A Quick Observation on Insults

Posted Mar 21 2018, 7:00 am

When a topic keeps coming up over and over again in the same week, and when different friends comment on it in similar ways, I take notice. This past week the topic was backhanded compliments or insults passed off as humor. Then, in the same week, I see this Instagram post from @overheardnewyork which is hysterical in its honesty.

Gotta love New York. Sometimes I want more of this.

Of course, that means we need the skin for it. Down here in the South that may be tall order. Although my teenagers are certainly helping to thicken my skin when they mumble phrases like “Are you really going to wear that?” and “This tastes disgusting” and, my favorite, “You’re not funny.” They haven’t learned the fine art of hiding insults in humor or disguising an insult as a compliment. That takes years of practice, preferably below the Mason Dixon line where we can wrap an insult up so pretty and perfect you say thank you after we deliver it to you. 

Let me give you a few examples of what I’m talking about:

  • Burying the insult beneath a mask of concern: “Must be so hard not being able to parent your child.” Said to a full-time working mother I know.
  • The backhanded compliment insult: “Oh my God. You’re pretty now.” Said to me by a woman 3 seconds after I walked into my 20-year high school reunion.
  • The surprised compliment insult: “Wow! Look at you!” Followed by “I didn’t recognize you.” Said at any formal function where one is required to wear a dress and mascara.
  • The passive-aggressive “I’m just kidding” insult: Said on an hourly basis following phrases like, “You really annoy me” or “I wish you were dead.”

My tolerance for this last one is wavering on non-existant. “Just kidding” needs to pack its bags and move to Antartica, taking along with it “I’ll try” and “To be honest with you.” 

In King Lear, Shakespeare wrote, “In jest, there is truth.” Rock on Bard. Even he understood, unlike the word but, just kidding does not negate everything said before it.

The flip side of this coin, though, is sarcasm. I’ll take that and dish it out in bucket loads. Sarcasm is my favorite second language. It erases the need for just kidding. I love my groups of friends who wield sarcasm like Hanzo steel. We laugh…a lot. Mostly at ourselves. And we don’t have to say just kidding. 

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we all need to go around hitting people between the eyes with insults. No, no, no. I’m saying there has to be room in the middle for another option, like maybe the old adage…if you don’t have anything nice to say…

Are sneaky, little insults creeping into your world? Do you find yourself saying thank you to someone only to realize later they insulted you? 

I’d love to hear about your favorite insults. 

Just kidding.




4 responses to “A Quick Observation on Insults”

  1. Yaaaassssss. I am the queen of sarcasm! But I’m right there with you; I HATE the passive aggressive, petty jabs. Either be genuinely kind, be sarcastic, or flat out insult me. I can’t STAND the back-handed compliments. Oh, and your girls crack me up. 😂

  2. Barbara McGowan says:

    Bear in mind this happened 65 years ago and I still remember it: 🤔
    I had just been elected cheerleader in 9th grade and was getting lots of compliments, one of which was how pretty my legs were. A girl I barely knew spoke up amid the crowd and said “she does have pretty legs… Too bad they are bowed”
    I’ve forgotten the nice remarks.🙄

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *