“Trash talk” is “insulting or boastful speech intended to demoralize, intimidate, or humiliate someone, especially an opponent in an athletic contest.” It was a new term, coined in the United States about 1985, for an old way of speech.
Here’s an example of trash talk from the movie Three Amigos (1986) starring the comedians Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, and Martin Short: “You dirt-eating piece of slime. You scum-sucking pig. You son of a motherless goat.”
And there was the heavyweight boxing world champion Muhammad Ali (1942-2016) who wrote poems to sing his praises while dissing his opponents:
• If you even dream of beating me you’d better wake up and apologize.
• I should be a postage stamp. That’s the only way I’ll ever get licked.
• Archie’s been living off the fat of the land.
I’m here to give him his pension plan.
When you come to the fight don’t block the door.
‘Cause you’ll all go home after round four.
(before his fight with Archie Moore 1962)
• I am the man this poem’s about,
I’ll be champ of the world, there isn’t a doubt.
Here I predict Mr. Liston’s dismemberment,
I’ll hit him so hard he’ll wonder where October and November went.
When I say two, there’s never a third,
Standin’ against me is completely absurd.
(before his fight with Sonny Liston 1964)
• I’ve wrestled with alligators.
I’ve tussled with a whale.
I done handcuffed lightning.
And throw thunder in jail.
(before “the Rumble in the Jungle” against George Foreman 1974)
And there’s this example of trash talk which tells a story from about 1,000 B.C. It’s found in chapter 17 of the First Book of Samuel. Scholars say that the earliest portions of this book were composed in the 8th century B.C. and in its current form, dates from about 550 B.C. I track the language of the King James Bible:
A champion went out from the camp of the Philistines, named Goliath, from Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span [at least 6’9”]. He had a bronze helmet on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail.
He yelled out to the Israelites, “Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants. But if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us.” And the Philistine said, “I defy the armies of Israel this day: Give me a man, that we may fight together.”
Young David, at most 18 years of age, asked King Saul to let him confront Goliath. Saul liked his gumption but thought he was too small. David argued that, as a shepherd boy, he had killed a lion and a bear to protect his sheep. Saul relented to David’s request.
The Philistine walked closer to the Israelite line. He looked around and saw David. When he saw him, he “disdained him” because he was a youth, not “a man”-- “a pretty boy of fair countenance.” Goliath said, Am I a dog that you come to me with a shepherd’s staff? The Philistine cursed David by the Philistine gods. And the Philistine said to David, Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air, and to the beasts of the field.
Ilya Repin, Goliath Laughs at David (1915)
David replied, not with trash talk but with the truth, “You come to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day will the Lord deliver you into my hand; and I will smite you, and take your head from you; and I will give the carcasses of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air, and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel. And all this assembly shall know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord’s, and He will give you into our hands.”
The Philistine came to meet David. David ran to get close to the Philistine. David put his hand in his bag, took a stone, and slang it, smiting the Philistine in his forehead with such force that the stone sunk into his forehead; and Goliath the giant fell on his face to the ground.
David had no sword. So he ran, stood on the Philistine, took the Philistine’s sword, drew it out of its sheath, and cut off his head.
Spero News contributor James Thunder is an author and attorney who practices in the Washington DC metropolitan area.