Argument Clinic: A Theory of Verbal Abuse


Verbal abuse and written abuse are important social tools. If you’re going to use them (or defend against them) you may as well do a good job and be properly equipped. In this series, I am going to offer some of my opinions about strategy regarding verbal abuse. To be clear: this is not a canonical treatment; I welcome your feedback – especially if it’s well-aimed and cruel.

Is this the right room for an argument?

Is this the right room for an argument?

I hope to expand this into a full series including a variety of techniques as subtle as eye-gouging and groin-kicking are in a street-fight. This section is groundwork and throat-clearing, so it’s going to be delivered more in the tone of a short lecture than as strategic or tactical maxims. As Anne Elk said, “This is a theory, which is mine. And this is it.”

We start with the 5 minute argument.

How Verbal Abuse Works

Verbal abuse gets its power from invidious comparison. The attacker compares the defender to something nasty and thereby hurts the defender’s feelings or damages the defender in the eyes of others. For example:
“Donald Trump looks like an angry cheeto”*
We immediately form a mental picture of a popular cheese-food snack product, and a less popular politician, and realize that there is a sort of surface resemblance. Then we realize that we prefer cheetos to Trump, and the insult has been neatly delivered. Look for a “Cease and Desist” from Frito-Lay Corporation, Scalzi.

That example shows one sort of insult: an invidious comparison wrapped in humor. The way this works is the humor, sparked by the pleasure of recognizing the play on images, is more memorable. We humans also appear to be primed, somewhat, to appreciate creativity, so there’s a sort of Franklin Effect** going on – we appreciate a funny insult more and consequently interpret it as less nakedly aggressive. It’s why passive/aggresive abuse tends to be snarky or funny: if we do it cleverly enough we can call someone something nasty and have them laugh at us laughing at them.

Let’s look at a more simple insult: “Donald Trump looks like a leaky colostomy bag.” That’s not particularly funny; what gets the work done is the visual image we have of a leaky bag of shit, and we make the mental connection between the two: insult delivered.

Perspectives

Now, let’s adopt the attacker’s viewpoint: to do maximum damage, you want your insult to be memorable, which is going to tend to mean it comes with a strong visual or auditory memory, or is funny, or otherwise triggers memory cascades in the audience. “Yon Trump has a lean and hungry look.” for example, is going to work particularly effectively with a limited listenership. That’s one reason, by the way, that Trump’s insults are so effective: they are broadly accessible and don’t depend on the listener having much of an education. Calling someone “Little Marco” literally belittles him without requiring any expensive computation on the part of the listener.

Your challenge, as the attacker, is to make your invidious comparison as clean and comprehensible as possible – short and deadly, to the point, and (ideally) funny with an element of truth. Calling Trump an “Angry cheeto” is a great example of a perfect put-down: it’s short, it relies on common experience, it’s funny, it’s got a good rythm, and the connection between Trump’s general orangeness and the cheeto is so perfect it sort of carries the “anger” right in along with it, where it nestles in your mind as if it were a given fact.

From the attacker’s perspective, calling someone “asshole” is so weak and lazy it’s hardly worth expending 7 characters to do it. There’s a certain power in the underlying invidious comparison, but it’s so over-used that it doesn’t call up much of a mental picture, and it completely lacks any humor potential. The same can be said of most of the short-letter insults.

From the target’s perspective, we have a different problem: when someone throws an insult at us, we’re going to be damaged to the degree that the comparison is true, and secondly by the degree to which it is memorable. Keeping “memorableness” in context, you should not do anything to make people think more about the insult than they already do. Consider the “Trump has small hands” insult – that one took advantage of the Franklin Effect by making the listener participate and gain pleasure from decoding it. Trump also made it much more effective by promoting the insult, himself – he could have let it drop but by making a big deal out of it, he ensured that everyone will remember it long after Trump has (we hope) vanished from the public sphere.

How To Deal With Insults

Some of you may find it impossible to deal effectively with insults, whereas others may be incapable of letting them lie without responding. If you find yourself feeling emotionally damaged by an insult, here’s a way of dissecting it: the invidious comparison is either true or it’s not. If it’s not true, then you can take comfort in the fact that it’s a lie and dismiss it as such. If it is true, then it’s not an invidious comparison, it’s an uncomfortable truth – and the attacker is simply showing how mean they are. When someone is dealing uncomfortable truths then those break down either into uncomfortable truths that cause splash damage (because the invidious comparison is to a group) or uncomfortable truths that may not be a matter of the targets choice. For example, calling Donald Trump a “balding egomaniac” is dealing with uncomfortable truths, but the target can dismiss it by acknowledging that, yes, he’s losing his hair (and you’re being mean for pointing that out) and yes, he’s an egomaniac (and you’re being mean because being an egomaniac is not a lifestyle choice).

