Hubert: I had dinner over the holidays with my family and my brother-in-law kept making fun of me, and it was really getting on my nerves. He can be such a jerk. The worst part about it was that I didn’t know how to respond to him. Can you help me find some good comebacks so I’ll be prepared the next time I see him?
The Librarian: Rather than resorting to insults, it might be better to try first for a peaceful resolution to this problem. UNB Libraries has a lot of books that might help with this, including The Dynamics of Conflict Resolution: A Practitioner’s Guide (published in 2000), The Handbook of Conflict Resolution: Theory and Practice (2000), and even the Encyclopedia of Conflict Resolution (2008). The library also subscribes to The Journal of Conflict Resolution and to a number of other journals with relevant articles. Of course, if your brother-in-law is a really big jerk then you might want to purchase a copy of Don’t Let Jerks Get The Best Of You, 3rd edition (1995) by Dr. Paul Meier, and maybe even a copy of Dealing With People You Can’t Stand (2002) by Dr. Rick Brinkman and Dr. Rick Kirschner.
If these sources and this approach aren’t working for you, then you might want to sign out the Hans W. Klohn Commons’s copy of The Book of Insults, Ancient & Modern: An Amiable History of Insult, Invective, Imprecation & Incivility (Literary, Political & Historical) Hurled Through The Ages & Compiled as a Public Service by Nancy McPhee (1978). You’ll find many clever comebacks and put-downs in this book. You should pay particular attention to the insults by Winston Churchill, Mark Twain, Dorothy Parker, Oscar Wilde, and George Bernard Shaw. These people really knew who to deliver insults with class.
You might also want to read the article “Strategies of Verbal Dueling: How College Students Win a Verbal Battle,” by David C. Schwebel, which was published in the Journal of Language and Social Psychology in 1997 (vol. 16, pp. 326-343). Among the points Schwebel makes is that it is the people who witness the duel who will determine who wins and who loses: “When losing, a dueler is ridiculed and laughed at by peers; the winning dueler, on the contrary, is rewarded by laughter in response to his or her comments. Most of the laughter and ridicule come from peers who serve as an audience” (328). It’s important therefore for you to get your other family members on your side with clever comebacks they will enjoy and that don’t make anyone feel uncomfortable.
I wish you luck, Hubert. I’ll leave you with one of my favourite insults, which you may want to use. It was delivered by Oscar Wilde, who said: “Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go.” And with that, I’d better go.