A Sprinkle of Smacktalk

Dustin vs. Dustin. On the playground. With the smacktalk.

Even if you’re not hip to the lingo, you’d know smacktalk if you heard it. It’s that competitive, sarcastic, self-aggrandizing, other-dissing conversational style of friends and foes alike that has become the very bedrock of the young (and not-so-young) American vernacular, both on and off the playing field.

According to my fifth grader, the first big school fistfight of 2009 was smacktalk-initiated. Apparently, my son’s friend, Dustin, mixed it up with another child (also named Dustin) over a non-enriching remark he’d made about Dustin #1’s mother.

“Does that child know Dustin’s mother?” I asked. “Nope.” “Well, what did he say about her?” My son paused, then said, “Trust me, Mom. You don’t want to know.”

My father’s generation directed their barbs at women we would now consider edgy fashionistas (as in, “Your mother wears combat boots.”) Today, though, just try saying something like, “Your mother leaves toxic dish soap residue in your reusable metal water bottle” or “No one buys as many trans-fat loaded processed food products as your mother,” and you’ll have a one-way ticket to the principal’s office.

Whether it’s mother-related or not, smacktalk really doesn’t suit me. It may be because as a kid I was on the receiving end of real, mean-spirited teasing. It may also be because I’m one of those sensitive girls who responds to, thrives on, and lives for encouragement and praise.

(Looking at it now, it may be that there’s a connection between those two things. You think?)

Despite my reservations, though, I’m trying to keep an open mind about smacktalk. It is possible, I suppose, that the insults, put-downs, and zingers that are the building blocks of smacktalk vocabulary, while painful, may create thicker skin, a fighting spirit, and, ultimately, stronger competitors. Maybe smacktalk fosters the ideal environment for separating the “men” from the “boys.”

But I’m not sure I’m sold on that. What I am sure about is that smacktalk is effective in separating out the nice guys who’ll come through in the clutch someday from the obnoxious jerks who will mow you down with their grass seed spreaders just because your kid’s bike tire came within inches of their precious manicured lawn.

While I may consider smacktalk to be unhealthy, unsportsmanlike, and just plain unkind, I also know that there’s a picked-on little kid in all of us who really digs the snappy smacktalk comeback. With that, I present to you my all-time favorite.

A husband and wife are arguing. For an hour, the wife runs down a laundry list of her husband’s inadequacies. After she’s covered his neglect of the trash, his long hours at work , his unsympathetic ear, and her other complaints, her husband has his turn to speak.

“Oh yeah?” he says, looking her square in the eyes. “Well you’re not too thin yourself.”

Ouch.

And touché.

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