How to develop a viper's tongue?
August 18, 2012 3:33 PM   Subscribe

How can I learn to think on my feet and be quick with witty/snarky responses?

This is something that's been bothering me for a while. I can't figure out how people are able to come up with snap retorts, especially when saying something in their defense (e.g. when someone's trying to cut them down with words.) It takes me a while to absorb information and sometimes I'm stumped when giving a response. If you've experienced this, what has helped you?
posted by never nice to Human Relations (41 answers total) 53 users marked this as a favorite
I think a love of wordplay helps? A lot of good comebacks are based on puns and other word play. ('What can I say, I'm a smartass!' 'Well, you're half right') ('I'm a chick magnet' 'Sure, but your polarity's reversed') If you enjoy playing with words in general, they're more at the front of your mind when you need them.
posted by Caravantea at 3:47 PM on August 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Put yourself in situations where you'll be forced to learn? I'm just really beginning to get halfway good at this after working 7 years in a 10-16 hour/day job where snark, shit-talking and snappy comebacks are the primary method of communication. It's been a long, slow slog.

It's also really affected me in my everyday life--I have to actively work at being kind outside of work. I forget that not everyone is a stagehand, and the proper response to normal human interaction is not to insult someone's mother, joke about their sex life, or mock their lack of intelligence. It can really alienate me from the rest of society, as well as pretty much turn me into a complete asshole.
posted by mollymayhem at 3:47 PM on August 18, 2012 [11 favorites]

I've been told by someone with this skill that he's not actually coming up with these responses in real time. Instead, especially for topics he has to discuss often, he has accumulated good turns of phrase and metaphors and examples that he needs only to tweak a little to fit the conversation at hand. He did this accidentally as a result of frequently discussing the same few issues among a circle of friends who appreciate snark (he's not nearly so entertaining outside those familiar topics), but I suppose there's no reason you couldn't prepare these little building blocks deliberately. Next time you're caught flat-footed, take a moment afterward to figure out what you should have said. Treppenwitz, right?

Just don't become Mr. Collins: "They arise chiefly from what is passing at the time, and though I sometimes amuse myself with suggesting and arranging such little elegant compliments as may be adapted to ordinary occasions, I always wish to give them as unstudied an air as possible."
posted by d. z. wang at 3:55 PM on August 18, 2012 [9 favorites]

Games like Scrabble and chess? You're constantly being confronted with new patterns that you have to break down, rearrange, and improvise on. I feel like the mental anagramming I do when I look at a rack of Scrabble tiles is sort of the same snap rearrangement and turning-of-things-on-their-ears that goes on in my head when I'm about to say something embarrassing and regretful.

Wait I meant something snarky and witty.
posted by TheRedArmy at 3:56 PM on August 18, 2012

And yeah, it's definitely possible to move too far in the direction your hoping to go. I've had conversations with people that were so saturated in cleverness that they were shitty and no information or camaraderie was exchanged.

Don't forget to enjoy conversing.
posted by TheRedArmy at 3:58 PM on August 18, 2012 [5 favorites]

Agree that people who are very good at this often have a store of responses that they can pull out with minimal tweaking. The snarkiest person I know is hilarious to listen to, but I have listened to her enough to know that some of it is... not exactly rehearsed patter, but close, and she never uses a really good line just once.

...She's still the snarkiest person I know.
posted by restless_nomad at 3:58 PM on August 18, 2012 [4 favorites]

I had a friend in high school who claimed to have gotten good at this by silently thinking up retorts every time some bully made fun of her. However, I was made fun of all the time in school too and I never got particularly good at it, I just developed a life-long disdain for bullies. I do think, though, that she was on to something. I bet any quick verbal ability, to rhyme or make up jokes or be snarky on demand, comes from constantly thinking - writing dialogue in your head almost.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 3:59 PM on August 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Odyssey of the Mind is a creative problem-solving program for kids in grades K-12. Some of my kids are going to be involved in it this year, so the other day I was looking at some samples of the kinds of "spontaneous" problems they'll be solving (they'll also work on a long-term problem). Some of the verbal spontaneous problems might help you develop the kind of quick thinking and connection-making that can help you be witty and snarky. Look for instance at some of the non-physical practice problems on this page. Perhaps there are other games you could play that would also help you get into this habit of mind.
posted by not that girl at 4:19 PM on August 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you want to try the game route for practice, I think Taboo is a good option. It is a timed game where you are given a keyword that you have to make your team guess, but you are also given a list of words that you CANNOT use in your descriptions. For example: if the keyword is RUG, you can't say floor, carpet, Oriental, toupee, or hairpiece. But as soon as you read those words, that's all you can think of to say!! So a lot of people just freeze, but if you are quick on your feet, you can say "it's in your house, it's under your feet, it's fuzzy and usually doesn't go all the way to the wall". You talk around the thing instead of directly at it.

