Life can be seen as a series of comic insults, a never-ending reality show on Ultra-World-Widescreen. We cannot do much about the bold cosmic hilarity of getting crushed by a massive boulder on the way to see Aunt Bigot in Grand Junction, Colorado, but we surely can better handle the small personal affronts that come our way daily from those who choose to diss us. Know your Retort Law!

You must first recognize which type of Retorter you are. There are only three:

  1. Delayed Brilliance: Around 50% of those dissed need more time than the situation allows to come up with the perfect response. This could be from 2 minutes to 50 years. Who here has not seen their Grandpa on his deathbed scratch out with a shaky pen the words, “Tell that bastard Tom Smith I said, ‘Oh, yeah?? SEZ YOU, BUDDY!!’” The Delayed Brilliance person is often very frustrated, feeling they have missed every good opportunity they had in life by not being on top of things. All these people get terminal cancer.

  1. Mr/Ms Dozens: Five percent of people are wired for comebacks, and are lightening-fast, merciless, tireless, and clever, and we shall call them “Dozens-ers,” after the nickname given the respected African-American oral tradition of “yo mama!/no, YO mama!” The more the insult party goes on, the more amped they get, until they are running on nothing but racing adrenalin and the hooting admiration of the gathering crowds. Occasionally, Animal Control must be called in with a Bear Tranquilizing Gun to subdue the frothing Dozens-er, if they aren’t taken directly to a local comedy club. They are deft masters at not only quickly spotting the physical and mental flaws of their opponents, but also instantly figuring the best way to construct each comeback to dismantle their enemies, be it riffing on a retreating hairline, fundamental logic holes, or mothers.

  1. Deer-In-Deadlights: A full forty-five percent of you (higher in Red States and New Jersey), cannot think or speak well enough to construct any kind of retort that doesn’t involve punching, spitting, stabbing, shooting, swearing, hiding, crying, grunting, peeing, pooping, puking, or drooling. Prisons, bars, remote caves, and many branches of government are filled with these folks.
 Let us assume that you don’t want to get cancer or go to prison in your search for the crippling comeback. You want to be a Dozens-er. If you are the Deer-In-Deadlights, the best you can hope for is to be so profoundly dumb that you don’t even realize you have been insulted.


Second best would be blinking once, hard, then chewing some gum and frowning for awhile. A very poor choice of retort for a D-I-D would be running down the Disser with a monster truck, then fleeing to a Mexican border town with a “Jan Brewer For Presadint” bumpersticker on the tailgate. Just try to limit your exposure to other people.

The Delayed Brilliance person has a couple of options to try to fake being a Dozens-er: do something to buy more time to think of a retort or only hang out with the Deer folks, because anything you say will be better than anything they can come up with. Something you can do to stall while you think of a fine insult is point to a distant horizon and shout “LOOK!” This works best with very small nasty children and gullible cranky elders and some dogs. You can also try this:

You may get just enough time to deliver the Comeback Line Of All Time, or the Disser will eventually huff away or slug you. You could also compile a list of General Purpose Retorts and tattoo it on your forearm for quick reference. It beats the lame Chinese characters tat you were thinking of getting anyway.

And then there are the Dozens-ers themselves, who must always be honing the better comeback to stay on top. For practice, there is always the classic Hanging Out On The Streetcorner Talking Jive-Ass Crap To Anyone Going By, the Family Holiday Gathering With Inevitable Multiple Arguments, or watching old tapes of George Carlin handling hecklers. You could also register anonymously on multiple internet message boards and troll unsuspecting victims who may give you a good workout (or just ban you). If you are stuck in the effective-but-predictable rut of Foul-Mouthed Put-Downs, I suggest a month of elegant Victorian-style retorts only:

If you succeed in mastering Retort Law, you will be asked to join the Who’s Who Of Witty Windbags, which sometimes leads to an appointment to the Supreme Court Of The United Snark Of America. Provided some monster truck doesn’t run you down first.