Every human being has things in common with every other human being, in fact over two hundred things, according to anthropologist Donald Brown. While some emphasize the differences in people, especially people in other groups (and count on this: the others are not as good as us) even this is a human universal; the preference for one’s own kinship group.
Besides the fact that all humans tell jokes, I think it’s interesting that all humans enjoy insulting each other. Of course, there is a connection between jokes and insults, the insult is funny when directed at the “other” and infuriating when directed at us.
Jared Diamond in The World until Yesterday tells of the insults New Guinea hunter-gatherers hurl at one another before a “war.” They accuse their opponents of having no pigs or wives, while they do have pigs and wives. In Norse mythology, this is called “flyting.” In US Professional Wrestling mythology this is called the pre-match interview.
In the Norse Poetic Edda, Loki comes to the ale-hall looking for trouble with the other gods, calling them cowards and sexually deviant and even insulting Thor. (No, it did not end well for Loki.)
“Unmanly one, cease, or the mighty hammer,
Mjollnir, shall close thy mouth;
I shall hurl you up and out in the East,
Where men shall see you no more.”
“That you have fared on the East-road forth
To men should you say no more;
In the thumb of a glove did you hide, you great one
and there forgot you were Thor.
Insults accompanied by bragging are the elements in Rap battles as in these lyrics by Tupac:
‘My mic’s a weapon, I’m steppin’
with a capable rhyme’
‘Cause my mouth is like an uzi when it moves so quick
And the lyrics are the bullets that I’m loadin’ it with’.
Of course, these are higher-quality insults. For garden variety insults from around the world, most can be covered by combining selections from: 1. Genitals 2. Body fluids 3. Your mom
I kind of like the Welsh “May you be eaten by a cat and the cat eaten by the devil.” Wow, that would be pretty tragic. How about the Chinese? “Your mother is a big turtle.” ???? This an elegant way of calling you a bassa (Old Scots) because a turtle does not know who his father is.
If you need any more proof that all we humans have insults in common, consider this man from the Andaman Islands off India. The Sentinelese have been isolated from others for perhaps 60,000 years.
They have pulled this off by living on an island and by basically killing anyone who comes near. Of course, do-gooders have tried to contact them-you know, to help them,-but so far the Sentinelese are having none of it.
Yet we instantly recognize the gesture of the Sentinelese man, which is saying something like, “No thank you, I don’t want your help.”
Or in cruder terms, some combination of genitals, body fluids and your mom.