The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘insults’

Back Away Slowly

October 8, 2015 | by

A woman diagnosed as suffering from hilarious mania. Color lithograph, 1892. Image via Wellcome

Contrary to popular wisdom, in my experience many of the best comebacks are not cutting. L’esprit d’escalier is all well and good, but take it from me, zingers aren’t what they’re cracked up to be: when you grow up in a family that fights almost exclusively below the belt, you learn to wound early, and also that the act of attacking leaves you feeling bad, not triumphant. I’ll never forget being snapped at by an angry customer in a deli as a small child. “Ignore her, Sades,” my dad said loudly. “She’s an unhappy, lonely person with no one in her life who cares about her.” I’ve forgotten her expression of shocked misery; I know that only from my dad’s rueful telling. Read More »

Form Versus Function

August 18, 2015 | by

The unreadable book.


It is always the unreadable that occurs. —Oscar Wilde, The Decay of Lying

People toss around the word unreadable a lot—invariably about something they have, by definition, read, at least in part. By “people,” I specifically mean people who read for a living, or part of it. It’s one of those conversation enders, a condemnation so sweeping and damning that one is powerless to argue. Read More »

Strife in the Fast Lane

March 24, 2015 | by


Photo: Daniel Ramirez

The other day, I was riding down a Tucson highway with my mother. We had been to the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store and now it was rush hour. Suddenly, a man in a white pickup accelerated, passed us on the right, and screamed, “GET OUT OF THE FAST LANE, DUMBASS!”

After a moment of stunned silence, we both started to snicker. Read More »

Powder and Shot

March 23, 2015 | by


P. G. Wodehouse.

A letter, possibly unsent, from P. G. Wodehouse to Don Iddon, March 1954. Iddon, “a sleekly combed English reporter,” wrote a weekly column about life in Manhattan for the Daily Mail. “Many [British] readers,” Time wrote in 1951, “rely on Iddon's hodgepodge of gossip, press-agentry, and political hip-shooting for much of their U.S. news.”

Dear Iddon.

A word for your guidance. Do you realize, you revolting little object, that the copyright of a letter belongs to the writer of it? If you plan to continue your practice of publishing private letters sent to your private address, you are liable to come up against someone who thinks you worth powder and shot—which I don’t—and get into trouble. Read More »

Wish You Were Here

March 4, 2015 | by

Vasily Perov, The Hunters at Rest, 1871.

Many agree that our language is coarsening. We curse more, insult each other with impunity, and speak like illiterate cats on a regular basis. But in one way, things are improving: it’s been a good ten years since I heard anyone say “Guess you had to be there.”

When I was a teenager, people said this constantly. Someone would tell a well-meaning anecdote, something he considered amusing or interesting—then some jerk would fill the silence with, “Guess you had to be there.” The jerk always waited until the story in question was over. And, yes, oftentimes the stories were lame, and not worth telling, and a waste of everyone’s time. But whoever was telling that story was putting himself out there, in a certain small way, and, in an equally small way, being beaten down. Read More »

Common Colds

January 29, 2015 | by


“Coughs and sneezes spread diseases,” a famous British public health campaign.

As I wandered through the painkillers aisle, sniffling and throwing decongestants and tinctures into my basket, I thought that one of the annoying things about the common cold is the knowledge that it’s so benign. A harried-looking dad was bending over the babies’ section, staring at a bulb syringe and trying ineffectually to calm the miserable toddler in the red UPPAbaby. The little boy was howling. And why not? What had he done to find himself visited by a raw, red nose, troubled sleep, and a series of aches and pains? So far as he was concerned, this was the end of the world: nothing in this moment could have been worse. 

And the truth is, when you feel sick, it’s a small comfort to know you’ll be better within a week and what’s happening to you isn’t, in fact, serious. There’s none of the anxiety of a real medical problem, but then it’s in a different category entirely: it’s the very knowledge of its toothlessness—paired with its unpleasantness—that renders it irritating. Read More »