Men at Arms, Gaspode apologizes for his Buffy Speak:
      [']Clothing has never been what you might call a thingy of dog wossname.' Gaspode scratched his ear. 'Two metasyntactic variables there. Sorry.'
    • In Jingo, Fred Colon manages an unlikely display of defiance by telling Lord Rust "No, sir! You may put it where the sun does not shine, sir!"
    • Vimes is particularly good at this. At the end of Feet of Clay when the religious leaders all call for the destruction of the golem Dorfl, he carefully considers their opinions, gives it a lot of thought and gives Vetinari the following response — "Arseholes to the lot of 'em, sir."
    • And, in a surreal and hilarious variation: the Abbot of the History Monks, not having mastered the art of just not dying as Lu-Tze has, is instead forced to rely on serial reincarnation for immortality. So when we see him in Thief of Time, he's a baby that intersperses his eloquent, scholarly speeches with outbursts like "wanna wanna wanna BIKKIT!"
    • Mr. Nutt in Unseen Academicals describes to an increasingly bewildered magazine writer his philosophy of football, the behavioural psychology of teams, and the fact that quantum suggests you cannot know the position and velocity of the ball at the same time, before concluding that it's his job to present this metaphysical conundrum to the players in an appropriate paradigm, such as "Whack it right down the middle, my son."
    • Mr. Tulip in The Truth is an inversion of this. He's typical Dumb Muscle material, except when he comes upon a work of art, when he suddenly becomes a sophisticated connoiseur. However, even when going on about a well-crafted candlestick or rare painting, he still uses the word "-ing" all over the place.
    • Hogfather: "The philosopher Didactylos suggested an alternative hypothesis: 'Things just happen, what the hell.'"
    • Commander Vimes' batsman and Battle Butler Willikins is prone to this in later Watch books, especially in Snuff.
      "No, sir, it's your house, and since I am your personal manservant I, by the irrevocable laws of the servants' hall, outrank every one of the lazy buggers!"
  • Steven Brust's Dragaera series was influenced by the above, and also uses this a lot. Vlad and the other Jhereg sometimes alternate between somewhat courtly language and typical "wiseguy" talk, probably because they are simultaneously aristocrats and members of that world's equivalent of The Mafia.
    • In a meta example, the primary narrators of the two sub-series are 1) Vlad Taltos, the guy for whom the term First-Person Smartass was coined, and 2) Paarfi of Roundwood, whose writing style is an Affectionate Parody of/homage to Alexandre Dumas. And in Tiassa, they both narrate part of the same book. Suffice to say that when Paarfi is describing a conversation in which Vlad is a participant, you know that wasn't actually what he said.
  • The Dresden Files' Harry Dresden often does it:
    "And again I say unto thee: Bite me."
    "I ooze class from my every orifice."
  • T. S. Eliot wrote The Triumph of Bullshit, a poem addressed to his critics (which he never released to the public). It was a ballade (a classical form of poetry) and It started with "If you think my poems are" and continued in a flowery manner, describing all the criticisms that might be made of his writing style. The last line of every verse was "For Christ's sake stick it up your ass."
  • Fanny Hill, one of the most formally written pornographic works ever, was written by John Cleland to win a bet; a friend had wagered that he could not write explicitly about prostitution without using any 'vulgar' terminology. But as anyone who has read that book will tell you, he succeeded. He had to describe a penis as a 'maypole', at one point, but he succeeded. The results were hilarious for the same reason this trope often is.
  • From Good Omens, Hastur threatens Crowley for betraying the forces of Hell and refusing to come along quietly:
    "Your fate will be whispered by mothers in dark places to frighten their young," said Hastur, and then felt that the language of Hell wasn't up to the job. "You're going to get taken to the bloody cleaners, pal," he added.
  • W.E.B. Griffin's Brotherhood of War series includes the motto for the 73rd Heavy Tank Battalion commanded by one of the main characters. It eventually showed up ("translated" into polite military jargon) as ''Your participation is encouraged and expected. Our disappointment will be made manifest by the violent insertion of sporting equipment into the rectal cavity." The original wording? " You will play ball with the 73rd, or we'll stick the bat up your ass."
