Dear Umbra,

Whenever I pick up a piece of trash a friend has thrown on the ground, or ask them where their recycling bins are, they call me a dirty tree-hugging hippie. This doesn’t bother me, since I know I shower daily and am happy to admit to hugging trees every so often, but they seem to think it’s a real insult. I want to come up with a comeback that isn’t, “Well, you’re an ignorant conservative,” but wit seems to escape me. I figured I’d go to the source of most good wit and ask you what I should say. I hate to sound preachy about litter and recycling, and that’s how I sound most of the time.

Thanks,
Dirty Tree-Hugging Hippie

Dearest Dirty,

In what way do these persons qualify as “friends”? They insult you, you wish to insult them … it doesn’t seem so very friendly to me. Perhaps you have left out some loving details, but if not, please first consider that there may be, nearby, some people who would treat you respectfully and perhaps share some of your interests.

I’m rubber and you’re glue.

In the meantime: Yes, it’d be nice if your eco-ripostes were funny, demonstrated how unaffected you are by the insults, and belittled the environmental carelessness of your “friend.” I hope I can help you until you find more pleasant companionship, but you must have noticed that all my wit is written, not verbal. We may need to rely on some Grist readers handy with snappy comebacks. Help us out, folks — what would a funny person say in this situation? I’m not sure my following suggestions qualify as witty so much as dorky. Since this type of name-calling is unavoidably juvenile, though, engaging in the fight will always be a bit on the silly side.

Honestly, the first silly thing that springs to mind is for you to say, “I don’t just hug trees!” and give the pal a big old hug. It’s the old grade-school trick: Deflate the insult by pretending it’s not an insult. If you embraced the insulter every time, my bet is these folks would stop using any insult with the word “hug” in it.

Along those lines, you could deflate the insult via sincerity: “That’s not a very nice thing to say, considering I just picked up your trash.” Or you could play at sincerity, with a wounded look in your eyes: “Oh [insert pal’s name], why do you hate the trees?”

One last idea may be the best I can come up with: just ask, “Are you trying to insult me?” It’s not funny per se, but it does demonstrate your imperviousness to such a pathetic insult, and, if delivered with a sense of authority, should show up the “insult” for what it is: a juvenile taunt. It might become funny, or mean, or political, if appended with various follow-ups. “Are you trying to insult me? I’m picking up after your mess, you immature slob!” would be one route, while something like, “Are you trying to insult me? Even Dick Cheney recycles” has a certain ring — but only amongst those who despise Cheney (you could substitute a mutually disparaged figure).

You get the idea. But it’s still not a very good one. I’m kinda funny, but I tend to avoid mean people. It helps me keep my sense of humor.

Selfishly,
Umbra