If there is an upside to downsizing, it is finding little treasures that you had long since forgotten you had. Thus, rummaging through a box of memories one day, I found a tiny book that had completely slipped my mind. (Not a hard thing to do nowadays!). Its has generated many laughs and much conversation.
Insults and Comebacks somehow made it into my box of cards from grandchildren and embroidered hankies from my grandmother. Don’s ask me why. I picked it up, gingerly opened the first page and didn’t stop laughing until I got to the end of the book. I normally do not like insults, and I really don’t like saying nasty things to people, but this was in the anonymity of my home and with no one personal in mind, so I figured it wasn’t hurting anyone.
In the book, the section Lacking in Skills had this gem. “Your mediocrity is unparalleled.” Now, as a writer, I took personal affront at that—until I realized that being unparalleled could be taken as a compliment. If you’re really desperate for compliments. And next, “You’re the only one who believes in your talent.” Not great, but at least SOMEONE believes in my talent!
“You’re one banana short of a fruit salad,” kind of appealed to me. (Get it, apPEALed? I know, I know, the spelling is off, but ….) Maybe I should take a second look at the one about believing in my talent. My husband, the pilot, liked “You’re a few feet short of the runway.” I heard him chuckling about that several times during the afternoon. It stuck with him
Of course, there are the insults. Now, to be perfectly frank, I am not into insulting people. I hate being insulted, and figure everyone hates it too. However, these are funny…”I’m sorry, I did’t mean to use so many syllables.” Or how about this one—“You really earned that BS degree didn’t you?” But there were also comebacks. “Lady Astor said to Winston Churchill, “If I were your wife, I would put poison in your coffee.” And he retorted, “And If I were your husband, I would drink it.” Wonderful wonderful.
When you are writing a book, putting in short pithy phrases that distinguish one character from another is fun and can help imprint that character on your reader’s mind. However, “You look like a million bucks, all green and wrinkled.” is NOT how I want my readers to remember the elderly woman in my book. It seems mean and, to my mind, cruel. If your character knits, and someone says “You’re two sheep short of a sweater” to her, you get an idea of how at least some people in the book view her. Even in jest, it seems hurtful. You’re the author and you get to control the tone of your book.
The upside to Insults and Comebacks is that it’s funny. The downside is that it can be hurtful and unsettling. You’re the writer, you get to choose.
“One of the defining characteristics of writers is that they write.” We sometimes to be in an era when hurling insults and caustic phrases is considered enlightened writing. It would seem to me that the world could do with a whole more kindness at this time in our history. What you write matters. Choose your words with care.