Barbs in Disguise

Has someone ever said something hurting to you but made it pass off as a joke? The person may not have used an outright cuss word, but probably made a derogatory statement in disguise which made you feel bad, angry, uncomfortable or sad. And, maybe they even told you that you’re too sensitive, you don’t have a sense of humour or you take things too seriously because of how you reacted. Then, subsequently, you try to hold back for fear of ridicule. 

Or, have you been saying hurtful words to people and covering them up as jokes? What percentage of the time you said “oh, I’m just kidding” were you actually kidding? 

“Barbs in disguise,” which can also mean “teasing” are those things we say to people in a seemingly irreverent way to show affection, friendliness, or some form of closeness. Yet they can have a lasting negative impact on them, and eventually, inform their general outlook on life. 

You see, we live in a world where teasing and the usage of cuss words have become the order of the day. People make jokes about other people’s disabilities, situations, body sizes and shapes, etc. They say these things without realizing how badly they may affect the other party. And, if the person in question decides to say how they feel about it, it may seem as though they don’t understand jokes, and may even lead to a fight. 

“Your father!” For instance. 

I overheard two guys—let’s call them Godson and Hanson, having a humorous conversation. As they were talking and jiggling, throwing subtle shades at each other, I’m not sure exactly what Godson said, then Hanson yelled “your father,” with a shriek of laughter, hoping to continue the conversation. 

He may not have actually meant Godson’s real father—after all, that’s what most guys say to each other most unconventionally. But, he triggered a horrible emotion in Godson.

The moment he made that statement, things quickly took a bad turn. Unknown to Hanson, Godson had lost his father a couple of weeks back and was trying to heal, but he (Hanson) came and opened an old wound that was struggling to heal, and it started bleeding again. 

You know how this can hurt, don’t you? 

“How dare you?” Godson wailed. Before Hanson could realize what was happening, he was already receiving punches in the face with an explanation that it was an “expensive joke.” So, from having a fun chat, someone’s emotion was distorted, which led to a fight. And I doubt Godson had recovered from that hurt quickly. 

Maybe the ones you hear or say are different. It could be something as easy-to-say as “you are mad” just because someone cut in front of you at the ATM queue or you are just playing around with a friend. Or, maybe you have a plus-sized colleague at work, and at every interval, you keep body-shaming her in the name of a “joke.” Then, when they want to react, you blurt out, “it was a joke o.” 

Sharon R. Bonds rightly said that “Sticks and stones will break your bones, but WORDS LAST FOREVER!” The truth is, you don’t know what you do to people when you say hurtful words to them and force them down their throats as play. They may play along too, but deep down, they can get deeply hurt. Words can cut to the very core of a person and can affect how they eventually see themselves and life in general. And, it can take a lifetime to eject those hurtful words. 

That brings us to… 

Reasons for Teasing

Teasing can indeed build your relationship with someone and show some level of closeness, but the negative impact on the recipient can backfire.  Some of the reasons people use hurtful words in disguise are:

  • To come across as humorous or smart. 
  • To make a dull discussion lively.
  • To show a close and comfortable relationship with someone. 
  • To get rid of their hurt. 
  • To say something harmful they’ve been wanting to say.
  • To get back at someone. 
  • To impose power over someone by making them feel less of themselves. 
  • To disguise abusive comments as teasing or joking.

Hurtful humor may have begun as playful or affectionate teasing. But, sometimes, even well-intentioned jokes can be hurtful. In fact, words that once felt harmless can take on a different meaning because something about the situation has probably changed. So you need to be sensitive enough to know when you’ve crossed the line—especially if they react uncomfortably. 

No matter how funny you are, or in any instance, avoid using words that can sear other people’s souls. If you must tease anyone, you need to know when you are doing too much. 

Teasing or using hurtful words in disguise may not be completely out of your vocabulary, especially when it comes to relationships. But, you can use them in ways that won’t hurt the other person. 

Wondering how? I’ll show you.

How to Tease Without  Being Offensive 

  • Minimize your jokes. Don’t go doing too much because you’re trying to make a joke or prove a point. Teasing once or twice within a conversation may be too much. But, excess jokes about someone can breed hurt. 
  • Be sensitive. Know when the other party isn’t comfortable with your jokes and stop them immediately. In fact, you can tender a sincere apology if necessary.
  • Know when and where to say your jokes. Teasing your friend about their body size or shape when they are with other people can be very awkward and can make them feel inferior. So, you need to know when and where to say your careless words—if you really must.
  • Watch your intentions. Why are you saying what you’re saying? Is it a comeback for an offense? Are you trying to impose power on someone so you can feel superior? Do you feel threatened by their success and try to make them feel less or it is simply a harmless joke? Know when your motives are not pure, and desist from saying anything that can have a negative impact on someone. 


Remember the Golden Rule: “do to others what you would have them do to you.” In other words, if you’d not like it said to you, don’t say it to someone else because words are powerful weapons. They can make or break someone and can leave lifelong hurt when abused. Some people are trying to deal with self-acceptance, don’t make it worse. Rather, help them appreciate themselves more and live better.

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This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Nengz

    It was very helpful, and thi is also a very interesting and educative topic.

  2. Nengz

    It was very helpful, and this is also a very interesting and educative topic. I love it💖

  3. Gai

    Insightful read. In other words, the text exposes the fact that we cope differently, one only needs to know when, where and to whom we make this expressions.

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