In a surge of get-up-and-go from which I normally don't suffer on holidays, I trundled out to Columbia on Labor Day to the fifth annual Maryland Renaissance Festival.

If you like theme-y outdoor fairs, this is the place to try on any of the next four weekends. The costumes are as ornate as Anne Boleyn's. The jousting and music are near as authentic as they were in the 16th Century. Even the food is mostly from the period: you'll find as much cider and grog as you will Coke.

But to me, the outstanding thematic feature of the festival is the wandering troupe of renaissance insulters. Timid they aren't.

All around the grounds, troubadors will walk up and toss taunts at teen-agers they've never seen before. Court jesters will tease grandmothers about how fetching they look. Fishmongers will rush up and plant kisses on unsuspecting suburban househusbands.

It's all in fun, of course. But the ribaldry of the insults can be disarming, as I discovered the hard way.

As I was passing the jousting grounds, a winsome wench dressed like a queen marched up to me. Without so much as a glance at my wedding ring, she cried: "Ha, milord, and would you be wanting some passion this glorious day?" For one of the few times in my life, I was speechless.

But only temporarily. I struck back with a reporter's habits. From one of the musicians taking part in the festival, I wheedled a copy of the official instructions to festival participants.

On page four was what I was looking for: a collection of Official Renaissance Epithets. The next time your little sister won't turn down the record player, try one of these:

"Thou rotten apple! Thou frantic fiend! Thou great noodle! Thou beetle-headed, flap-eared, muddy knave!"

"If thy sword be as sharp as thy wit, thy adversaries have cause to rejoice!"

"Thou hast the wit of a flea -- and the courage!"

And at the bottom of the page, the come-back line I wish I'd possessed when the wench approached:

"How thy tongue dost twang!"