That's certainly not the same as being snarky, but it does give you practice in thinking quickly.

If you have some willing friends, you can try with a few drinks and you can MAKE it snarky: "old guys think they are fooling young chicks by wearing this on their head!!" But still do it quickly and practice.
posted by CathyG at 4:22 PM on August 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Find a snarky or witty person. Hang out with them. Watch them work. Buddy of mine is hands down one of the snarkiest, smartest people I know and just hanging around him for an hour or so usually sharpens my own snark axe.

Be careful though. You're not a natural. Others will most likely use you as snark pinata if you want to go toe to toe with them. That'll require a tough skin on your part.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:25 PM on August 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I imagine that you could "practice" this skill (to some extent) by playing photo-caption games.

I don't know any specific ones off the top of my head, but I have seen them online before. Basically it works like this: a strange or interesting photograph is displayed, and various competitors have to submit funny captions for the photo (within a time limit).

I played one a few years ago and it was definitely an exercise in thinking on the spot to sum up a situation in a funny, unexpected, and cleverly-worded way. And seeing several other responses to the same photo provided interesting insight into what kinds of ideas work and which fall flat, how a so-so joke can be made to really "snap" if it's worded just right, etc.

Another idea would be to join an improv troupe (i.e. theatrical improv, as in "Whose Line Is It Anyway.") Or to take an improv class. Most college theatre departments have an improv troupe, and if you live anywhere near a community theatre "scene" there are probably community groups, classes, workshops, etc. I think it comes more naturally to some than to others, but as with anything, you can improve considerably with practice and experience.
posted by Alabaster at 5:02 PM on August 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

I imagine that you could "practice" this skill (to some extent) by playing photo-caption games.

I don't know any specific ones off the top of my head

Dlisted has a daily one.

posted by DestinationUnknown at 5:09 PM on August 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

watch a ton of marx brothers movies, and mystery science theater 3000. and get more sleep.
posted by facetious at 5:10 PM on August 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

Chat with people online. Anonymous chat conversations are often built on witty responses, but you have a little more time than in real life. Maybe you can practice there and help strengthen your muscles for in-person conversations.
posted by victory_laser at 5:28 PM on August 18, 2012

For me, it helps to know people fairly well. First of all, if you don't know someone well, you risk offending them or saying something they'd find inappropriate, over the line, or just plain offensive. Then you just end up feeling like shit afterward. When you have a closer relationships with people and you all know each other's flaws and personalities (and limits), it's a lot easier to poke fun at them with snarky comments without risking offense. The other thing is that you have to find it funny when people make those comments about you. If you show that you appreciate snarky comments made at your expense, it'll open them up to laughing at snarky comments made at their expense. If both parties know there's mutual respect then fun, snarky comments just sort of come on their own and the relationship can even grow closer. Do you ever watch people who have served in the military together? They all razz one another constantly, but they love each other and would risk their own life to save members of their group.
posted by HotPatatta at 6:00 PM on August 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Find a high-pressure job with a tight knit group. In about three years you'll be a master.

That is the true way of the snark.
posted by roboton666 at 6:11 PM on August 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding watch Mystery Science Theater 3000 (most episodes are available on youtube). The core of their snark is keen observation, combined with taking stupid dialogue to its logical conclusion.

As a result of years of watching this show, I now have a hard time NOT making fun of people who say stupid things.
posted by Lobster Garden at 6:24 PM on August 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm specifically looking for things to use against people who don't know me well and use humor in a mean-spirited manner. I need to defend myself against such types.
posted by never nice at 6:24 PM on August 18, 2012

That's a dangerous game. You up the stakes with a line like "jerk store" and you might find yourself telling someone you slept with their wife. The chances are you're going to lose against people who do this stuff for fun all the time, and if you try to compete you're going to go down a lot harder.
posted by howfar at 6:32 PM on August 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm specifically looking for things to use against people who don't know me well and use humor in a mean-spirited manner. I need to defend myself against such types.

Could you give some more details about what's going on here? Is this a regular occurrence, needing to verbally defend yourself? If so, there's other things you can do to prevent yourself from getting into these situations.

