Cheaper than a cup of coffee and more entertaining than anything on daytime TV, insulting people is one of life's greatest pleasures. Insulting others helps you let off steam, gain the upper hand in fraught social situations, and, perhaps most importantly, let rude strangers at the mall know that they look and smell like they are wearing an extremely full adult diaper.
But a carefully crafted insult — the kind forged not in the heat of momentary rage, but in the cool of dispassionate intellectual hate — is a whole other beast. A carefully honed insult will do far more for you than just help let off steam. As Guy Trilby, the hero of Jason Bateman's new comedy, Bad Words (in select theaters March 14, everywhere March 21), shows us, expertly crafted insults can help you go straight to the top.
But you can't get there by just lobbing around a bunch of random swear words about someone's mother. You get there with a strategy, by treating the situation as you would a game of chess (or, if you do not play chess, an extremely brutal game of Candy Land). Read our expert tips and learn how to craft an insult that will land your victim in therapy for years to come, without ever sinking to their level.
Know Your Enemy
Of course, the better you know your victim, the more easily you can scour his emotional buffet and select a perfect weak point to focus your insult on. However, even a casual encounter with someone can yield significant details, so remain alert at all times — people constantly telegraph information about their fears, hang-ups, and beliefs. You need only pay close enough attention to catch them. Look at you victim's face, his shoes, his car, and ask yourself what weaknesses can you feel projected through those beady, shifty eyes? Does he even faintly resemble the villain from a popular series of action-adventure films from the 80s? Feel your truth in your gut, and go with it. You'll almost definitely be right.
Example: "Hey, Biff Tannen, it was the DeLorean that went back in time, not this over-priced German-engineered replacement for a sexual organ that you are currently driving. Please stop trying to travel to a time before I had this parking space, because it is not going to happen."
It's a Family Affair
Insults are fun for the whole family! No, wait, what I meant is that it's fun for you to insult a whole family. There's a certain glorious feeling when laying into a group of people connected by blood — calling out their faults as a unit — that creates a high that you just can't buy (this also applies to group-insulting fraternities and sororities, charitable and religious organizations, morning jogging groups, and the Girl Scouts of the United States of America). Make sure to only insult families as a whole — singling out different members one-by-one will give the survivors time to think and develop their own comebacks (or possibly assault you with a Slurpee). Insulting them all at once not only keeps them all focused on you; it prevents any members of the group from coordinating a counter-attack with each other.
Example: "I applaud your bravery. When your son was born, and the doctors told you that he was an asshole, and there was nothing you could ever do about it, it must have been scary — especially because you knew there would never be a cure for assholery in your lifetime. But you stuck it out, and that's so courageous. You're really inspiring — especially because assholery is hereditary, so you must be struggling with it yourself, as well. However, this movie screening is not asshole-accessible, so maybe you guys could stop talking through the whole thing?"
If you're dealing with an opponent who seems extra clever, a good tactic to mix in is "The Opposite." The Opposite is exactly what it sounds like — accusing someone of something so out-of-character, so contrary to all of their publicly visible qualities, that not only does it give you the power to briefly stun your opponent, but will force onlookers to wonder if your insult has any truth to it — after all, who could just make up something that deranged?
Example: "Listen, buddy, I'm sorry that your mom was too busy writing sexually explicit letters to imprisoned serial killers while you were growing up to teach you any manners. Yes, she told me that she did that. Yes, I'm sorry you had to find out this way. But perhaps you and Jane Wayne Gacy over there could start learning some manners now, by going to the back of the Splash Mountain line instead of trying to cut. While you wait, you two can reminisce about the time she had a conjugal visit with Charles Manson, okay?"
And there you have it, all of the essential elements to destroy your opponents and eviscerate your enemies. For a relentless barrage of insults (that you can totally use for inspiration, watch Bad Words, in theaters now.
Gabrielle Moss has written mostly funny stuff (but also some serious stuff) for GQ.com, The Hairpin, Nerve, etc. You can follow her here.