    • W.E.B Griffin is fond of this trope. In his Men In Blue series, a senior detective is describing how a Mafia boss took brutal action against a man who harmed his grand-daughter, by saying "Imaginative forms of retributive homicide are consistent with the Sicilian code of honor. Dishonoring the females of the tribe is really a no-no."
  • The Forerunner Warrior-Servants of Halo are generally cold, composed, and dignified while interacting with other Rates. The Ur-Didact's narrative in Halo: Silentium reveals that, amongst themselves, they can be as casually crass as one would expect of soldiers, while still upholding an amusingly aloof and noble demeanor. Summed up quite neatly with:
    Didact: As any warrior will tell you, unbalanced gravity is a [ Untranslatable sacrilegious expletive ]
  • Harry Potter:
    • Although not that really dirty example, Prisoner of Azkaban has a very good one when Snape tries to read the Marauder's Map:
      "Mr. Moony presents his compliments to Professor Snape and begs him to keep his abnormally large nose out of other people's business."
      "Mr. Prongs agrees with Mr. Moony, and would like to add that Professor Snape is an ugly git."
      "Mr. Padfoot would like to register his astonishment that an idiot like that ever became a professor."
      "Mr. Wormtail bids Professor Snape good day, and advises him to wash his hair, the slimeball."
    • In the immortal words of Professor Minerva McGonagall...
      McGonagall: Professor Snape has, to use the common phrase, done a bunk.
  • Much of Douglas Adams' work plays off this, often using overly formal tones to describe something mundane. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, however, often sounds more chummy than an encyclopedia should. (This is said in the series to be part of its appeal.)
    "Here the man in blue crimplene accosted us once more but we patiently explained to him that he could fuck off."
    "The policeman told Arthur exactly where he could put it, but Arthur could only assume he was speaking metaphorically."
  • From How Not To Write A Novel:
    This particular blunder is known as deus ex machina, which is French for "Are you fucking kidding me?"
  • The Poet Martin Silenus in the Hyperion Cantos is both the most eloquent and sophisticated narrator in the book and by far the one who cusses most. Best exemplified here:
    Martin Silenus: The right hemisphere was not without some language — but only the most emotionally charged units of communication could lodge in that affective hemisphere; my vocabulary was now down to nine words. For the record, here is my entire vocabulary of manageable words: fuck, shit, piss, cunt, goddamn, motherfucker, asshole, peepee and poopoo. A quick analysis will show some redundancy here.
    • Note the similarity to George Carlin's "Seven Dirty Words" and you'll get a chuckle.
  • P. G. Wodehouse loved this trope. The Jeeves and Wooster series runs on it, due to the Cloudcuckoolander narrator's attempts at literary style.
    He had been clearing away the breakfast things, but at the sound of the young master’s voice cheesed it courteously.
  • Happens in John Dies at the End, especially with the sequel (which is/was only half finished, and found on the website) which has a the opening chapter musing upon the nature of the universe then finishes with something along the lines of ", the 5 words that have made people break down and run screaming at their very mention..." and starts the next chapter with "So there I was, naked."
  • Stephen King:
    • Under the Dome has Phil "Chef" Bushey, a drug addict who believes himself to be a prophet and does this with every other sentence:
      "In the Garden of Eden there was a Tree. The Tree of Good and Evil. Dig that shit?"
  • The Laundry Files short story "The Concrete Jungle" by Charles Stross. A memo regarding a politically-sensitive plan to turn every networked CCTV camera into a Death Ray to cope with an expected takeover by Eldritch Abominations is naturally cloaked in technobabble and bureauspeak, except for its conclusion.
    We remain convinced that this is the best defensive posture to adopt in order to minimize casualties when the Great Old Ones return from beyond the stars to eat our brains.
  • Matador Series: The Man Who Never Missed has the memorable Badass Boast by Lord Thomas Reserve Shamba to the Confederation forces telling him to cease his rebellion and surrender.
    To the Commander, Confederation Jumptroopers.
    Sir: Fuck you.
    We stand until the last man falls.
  • Night Watch: In New Watch the protagonist describes a humongous fireball thrown at them: "It was a premium-class fireball, in terms of commercial managers. It was a Tsar-fireball, poetically speaking. A biologist would call it an Alpha-fireball. A very composed mathematician would note that it is a three-meter-wide fireball. It was a 'shit-your-pants-it's-so-scary' fireball!"