Knowing more details about these situations you're facing would help people understand what you need and provide more useful information to you.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:39 PM on August 18, 2012

Losing proposition. Even if you win you will have become the thing you hate. Hate to sound like some kind of zenmaster, but my approach to people like this is to take the high road. I'd be practicing your blank look, not the snappy comeback. If they're actually decent people, this will tend to extinguish the behavior. If they're total shitheads, you'll want to avoid them, not spar with them.
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:40 PM on August 18, 2012 [13 favorites]

I'm specifically looking for things to use against people who don't know me well and use humor in a mean-spirited manner. I need to defend myself against such types.

The best defense is not to engage with shitbags like this. Sending back a zinger will not ameliorate the hurt or embarrassment you feel. Mature adults understand there is nothing witty in taking other people down, and will respect you more and your tormentors less if you don't engage.

By descending to their level you will only feel guilty for sharing in their pettiness and consolidating the insecurities in them that motivate the snark on strangers. The best comeback - the only comeback - to people like this is to be kind, and for repeat offenders ask nicely, seriously, that they stop because you don't like it.

People like this have great difficulty engaging with sincerity and genuine emotion. When confronted with it, they will feel abashed and ashamed - however much they try to cover with more snark or bravado. They will not repeat the experience.
posted by smoke at 6:51 PM on August 18, 2012

Yeah, the thing with real pricks is that they just keep upping the stakes because they have nothing to lose (because they're pricks). You'll wind up doing something that will bite you, not them, because they are just superb at playing the poor-me victim at just the right time.

So when you encounter a prick, do not engage.
posted by heyjude at 6:56 PM on August 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I can't figure out how people are able to come up with snap retorts, especially when saying something in their defense

Agreed with everyone who says that many people who appear to be really quick-witted actually spend a lot of time beforehand thinking up snappy things to say and good lines to use.

The other thing that makes you more quick-witted though is if you practice letting go of your filter. Like we all have these filters we started putting on around the time we started learning to talk - to not say anything rude, gross, random, weird, non-sensical, etc. If you can dare to practice just blurting out the first thing in your mind without evaluating it at all before it comes out of your mouth, things could get interesting.
posted by cairdeas at 7:59 PM on August 18, 2012

The best comeback - the only comeback - to people like this is to be kind, and for repeat offenders ask nicely, seriously, that they stop because you don't like it.

I've tried this and it doesn't work. Perhaps I'm doing it wrong?
posted by never nice at 8:09 PM on August 18, 2012

My favorite comeback to insulting people who don't know me well is "thanks for that feedback!"

We used to use it in corporate meetings toward argumentative blowhards who tried to derail the topic at hand. It was code for "eff you." So in my head, I know what I'm saying to an irritating person, but not much they can say as a comeback, because, you know, I'm thanking them.

Alternatively, develop a few stock phrases, such as, "who pissed in your cornflakes this morning?" or "hope you didn't hurt your brain thinkin' of that one, bub!" or "that was so funny I forgot to laugh!" Practice your bored poker face in the mirror, because if people sense they're getting under your skin, they'll just come back for more. A few zingers and a definite lack of interest puts them off their game.

I like Winston Churchill, Oscar Wilde, and Mae West. I don't pepper my comebacks with their quotes, but I admire them.

The other one, if someone is being particularly obnoxious, is a deeply confused look, followed by, "excuse me?" Then stare at them. Silently. Because only my friends are allowed to joke with me like that, and that's what I would do if some strange dork who thought he was a hot shit on a silver platter but was really a cold fart in a Dixie cup came up to me and insulted me, joke or not.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 8:12 PM on August 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

I can come up with witty comments almost instantly. However, if you ask me to think of something funny in advance, I draw a blank. I can't really explain it other than it's just the way my mind works. My twin brother is the same way but rarely uses it because he works in a stuffy environment where sarcasm is looked down upon. You have to use it all the time to stay sharp. The downside in my situation is snarky thoughts only come to me when I'm with people I like and usually when I'm in a good mood. It would be great to verbally slay a bully or rattle off some funny remarks when a girl is dumping me but I'm at a loss in those situations.

I don't think this skill can be learned or taught. The only advice I can give is to learn when to keep your mouth shut. This is a skill I did learn over time. When you think of a snarky comment, you need to be a good judge of how the room will react. There are many hilarious comments I never say because it would hurt someone's feelings, be over too many people's heads or make me look like a hypocrite. If in doubt, I usually keep it to myself. I have some friends and co-workers who come up with an occasional classic but they never hold anything back so it just gets buried under their many failed attempts.
posted by thebriguy72 at 8:32 PM on August 18, 2012

never nice: "I'm specifically looking for things to use against people who don't know me well and use humor in a mean-spirited manner. I need to defend myself against such types."

I'd recommend looking into the gentle art of verbal self-defense, as laid out in the book of the same title by linguist Suzette Haden Elgin. Very much about learning to identify when you're under verbal attack and defend yourself without getting nasty like your attacker is.

And if you want to go all aikido-like about it, there's Taking the War Out of Our Words: The Art of Powerful Non-Defensive Communication by Sharon Strand Ellison.
posted by Lexica at 8:37 PM on August 18, 2012 [5 favorites]

I can come up with witty comments almost instantly. However, if you ask me to think of something funny in advance, I draw a blank.

I feel the same, I have no idea how someone actually writes something funny in advance.

Losing proposition. Even if you win you will have become the thing you hate.

Yeah, if you’re talking about sparring in a mean spirited way, don’t. You will still lose, AND be an asshole. The only way to win is to not compete. My motto for life, actually.
posted by bongo_x at 9:23 PM on August 18, 2012

Two words: air horn. When asked what the fuck is wrong with you, repeat until they go away.
posted by hades at 11:32 PM on August 18, 2012

My method is to be self deprecating. If they say something mean about me, I agree and tell a funnier story about myself. There's the time I nearly blew up this, said that horrible thing to the boss, the inlaws, the whoever, and so on. Under the circumstances you're talking about, I quite happily borrow from friends' and family stories - yup, there was that time I went fishing and fell asleep and had to row back and my meat pies were all cold. Luckily however, I have a nearly endless supply of my own stupidity: trusting my 17 year old brother when he took me for a walk in the crocodile infested mangroves, and then left me there; trusting same brother when he told me footballers popped their testes into their body cavities and taped over for their safety.

Self deprecation. Does no-one any harm, provided you don't put yourself down while you're doing it.
posted by b33j at 1:26 AM on August 19, 2012

Rap battles. Run yourself through a gauntlet of epic freestyle rap battles and you will come out the other side a champion! Or just read those guides on how to win and maybe they'll help you think on your feet?

Also, I just learned about flyting, a ritual, poetic exchange of insults practiced mainly between the 5th and 16th centuries, exemplified in Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida:

Ajax: Thou bitch-wolf's son, canst thou not hear? Feel then.
Thersites: The plague of Greece upon thee, thou mongrel beef-witted lord!

So definitely call someone a 'mongrel beef-witted lord' the next chance you get. And then bite your thumb at them.
posted by beekept at 1:42 AM on August 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

A social battle has exactly the same goals as a fistfight - inflict as much damage on your enemy as possible while sustaining minimal injury to yourself. The only difference is that the damage is emotional rather than physical. Your goal is to upset the opponent so much that they lose their cool and can no longer think rationally.

The first step is to work on your defense - namely, your poker face. When somebody says something that wounds you, you need to make absolutely sure that you don't show it had an impact, otherwise they will know it's a weakness and focus on it. When you're insulted, let the insult roll over you. Have a few counterjabs ready that can be applied in a generic way. Being supportive in a way that is so over-the-top that it becomes patronizing is a good way to go, because it implicitly lowers the other person's social status. Try to pick a theme that targets a potential insecurity in the target.

Example 1 (Intelligence): "Aw, that's so adorable - you just tried to be witty! Tell me, did you think that one up all by yourself, or did your mom coach you in advance? Because it's OK for you to need training wheels. You're special, remember?"

Example 2 (Childhood trauma): "Aw, you're angry. Look, it's OK - I don't hold it against you. Probably you were just molested as a child and that's why you're so full of anger." (Target responds) "Well, of course you'd say that. If I spread my legs/opened my ass for a lollipop, I'd repress the memory too!"

Example 3 (Attractiveness): "Look, I know you're probably just upset because all the girls you date dump you, and that's why you're taking it out on me. But you need to get over that. Don't look at it as them abandoning you - look at it as them becoming sober."

Notice how each of these defenses finishes with a counterpunch. The counterpunch is light at first, because your main goal is to shift the focus of the conversation from you to them. Once this has been accomplished, focus on delivering a few heavier blows in the next lines of dialogue to hammer your point home. Ignore what your opponent says in his rejoinder - keep your message topical and stay on the same theme you initially selected.

