A Slap in the Face: Why Insults Hurt--And Why They Shouldn't

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Overview

Insults are part of the fabric of daily life. But why do we insult each other? Why do insults cause us such pain? Can we do anything to prevent or lessen this pain? Most importantly, how can we overcome our inclination to insult others?

In A Slap in the Face, William Irvine undertakes a wide-ranging investigation of insults, their history, the role they play in social relationships, and the science behind them. He examines not just memorable zingers, such as Elizabeth Bowen's ...

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A Slap in the Face: Why Insults Hurt--And Why They Shouldn't

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Overview

Insults are part of the fabric of daily life. But why do we insult each other? Why do insults cause us such pain? Can we do anything to prevent or lessen this pain? Most importantly, how can we overcome our inclination to insult others?

In A Slap in the Face, William Irvine undertakes a wide-ranging investigation of insults, their history, the role they play in social relationships, and the science behind them. He examines not just memorable zingers, such as Elizabeth Bowen's description of Aldous Huxley as "The stupid person's idea of a clever person," but subtle insults as well, such as when someone insults us by reporting the insulting things others have said about us: "I never read bad reviews about myself," wrote entertainer Oscar Levant, "because my best friends invariably tell me about them." Irvine also considers the role insults play in our society: they can be used to cement relations, as when a woman playfully teases her husband, or to enforce a social hierarchy, as when a boss publicly berates an employee. He goes on to investigate the many ways society has tried to deal with insults-by adopting codes of politeness, for example, and outlawing hate speech-but concludes that the best way to deal with insults is to immunize ourselves against them: We need to transform ourselves in the manner recommended by Stoic philosophers. We should, more precisely, become insult pacifists, trying hard not to insult others and laughing off their attempts to insult us.

A rousing follow-up to A Guide to the Good Life, A Slap in the Face will interest anyone who's ever delivered an insult or felt the sting of one—in other words, everyone.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
We may not like to admit it, but the impulse to wound with words has long been a part of human history, Irvine (A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy) contends in this mélange of philosophy, psychology, and cultural study. Insults may range from barbs meant as flirtatious bait to the famously eloquent gibes of Shakespeare, but Irvine pragmatically argues that regardless of intention or context, we must understand insults in order to deal with them: “Sticks and stones can break your bones,” he concedes, “but you should develop a strategy to minimize the pain you experience when people call you names.” To that end, Irvine, a philosophy professor at Wayne State University, investigates the history of abuse, as well as the rhetoric of insult delivery and the science behind feeling affronted. He posits that the power of insults derives from our profoundly social nature, and that we wouldn’t feel hurt if we weren’t simultaneously invested in others and worried about how they see us. Irvine ultimately opines that a return to the pacifism and equanimity of the ancient Stoics is our best bet for dealing with insult, and while such a stance may be off-putting to some readers, Irvine adds a welcome dose of insight to injury. Agent: Byrd Leavell, Waxman Leavell Literary Agency. (Mar.)
From the Publisher
"A Slap in the Face is an earnest book offering some good advice as well as some memorable insults." —Daniel Akst, The Wall Street Journal

"Readers looking to add to their stock of insults will find much good material here, but they'll also find an insightful analysis of the way we insult each other, why we do it, how we react, and how we can adjust our notion of insults and modify our reactions to them...Written in a lively, entertaining style..." —Booklist

"We may not like to admit it, but the impulse to wound with words has long been a part of human history, Irvine contends in this mélange of philosophy, psychology, and cultural study. Insults may range from barbs meant as flirtatious bait to the famously eloquent gibes of Shakespeare, but Irvine pragmatically argues that regardless of intention or context, we must understand insults in order to deal with them." —Publishers Weekly

"After providing readers with a catalog of amusing insults, Irvine analyzes the role they play in everyday life and offers invaluable advice for reducing their sting. His suggestion that you laugh at yourself when you are insulted—a form of verbal aikido—is nearly foolproof."
—Mark Frauenfelder, founding editor of BoingBoing.net and editor-in-chief of the technology magazine Make

"This intriguing book is written in a very engaging style about a topic to which everyone can relate. William Irvine uses leading research in the field to present information in a very accessible manner about the various forms that insults can take, reactions that people have to insults, and ways to more appropriately respond to insults. The points that Irvine makes will 'slap you in the face' as you quickly become aware of the prevalence of insults, your own and others, in your daily life."—Robin Kowalski, Professor of Psychology, Clemson University

"Aristotle said we were rational animals, but the Stoics noticed that we were insulting animals. Other animals establish social hierarchies with claws and fangs, we do so with words. William Irvine is a collector and a connoisseur of insults, and well-chosen examples keep this book lively. But he also understands insults; he has important wisdom to impart, backed by his own common sense, some science, and some philosophy, about how to deal with the insults we are likely to get, and inclined to give." — John Perry, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, University of California at Riverside and Henry Waldgrave Stuart Professor of Philosophy Emeritus, Stanford University

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199934454
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 3/1/2013
  • Pages: 264
  • Sales rank: 790,736
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

William B. Irvine is Professor of Philosophy at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. His books include A Guide to the Good Life: the Ancient Art of Stoic Joy (OUP 2008) and On Desire: Why We Want What We Want (OUP 2007).

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction

PART ONE: THE INSULT ARSENAL

2. Words like Daggers

3. Subtle Digs

4. Bludgeoned with Praise

5. Benign Insults

PART TWO: INSULT PSYCHOLOGY

6. A World of Hurt

7. Who Gets Hurt?

8. Why We Insult

PART THREE: DEALING WITH INSULTS

9. Personal Responses to Insults

10. Societal Responses to Insults

11. Insults-The Inner Game

12. Insights

Notes

Works Cited

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