The Iceman Speaketh, Part Two: Insults

The Iceman Speaketh, Part Two: Insults

Posted by: Neena Arndt at 05/04/2012 09:51 AM

By Neena Arndt, dramaturg for The Iceman Cometh

If you want a poetically snarky insult, then William Shakespeare is probably your man (“you starveling, you elf-skin,”  “thou hast the most unsavoury similes,” etc.). But if you want a down-and-dirty dig without the floweriness of the bard, then Eugene O’Neill delivers. Keep reading for some of the terms that characters use in The Iceman Cometh when they’re being less than kind—and less than politically correct, by 2012 standards. And for part one of our Iceman Speaketh series (drinking terms) go here.

Harry Hope (Stephen Ouimette) lets the gang have it at his birthday party.



The word “boob” had been used as a slang term for “stupid person” since the seventeenth century. In 1912, its other meaning, “breast,” did not exist yet.

Using “broad” as a slang term for “woman” dates back only to 1911. It may be referring to a woman’s “broad” hips, or perhaps  from the term “abroadwife,” which meant a woman away from her husband, often a slave. From its beginnings, the term was associated with lower-class or immoral women.

Can be used as an adjective meaning crazy (“he’s bughouse!”), or to a hospital for the insane (“He belongs in the bughouse!”). Combination of “bug” (in the sense of “obsessive person”) and “house.” It dates from the late nineteenth century.

A “bunco” is a swindling game or scheme; a “bunco steerer” is the person who runs the game or scheme. Dates from the late nineteenth century.

An ethnic slur for an Italian or person of Italian descent. However, it originally was a slur for “Spanish,” and derives from the name “Diego.” By 1900, its meaning had shifted to refer to Italians.

A derogatory term for a black person, derived from “dingy” meaning dark, dirty or sordid.

A common misspelling of “guinea,” an offensive ethnic slur directed against Italians or those of Italian descent.

This term is used by the Italian-American bartender, Rocky, to refer to Margie and Pearl, the two tarts. It is perhaps the English equivalent of “troia,” which technically means “female pig” but is used in certain regions of Italy as derogatory term for a loose woman or whore. 

A racial slur for people from Italy that originated between 1910 and 1915 in the United States. Its origin in Italian dialect is guappo, meaning a swaggerer, derived from the Spanish term guapo, meaning ruffian or pimp.


  • Posted by: Evelyn Torchia at 05/07/2012 08:28 PM
    My friends and I were puzzled by the term "bucket house" used in the play. Thanks for glossary above.
  • Posted by: Karen Petrelli at 05/11/2012 06:22 AM
    Being of Italian descent, I thought WOP meant "Without Papers." Reference was in a Pete Hamil book and I believe the title of the book was "A Drinking Life."
  • Posted by: Neena Arndt at 05/14/2012 05:13 PM

    Karen, that’s interesting. My source is the Online Etymology Dictionary, and I’ve found the “guapo” etymology referenced in a few other places as well. I did a bit of digging, and found that “without papers” seems to be what’s known as a “backronym”—that is, someone coined the phrase to fit the letters of the word, rather than the other way around!!
    Dramaturg for The Iceman Cometh

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