“Splash damage” is when the attacker’s invidious comparison demonizes or insults a much larger group than the target. Most attacks based on body-shaming, race, appearance, name, and style of dress or speech are going to cause splash damage. Splash damage insults are weak because they’re easy to counter-attack against as a moral issue: imagine someone said Donald Trump was “retarded” – they have just insulted a lot of people by likening them to Donald Trump, people who had no choice about their genetic damage. Calling Trump “retarded” is poor strategy because it shows that the attacker is willing to deal splash damage against people who did not choose to be like Trump. In general: avoid splash damage because it’s a poor strategic choice as it invites your opponent counter-attacking you for being unfair and mean.

Parrying

If you’re the target of an uncomfortable truth attack, you may choose to parry it by acknowledging it and changing the subject, or counter-attacking that the attacker was mean. If someone attacked Trump for his hair, he could have pointed out that lots of people suffer from male pattern baldness and wear wigs and do they also make fun of William Shatner, John Travolta, and every other person who wears hair pieces or extensions? Surely someone who attacks another person over their hair has not got very much serious complaint in their arsenal, and ought to do better.  This strategy can work for a wide range of uncomfortable truths.

There’s a special category of invidious comparison which is the “wild

pincer attack

pincer attack

slander” – when the attacker compares the target to something nasty without even knowing or caring if it’s a truth at all. That sort of attack is terrible strategy since it places the attacker in a position to be counter-attacked from multiple angles. For example, suppose you’re playing an online game and someone yells “FAG!” in the group chat. They have just left their kidneys, their groin, and their throat all un-defended: you can reply

  • Yeah, so?
  • What’s wrong with being gay? Are you homophobic?
  • You don’t know anything about me at all, how can you say such a thing?

Notice how all three of those parries take the attack away from the target and back to the attacker: we’re no longer talking about the target at all, our topic of discussion is the attacker and their ignorance and moral failings.

Summary:

On the offense, strive to attack with uncomfortable truths rather than broad invidious comparisons that cause splash damage. Try to cast your uncomfortable truths as humorously as possible; aim for vivid and memorable imagery. Be careful, though, to avoid direct statements of truth that may be defamatory – i.e.: don’t call someone “a thief” unless you’re 105% certain you could prove they were (in which case, that’s a fantastic line of attack)  If you are unsure, use a well-chosen weasel-word, “Trump stole the nomination like a cat burglar” is safe “Trump is a cat burglar” is not. If you really want to draw blood go for uncomfortable truths like Hillary Clinton’s scriptwriters trotted out against Trump: “His books all seem to end at Chapter 11”  If you can deal uncomfortable truths that get your target to respond to the substance of the truth, you’ve lured them into a quagmire of accusations about their actual actions and character. In blog-wars, favor uncomfortable truth over invidious comparison because it reduces your chances of causing splash-damage that may be used to counter-attack you for being sloppy and malicious. If your opponent has ever said something offensive or splashy, you can repeatedly hang it around their neck. Or attack them by describing them with a broad characterization of their actual position: instead of calling someone an “asshole” try calling them an “authoritarian bootlicker.”

On the defense, look for ways to separate invidious comparison away from claims of actual knowledge. “Oh, really? You say things about me that you have no possible way to know. I assume you’re just lying and throwing words around.” If their attack causes splash damage, go straight back at them on the splash damage by pushing them off the high ground.

As an aside, don’t play the “offense” card – it’s a weak play. “I’m offended” shows that you’ve sort of missed the point of throwing verbal abuse in the first place. If, however, you can argue why what they said was both wrong and mean, then you’ve got them: “By calling me ‘retarded’ I know you’re trying to hurt my feelings, but really you’re just showing your contempt for perfectly decent people who have learning disabilities.” Here’s a general rule: if you’re about to accuse your foe of being offensive, don’t – and accuse them instead of doing whatever it was that caused the offense. I.e.: if someone says something racist don’t just say “that’s offensive” say why. “You just attacked 12 million people you don’t even know. Wow.” See the video by Jay Smooth that I linked at the bottom of this, for a brilliant explanation of how to do that.

