British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has found himself in the middle of another poltical scandal. A quick glance at twitter, newspapers, or even speeches in parliament will reveal countless insults aimed at Boris: a liar, disrespectful, an idiot. These insults are a little boring and repetitive. So I thought I’d make a guide for insulting Boris using some of his own unique vocabulary!

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A Scandalous Prime Minister

Boris Johnson is not having the best week. The Prime Minister of the UK, famous for his dishevelled appearance and numerous scandals, is caught up in the middle of a political storm. 

Johnson, of course, is used to controversy: he was fired from his first Job at the Times newspaper for making up quotes; he lied to the Spectator magazine about his intentions to become a politician when he was appointed editor there; he was fired from his first major political role for lying about an affair; he lied and made untrue claims while campaigning for Brexit. I guess it is fair to call him a liar. 

Johnson currently finds himself in the centre of another scandal due to his lies: this time over a party at 10 Downing Street (the home of the UK’s Prime Minister) on May 20th 2020. As the normal people of the UK were under strict lockdowns, being fined up to £10,000 for hosting parties, only allowed to meet one person at a time, and thousands unable to see their dying relatives due to pandemic regulations, the government were hosting parties and gatherings for more than 40 people.

Caricature of Boris Johnson,

Boris Johnson broke his own rules, misled the parliament of the UK, and now leads the country as a weak and increasingly unpopular figure. He was elected due to his reputation, the general dislike of the opposition politicians, and his promise to get Brexit done. Well… although he kept his promise about Brexit, his weakness as a leader has been clearly exposed.

I think you probably can tell I’m not a fan of Mr Johnson. To be honest, I never liked him: he is an elite and privileged man, with a reputation for being a liar and power hungry, but somehow tricked the country and world into thinking he is an awkward, bumbling, and harmless figure. I did have hopes that I was wrong when he was elected – but as of now I’m pretty sure my dislike was justified. 

There are a lot of things I want to say about, or call, Boris Johnson. There are so many different insults I could use to describe him. However, in honour of Boris, I think it would be interesting to teach you all a few insults that Boris himself has used or invented.

Johnson is well known for his eccentric and unique command of the English language. He regularly uses unfamiliar words in his speeches and writings – so let’s learn a few of these Borisisms. And then, let’s use these Borisisms against that man himself!

Eight Weird and Wonderful Insults Used by Boris Johnson


In 2004, as a writer for the Daily Telegraph, Johnson used the word boondoggle in an article on a UK-Italian conference in Venice. He wrote,

‘It is known to the politico-journalistic class as a junket, jolly, freebie or boondoggle; and which is classified, for the benefit of irritable taxpayers, as a conference.’

Daily Telegraph, March 11, 2004

What does boondoggle mean? It is a term originating in 1930s North America, and refers to a wasteful, unnecessary, or fraudulent project. In the article, he described the conference as a boondoggle – basically saying it was a worthless event. 

While Boris was mayor of London, he strongly supported and funded a project known as the garden bridge: a very expensive failed idea to build a new bridge across London’s river Thames covered in plants and flowers. I think we could describe this Boris project as a boondoggle. 

Gibbering rictus 

Boris Johnson is now known as a politician: first as an MP, then a Mayor, then Foreign Secretary, and now Prime Minister. He wasn’t always, though. In 2007, he wrote a book called Life in the The Fast Lane about cars. One famous quote from the book describes the experience and feeling of driving fast;

“You feel as if your buttocks have been suddenly clamped by the leather seat… My face was being pushed back into a gibbering rictus as the G-forces kicked in…’

Life in the Fast Lane, 2007
A gibbering rictus?? Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

A gibbering rictus? What does gibbering rictus mean? It’s not a term you’ll find in textbooks, dictionaries, or any normal conversation. Gibbering rictus is a noun phrase referring to a person who is “open-mouthed with fear.” You are so scared that your mouth is open!

Rictus either means the opening of a mouth, or a type of smile with an open mouth. Gibbering, as an adjective, refers to speaking rapidly or unintelligibly through shock or fear. So, gibbering rictus was used to mean he was so scared his mouth was stuck open!

I wonder if Johnson was a gibbering rictus when the country found out about his secret lockdown parties?


Hogwhimpering is another adjective from Johnson’s time as a writer for the Daily Telegraph. In an article on the British attitude to alcohol in 2005, he wrote

‘Deep down, because of some peculiarity in our psyche, we think it rather admirable to get bladdered, leathered, rat-arsed and otherwise hogwhimpering drunk.’ 