  • In Only You Can Save Mankind, the normally eloquent Captain of the Scree Wee fleet pulls this while explaining why she wanted Johnny to bring them a crapload of fast food and breakfast cereal.
    Captain: Normally we eat a kind of waterweed. It contains a perfect balance of vitamins, minerals, trace elements to ensure a healthy growth of scale and crest.
    Johnny: Then why—
    Captain: But, as you would put it, it tastes like poo.
  • This was almost a trademark of Mid-20th Century wit, raconteur and poet Dorothy Parker:
    • From her poem "Indian Summer":
      But now I know the things I know
      And do the things I do
      And if you do not like me so
      To hell, my love, with you!
    • Her poem "Comment":
      Life is a glorious cycle of song,
      A medley of extemporanea.
      And Love is a thing that can never go wrong,
      And I am Marie of Roumania.
    • "Theory":
      Into love and out again,
      Thus I went and thus I go.
      Spare your voice, and hold your pen:
      Well and bitterly I know
      All the songs were ever sung,
      All the words were ever said;
      Could it be, when I was young,
      Someone dropped me on my head?
    • "Coda":
      There's little in taking or giving,
      There's little in water or wine:
      This living, this living, this living,
      Was never a project of mine.
      Oh, hard is the struggle, and sparse is
      The gain of the one at the top,
      For art is a form of catharsis,
      And love is a permanent flop,
      And work is the province of cattle,
      And rest's for a clam in a shell,
      So I'm thinking of throwing the battle —
      Would you kindly direct me to hell?
    • and "Love Song":
      My love runs by like a day in June,
      And he makes no friends of sorrows.
      He'll tread his galloping rigadoon
      In the pathway or the morrows.
      He'll live his days where the sunbeams start
      Nor could storm or wind uproot him.
      My own dear love, he is all my heart —
      And I wish somebody'd shoot him.
  • Thomas Pynchon has a lot of fun with this in The Crying of Lot 49. "Otherwise he will, with great reluctance, hand his ass to him."
    • Pynchon does this all the time, really. It's part of his whole "mixing high culture with low culture" schtick.
  • The Quantum Gravity series: Glinda has been explaining the story of Zal's life previous to his coming to her realm, and her description included a major point, which was hearing a particular song on the radio. It "confirmed everything [he] hated about [his] own people." After a fair amount of persuasion, Zal manages to convince her to sing it.
    • Later, after showing Zal something that is described poetically and absolutely terrifying to the point that he is actively working to hide his fear.
      "You see? Way too busy."
  • This is the entirety of every Robert Rankin book ever written. His style consists of nothing but the juxtaposition of childish or coarse words with grand-sounding, Biblical phraseology.
  • Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London series uses this quite a bit, most notably when Peter contrasts how police might provide an update on a case at a formal meeting, versus how they'll sum it up at the pub:
    Thus, "We did a joint evaluation of video evidence encompassing all possible access points in conjunction with BTP and CLP, and despite widening the parameters of our assessment to include registered and nonregistered cameras in the high probability zones, we have as yet to achieve a positive identification of James Gallagher prior to his appearance at Baker Street" becomes "We've checked every CCTV camera in the system and it's as if the fucker beamed down from the Starship Enterprise."
  • In The Sacred Book of the Werewolf, the protagonist ghostwrites a letter to an English aristocrat from her extremely abrasive lover:
    Being extremely busy, I'm not sure that you can currently suck my dick. However, please feel encouraged to fantasize about such a development while sucking on a cucumber, a carrot, an eggplant or any other elongated roundish object you might find appropriate for that matter. With kind regards, Alexandre Fenrir-Gray.
  • Seveneves is full of this sort of thing:
    • A page and a half of the math involved in orbital mechanics will culminate in the declaration that if you don't have the right ratio of propellant to mass for however far you have to go, you're "completely screwed".
    • In another section, after the loss of the human genetic archive, the resident genealogist assures the head of the Ark project that there is enough biodiversity among the survivors to repopulate regardless, which he sums up as they'll be just fine "fucking each other" like normal.