Avoid citing logical fallacies at your foe; it’s too academic. And, unfortunately, people often get their logical fallacies mixed up. Stick with simple and memorable, “So-and-so is lying. And they know they’re lying or they wouldn’t have phrased it that way. They’re dishonest and inarticulate.” That sounds much better than “So-and-so is strawmanning…”  and avoids a bunch of judo maneuver attempts in which they try to redefine “strawman” argumentation.

Keep it simple, keep it memorable, keep it true but non-defamatory, and go straight for the throat.

This is excellent strategic advice from the incomparable Jay Smooth:


(* That’s one of John Scalzi’s. I will use only the finest insults as examples in this posting.)

(** The Franklin Effect weaponizes a psychological quirk whereby a person appreciates something more if they had some part in doing it; in this case contributing mental effort to the solution of a puzzle.)

Comments

  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    This stuck in my mind, multiple decades ago –

    Bugs Bunny: Aaaa, your sister smokes corn silk!

    Porky Pig (walking away): No, she doesn’t. She works in a butcher shop and smokes hams.

    Considering the speaker’s species, I rank that as one of the most noir comebacks of all history.

  2. John Morales says

    Marcus, what you’ve written is in the context of direct insults, but others aren’t quite as overt as that (e.g. backhanded compliments), and some are neither true nor false propositions (e.g. employing a malicious nickname).

    As an aside, don’t play the “offense” card – it’s a weak play. “I’m offended” shows that you’ve sort of missed the point of throwing verbal abuse in the first place. If, however, you can argue why what they said was both wrong and mean, then you’ve got them: […]

    It is possible for some people to be not only not offended by an intended insult, but even to find it quaintly amusing even when it is true and accurate.

  3. says

    @Marcus
    Excellent analysis. I’ve been thinking about many of these things and have implicitly “known” a bunch of it, but this puts things together in a way that makes them snap into focus. I’m going to deal with this stuff farther down the road after more basic material on struggling with language in general. Some comments:

    *I tend to make a distinction between insults and insulting characterizations where the latter is relevant to the context of the current situation. The insults basically break down into the verbal abuse that you present here and I really like your hierarchy. Insulting characterizations are things that most closely match with your true and painfully accurate category. In my case I still find the references to anatomy and other personal characteristics irrelevant to the offensiveness of the person things to be avoided (as you recognize under “Parrying”). On one level orange complexion, short fingers, balding and similar are still going to have splash damage and reinforce societies harmful views on appearance even if you are avoiding damage against members of groups that we are more sensitive to. The best we can do with irrelevancies are things on the order of “piece of shit”.

    In my opinion the best and most effective insulting characterizations have to do with beliefs, manner of thought, actions and communications that are harmful to the person and/or others and can be obviously connected to the immediate situation. This is where “ignorant”, “incompetent”, “bigot”, “racist”, “sexist” and more can be effectively used, and I have to admit that my standards in this area are aimed towards becoming more effective at using the latter terms. You can even get the instinctual satisfaction of bringing groups into it if groups are categorized depending on the relevant personal characteristics I mentioned (also significant proportions of offensive behaviors that are generally unopposed, ex: Republicans/Slymepit** and bigotry, but one runs the risk of emphasizing the group over the behavior and neglecting the behaviors in one’s own group). Resorting to uncomfortable irrelevancies can still represent an inability to articulate why someone is awful and misses an opportunity to make the real problems stick in the minds of one’s opponent and any audience.

    *I agree about many insults having lost their strength through overuse and being old. Words that rouse strong negative feelings tend to evolve quickly unless they have a legitimate social use that leads to being socially reinforced in some manner (the George Carlin bit on “shell shock” is useful here). “Asshole” is so ineffectual that I’m fine using it on myself. The “N-word” for example has use in being a reminder that society still has things to fix with respect to treatment of black people which justify white people being unable to use it (I think it’s burn will fade when bigotry is dealt with and the people who experienced it are gone, but welcome criticism there), and explains at least part of the reaction when a white person does use it (I welcome criticism here too).
    I’m a bit more burned out on insults than most because of my psychology and I can’t remember the last time I really cared about one that did not match my insulting characterization category. When one ends up being accurate it turns into an opportunity to fix something about myself.

