Professional Reader

Finally my review is here for A Slap in the face by William B. Irvine…

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and the strange thing is it didn’t teach me anything new about insults.  Being English I have sarcasm down pat and insulting each other at dinner parties and thinking we are holding the group to ransom with our witty repartee is second nature.  More often than not though we just come across as sarcastic, dry and sometimes a little cutting and sneering.  We don’t mean to be though, we are just trying in our own way to be funny and look cool at parties.

A Slap In The Face talks through many different types of insults.  Starting from before we acquired language, where we presumably behaved like our ape cousins by posturing and shouting to gain social dominance in the group;  Through to Elizabethan insults (fancy being called a gorbellied elf-skinned lewdster?) and those which the master of the insult delivered so perfectly, the infamous Oscar Wilde.  There are many types of insults that we give and receive almost every day.  The public ones, the anonymous ones, ones veiled in a joke and ones which can destroy whole careers and also make a few too.  I have experienced most of these and would imagine most of us have at some time or another. The bully at school, the rude shop assistant shouting loudly, an anonymous note left on your desk, a mate taking the mickey out of your new haircut.   I found it pretty interesting to re-live some of those feelings (which were at times uncomfortable to remember) and think about how I reacted being on the receiving end of them which for me I seem to remember was an over-reaction most of the time!

One of my favourite insults is this smart one delivered by Theodore Roosevelt.

“On encountering Theodore Roosevelt in London, Kaiser Wilhelm II invited him to come for a visit the next day: “Be there at two o’clock sharp for I can only give you forty five minutes.”  This was of course an insult by implication being that Kaiser had better things to do with his time than to visit Roosevelt.  Roosevelt’s reply: “I will be there at two o’clock sharp, but unfortunately I have just twenty minutes to give you”.

I loved the examples given of famous, witty and not so witty insults from the likes of Oscar Wilde, Muhammed Ali and David Niven among others. The book itself is easy to read and smartly written.  We know that we put someone down in a group to elevate our own self esteem or to get revenge on a past put down, but the book isn’t patronising in anyway and more than a book which brings you any kind of discovery or new learning about insults its more a book of observations and cracking examples.  A few of them I have locked in the memory bank to use in the future should the need arise!

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