Backhanded Compliments: the Verbal Sucker Punch

A couple of months ago, my sister Kellie sat in the foyer of a professional photographer prepared to shell out her hard earned cash on a portrait package of her daughter decked out for her first dance recital.  As Kellie sat admiring the pictures of her daughter, the sales assistant looked over her shoulder at the picture and said, “Your daughter is beautiful.  She must look like her father because she looks nothing like you.”  Ouch.

Now, in this case, both mother and daughter are beautiful and favor each other, proving that the sales associate must be a moron, but exactly how was my sister supposed to take that comment?  Was she supposed to thank the idiot assistant for the twisted compliment without pointing out how rudely it could be interpreted?  Maybe Kellie should have offered up, “Thank you, she is Daddy’s little girl,” and left it at that.  Or maybe Kellie should have kicked the moron in the throat.

A few days after Kellie’s irritating encounter with the idiot assistant, I portrayed the role of Marguerite in a hometown production of Dearly Departed.  The character, a hateful woman 30 years my senior, constantly berates her family and uses her religion and memorized Bible verses as weapons.  After one of the performances, an audience member congratulated me on a job well done and then said, “But that was probably just your real personality coming out, right?”  Sounds like someone else could use a swift kick in the neck.

All right, calm down.  I know violence is not the answer.  (Even though I challenge anyone who claims to never have been tempted to meet the sole of their shoe with the soft skin of some idiot’s neck.)  So what is?  Allowing for this rude behavior to continue, however fueled by ignorance it may be, doesn’t seem right.  We were all taught how to be nice and “use your words” properly at some point in our childhood.  Why shouldn’t we demand the same behavior of adults that we do of children?

The careless verbal sucker punches got me thinking.  Have we lost our understanding of the English language?  Have we become so desensitized by the anonymity of our online lives of Facebook pokes, text abbreviations, and Twitter comments of 144 characters or less that we can’t appropriately communicate face to face anymore?  And do we actually think every single thought that comes to mind should be expressed?  Maybe we should resurrect what our grandma’s taught us:  say something nice or grandma’s going to shove a sock in your mouth so you can’t say anything at all.  Would we even recognize nice if nice kicked us in the neck?

Hurt and perplexed by the rude audience member, I told Kellie what the woman said.   That was just your real personality coming out, right.  Kellie told me that I should have looked the woman in the eye and in a sinister tone responded, “It could be.”  Well, I think Kellie should have walked out of that photographer’s studio without spending a dime.  Let the idiot assistant explain the loss of business to her boss.  But, unfortunately, when a four-year-old’s dance photos are being held for ransom the price is never too high, be it the dollar amount or the sting of the sucker punch, and I am sure the Little Theatre would frown upon me making some old woman pee her pants in fear.

Instead, I make a plea to all my subjects near and far:  consider the words coming out of your mouths.  One day, our carelessness, our verbal sucker punches, could get us all kicked in the throat.

39 thoughts on “Backhanded Compliments: the Verbal Sucker Punch

  1. Two options:
    1-they are mean and think they are clever.
    2-like a child that doesn’t know their own strength, they have no idea what they are saying, and therefore have the tiny brains of a newborn.
    My vote is number 2. People are clueless inside their bubbles.

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