Example 1 (Intelligence): "Hey, you're doing it again! That's so amazing, it must have been hard for you to learn how to talk like the normal kids. Can you show me your arms? Do you have crib-notes written on them to help?"

Example 2 (Childhood Trauma): "Yes, get that anger out! Don't bottle it up! It's OK to have strong feelings about it. Now, show us where the Bad Man touched you."

Example 3 (Attractiveness): "Hey, how are you doing there, big guy? You look a little worried." (Opponent starts to respond, you interrupt) "No, not you, I was talking to the wart." (Point to it.)

The key is to remember that everybody has some sort of insecurity, and your job is to find that button as quickly as possible and keep pushing it relentlessly. If you don't know your opponent, physical observations (as long as they're true) tend to be easy targets. Look for something irregular or larger/smaller than normal, and simply exaggerate it.

"Hey, Owen Wilson called. He wants his nose back."

"Look at the gap between those teeth. If I yell into it, will there be an echo?"

"Hey, sorry if I seem distracted. I just realized that if your hair were shaved completely off, your face would look exactly like a man's. You're got... man-face. Huh." (Use only on women, follow up with descriptions of specific traits.) "No, seriously, look at that strong jawline, and that big arch in the center of your nose. I'm not joking or trying to insult you. It's a simple observation."

I also want to offer you a warning and disclaimer. Ethically, I don't believe in "taking the high road": if somebody engages you in social violence, you should feel entirely justified in cutting them to shreds verbally, just as you would retaliate if they engaged you in physical violence. However, from a purely pragmatic perspective, you should be aware that people who are humiliated too much may engage you in physical violence, especially if the process of probing for weakness accidentally strikes a nerve (for example, imagine if the person from example 2 really was molested as a child), and you need to be fully prepared for that. Don't engage somebody unless you're surrounded by people who can break up a fistfight, or authority figures who can immediately put a stop to things if they get physical. Destroying an enemy's ego can be very gratifying, but generally it's not worth the risk of collateral damage.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 6:19 AM on August 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

ask yourself if it fits with your natural communication style; when people try to do this and it does not really integrate with their personality, it makes your face hurt from cringing all the time. (the office provides excellent illustrations of this.) not that stuff can't be learned; but how much effort will you put into doing something well that has at best brief and intermittent payoff.

but also, when i'm around people who do this well, i never feel they are quite fully engaged. even when you're trying to talk to them about something serious, there's a feeling that they're hovering at a different level of the conversation, less interested in what you are saying than how they can play with it. (when i catch them doing this, i toss in nonsensical stuff; a couple weeks ago i told a dude that macaroni salad was the blushing vulva of church potluck dinners, and he didn't blink an eye.)
posted by fallacy of the beard at 8:54 AM on August 19, 2012

Anecdote from someone who personally knew one of the 20th century masters of insta-acid putdown Gore Vidal; this person came across Gore in a hotel room, practicing out loud some of his patented "off-the-cuff" wit. If it's good enough for Gore......
posted by lalochezia at 10:01 AM on August 19, 2012

A love of words, and wordplay, helps a lot. You can develop this by reading notoriously witty authors and writers such as Wilde, Wodehouse, Parker and so on. Think about the quips they make and *why* they work. Doing cryptic crosswords helps, too, because you need to think about the construction of words and phrases, and the different ways of looking at them. Learn about and experiment with standard forms of wordplay and wit such as bathos, litotes, hyperbole, irony... even Spoonerisms. They can be corny as hell but one of the biggest laughs I ever got from a spontaneous rejoinder was when some bigot was ranting about the need for all right-thinking people to "man the ramparts" against the scourge of The Gay. I replied "Man the ramparts, darling? I think I prefer to ram the man-parts." The key thing is to be looking for these opportunities. And that means really being alert and attentive to what people are saying.

Another tactic is to look for apposite references. Be abreast of current affairs, or the topics your friends and companions are likely to be interested in. That way you will have a mental resource from which to draw relevant remarks. People appreciate a witticism more if it is on-topic.

Caveat: never force it. Don't be so desperate to be a wit that you babble out the first apparently amusing thing that comes into your head. Develop a speedy mental self-checker/editor/censor, and if your quip doesn't measure up, let it go. There'll be another opportunity. Better to make one truly guffaw-inducing bon mot then a dozen damp verbal squibs.
posted by Decani at 10:33 AM on August 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Great responses, especially from wolfdreams01! That's the kind of info I'm looking for. The bit about having a poker face is something I want to work on, as it's too easy for people to throw insults at me (my physical appearance, life situation, etc.)