    *I describe “parrying” as driving the communication towards characteristics relevant to the conflict and away from irrelevant ones. It can be challenging when the audience likes such insults (as can happen when in a group and confronting a homophobic slur), but such people tend to be aggressive in psychology and don’t want to show weakness. In that situation making the connection between cowardice and avoiding characteristics relevant to solving or confronting the underlying source of conflict can be effective. While it’s preferable to get them to care about hurting others by using a group term as an insult, phrasing it in ways that challenge one’s bravery can also help. Doing it in ways the audience can appreciate makes it even better and puts more social pressure on one’s opponent.

    *Good point about going for the cause of the offense and avoiding the offensive line of attack totally. It has the dual use of making it easier to deal with the “stop being offended” and “offended at being offended” types as it gets to the heart of the matter involving the reasons offense is warranted in one case and not the other.

    *The best use of logical fallacies is in having examples that get one used to fallacious reasoning as a dynamic and evolving thing. Go right for the descriptions of how they are avoiding one’s substance with shitty reasoning, or why their conclusions are based on shitty reasoning or logic and thus convenient assertions (usually hidden in a group appeal of some kind).

    *Humor is something I still have issues with, but manage to pull off on occasion. I seem good at interpreting and explaining it but poor at producing it, which is strategically useful when getting people to replace non-literalisms with reality in social challenges (with the exception of “anti-jokes”, I think it has to do with problems inhibiting literal meanings). I’ve long preferred the blunt contrast of awful characteristic and preferred reality. It’s something I hope to fix and have been working on a post involving the structure and function of humor for a couple of months, but I want to get through emotion and basic social conflict actions first.

    **As an interesting aside “pitter” was becoming an insult here at FTB at one point and was a catch-all for kinds of behavior. I overtly opposed that because I saw it confusing people who came here and had legitimately bad characteristics, but had no idea what the term meant. Reinforcing our social bonds at the expense of emphasizing the behaviors we oppose is a bad idea.

  4. drken says

    Well, another problem with the “I’m offended” retort is that it allows your target to make your being offended the issue, rather than what they said. “I don’t care if you are offended” is a pretty easy way for people to pretend to be making a brave stand for “free speech” instead of dealing with the fact that they’ve just insulted you by comparing you to LGBTQ/disabled/etc. people, despite various claims to have no problem with them.

    The reason you don’t go after Bill Shatner for wearing a wig is the same reason you don’t go after him for his weight. It’s too easy. He can just laugh it off like some weak barb at a roast. Bring up the fact that nobody in the original cast wants anything to do with him because he’s such a complete asshole, that’s far more specific. The same with The Donald. Everybody makes fun of his hair, which has become as much a part of his public persona as his outsized ego. His hands however, are far better targets. Not because physical attributes should be the basis of insults, but because he’s sued people for making fun of them. Remember what Frank Zappa said “People with no sense of humor about themselves are the only people worth making fun of.”

  5. says

    Pierce R. Butler@#1:
    That’s a parry I’d call “the surrealistic parry” – when you don’t know what to say, divert your opponent with something confusing, and hope they follow you down into confusion-land. As a tactic, it would probably devastate Donald Trump, because Trump is probably used to not understanding things and assumes he’s just being ignorant when he encounters something he doesn’t understand. If you get him confused enough he might drop greater stupidity, at which point you come back with “… clearly my opponent’s got no sense of humor either.”

  6. says

    John Morales@#2:
    Marcus, what you’ve written is in the context of direct insults, but others aren’t quite as overt as that (e.g. backhanded compliments), and some are neither true nor false propositions (e.g. employing a malicious nickname)

    Agreed. A backhanded compliment is a form of invidious comparison, though – you’re saying that your opponent is X when you’re trying to communicate that they’re half-X i.e.:
    “A man of your perceptiveness would clearly notice that their hair was on fire, when the fire department showed up.”
    Depending on whether you can control the dialogue or not (i.e.: a blog war where you can’t get interrupted) that sort of tactic works, but in person it’s problematic since your opponent can interrupt you halfway through your clever put-down and you’ve lost the initiative.

    It is possible for some people to be not only not offended by an intended insult, but even to find it quaintly amusing even when it is true and accurate.

    It’s also possible to pretend to be more offended than one is (I think that’s a weak position because your opponent can always try to pop that bubble) or to pretend not to be offended when one is. I take it as a given when someone is throwing verbal abuse with invidious comparisons that they are willing to lie.

