The Art of Dueling with Words: Toward a New Understanding of Verbal Duels across the World

Abstract

A common view of verbal duels is that they are exchanges of insults between young males, and thus a cathartic expression of aggression. Through an examination of verbal duels worldwide, this article demonstrates that this view is overly restrictive. The heterogeneity of forms of verbal duels includes genres performed by both men and women and by children, adults, or the elderly, as well as duels that are staged or improvised, more or less structured, and so on. At the same time, a closer analysis of insults is necessary to understand why, when insults are exchanged, they cannot be immediately connected to aggression. In particular, a distinction must be made between insults and “outrageous speech,” between the target and the recipient of insults, and between verbal duels and ritual insults.

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