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An insult is an expression or statement (or sometimes behavior) which is disrespectful or scornful. Insults may be intentional or accidental. An insult may be factual, but at the same time pejorative, such as the word "inbred".
Lacan considered insults a primary form of social interaction, central to the imaginary order – "a situation that is symbolized in the 'Yah-boo, so are you' of the transitivist quarrel, the original form of aggressive communication".[clarification needed]
Erving Goffman points out that every "crack or remark set up the possibility of a counter-riposte, topper, or squelch, that is, a comeback". He cites the example of possible interchanges at a dance in a school gym:
- A one-liner: Boy: "Care to dance?" Girl: "No, I came here to play basketball" Boy: "Crumbles"
- A comeback: Boy: "Care to dance?" Girl: "No, I came here to play basketball" Boy: "Sorry, I should have guessed by the way you're dressed".
A backhanded (or left-handed) compliment, or asteism, is an insult that is disguised as, or accompanied by, a compliment, especially in situations where the belittling or condescension is intentional.
Examples of backhanded compliments include, but are not limited to:
- "I did not expect you to ace that exam. Good for you.", which could impugn the target's success as a fluke.
- "That skirt makes you look far thinner.", insinuating hidden fat, with the implication that fat is something to be ashamed of.
- "I wish I could be as straightforward as you, but I always try to get along with everyone.", insinuating an overbearing attitude.
- "I like you. You have the boldness of a much younger person.", insinuating decline with age.
Negging is a type of backhanded compliment used for emotional manipulation or as a seduction method. The term was coined and prescribed by pickup artists. Negging is often viewed as a straightforward insult rather than as a pick-up line, in spite of the fact that proponents of the technique traditionally stress it is not an insult.
A personal attack is an insult which is directed at some attribute of the person.
The Federal Communications Commission's personal attack rule defined a personal attack as one made upon the honesty, character, integrity, or like personal qualities in the Communications Act of 1934.
Personal attacks are generally considered a fallacy when used in arguments since they do not attempt to debunk the opposing sides argument, rather attacking the qualities of a person.
Verbal insults often take a phallic or pudendal form; this includes offensive profanity, and may also include insults to one's sexuality. There are also insults pertaining to the extent of one's sexual activity. For example, according to James Bloodworth, "incel" “has gradually crept into the vocabulary of every internet troll, sometimes being used against men who blame and harass women for not wanting to sleep with them.” 
Insults in poetic form is practiced through out history, more often as entertainment rather then maliciousness. Flyting is a contest consisting of the exchange of insults between two parties, often conducted in verse and became public entertainment in Scotland in the 15th and 16th centuries. Senna is a form of Old Norse Eddic poetry consisting of an exchange of insults between participants.
O du eselhafter Peierl (Oh, you asinine Peierl), composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, was meant for fun, mocking, scatological humor directed at a friend of Mozart's.
More modern versions include poetry slam, dozens, diss song and battle rap.
Various typologies of insults have been proposed over the years. Ethologist Desmond Morris, noting that "almost any action can operate as an Insult Signal if it is performed out of its appropriate context – at the wrong time or in the wrong place", classes such signals in ten "basic categories":
- Uninterest signals
- Boredom signals
- Impatience signals
- Superiority signals
- Deformed-compliment signals
- Mock-discomfort signals
- Rejection signals
- Mockery signals
- Symbolic insults
- Dirt signals
Elizabethans took great interest in such analyses, distinguishing out, for example, the "fleering frump ... when we give a mock with a scornful countenance as in some smiling sort looking aside or by drawing the lip awry, or shrinking up the nose". Shakespeare humorously set up an insult-hierarchy of seven-fold "degrees. The first, the Retort Courteous; the second, the Quip Modest; the third, the Reply Churlish; the fourth, the Reproof Valiant; the fifth, the Countercheck Quarrelsome; the sixth, the Lie with Circumstance; the seventh, the Lie Direct".
What qualifies as an insult is also determined both by the individual social situation and by changing social mores. Thus on one hand the insulting "obscene invitations of a man to a strange girl can be the spicy endearments of a husband to his wife".
- Ad hominem
- Cyber defamation law
- Damning with faint praise
- List of ethnic slurs
- Flag desecration
- Maternal insult
- Name calling
- List of religious slurs
- List of shoe-throwing incidents
- The Dozens, a game of "one-upmanship" involving insults or snaps usually related to the mother of one's opponent
- ^ Erving Goffman, Relations in Public (Penguin 1972) p. 214
- ^ De Vos, George (1990). Status inequality: the self in culture. p. 177.
- ^ Jacques Lacan, Écrits: A Selection (1997) p. 138
- ^ Goffman, pp. 215–216
- ^ Mad, quoted in Goffman, p. 216
- ^ "Backhanded – Definition of Backhanded at Dictionary.com". Dictionary.reference.com. Archived from the original on 11 February 2010. Retrieved 2010-01-27.
- ^ a b c d Burbach, Cherie. "Backhanded Compliment. About Relationships. n.d." about.com. Archived from the original on 3 January 2015. Retrieved 2 January 2015.
- ^ Nicholson, Jeremy (31 August 2013). "Can an Insult Make You Fall in Love?". Psychology Today. Retrieved 21 April 2015.
- ^ Woolf, Nicky (25 May 2012). "'Negging': the anatomy of a dating trend". New Statesman. Retrieved 21 April 2015.
- ^ Federal Register. Office of the Federal Register, National Archives and Records Service, General Services Administration. August 1978. p. 36389.
- ^ "Ad Hominem Fallacy". Excelsior University OWL. Retrieved 2022-09-11.
- ^ Desmond Morris, The Naked Ape Trilogy (London 1994) p. 241
- ^ Emma Renold, Girls, Boys, and Junior Sexualities (2005) p. 130
- ^ Bloodworth, James (2020-02-13). "Why Incels are the losers in the age of Tinder". UnHerd. Retrieved 2022-08-26.
- ^ flyting at the Encyclopædia Britannica
- ^ Harris, Joseph C. (May 1979). "The Senna: From Description to Literary Theory". Michigan Germanic Studies. 5: 65–74.
- ^ Karhausen, Lucien (2011). The Bleeding of Mozart. Xlibris Corporation. pp. 83–84. ISBN 978-1456850760.
- ^ "Flyting Was Medieval England's Version of an Insult-Trading Rap Battle – Atlas Obscura". www.atlasobscura.com. Retrieved 2022-09-11.
- ^ Desmond Morris, Manwatching (London 1987) pp. 186–192. ISBN 978-0810913103
- ^ George Puttenham in Boris Ford ed., The Age of Shakespeare (1973) pp. 72–73
- ^ William Shakespeare. As You Like It, Act V, Scene IV
- ^ Erving Goffman, Relations in Public (1972) p. 412
- Thomas Conley: Toward a rhetoric of insult. University of Chicago Press, 2010, ISBN 0-226-11478-3.
- Croom, Adam M. (2011). "Slurs". Language Sciences. 33 (3): 343–358. doi:10.1016/j.langsci.2010.11.005.
- Media related to Insults at Wikimedia Commons