Daily Telegraph, August 11, 2005
Hogwhimpering drunk? Photo by Magda Ehlers on

Originally coming from American English, hogwhimpering is an adjective used to describe extreme drunkenness. It comes from the phrase, ‘enough alcohol to make a hog whimper.’ 

I’m sure some of the guests at the government parties found themselves hogwhimpering drunk, as the rest of us spent our evenings stuck on Zoom. 


In the same article where I found hogwhimpering, Johnson uses Maenad as an insult for a drunken woman. Referring to an incident where he was threatened in a pub in the north of England, he wrote

‘A woman was sitting opposite me in a state of some dishevelment. She was extremely good-looking and had a tattoo of a butterfly on her bosom, but she was pretty far gone. Not since Pentheus was ripped limb from limb by the Maenads have we seen such drink-fuelled aggression from the female sex.’ 

Daily Telegraph, August 11, 2005

Maenad? I had to brush up on my Ancient Greek history to understand this insult. Johnson used it as a noun meaning “a drunken woman.” The Maenads were the female followers of the Ancient Greek god of wine, Dionysus, and were infamous for their erratic and frenzied behaviour after drinking too much.

Boris and his wife hosted a “wine and cheese” event during the UK’s strictest lockdown: I wonder if any of the guests transformed into Maenads after indulging a little too much!

Swankpot journalists 

Famously, Johnson started life as a journalist: a role from which he was once fired.  In 2001, Johnson detailed why he became a politician in his book Friends, Voters, Countrymen:

‘The world ought not to be run by swankpot journalists, showing off and kicking politicians around…’ 

Friends, Voters, Countrymen, 2001

Swankpot is a British term, although rarely heard, that can be used to describe a swaggering or conceited person. It refers to ostentatious behaviour; in other words, people acting pretentiously in a way designed to impress other people. 

In Friends, Voters, Countrymen, Johnson claimed that “he [was] motivated 30 per cent by public service, 40 per cent by ‘sheer egomania’ and 30 per cent [by] disapproval of swankpot journalists.’

I think it is now clear this was not a joke: he cares little about public service and I wish he remained a swankpot journalist himself. 

Mugwump and Mutton-headed

In 2017, as then Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was enjoying a swell in grassroots support, Johnson claimed Corbyn was a threat to national security in an article found in the The Sun newspaper. He also insulted Corbyn using the now famous phrase, 

“A mutton-headed old mugwump

The Sun, May 4, 2017

If you are a fan of Harry Potter or Roald Dahl, mugwump may be familiar to you. Albus Dumbledore, the headteacher of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter series has the title “supreme mugwump,while the phrase “my dear old muddle-headed mugwump” is found in Dahl’s Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator.

The term mugwump originates from Algonquian Native American for ‘great chief.’ However, in English it has come to mean a person who remains independent and is aloof – especially used to describe a politician who doesn’t join a political party.  

Mutton-headed is simpler, and is slang for foolish or stupid. Although I wouldn’t use the term mugwump, I would certainly call Mr Johnson a mutton-headed liar – you’d have to be mutton-headed to invite a hundred people to a party in the middle of a national lockdown.

Puffed-up popinjay 

This next insult was found on Twitter – surprising the first tweet on today’s list! In an attack on London mayor Sadiq Khan, who had been vocal in his criticism of Donald Trump, Johnson tweeted

‘We will not allow U.S.–UK relations to be endangered by some puffed-up pompous popinjay in City Hall. 

Twitter, January 12, 2018
Popinjay is an archaic term for parrot. Photo by Pixabay on

A puffed-up popinjay… puffed-up  is an adjective for a vain person. If you describe someone as puffed-up, you are expressing disapproval as that person is too proud of themselves and they think that they are overly important. A popinjay is an archaic (old) term for a parrot.

Only a puffed-up popinjay would be arrogant enough to break his own lockdown rules for a party, while millions of Britons were stuck inside and following his advice…   

Final Thought

Hopefully this episode has provided you with a few creative insults and demonstrated the breadth of the English language. Boris Johnson employed archaic, old, rare, and unique language that he gathers from other languages, classic literature, or even invents himself. Perhaps you can use a few of these terms to insult Mr Johnson in his own words!

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By Tom Wilkinson

Host and founder of Thinking in English, Tom is committed to providing quality and interesting content to all English learners. Previously a research student at a top Japanese university and with a background in English teaching, political research, and Asian languages, Tom is now working fulltime on bettering Thinking in English!

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