What Does Invective Mean? Definition, Examples of Invective

Invective definition: The term invective refers to the use of words in writing or speaking in a manner that is insulting.

What is Invective?

When writers use words in an insulting manner this is referred to as invective. The insults can be towards people or ideas or even an organization.

Invective Example

Even though it may sound silly, the use of “your mama” jokes is an example of invective.

These jokes are formed in order to insult the person with such sayings as:

  • Your mama is so fat when she stepped on the scale it said, “I need your weight not your phone number.”

Modern Examples of Invective

In the movie Sandlot, the kids exchange a dialogue of invective when fighting over the baseball diamond. Here is a snapshot of the exchange between the boys:

Porter: Watch, it jerk!

Phillips: Shut up, idiot!

Porter: Moron!

Phillips: Scab eater!

Porter: Butt sniffer!

Phillips: Pus licker!

Porter: Fart smeller!

Phillips: You eat dog crap for breakfast, geek!

Porter: You mix your Wheaties with your mama’s toe jam!

In the movie Mean Girls, the use of invectives is also prevalent. A misfit, Janice, makes many insulting comments regarding the popular girl in school, Regina George because of being mistreated by her in the past. She describes her to the new girl at school Cady, “evil takes a human form in Regina George. Don’t be fooled because she may seem like your typical selfish, back-stabbing slut faced ho-bag, but in reality, she’s so much more than that.”

The Function of Invective in Literature

The invective is an important rhetorical device used in literature because it allows for the speaker or writer to show a deep passion regarding the object of his disgust. While strong word choice allows for readers to see the degree in which the person is repulsed, it is rarely used to persuade readers to feel the same way as the speaker because such harshness is usually shocking more so than convincing.

Examples of Invective in Literature

William Shakespeare is well known for his use and creation of insulting language. In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Mercutio is angered by Romeo’s refusal to accept Tybalt’s challenge to a duel. He decides to take the matter into his own hands and replies with “Tybalt, you rat-catcher, will you walk”. This insulting phrase catches Tybalt’s attention and the two begin to duel leaving Mercutio dead in the streets of Verona.

In an unusual piece, “The Philosophy of Furniture”, by Edgar Allan Poe he employs the use of invectives.

  • “In the internal decoration, if not in the external architecture of their residences, the English are supreme. The Italians have but little sentiment beyond marbles and colors…Chinese and most of the Eastern races have a warm but inappropriate fancy. The Scotch are poor decorists. The Dutch have, perhaps, an indeterminate idea that a curtain is not a cabbage. In Spain they are all curtains—a nation of hangmen. The Russians do not furnish. The Hottentots and Kickapoos are very well in their way. The Yankees alone are preposterous.”

Summary: What Does Invective Mean?

Define invective in literature: In summation, invective is defined as the use of language in order to insult people, ideas, or institutions.

Final Example:

In the movie The Princess Bride, Westley speaks using an invective toward Prince Humperdinck. He replies with, “I’ll explain and I’ll use small words so that you’ll be sure to understand, you warthog faced buffon.”