    That’s a fallback card of sorts, by the way, if an opponent called me an “angry cheeto” and I had nothing else up my sleeve I might say “well, clearly that’s false and silly besides. Can’t we speak honestly with eachother?” Then start listing their flaws.

  7. says

    drken@#4:
    Well, another problem with the “I’m offended” retort is that it allows your target to make your being offended the issue, rather than what they said. “I don’t care if you are offended” is a pretty easy way for people to pretend to be making a brave stand for “free speech” instead of dealing with the fact that they’ve just insulted you by comparing you to LGBTQ/disabled/etc. people, despite various claims to have no problem with them.

    You’ve just described the entire MRA battle-strategy (such as it is!) in a nutshell. Claim that you’re being offensive because of Liberty and your opponent is a thin-skinned proponent of “political correctness”
    The simplest riposte to that is to say, “no, you’re not being a shining example of free speech, you’re embarrassing yourself.”

    The reason you don’t go after Bill Shatner for wearing a wig is the same reason you don’t go after him for his weight. It’s too easy. He can just laugh it off like some weak barb at a roast. Bring up the fact that nobody in the original cast wants anything to do with him because he’s such a complete asshole, that’s far more specific.

    I agree, though I would remove the “it’s easy” claim. It’s weak, is what it is, and it’s weak for the reason you mention: the target can just slag it off as you being mean and failing to deal with substantive issues. “Oh, so you’re reduced to making fun of my hair? I thought we were talking about your amazing skill at foreign policy. When you’re negotiating with foreign dignitaries do you make fun of their appearance? No wonder you are such a disaster as a negotiator.” Build up the counter-attack and then sink it with a big nasty barb of truth. (That’s a fictional example, of course. Hillary is not going to fall for getting in a verbal slugfest with Donald. I hope.)

  8. says

    Brony@#2:
    I tend to make a distinction between insults and insulting characterizations where the latter is relevant to the context of the current situation.

    I would put that somewhere along the continuum between “painful truths” and “invidious comparisons” depending on the situation. As you say, if we’re arguing about hairstyles, then my massive combover is relevant.

    The best we can do with irrelevancies are things on the order of “piece of shit”.

    Since I started thinking about this stuff, I’ve been trying to cut back on the irrelevancies because they are so common and weak that the reader seems to automatically edit them out. I used to call people “asshole” a lot but then I realized that it doesn’t bother them at all, and just defocuses my attack.

    In my opinion the best and most effective insulting characterizations have to do with beliefs, manner of thought, actions and communications that are harmful to the person and/or others and can be obviously connected to the immediate situation. This is where “ignorant”, “incompetent”, “bigot”, “racist”, “sexist” and more can be effectively used, and I have to admit that my standards in this area are aimed towards becoming more effective at using the latter terms.

    I agree, though I would argue that “bigot” and “racist” etc are labels that may or may not reduce your effectiveness. I intend a separate posting on the use of labels and demonizing and when and why it’s good/bad strategy.

    The Jay Smooth piece I linked gets at the problem: if you call me a “racist” then I can challenge you to find one thing I’ve ever said that was racist. Now you’re on the back foot. On the other hand, if you have one thing I’ve ever said that was racist, you can quote it back at me until the sun goes into its expansion phase. “Well, you are the guy who said ‘fuck the police’ so I assume you think blue lives don’t matter.” (or whatever)

    There’s also the Franklin Effect in the listener: if you can get them to make the connection (“oh: ‘fuck the police’ probably not blue lives matter. grrrr.”) they will feel a slightly increased sense of ownership in your insult. I believe that’s a lot of what Trump does, by the way – he throws partial insults that encourage his audience to complete them, which gives them an inner sense of ownership over them. Now it’s not just Trump’s insult it’s the audience’s. That’s why I believe “dog whistles” are so effective in speech, but they are probably not as effective in writing.

    Resorting to uncomfortable irrelevancies can still represent an inability to articulate why someone is awful and misses an opportunity to make the real problems stick in the minds of one’s opponent and any audience.

    There is a certain value to shock value. I file that under “humor” – e.g.: Southpark’s use of “unclefucker” – it’s surrealist and catches in your mind even though it’s the same as saying someone is a “motherfucker” By the way if someone ever calls you “motherfucker” do not respond: “Jocasta, is that you?”

    I describe “parrying” as driving the communication towards characteristics relevant to the conflict and away from irrelevant ones. It can be challenging when the audience likes such insults (as can happen when in a group and confronting a homophobic slur), but such people tend to be aggressive in psychology and don’t want to show weakness.