  • In one of the Spellsinger books: "I'll have you know, me elephantine kitten, that my language is as fucking refined as anyone's!"
  • Spenser does this sometimes. The best, however, was done by his girlfriend at a crime scene with Detective Belson, after he swears in front of her.
    Belson: Pardon my language.
    Susan: I will not. It's fucking disgusting.
  • Spin: In Vortex, after Oscar insinuates to Treya that she's not worthy of Isaac's attention: "That was insulting, so I used an expression Oscar might not have encountered in his formal training: "Fuck you," I said".
  • One of the Expanded Universe Star Trek: The Next Generation books finds Dr. Pulaski being a dipshit to Data again, that ends with a crack about humans not being able to store the conversation away somewhere like he can. To the complete shock of Pulaski and an onlooking Wesley Crusher, Data responds:
    Data: I think, Doctor, you know where you can store it.
  • Star Wars Legends: The novelization of Revenge of the Sith seems to take a bit of glee in using Purple Prose around the phrase "Anakin's butt".
    Obi-Wan Kenobi opened his eyes to find himself staring at what he strongly suspected was Anakin's butt.
    It looked like Anakin's butt — well, his pants, anyway — though it was thoroughly impossible for Obi-Wan to be certain since he had never before had occasion to examine Anakin's butt upside-down, which it currently appeared to be, nor from this uncomfortably close range.
  • Abundant in The Subject Steve. "One could argue that fuckedness is a vague concept, indefinable, and thus a meaningless point of departure for any sort of cogent analysis." is one example.
  • Mark Twain accused James Fenimore Cooper of cluelessly falling into this trope. From "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses":
    "[The] rules governing literary art in romantic fiction... require that when a personage talks like an illustrated, gilt-edged, tree-calf, hand-tooled, seven- dollar Friendship's Offering at the beginning of a paragraph, he shall not talk like a negro minstrel at the end of it. But this rule is flung down and danced upon in the 'Deerslayer' tale."
  • In the near-future military thriller Victoria, protagonist John Rumford exemplifies a fairly unique type of this, since he is both The Philosopher who perpetually quotes various great (and not-so-great) Greek, French, German or Anglo-Saxon thinkers throughout the ages in their original languages, and a rough-and-ready, originally working-class infantry captain in the US Marine Corps with appropriate language and disdain for everyone who does not measure up to his standards.
  • David Foster Wallace established this as part of his novelistic voice. His fiction was so topically omnivorous and complex that he'd frequently mix constructions of ordinary speech, even including heavy usage of slang and colloquial "street" grammar with technical language and jargon of one type or another, in addition to his immense skill at crafting unique voices for all of his characters. Moreover, he would often deploy such eclectic usages as a testament to the way that language can hinder communication and blunt our understanding of one another, and in order to argue that even the very medium of our communication can render us all the more alone.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Ciaphas Cain's mighty reputation as a galaxy-bestriding warrior, a liberator of worlds and a Hero of the Imperium led to a cult worshipping him, whose holy text we see quoted as thus:
      Then the prophet spake: saying "Frak this, for my faith is a shield proof against your blandishments." -Alem Mahat, The Book of Cain, Chapter IV, Verse XXI
    • The Gaunt's Ghosts novel First and Only has this from Commissar Vay to Major Brochuss, who is about to have Vay, Gaunt, and Milo beaten to death in an abandoned area of the city they're in:
      "After due consultation with my colleagues I can now safely say, burn in hell you shit-eating dog."
      • More amusing is that Vay had seconds before said that Gaunt "was never a diplomat, and that insulting them is not going to help their mood." During their escape, Gaunt replies, "You're right, Vay, I never could've been that diplomatic."
  • From Will Grayson, Will Grayson: "As it sayeth in Leviticus: Dude shall not lie with dude."
  • In Wolf Hall, Thomas More switches to Latin to say "Luther is shit; his mouth is the anus of the world." Cromwell thinks that nobody else has ever used the language so profanely. (He's wrong, but they didn't know about things like Pompeii and its graffiti in Tudor England.)
  • After the Time Skip in Worm, Aisha seems to have acquired a fairly extensive knowledge of classical literature and a much larger vocabulary, but she remains as crude and tactless as ever.


Example of: