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A Deep Dive into: Insults [pt.4] – I got 3 students, my girlfriend and a friend to insult me in 3 different languages (and also English) to test Epictetus’ theory

This is a I-don’t-know-how-many-yet part longform examination of insults (and getting offended)…
Here’s Part 1: The philosophy of: Stuff they teach kids (Sticks and stones may break my bones…)
Part 2: Words are nothing but a series of letters arranged in a certain order to make a certain sound that comes out of the face hole. 
and Part 3: If you’re insulted by a cunt, that means you don’t meet their approval. Congratulations. You must be doing something right.


Remember that what is insulting is not the person who abuses you or hits you, but the judgment about them that they are insulting.¹
– Epictetus

Words –in individual or in sentance form– have no power to physically hurt you. Or even affect you. Unless you let them. It’s your perception of a word that affects you.

That’s what Epictetus used to say anyway, so I wanted to see if it’s true and decided to test it…

The Experiment

I asked 5 people, all born overseas, to think of three things to say to me in their native tongue. These were the guidelines:
• They had to say three phrases/words to me in their own language:
– Two words/phrases they said had to be neutral/random and had negative or positive connotations (e.g. You are okay/nice weather we’re having/I love lamp)
– And One had to be something they would say to the most disgusting person they could imagine; the worst, most insulting thing they’d say to someone back in their own country.
• They had to say them all in the same manner, same body language, same expression, same tone (so I wouldn’t know which is the insult and each one would have the same amount of meaning to me – fuck all.) and in no particular order.
• Lastly, they had to say all three again to me, in English.

Insulter #1 – Maria (one of my English students)
Language: Portuguese

What she said to me:
1. ‘Você é nada.’
2. ‘Você é legal.’
3. ‘Você é alto.’
And then in English:
1. ‘You are nothing.’ (meaning ‘piece of shit/worthless’ etc.)
2. ‘You are nice.’
3. ‘You are tall.’

Insulter #2 – Mariana (one of my English students)
Language: Portuguese

What she said to me:
1. ‘Descgraça.’
2. ‘Filho da puta.’
3. ‘Árvore.’
And then in English:
1. ‘You are a disgrace.’
2. ‘Son of a bitch.’
3. ‘Tree.’

Insulter #3 – Eric (one of my English students)
Language: Mandarin

What he said to me:
1. ‘沒家教.’ (pronounced: ‘may-ja-jow’)
2. ‘英文.’ (‘ing-wn’)
3. ‘酷.’  (‘ku’)
And then in English:
1. ‘You are rude.’ (In Taiwan, this is an insult on the person and their parents, meaning you have no manners because your parents brought you up like shit.)
2. ‘English.’
3. ‘Cool.’

Insulter #4 – My girlfriend, Mitsuko
Language: Japanese

What she said to me:
1. ‘この くそ ぶた やろ.’ (pronounced: ‘Kono-kuso-buta-yaro’)
2. ‘やさ し.’ (‘ya-sa-shi’)
3. ‘かごい.’ (‘ka-go-i’
And then in English:
1. ‘You are a dirty pig shit man.’
2. ‘You are kind.’
3. ‘You are handsome.’

Insulter #5 – My friend, Ryota
Language: Japanese

What he said to me:
1. ‘ おちあん.’ (pronounced: ‘o-chan’)
2. ‘にぬき.’ (‘ni-nu-ki’)
3. ‘しばく.’ (‘shi-ba-ku’)
And then in English:
1. ‘Middle-aged man.’
2. ‘Boiled egg.’
3. ‘I’m going to smash you.’

The Conclusion?

Admittedly, it’s slightly unsettling at first to hear my students insult me, or my girlfriend call me a dirty pig shit man or a friend say he wants to belt me, but ultimately, the insults they directed at me had the same effect on me as the neutral things. Now, it’s also completely different to be insulted when you’ve actually done something wrong compared to a fun experiment, but nevertheless, the anger or disturbance someone feels at someone else words is all created internally. Every single time. If you feel insulted, it’s an emotion created by yourself, and if it’s as a result of your own actions, that you can at any moment change to become a better person.

So, Yep, Epictetus nailed it

When someone says or writes something to you that makes you pissed off, or mildly upsets you, makes you feel like shit, or like you’re a bad person, or dumb or whatever, remember that words and phrases are just a collection of lines joint together first to make individual characters and then arranged in a sequence. And if they’re said out loud, all they are is just a noise that comes out of the facehole, not too different from a cough or a sneeze.

Sticks and stones…

Remember that thing your parents or teachers would say when someone called you stupid or ugly or fat or a slut or stupid ass face dickhead in school?…

Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.

It’s genius. Because it is 100% true. And as adults we’re never told it and we forget it (though we may tell it to kids). So maybe it needs to be updated for adults, maybe something like this:

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never affect me.


¹ From: