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I'm writing an article about a myth in which two epic heroes facing each other before a single combat. The part I'm at now is when the two heroes start bragging about their abilities and things they've accomplished while at the same time they try to belittle their opponent by saying things like, "now tell me boy, you think you can handle a man?" or "before you were born I had been the champion of the champions." I think this part of the battle was mainly to diminish the opponent's self-confidence.

The modern version of this can be seen when let's say you want to have street car racing and start saying things like, "let's see how fast you can be on that wreck."

My questions are simply about describing this activity that people do before a competition, but since I provided two contexts, (one out of need, and the other out of curiosity), probably two words with a formal and informal register would be excellent. However, a neutral word is good enough. My sentences are:

  1. The heroes started [verb]ing.

  2. The racers were [verb]ing for a few minutes before going down the street at full throttle.

Thanks.

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    I searched for "individual haka" but it does seem to require a group, and may be as much about a display as the words uttered. It might give you some ideas. – Andrew Morton Sep 27 '16 at 20:18
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    @Andrew Morton I kept looking for things that I've found in your comment and the answers (that I'm thankful for) and came across the word flyting which led me to flite also the word depreciate. Do you think these verbs fit the first context? As in the heroes depreciated\flited eachother for a while. – Yuri Sep 27 '16 at 20:42
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    Along with flyting is bragging or the bragging ritual. Another interesting related word is beot. – Damkerng T. Sep 27 '16 at 21:32
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    "Face off" isn't bad. "The two faced off before the battle and traded barbs." might be what you want. – Andrew Sep 27 '16 at 22:13
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    @Yuri No, certainly not. Taunt is the best you have so far, I think, although its impact has degraded somewhat (to some audiences) due to its use in the rules of the American NFL. I'm not so sure English provides exactly the word you want. The archaic Beot is close, but you would need to supply a footnote. "Taunt and vilify" or "Taunt and belittle" together might work. – P. E. Dant Sep 28 '16 at 6:06

12 Answers 12

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See synonyms for "taunt": mock, belittle, deride, insult, derogate, disparage, deprecate, ridicule, jeer, put down, make fun of, as well as slang terms like disrespect, trash, or hate on.

"Taunt" is the verb closest to your meaning, but not necessarily the one you want to use since it doesn't automatically mean "insult". "Trash" is a good slang term in a contemporary context, but not necessarily when talking about mythical or historical figures since it would be a modern anachronism.

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    +1 I didn't know taunt can be used in this type of contexts. always thought it's used to describe children being mean. I came across this The hero could not resist a taunt. “Just to set the record straight, the name’s Odysseus,” he called across the water – Yuri Sep 27 '16 at 21:06
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    Relevant to current events, "Watch Clinton Taunt Trump for His Unreleased Tax Returns" (Fortune.com) – Andrew Sep 27 '16 at 21:16
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    @Yuri: Taunt has the exact meaning of the context you want. It means saying things to make your opponent angry. It could be bragging (look what I did!) or it could be saying something mean (your mom!). When people say children "taunt" it means they're picking a fight. Another synonym for "taunt" that fits the context is "fighting words" (which incidentally is the legal term for it and is not protected by the 1st amendment in the US) – slebetman Sep 28 '16 at 3:13
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    @Yuri: Either would work. It's a matter of taste I guess. Somehow as a verb "taunted" sounds to me more childish than "trading taunts" but that's just my bias – slebetman Sep 28 '16 at 6:20
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    +1 for the bit about "talking trash" (or smack, etc.) likely being inappropriate for the OP's stated purpose. I would never describe the banter between two epic heroes as "trash talk" -- it seems flippant and does not convey the "weight" that such a monumental confrontation should carry. – A C Sep 30 '16 at 5:56
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In the U.S., a good term for this is trash talking. The term trash talk can be used as a noun or a verb, and it can refer to good natured jabs between friends, or ugly taunts at the professional level.

The term is usually used in sports, but is occasionally used in realms such as politics as well.

It's definitely more on the informal register. (For a more formal word, see the synonyms listed by Andrew in his answer.)

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    +1 but talking smack, of similar provenance, is a widely-employed alternative and perhaps a bit more au courant. – P. E. Dant Sep 28 '16 at 0:24
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    Isn't trash talking just talking your oppent down, without embiggening your own prowess? – Mawg Sep 29 '16 at 8:28
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    @Mawg - I think some of the best trash talk incorporates a little bit of both, like when Larry Bird asked, "Which one of you is coming in second place?" right before the NBA 3-point shooting contest. – J.R. Sep 29 '16 at 8:45
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    A now-obsolete adverb for such behaviour that used to be appropriate here is bigly. This has been amusing me of late for topical reasons. – Jon Hanna Sep 29 '16 at 15:20
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    @Mawg i think not. The album I'm the Greatest helped establish Muhammed Ali Clay's reputation as an eloquently poetic "trash talker" in which he boasts about himself and downplays his opponents. – Yuri Sep 29 '16 at 17:55
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Somewhat more formal:

hector (hĕkˈtər)► v. To intimidate or dominate in a blustering way. -wordnik

  • +1 talk to (someone) in a bullying way. I'm not really sure I can use that but thanks it has a similar connotation in other contexts. – Yuri Sep 29 '16 at 17:43
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One option I haven't seen yet is Boasting.

