Diss Battles Started Back Way Earlier Than You'd Think
Written records from the early 16th century provide us with this golden knowledge today: "the first recorded instance of poop being used as an insult" occurred when Scottish poets William Dunbar and Walter Kennedy, both born in the 1400s, "rap battled" in the presence of James IV to compete (nerd alert) in a game of intellect. This practice was a form of back and forth diss dropping known as flyting. Think Shakespearean-type roasting sessions (who does, later on in his active years, use flyting in much of his poetry.)
The goal was to entertain the public, including royals, in the arrangement of live shows commonly taking place in Scotland and England. This epic poetic word battle was a way of seeing just how witty one was, based on the craftiness of their word usage. Opponents, often known as makars, or royal court poets, would attack each other with accusations of wimpiness, stupidity, or being a thirsty hornball. Though as public decency was super important to these medieval humorists, going too far could result in a beating or fine, depending on social status.
A direct way of comparing both parties' intelligence, the highest people in power of your community would come to witness your unmatched greatness if you won, or depressingly join the winner for a beer if you lost.
However, make no mistake in recognizing that flyting did not begin the art of insult-trading. Black culture, in particular, created a definition for verbally exchanging words as a means of showing resilience, using a sense of humor, and clowning your opponent all the way to the circus: The Dozens.
Playing the dozens, in the similar vein of rap battling, is a creation from Black culture. The quick-witted and ingenious way of putting down your rival is a comic art form.
One video that exemplifies this while turning it on its head (and launching countless GIFs) is Supa Hot Fire, The Rap Battle.
In the book, Snaps: The Original Yo' Mama Jokebook, a foreword by Quincy Jones expresses that "Playing the dozens is a sociological condition transformed into an art form […] It's a style of humor that enables us to deal with the pain in our lives. It's a serious art tradition. It's part of our folklore."
In essence, insult-trading is an art form that has, contrary to a lot of history, remained similar in how it functions. Bringing your opponent down with words and humor is something of a miraculous way of solving a fight- you may not be hurt physically, but scars can run deep.
For more of Oona's sarcasm and attempted wit, please visit her site, oonaoffthecuff.com.
Top Image: Pixel-Shot/Shutterstock