It should gladden our hearts and behope us all that blackguards can put aside their differences long enough to identify their shared blackguardry. When, for instance, in May of this year, George Galloway described Christopher Hitchens as “a drink-soaked former Trotskyist popinjay”, he spoke with unwonted verity; and when Hitchens retorted with, “You're a real thug, aren't you?”, the words rang forsooth. (Quoted in “Galloway and the Mother of all Invective”, The Guardian, 18th May 2005.)
.....On Wednesday night the two great self-regarding buffoons met again to swap insults in front of an audience at Mason Hall in New York. In an article written on the eve of battle, Mr Hitchens began to skirmish:
He says that I am an ex-Trotskyist (true), a “popinjay” (true enough, since its original Webster's definition means a target for arrows and shots), and that I cannot hold a drink (here I must protest). In a recent interview he made opprobrious remarks about the state of my midriff, which I will confess has—as P.G. Wodehouse himself once phrased it—“slipped down to the mezzanine floor.” In reply I do not wish to stoop. Those of us who revere the vagina are committed to defend it against the very idea that it is a mouth or has teeth. Study the photographs of Galloway from Syrian state television, however, and you will see how unwise and incautious it is for such a hideous person to resort to personal remarks. Unkind nature, which could have made a perfectly good butt out of his face, has spoiled the whole effect by taking an asshole and studding it with ill-brushed fangs.(Christopher Hitchens, “George Galloway is Gruesome, not Gorgeous”, Slate, 13th September 2005.)
The opportunity of providing a solution to the meaning of the cryptic – and some might say disturbing – reference to vaginas, I shall forgo; and I shall pass straight onto noting how in the space of one paragraph, Mr Hitchens goes from an aloofness from stooping to insults, to stooping to insults in a most entertainingly stooping way. As for Mr Hitchen’s reply to Mr Galloway’s earlier insult, I must point out that the ex-Trotskyist can still get dewy-eyed about old Leon, whom he recently described as a “prophetic moralist” about whom a “saintly penumbra still emanates”. (Christopher Hitchens, “The Old Man”, The Atlantic Monthly, July/August 2004.) I find it a little odd, however, that he should feel it desirable to concur that the word “popinjay” does indeed apply to him, though only in Webster’s etymology (“so called from the popinjay or figure of a bird shot at for practice”) and not in Webster’s primary definition (“a vain and talkative fellow”); but then perhaps he is so vain and talkative that he cannot resist stating that the word does in some way apply to him. With the accusation of being “drink-soaked”, he makes no contention, unless a feeble miscontrual counts.
.....Come Wednesday night, when battle commenced, Mr Hitchens was still rankled by the May-time insult, and fell foul of a misplaced modifier: “I believe it is a disgrace that a member of the British House of Commons should . . . insult all those who try to ask him questions with the most vile and cheap guttersnipe abuse”. (Quoted in David Usbourne, “Hitchens vs Galloway: The Big Debate” The Independent, 16th September 2005.)
.....Mr Galloway for his part was as willing as ever to trade insults, telling Mr Hitchens that he had “fallen out of the gutter and into the sewer”. (ibid.) And on Hitchens’ change from Trotskyite peacenik to Trotskyitish war-supporter, he averred that, “What you have witnessed is something unique in natural history - the first ever metamorphosis of a butterfly back into a slug”. (Quoted in James Bone, “Galloway and Hitchens get down and very dirty”, The Times, 15th September 2005.)
.....By all accounts, it was a night of splendid entertainment; but if you had expected more in the way of enlightenment, then I ought to tell you that you should not have placed your trust in a puffed-up popinjay or in a thug with a face like an arse.