Yes, there's a possibility of a sparring session turning into an episode of Jerry Springer, but I'm willing to prep myself accordingly. I'm tired of letting people get away with zinging me. Ideally I'd come up with responses that'll shut the other person down (or up.)
posted by never nice at 1:14 PM on August 19, 2012

For the love of all you hold dear (like, for example, your social status) do not do what wolfdreams01 says here. For one thing, it will make any other adult in the vicinity instantly lose respect for you as a juvenile person who can't control his temper. This stuff does not make you sound cool and in control, it makes you sound insecure. It essentially boils down to " . . . YER MOM." And if you really do happen to hit a nerve, the response will be the opposite of shutting down your adversary -- you'll instantly have guaranteed yourself a) their hatred on a much deeper level and b) this kind of treatment forever.

You might succeed in causing some pain, but if all you want to do is make the other person feel bad because they made you feel bad, then sure, you can insult their nose or teeth or childhood history, but you might as well just punch them in the nose -- it's more direct and won't make you look like any more of an idiot. If, on the other hand, you want this behavior to stop, you need to control your impulse to lash out. Don't let your facial expression change -- wolfdreams01 is right on this one, but even better than a poker face is looking slightly quizzical but unperturbed. Imagine how you might look if somebody insulted you about something you have absolutely no sensitivity about -- like about your "ugly red hair" if your hair is black. Then say something on a completely different emotional level than their insult -- for example, imply that they were just joking with you, or tell a ridiculous story about yourself, or just be friendly and shrug it off. Basically, be easygoing, and imply that you think it's a little weird, but forgivably so, that they're not easygoing. Put them in the position that, if they keep pushing, they'll sound stupid.

In short: don't show any sign that they struck a nerve, and then say something that moves the conversation into a completely different sphere.
posted by ostro at 8:18 PM on August 19, 2012 [8 favorites]

they want one or both of these reactions: "you're so funny" and "you really got that guy riled up". the best way to deal with shit like that is just to shake your head and say "not funny" and walk away.
posted by facetious at 11:04 PM on August 19, 2012

Example 2 (Childhood trauma): "Aw, you're angry. Look, it's OK - I don't hold it against you. Probably you were just molested as a child and that's why you're so full of anger." (Target responds) "Well, of course you'd say that. If I spread my legs/opened my ass for a lollipop, I'd repress the memory too!"

This is more likely to make you a social pariah than anything else. I can't imagine a worse conversation for a victim of childhood rape to overheard or be a part of. Please don't ever say this.

And I agree with ostro--wolfdreams01 suggestions will not shut down the person in question, but will probably make things worse.
posted by myelin sheath at 2:30 PM on August 20, 2012

I'm kind of ignoring the hostile/defensive tone of this post entirely, and pretending it's about how to be more comfortable with making witty rejoinders, because that is what I hoped the thread would be about. But hey, should still be useful to the OP.

Train. Train like you are in an 80s movie montage of going from lame, to witty rejoinders. What does that look like? It looks like lots of practice, in a safe environment, and maybe something a little like:

1. If you normally drink alcohol, then go ahead and have between 1 and 3 standard drinks, enough to be just a little bit tipsy. We're going for lowered inhibitions here! The freedom to dork it up!
Watch a TV, or comedy show, and RANT at the screen. Something where people are already doing the witty rejoinder thing, or, as mentioned above, the Mystery Science Theater approach. And then, that's right - every time they say something, respond! If you can't think of anything, just repeat the same tired phrase until you come up with something better (if you are by yourself).
Find someone who will do this with you! Explain your goal to them. It is easier if you are kind of alternating comments. It'll make more sense if you are watching something like MS3K, you don't want to ruin someones favourite show. Something neither of you takes very seriously is better.

The more you do it, the more your brain will practice and identify things for you to say without you even having to think about it. You will get to a point where you get better in the breaks when you aren't even practicing, because it'll just be ticking over in your subconscious. Then, use, and enjoy, as you wish.

(But seriously, I'm a little worried for you, OP, that you're in an environment where you have to deal with being belittled frequently. Seriously, screw that. Leave it behind if you can, and you *can*, it's just about what tradeoffs you want to make. Becoming them is not fantastic either. Leave town, leave state, leave country if you can - there are so many better environments in the world).
posted by Elysum at 6:37 AM on August 21, 2012

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