Unlike the other terms I've seen mentioned, Boasting is speaking very highly of yourself and implying that you're superior to your opponents, instead of simply saying your opponents are inferior. As such, it's considered slightly more positive & polite than trying to belittle your opposition.

Since your first example was about Heroes, I believe Boasting is a better fit.

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I find that "chest-beating" (or "chest-thumping") works well here. Depending on the context, it might also be "ritual chest-beating". Of course the phrase is lent from the behavior of great apes.

Now that's generally only a behavior you see with male apes (and they have the better-suited anatomy for it) but, uhm, the behavior you describe is really observable a whole lot more often with male humans as well.

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One you probably don't want to use because I don't think it's widespread outside cricket, but I mention it out of interest, is Sledging.

Sledging is a term used in cricket to describe the practice whereby some players seek to gain an advantage by insulting or verbally intimidating the opposing player.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sledging_(cricket)

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US presidential debates are excellent examples. They belittle each other but there are rules. It's almost like a show. Obviously they won't physically fight, but the concept is the same.

The word you are looking for is very environment based. I would recommend 'taunt', 'berate', 'degrade' or 'belittle' versus slang terms. You could say Hector was 'dissing' Patroclus, but it doesnt have the same effect. Maybe in something like Romeo + Juliet it would

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    +1 thanks for providing more contexts in which the word can be used. – Yuri Sep 28 '16 at 5:56
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In the context of heroes, the phrase verbal jousting might be appropriate. It means to have a battle of words, a verbal back and forth between individuals to see who can come out on top, and generally suggests an egotistic and sporting motive.

Verbal jousting is evocative of medieval combat and its inherent sense of pride and honor.

"As soon as the banners fell and their eyes met, the heroes began their traditional bout of verbal jousting."

"The smack talk went on all night, a verbal joust of epic proportions."

"In general, English comedians are fond of quick wit and verbal jousting."

Hope this helps! It's a fun phrase!

  • +1 Mentioning a reference would be excellent also how to fit the word in OP's sentence is quite helpful :) – Yuri Sep 30 '16 at 5:10
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Try "posturing" It's a little more generic, includes ideas like boasting, posing, etc.

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    You posture to make an impression or gain an advantage. But isn't it used with as as in they postured as Democrates to win the favor of some States? Also I get the impression of fraud in it. Something like passing oneself off. Am I right? How do you suggest writing the sentence with posture? – Yuri Sep 29 '16 at 18:07
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My first thought was taunt, but I think a better word is harangue since it can include both boasting and taunting. I do have to admit though that the word has lost popularity over time. But it is still sufficiently current to be known, and does not seem out of place when talking of historical events.

verb: to address (a person or crowd) in an angry, vehement, or forcefully persuasive way

The word can also be used as a noun.

Examples:

The heroes began their haranguing.

(from story about Kit Carson)

...the exhausted mail party was pursued by 150 hostile Indians. Carson guided his companions into a copse of stunted trees, where they tied their mules, then he arranged them in a skirmishers’ line. He next stepped forward, fully exposed, and began to harangue the enemy in their own language. Brewerton wrote, “Carson’s whole demeanor was now so entirely changed that he looked like a different man. His eyes fairly flashed, and his rifle was grasped with all the energy of an iron will.” And the lieutenant added that Carson knew “boldness alone could save us.”

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In the context of opponents, you could try the phrase "Provocation" which stems from the verb "Provocate" meaning to provoke something. This would be a bad-natured way of trying to get your enemy to fight. It has an angry connotation to it. An example of a good phrase would be "exaggerated". The opponents want to show off to each other who has the better skills to fight.

Sources: www.thesaurus.com for ideas of other synonym relations.

Hope this helped with some ideas.

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    Welcome to ELL, Branden. That's an interesting opinion, but we prefer opinions to be backed up by references- for example, a link to a definition of 'provocate' with this meaning. – JavaLatte Oct 1 '16 at 10:54
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One word you may try is "bantering." The dictionary definition denotes exchanging belittling remarks in a teasing or good-natured way, as between friends. However, common usage today doesn't necessarily include the connotation of playfulness or good nature.

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    Thank you although I can't confirm what you claim. I personally heard banter in the sense of joshing someone. Others might want to post comments here and help me with it. – Yuri Sep 30 '16 at 15:38
  • "belittling remarks in a teasing or good-natured way, as between friends" is exactly NOT what OP wanted. It is before a combat, presumably to death, between (mortal) enemies. – Peter M. Apr 17 at 19:23

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