Southern Charm

A friend sent me a video compilation of the 100 best movie insults. I enjoyed watching all of them but they all fell flat when compared to a few I have had the pleasure to hear personally. There are several types of insults, both intended and unintended. An insult can be delivered in anger, disguised in humor, masked as love and caring, or just thrown out like a fast ball. The preferred delivery is as personal as your fingerprints, formed from observing insulting in action or from being a target of masterful insults. All of these delivery methods have advantages and must be considered when seeking the maximum impact.

My mom, Doty, preferred what I call the left handed compliment. This is an insult delivered as a compliment. In the vein of the classic “You don’t sweat much for a fat girl,” she once told my daughter “you look so good I did not recognize you.” She told me it was hard to believe that I had been such an ugly baby. Always claiming to be well intentioned her insults were deftly delivered via the stealthy left hand.

My husband and I were recently targets of a left handed compliment by a drunken stranger. We were sitting in our seats after a concert in the park, each checking email, just waiting for the crowd to thin out. Some cute 20 something’s passed us and one of them stopped, clearly startled and looked at us as if we were an adorable video of a pet or baby performing a task one would assume to be well beyond the intellectual or tactile skill of said pet/baby. “Aren’t y’all just precious!” she cried. Turning to her embarrassed companions she insisted that they “just look at them!” Yes, we were insulted but having once been young and on occasion, known to drink a wee bit too much, we were also amused. And we also assumed that we possibly could have been as precious as any baby/pet video.

I have to mention the left hander delivered by a neighbor at my daughter’s wedding. She came by at the reception to tell me that it was nice to see that events could still be carried out on a shoe string budget.

A classic left handed insult leaves the recipient slightly bemused and pondering the thought process that went into the development. It also leaves the recipient with some slight shred of hope that was innocently hurtful.

My son in law, Jerry, is a frequent user of the fastball. The fast ball insult should be both concise and covert. My favorite is one he delivered while we were running together. Jerry and I ran several marathons together and we entertained each other as a means of distraction from the looming miles ahead. Anyone who has ever run a race of any distance knows that there are only a few comments from the crowd, those being “way to go” “not much further” and “looking good!” To this last one, uttered by an innocent bystander, Jerry responded “You must be easy to date.” A great insult delivered via the fast ball method. Jerry is an expert level insulter by any measure and by most conventional methods.

Delivering a fast ball was also aced by my Dad, Bill. His most famous was aimed at a Seventh Day Adventist who disturbed his Saturday. Answering the door, sizing them up, he winds up and pitches “We don’t go for any off beat religion here.” Door closes, runner is out, without ever even seeing that fast ball coming.

When I first started dating my husband one of his female friends came looking for me to tell me how wonderful she thought our relationship was. After a few minutes of syrupy sweet comments she added that she was just surprised since he had never dated a woman as big as me before.

The fast ball leaves the target stunned, usually speechless, thus avoiding an immediate comeback or angry reaction. I think this is best used when mobility is not an issue or you have a door between you and the target.

A classic anger insult by my sister should be in the hall of fame. Like me, she was on the receiving end of Doty’s left handers. This left us less likely to insult randomly. Her classic anger delivery came one night when she was bartending. A customer had pushed her to her limit and she responded by calling them a “thousand island eating, chardonnay drinking, trailer dwelling, sack of shit” Surely a virtuoso performance.

The anger insult is messy. It leaves the floor open for angry responses, bitch slaps, or tears.

My husband, Arnold, was recipient of an angry insult that still makes us laugh. He answered the phone at his office and the caller identified themselves by name and company. The name was loud and clear but he had to ask the caller to repeat the company name. Again, he just could not get it and asked again for a repeat. Same outcome. On the third request the caller slowed his speaking and assumed an accent that was a cross between Gomer Pyle and Paula Dean and said slowly FUUURST NAAAATIONAL BAAANK. What we continue to laugh about is that it was then crystal clear to Arnold.

I am uncertain of the category for the following insult that was delivered by Arnold’s college roommate. He awoke after one of those blurry nights that are common in college and as his memory became clearer he realized that he had asked a girl for a date. He eventually was horrified when he remembered who it was. He then proceeded to call and tell her he had been really drunk and did not really mean to ask her out.

I am guilty of insulting when angry, which usually leads to just plain old ugly name calling. There was one, just one that lives on in family lore. My daughter’s elementary school principal was a long winded, arrogant little despot. In closing a meeting in which he refused to hear any comments, I rose and called him a fat butted, sanctimonious, little piss pot. I am not sure where this came from. I had not spent any time planning or rehearsing so I like to think that it was sent by a higher power.

For surely there is a God of Snappy Put Downs. She appears a few perfect times in life to plant those perfect responses to rude movie patrons, drunken louts, Publix aisle hogs, bullies, intimidators, and that condescending family member. She puts those soon to be infamous words on our tongues and then puts the force of a fast ball behind them to propel them out. Never to be reclaimed, sometimes regretted, but most often, justly delivered. She is elusive, which makes her all the more appreciated. Perhaps she is busy much of time eating thousand island dressing and drinking chardonnay.

Nancy Melton

Nancy Melton

Nancy Melton has recently added "writer" to her biography. She works in the health insurance industry which has somehow become public enemy number one these days. She is proudest of her role as a wife, mother and grandmother (although writer comes dang close) and wishes she could still claim to be someone's daughter.

  1. I want to join your family! -PMK

  2. Eileen Dight

    I started smiling, then grinning, and finally rocking with laughter at your anecdotes. I’m reminded of a put down that was entirely innocent, nonetheless slighting. I was once ready to go to a party with a woman friend and our two husbands and had done my darnedest to look smart. She said, “Oh, you look so attractive…..for a mother of five.” More please, Nancy.

    1. Nancy Melton

      Ahhh a left hander! Love it. Thanks so much Elieen!

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