Perhaps the last stand of the ancient art of “flyting” took place in Overgate, Dundee, 149 years ago.
This poetic ritual, a structured, combative exchange of insults, was performed by three young women to the delight of a thrill-seeking crowd.
In the Middle Ages, flyting was a verbal battle between poets who threw the most atrocious personal slurs at each other. The winner was the one who gained the highest level of audience approval.
There is a belief that flyting was transported to the USA by Scots settlers and was the inspiration for rap music.
On a Monday afternoon in the summer of 1870, three female “jingoes” of the “lowest and most degraded class” let rip with their own flyte.
Two red heads emerged from a close near the head of Long Wynd and verbally assailed a brunette.
Their clacking tongues soon attracted a crowd which began to jeer and laugh at what a reporter from this newspaper described as “young termagants”.
However, the words and obscenities of their flyting were merely a prelude to more active hostilities.
“The three virages soon flew at each other like cats and before the onlookers could interfere, they were soon locked in a deadly embrace,” The Courier reported.
“Two of the ladies were dealing vengeance on the head of the third. Soon two red-haired madams had their claws firmly in the head covering of the dark-haired one.”
During their clash, the three shrieked, writhed and swore and were greatly encouraged by the Dundee public.
So many spectators gathered that Overgate became blocked and traffic was halted in a wider area.
As older women tried to tear the battlers apart, a policeman appeared and, after elbowing his way through the crowd, caught the three in a “manly embrace”.
Friends tried to release the women and some gripped one by the hair and skirts so strongly she was wrestled from the grasp of the officer. Another broke free and fled.
The officer was left with one woman and he thought the arrest would be easy. But as our report stated, he had caught a “tartar” as vicious as a vixen.
The prisoner fought like fury, howled and wriggled like an eel. In spite of her resistance, the officer dragged her down Overgate, along North Lindsay Street and locked her in the Central Police Office in Bell Street.