    I think you and I part company a bit on that one. I am not approaching this from the perspective that I am trying to have an illuminating conversation – this is simple nihilism. A parry is a block that stops an attack from hurting you. A riposte is a parry that turns into an attack. Sometimes you may want to bring the discussion back toward safe ground where you can hammer on your opponent with impunity, in other cases you may want to divert away from a topic where you’re getting hammered.

    Implicit in that is the assuption that when you start using invective and rhetorical tricks you’ve moved from a conversation intended to illuminate a topic, to an battle you’re trying to win and you’re willing to kick below the belt. That’s a good diversionary attack, by the way. I should do a whole posting on this topic, but briefly:
    We often see someone open an attack along the lines of “I came here for a discussion and now you’re just verbally abusing me!”
    That’s a ploy I’ve seen a lot. It’s usually played badly even when it’s true. The correct way to develop that attack is:
    “I have been discussing this issue seriously, and now you’re diverting the discussion with verbal abuse and rhetorical tricks. I take that as a tacit admission that you know you haven’t got anything substantive to say.”
    Note that, for that move, do not go for a rhetorical question; it leaves you open to simple contradiction. I.e.:
    “I have been discussing this issue seriously, and now you’re diverting the discussion with verbal abuse and rhetorical tricks. Does this mean you have nothing substantive to offer?”
    Leaves you open to:
    “On the contrary. I just haven’t been taking your position seriously because it’s not warranted. But.. (that’s the signal for a general pile-on)”

    While it’s preferable to get them to care about hurting others by using a group term as an insult, phrasing it in ways that challenge one’s bravery can also help. Doing it in ways the audience can appreciate makes it even better and puts more social pressure on one’s opponent.

    I have taken to structuring all my arguments with the assumption that my opponent is a moral nihilist and actually believes nothing and will say anything in order to win. That makes me think a bit more around the edges of the situation, and leaves me less open to getting surprised. So I try not to assume that an opponent cares about appearing brave. If they are doing/saying something that can be presented as cowardly, go straight for the throat and don’t waste time laying a complex trap you hope they’ll walk into:
    “You say that like you’re some kind of badass keyboard warrior. Or are you just blustering when you say you want to kick my ass? I’m not impressed at all.”

    Humor is something I still have issues with, but manage to pull off on occasion

    There’s always surrealism. 🙂

    As an interesting aside “pitter” was becoming an insult here at FTB at one point and was a catch-all for kinds of behavior. I overtly opposed that because I saw it confusing people who came here and had legitimately bad characteristics, but had no idea what the term meant. Reinforcing our social bonds at the expense of emphasizing the behaviors we oppose is a bad idea.

    I agree. It’s a sloppy maneuver when there are stronger attacks available. Simply saying someone is a “pitter” allows them to say (whether truthfully or not) “I just hang out there to debate them and don’t agree with them” It’s a simple demonization/generalization attack. If someone is on another site and is saying horribly misogynistic or racist or (whatever) things it’s best to quote their own words back at them and hammer them with their own opinions. In the sense that calling someone a “pitter” is accurate or not it’s an invidious comparison:
    “Because of your IP address can I associate you with Paul Elam?”
    that’s a deliberately stupidded-up version of the argument but that’s basically what demonization is attempting.

  9. John Morales says

    Marcus, @6 to my #2:

    Agreed. A backhanded compliment is a form of invidious comparison, though – you’re saying that your opponent is X when you’re trying to communicate that they’re half-X

    Arguable. But I think its connoted condescension is another aspect of its insult, and not necessarily the lesser.

  10. Owlmirror says

    Consider the “Trump has small hands” insult – that one took advantage of the Franklin Effect by making the listener participate and gain pleasure from decoding it. Trump also made it much more effective by promoting the insult, himself – he could have let it drop but by making a big deal out of it, he ensured that everyone will remember it long after Trump has (we hope) vanished from the public sphere.

    Or in other words, adds the Streisand Effect to the mix.

  11. says

    I generally stick to the four “I”s – ignorant, inept, incompetent and ill-educated. They’re hard to refute and difficult to claim they are abusive. But they are especially effective when followed up by facts. For example:

    “Creationists are ignorant about evolution.”
    “Ken Ham ineptly overestimated interest in his park.”

    “Donald Trump looks like an angry cheeto”

    Donald Trump looks and sounds like annoying orange.