Tao of Gabe: On Compliments

Tao of Gabe

Gabe the Rhetorical Beaver here with a lesson in ‘Ninja Speak.’ The idea of ninja speak is to leave your opponent rubbing his proverbial bum from a verbal shellacking that he is reasonably sure came from your direction, but can’t quite prove. It’s the most disheartening of the passive-aggressive oratory arts and also the most amusing to learn.

Today’s lesson involves segments of speech that are politely called ‘backhanded compliments.’ The idea is simple and stolen from the Greeks (as it is with all the passive-aggressive arts including metaphysics, the media, and politics).

During the Trojan War, the Greeks decided to launch their final attack in the night from inside the Trojan’s impregnable walls as you’ll recall from the Illiad-inspired movie Troy (inspired in the sense that cow pies are inspired by regular pies). The theory was that if they gave Troy a giant, wooden horse (it was a well-known fact that Troy at the time was building a giant, wooden chess set), the Trojans would just take it inside, not bothering to look the gift in the mouth.

The Greeks hid inside the horse and escaped in the night, killing the unguarded Trojan army, much to the chagrin of a condom company and local high school some 3000 years later.

The lesson and analogy, then, is that the only way to truly hurt somebody sometimes is to make them think you’ve given up and are actually trying to help them.

If you still don’t get what I mean, consider the following statement: “Angela has a beautiful soul, Benjamin is a great person, and Carlos… has great hair.”
That statement, though it technically complimented Carlos, still implied that he was not a great person and did not have a beautiful soul.

The idea is to propel the train of thought to a fixed destination, but cease pushing once the momentum is certain.

Done poorly, the person you’re speaking to will ask what you’re implying immediately after you say it. For instance, “they say Stephen is a miniature Nazi, but I don’t think he’s that short.” While this works exceedingly well as an insult, the true Ninja Speaker attacks quickly and powerfully without drawing attention to the fact.

Unfortunately, backhanded compliments can never be taught, they must be discovered. That is to say, there is no formula other than thinking of a fault and working a sentence around it.

For instance:

“I wish I were as sure of myself as he is. He always gets his way.”

“He’s so good with his fists. Every single time I see him get into a fight, I can’t help but admire him.”

“He’s so nice. And I admire how he doesn’t stress out over deep concepts.”

When you become a Speaking Master, you will be able to finish my list for me. In the meantime, go out and learn the hard way how taking a beaver’s advice can backfire in new and amusing ways.

Love, Trojan style,
Gabriel D. Beaver

“Remember Kids: Ninja Speak should only be used as self-defense… Or if it’ll be really, really funny at the time.”

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